Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Over the next three to four years, the Diamondbacks will move from their World Series' core of players to a mostly homegrown collection of talent that harbors significant potential. The organizational challenge is to maintain a consistent winner while integrating cheaper talent and watching the franchise elders gracefully retire. Perhaps the bump from playoff contention earned the team diehard fans, but with a city still composed largely of transplanted fans not always eager to form new allegiances, Arizona must continue marketing the team to keep attendance high as they'll need to pay deferred contracts for the next ten years. Fortunately GM Joe Gargiola, Jr. possesses a moderately deep collection of players at all levels, fueled largely by a free spending owner and an emphasis on college pitching; Arizona's young tools players from high school haven't achieved the expected success. Bob Brenly, both one of the worst strategic managers in baseball and a players' manager far too reliant upon veterans, must make room for someone to nurture the young talent once Luis Gonzalez, Curt Schilling, and Randy depart, so I expect his exit no later than 2004. Arizona should have a bright future if handled properly, but the team is also only one or two bad free agent decisions away from last place in the strongest NL division.
One of Brenly's worst decisions was to allow each starting pitcher a personal catcher, a situation that required keeping both Rod Barajas and Chad Moeller playing a few times a week while Damian Miller's better bat sat on the bench. With Brad Cresse also at AAA and perhaps ready by 2004, Arizona should consider moving one or more of their veteran catchers whenever anyone inquires about them in trade. Mark Grace will return next year, but as he's promised to stay in a reserve role, Lyle Overbay should contend for Rookie of the Year and provide a new offensive anchor at first base. The rest of the infield, currently occupied by a combination of Junior Spivey, Craig Counsell, Tony Womack, and Matt Williams will lose the latter two members to free agency after next year. Chad Tracy should be ready for third base in 2004, and Scott Hairston and Alex Cintron also will battle for time in the infield during that season. In the outfield, the team collapsed in the playoffs due to Luis Gonzalez's injury, and both re-signing Danny Bautista and losing him for the season were disasters, Steve Finley might depart center for more money elsewhere, so finding a new centerfielder of the future must be the top off-season priority. Arizona must demand a top CF prospect for Erubiel Durazo. If Vernon Wells is still available from Toronto, they need to find a way to acquire him. Gonzalez and Bautista both should return to man the corners in 2003, although they'll need power-hitting replacements within the next few years.
Randy is signed through 2003, Schilling is under contract for 2004, as is Miguel Batista if they pick up his option; Arizona absolutely must give Randy any extension he wants, even if its $15M for just 2004. John Patterson is ready now, and he'll make a great 4th starter with the potential for much more. Brian Anderson and Rick Helling should both leave as free agents, opening up one starting spot. I continue to hear rumors of Greg Maddux, and as this postseason proved that teams needs a good offense to compliment their pitchers, signing Maddux ranks as the dumbest free agent idea I've seen. Mike Gosling, Oscar Villarreal, and Brandon Webb will all be ready within the next two seasons, and spots must be left open for the youngsters. Signing an inexpensive option like Ismael Valdes or Frank Castillo will allow them to promote a rookie when necessary while not hurting the team in the meantime. Miguel Batista can shift to the bullpen when two are ready, and while Randy should retire in a couple seasons, Arizona might be able to entice the younger Schilling to remain as staff ace for the next few years if he remains healthy.
The other option is moving Byung-Hyun Kim into the rotation. While I believe this would normally be an ideal option, he's not needed as a starter given both the existing aces and rising prospects. Brenly should even return Matt Mantei to closer, both so his contract doesn't seem extraordinary for a middle reliever and because Kim is more valuable pitching 2-3 innings every two days in middle relief. Mike Myers should return to anchor the lefty corps, while Mike Koplove established himself as a very reliable right-handed reliever. I've seen a few people recommend ignoring the options on Myers and Mike Fetters, but as Fetters remains a reliable middle reliever and quickly emerged as a fan favorite, I believe this five-man core offers significant upside. The only argument against Fetters is that Bret Prinz and Jose Valverde are both ready for the majors, and the latter could even close in the near future if Mantei blows out his arm again. However given the institutional preference for veterans wherever possible, keeping Myers and Fetters seems like the wisest option available.
