Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
After evaluating the first half of these fantasy reviews of prospects over the weekend, I implemented a few changes. First, I'm keeping the current pace of the articles since I want to cover as many players as possible. Since I ran a little short on time with the World Series' games, I went back to add more players to "Reserve help" for Chicago(A), Tampa Bay, Texas, and Toronto. Second, I also went back to the columns on Anaheim, Baltimore, and Boston to add several other names to the "Wait until 2004" section for each team, along with adding some revisions to the article.
Finally, I went back to each article, tweaking the formatting slightly while insuring that everyone who played in the majors was listed under the position for which they'll qualify in standard leagues i.e. 20 games at a position or the position where the player appeared the most times.
Javy Lopez will exercise his player option, keeping the catchers the same for second year with Henry Blanco as the back-up and Steve Torrealba as the third string and potential future starter. Rafael Furcal's inconsistency cost the Braves a few games this year, but at least he's still developing. The Jones' boys and Gary Sheffield are all under the Braves' control for two more years, so at least the middle of the order should remain intact. Unfortunately the other three infield positions are a mess. Giles is the best hitter, Castilla remains under contract, Cox will want Lockhart back, DeRosa would start on many teams, Wilson Betemit might be ready after another few months in the minors, and Travis Wilson and others prevent the need for any long-term contracts. First base is even more complicated with Julio Franco interested in returning, Matt Franco compiling one of the quietest dominant seasons in recent memory(albeit as a platoon player), Wes Helms still preferred by some members of the organization, and Mike Hessman offering a cheaper alternative to Helms. The best solution is to leave Giles at second, play Castilla at third to make the pitchers happy, and let Lockhart and the Francos depart in free agency while trading for a solid first baseman. Of course the Braves won't possess the money to address all their weaknesses, so hopefully they'll wisely promote from within the organization.
Atlanta needs to re-sign Maddux and Glavine, but if their reported opening offer of $8M for one year to Glavine is any indication, they could lose both pitchers and pitching coach Leo Mazzone, also a free agent. I'd expect the Braves to miss the playoffs under that scenario, so hopefully at least one of the two studs returns. Millwood needs a long-term contract as he should dominate for the next few years, and Trey Hodges is perfectly ready to assume a rotation spot, likely moving in front of Jason Marquis and Damian Moss by the end of the year. However if Maddux and Glavine demand more than three years, they shouldn't keep both pitchers, especially since the Braves' own a tremendous number of solid minor league starting prospects. This situation ranks as one of the more vital of the offseason in terms of setting the tone for free agency; the eventual destinations of Maddux and Glavine will affect many teams' plans.
The bullpen is even more complicated with only John Smoltz, Kerry Ligtenberg, Kevin Gryboski, and Tim Spooneybarger under their control. Mike Remlinger seems like the most important pitcher to re-sign, as while Darren Holmes and Chris Hammond pitched great, the ease in which the Braves turned them into great relievers for a year again suggests nearly anyone can pitch effectively in relief. If both Maddux and Glavine leave, then I'd support Smoltz moving back to the rotation for two years, but if even one of them stays, Smoltz must remain the closer to keep starting spots open for the younger pitchers. A few pitching prospects are already qualified for extended major league duty, so even Remlinger is almost a luxury here, and the Braves should keep the bullpen payroll limited to allow for improvements elsewhere.
Overall the Braves remain an incredibly strong franchise with a strong revenue base, a very impressive farm system, and the most vital players under contract. Atlanta's also willing to move rookies into significant roles on a regular basis. Trey Hodges seems like the only rookie likely to earn significant value next year for them, but Mike Hessman, Wilson Betemit, and several pitchers could also surprise if given the opportunity. The only problem with targeting Atlanta's pitching is that they lose a couple prospects every year to arm surgery, and the sheer depth in the system makes selecting the right prospect very difficult.
Mike Hessman, 24, 3B/1B-R
Following two relatively unimpressive AA seasons and a somewhat intriguing AFL campaign where he continued displaying great power potential, Hessman finally reached AAA and posted the best BA and second-best OBP and SLG of his career. Aside from his below average batting skills, committing 18 errors in 130 games won't please managers, but considering he committed 27 errors last year, he essentially improved nearly every facet of his game in 2002. All he lacks is a decent walk rate to deserve regular playing time in the majors. He's ready to fill a reserve role now and could contribute significantly if Atlanta gives him a shot at least to platoon at first base. While Hessman doesn't rank especially high as a draft pick, I like him a lot in Dollar Days if he breaks camp with the team.
Trey Hodges, 24, RH Starter
One of the few college pitchers developed by Atlanta over the last few years, Hodges emerged as an impressive prospect last year while jumping to A+, and then he jumped past AA to finish tied for fifth in the minors in wins at AAA. Hodges isn't an overly dominant pitcher and he only managed a 2.1 K:BB, however he only allowed a .5 HR/9 and he'll receive both good offensive and defensive support on the Braves. I've endorsed him for the past few months as a great sleeper keeper and I see no reason to change my mind now. Hodges should compete for Rookie of the Year and finish 2003 among the most valuable rookie starters in the majors.
Wilson Betemit, 20, SS-S
Betemit only turns 21 in November, so he remained more than two years younger than most of his competition while playing in only his second season above short-season ball. Completely defying my suggestion that he go back to AA until he posted skills better than a .33 BB:K and .07 walk rate, Atlanta left him at AAA aside from a short rehab assignment. He missed about five weeks due to a strained lower back, bruised foot, and sprained right ankle, though fortunately none of these injuries should affect him in the future. While I've seen few comments about Betemit that don't reflect almost complete disappointment, nothing from this season particularly surprises me. He rushed through the equivalent of four levels last year to reach the majors in September, and his .355 BA at AA Greenville wasn't supported by his skills. As he's still learning how to steal and his power potential continues developing, we also can't expect many homers or steals from him. Nevertheless, a .11 walk rate gives hope that his skills improved this year, and a second year at AAA should make him a solid Rookie of the Year candidate in 2004, while he'll still be much younger than most of his competitors. Even if Betemit doesn't post a .700 OPS next year, he'll remain a solid prospect, but with most players naturally improving in their second year at a level, you should probably try to grab Betemit from his likely frustrated owner right now before his value begins rebounding.
Ramon Castro, 22, SS/IF-R
Castro turns 23 tomorrow, and only the age difference keeps him from a brighter future than Wilson Betemit. He's now split the last two seasons between Greenville and Richmond, so he really needs a full season starting in Richmond, an opportunity he's unlikely to receive with Betemit blocking his path. Fortunately he's a natural shortstop who can continue learning second next to Betemit, especially since Castro appears destined for utility work after playing 63 games at short and 21 games at each of second and third. If given an opportunity now, he could probably match the production Bobby Cox expects from his Rafael Belliard Reserve Infielder, however I see no reason why Castro couldn't reach the upside of a Placido Polanco with more development time. Given the likelihood that he'll peak as a utility player, he's not a good draft pick, although he could help as a mid-season replacement.
Nick Green, 24, 2B-R
After missing most of 2001 with a torn left ACL, he played decently in his first AA exposure. However only Green's spot on the 40-man roster gives him status as a decent prospect. He doesn't appear to be a bad fielder, and he offers a little power, but I don't see anything here that suggests he won't be exposed to this year's Rule 5 draft. Until we see production above A-ball, there's no reason to consider Green for your team.
Damon Hollins, 28, OF-R
Atlanta's 4th round pick back in 1992, he's now spent all but three seasons in the Braves' minors, including five of the last seven seasons at Richmond. He lacks the offensive upside of