After a sweep at the hands of the Cardinals in the Division Series and likely losing around a dozen Diamondbacks to free agency, Arizona has an intriguing opportunity to begin moving the organization forward, remaining competitive while moving towards the post-Randy/Schilling/LGon era. If they're in the middle of the 2003 race, they can always deal a few pitching prospects for veterans to improve the bench, rotation, and bullpen, but only an unnecessary and premature rebuilding process would prevent the current assortment of talent, including Finley, Fetters, and Myers, from challenging for another World Series or two.
Lyle Overbay, 25, 1B-L
With Mark Grace easing into retirement as a bench player and Erubiel Durazo headed out of the organization due to his attitude in the playoffs, Arizona's cleared first base for their premier offensive prospect. Overbay finished 6th in the minors in BA and 3rd in hits, giving him significant long-term upside. I'm a little concerned that he couldn't manage a 10% walk rate for the first time in his career, and a .84 contact rate isn't sufficient for him to maintain a .300 BA in the majors without strong secondary skills. At least he added 40 doubles onto his unimpressive HR total, so we can expect him to enjoy minimum stats of .280-15-75, with the upside of .320-20-100. He's on the short list of likely candidates for Rookie of the Year, and I see no problem bidding in the high teens for him, especially since his value should continue to develop in keeper leagues.
John Patterson, 24, RH Starter
After I raved about Patterson during his call-ups and throughout most of the second half, and after he posted a 55053 PQS log in his starts, there's no reason for him not to receive a full season in the rotation. Pitching behind Randy, Schilling, Batista, and perhaps a 4th veteran, I could see Patterson winning in double-digits against weaker competition. Arizona's offense should remain fairly strong with the addition of Overbay, and with homers appearing as Patterson's only weakness, we can expect an ERA around 4.00 along with a helpful ratio. I can envision Overbay and Patterson finishing 1-2 in Rookie of the Year voting, leaving you little reason not to invest in both of them, especially if your fellow owners are worried, without reason, about Arizona leaving them on the bench in favor of veterans.
Alex Cintron, 23, 2B-S
Arizona only used two rookies on offense this year, and both Cintron and Lyle Overbay should play vital roles in next year's team. I expect Cintron will return as the sixth infielder behind Spivey, Counsell, and Womack in the middle infield, receiving between 200-300 at-bats but contributing very little offensively. Despite good plate discipline in the majors, Cintron's displayed no power and little speed, and I also don't expect a helpful BA. Look elsewhere unless desperate for position flexibility, since while he'll only qualify at second base in most leagues, he'll quickly pick up shortstop and potentially third.
Brad Cresse, 24, C-R
Cresse somehow managed a .703 OPS at AAA following an undeserved promotion after he only hit .229 with a .611 OPS at AA. While he's now spent part of the last three seasons at El Paso, he appeared ready for AA after posting an .856 OPS last year. However his struggles this year, combined with perceived defensive deficiencies, push his likely arrival back to 2004 at the earliest. He'll probably remain in baseball for life since his godfather is Tommy Lasorda, but Cresse's window to emerge as a star looks considerably smaller following the disaster of this year. I include him due to the likelihood that Arizona will protect him from the Rule 5 draft by placing him on the 40-man roster, perhaps in place of Rod Barajas or Chad Moeller. Cresse may challenge for the starting job later next year, but I wouldn't spend a minor league pick on him at this time considering his weak season and continually unimpressive plate discipline.
Brian Dallimore, 28, AAA 3B/UT-R
He finally earned a promotion to AAA after three decent AA years. The problem is that Dallimore lacks any basic tools, only contributing a decent BA, marginal OBP, and a little speed and defense while exhibiting no power potential. Teams still generally prefer third basemen that can rake, and he's never posted a slugging percentage above the .470 he managed at AA El Paso in 2001. Since he's obviously not a prospect and doesn't demonstrate great plate discipline, he'll need to continue posting a high BA if he wants to earn AAAA consideration, although he shouldn't hurt you if needed as roster filler.
Doug Devore, 24, OF-L
Devore compiled an impressive AA season of .294/.358/.502 with 15 homers and 11 steals in 2001, but a 46:118 BB:K illustrated why we didn't expect him to impress this year. He also clearly needs more minor league time to develop his currently limited offensive capabilities. However a combination of good defense, an arm suitable for right field, and his place on the 40-man roster leave him in contention for a reserve spot next year. While he'll likely help Arizona on defense when needed, I don't expect him to contribute positive roto value, so there's no reason to consider him for roster at this time.
Micah Franklin, 30, OF-S
Any team who ignores his age could add an inexpensive, switch-hitting backup outfielder with helpful power and decent plate discipline. Franklin's now played for six AAA franchises over the past six years, and only St. Louis allowed him into the majors for all of 34 at-bats back in 1997. He owns a career OBP of .376 and a .495 SLG, so only his lack of speed has likely kept him at AAA. If he receives the opportunity to contribute, he's currently a better $1 option than someone like Sidewinders' teammate Doug Devore.
Willie Morales, 30, C-R
Arizona promoted Brad Cresse too early this year because they couldn't find another catcher to team with Morales at AAA. While Morales certainly lacks plate discipline, he demonstrated decent offense this year and could emerge as a back-up catcher at some point. Unfortunately I don't believe he can maintain a respectable average, so he's not a good roto option when he returns to the majors.
Nate Murphy, 27, OF-L
Murphy's probably a few years from establishing himself as a reliable back-up in the upper minors, but I can envision him in the majors after a fairly respectable 2002 season. He doesn't offer many tools but can contribute a little power, very consistent defense, and decent on-base ability. If he's called up in the near future, he shouldn't hurt you as roster filler as long as his minor league skills look acceptable at the time.
Luis Terrero, 22, OF-R
Prior to the season, Baseball America rated him the best prospect in the system while John Sickels labeled him overrated; once again sabermetric analysis triumphs over ridiculous expectations based on someone's tools. Terrero compiled one of the worst seasons of any acknowledged prospect, managing a meager .784 in one of the best available hitters' parks. Few players can succeed with a .26 BB:K, .06 walk rate, and .75 contact rate, but even his 45% SB success rate qualifies as abhorrent. Not only is he not ready to replace Steve Finley in center, he barely deserves to remain at El Paso for another season, although a second AA year will allow us to see if he merits any long-term consideration. Certainly avoid him in 2003 drafts.
Jay Belflower, 22, RH Reliever
Arizona converted this University of Florida product to relief after selecting him in the 17th round of the 2001 draft. In 31 innings split between Lancaster and Tucson, he compiled a .59 ERA on 26:7 K:BB with 17 hits allowed. I'm not sure why he didn't start this year at AA, but he fairly dominated during his 55.2 innings at El Paso, only posting a 4.04 ERA because of an elevated 10.2 hit rate thanks to the Diablos' poor defense. While he's not the most dominant reliever in the organization, Belflower should emerge as an effective middle reliever late next season if he can maintain these numbers in AAA.
Horacio Estrada, 27, LH Starter
The former Milwaukee starter spent his fifth year in a AAA rotation without managing dominant numbers. Only his control remains excellent, giving him a bright future as a AAAA starter. However Estrada should reach a higher ceiling if he converts to relief, since if his strikeout rate improves while he maintains his command, teams will eagerly give him a shot to produce in the majors. Hold off until he changes roles before considering him for your team.
Andrew Good, 23, RH Starter
Good's record and an ERA quite good in the Texas League will earn him consideration in many prospect reviews, however he's simply not dominating batters in any area. However, his fantastic command insures him a promotion to AAA, and he'll be in the mix for any spot starts Arizona needs. I think he's probably two years from contributing at the major league level, but Good should have a bright future, especially if he begins striking out more hitters.
Mike Gosling, 22, LH Starter
Arizona almost selected him in the first round last year, but they waited and still got him in round 2. He didn't pitch professionally outside of the AFL in 2001, yet the Diamondbacks allowed him to debut at El Paso. While they should have started him in A-ball to let him dominate hitters at lower levels for a couple months, he still posted amazing numbers for a pitcher in his first season. Unfortunately I can't enthusiastically recommend him due to his 1.9 K:BB and 6.2 K/9, both decent numbers albeit not indicative of great future success. Until I see something to convince me otherwise, I expect Gosling to peak as a third starter, although if his strikeout rate rises above 7.5 in AAA next season, he'll rank with the best pitching prospects in baseball.
Eric Knott, 28, LH Swingman
While Arizona dumped him off the 40-man roster in September, Knott has demonstrated great command throughout his minor league career. He now holds a career 3.4 K:BB, indicating he should stay on the edges of the majors for several years. I believe he will remain with the Diamondbacks in 2003, and they should include him in the competition to replace Greg Swindell as the second lefty reliever. Although I don't expect him to contribute to many roto teams since he nearly always allows an abundance of hits, he shouldn't hurt Arizona in a limited role.
Javier Lopez, 25, LH Reliever
I'm rather shocked that Arizona would limit a promising left-hander to a specialist role at AA, however Lopez certainly succeeded in the playing time he received. He's emerged as an interesting relief prospect since converting from the rotation last year, and he should progress to AAA with the strong possibility of a mid-season promotion. While we'll need to observe his AAA numbers before recommending him, he's close to contributing at the major league level, and might even help some roto teams.
Steve Randolph, 28, LH Starter
Tucson fielded one of the more impressive minor league rotations with John Patterson, Horacio Estrada, Eric Knott, Randolph, and Oscar Villarreal, as Patterson and Villarreal should emerge as impressive starters while the three lefties all should convert to relief. Arizona selected Randolph from the Yankees in their first Rule 5 draft and has kept him in the minors for the last six years, even re-signing him last fall as a minor league free agent. They apparently expect him to regain the promise he demonstrated with the Yankees despite six very inconsistent seasons marked by poor command. Unfortunately his record and ERA probably have convinced most organizations that he should remain starting, even though his skills remain relatively unimpressive. Randolph faces the choice of a career as a AAAA starter or a potential extended look in the majors if he can dominate in relief, and if he takes the latter path, he could help some teams as soon as the second half of 2003.
Gabe Sollecito, 30, RH Reliever
He's bounced between four organizations and the independent leagues during his nine-year career. The Cubs released him in June despite a respectable performance at both the top levels of their farm system. After a reasonably impressive performance this season, I expect he'll earn a Spring Training invite and AAA slot from some team that needs solid relievers. He may not reach the majors since he doesn't dominate hitters, but anyone with his command should reach AAAA status quickly, insuring his availability when teams need injury replacements.
Kennie Steenstra, 31, RH Swingman
The former Cubs' prospect bombed this season after 10 minor league seasons displaying great command and no ability to dominate hitters. He's still starting since he normally posts helpful numbers, however he doesn't appear likely to reach the majors again unless he moves to the bullpen. A disastrous year like Steenstra's 2002 leaves him even further from the big leagues, so hopefully he'll take advantage of any offered opportunity next year to see if he's more effective in relief work.
Jose Valverde, 23, RH Reliever
Valverde's skills indicate he's practically ready for the majors, however he'll need to remain healthy to merit a long look. After losing the second half of 2001 to shoulder tendinitis, he missed most of this May due to injury. His home run problems also will reinforce preexisting comparisons to Armando Benitez. With several other hard-throwing youngsters quickly rising towards the majors, I'm unsure of his ability to contribute in 2003. Fortunately his long-term upside still looks very good, and if he makes the team, I'd consider him in Dollar Days for his strikeouts and potential to vulture a few wins.
Oscar Villarreal, 20, RH Starter
After pitching effectively at El Paso last season despite his status as the second youngest pitcher in the Texas League, he returned there for a half season and dominated the competition, posting an 85:26 K:BB in 84.1 innings with 73 hits and only two homers allowed. While his strikeout rate fell at AAA, he's fully prepared to return to Tucson in 2003 as one of the most promising pitching prospects in the Pacific Coast League. He should be ready to move into Arizona's rotation towards the end of next season, and I envision him competing for the 2004 NL Rookie of the Year. The Diamondbacks' future rotation should feature John Patterson, Mike Gosling, and Villarreal in the middle of the order, so if they can find an ace among their less prepared prospects, Arizona should remain competitive for the rest of the decade.
Jeremy Ward, 24, RH Reliever
Following their policy of challenging pitchers as much as possible, Arizona selected him in the second round of the 1999 draft, started him in the California League, moved him to AA El Paso after only 26 innings, and promoted him to Tucson for one game. Ward then missed nearly all of 2000 due to Tommy John surgery before recovering to post a 3.52 ERA on 25:17 K:BB in 46 IP with 53 H and 2 HR at Tucson last year. He'll compete for a bullpen job in Spring Training, but I expect Ward to head back for his fourth year in the Pacific Coast League to finish refining his shills before a likely mid-season promotion. While he fixed his control problems this year, he needs to improve his dominance before he's ready to consistently pitch effectively at a higher level.
Brandon Webb, 23, RH Starter
While his strikeout rate has fallen in the last two years after the Diamondbacks selected him in the eighth round of the 2000 draft, he maintained solid command and even posted a fantastic .2 homer rate in the Texas League. He's ready for a full year at AAA, and like Oscar Villarreal, he'll compete for a rotation spot in the second half, likely reaching the majors a month or two ahead of Mike Gosling. I'm not sure if he'll emerge as a truly dominant pitcher, but Webb and Villarreal should give Arizona two solid starters at the bottom of their rotation at least for a few years.
Scott Hairston, 22, 2B-R
Although he only played at A-ball, he compiled a far more impressive season than brother Jerry, Jr., Baltimore's second baseman; Scott finished 2nd in the minors in doubles, extra-base hits, and slugging percentage, 3rd in batting average, and fourth in total bases. The downside is that scouts hate his listless approach, comparing his attitude to Gary Sheffield, and he committed 30 errors in 118 games, suggesting he might wind up in the outfield. Additionally only his .14 walk rate seems somewhat impressive, suggesting his plate discipline and contact rate do not support his BA. Hairston competed against mostly younger players, and between questions about his desire, defense, and approach at the plate, you should probably let another owner overdraft him. I'm not comfortable recommending him at this time, though I might change my mind depending on his performance in the AFL.
Chad Tracy, 22, 3B-L
Considering El Paso is one of the best hitters' parks in the minors, I find nothing overly impressive about these stats. Tracy finished fourth in the minors in batting average, just behind organization mate Scott Hairston, and fourth in hits; neither mark appears faulty considering he posted a .340 BA in 214 at-bats at A South Bend after Arizona drafted him in 2001. I'm only aware of a few players in the minors who hold a .340 career BA that includes a full season of AA; of course future teammate Lyle Overbay is at .344, giving Arizona the potential to field the best 1B/3B BA combo in the majors for several years. While I remain somewhat unimpressed by Tracy's plate discipline, his .90 career contact rate indicates a promising future, and he also dominated after skipping A+. With Matt Williams and Tony Womack likely departing after 2003, and assuming he can continue improving on defense, Tracy should receive a season of AAA and a September call-up prior to beginning 2004 as Arizona's starting third baseman, making him worthy of a very high pick in most leagues.
Craig Ansman, 24, AA El Paso(TL) C-R
Scott Barber, 23, A+ Lancaster(Cal) RH Swingman
1. Minnesota Twins(M.Cuddyer, M.Restovich, T.Sears, L.Ford, J.Mauer, J.Morneau)
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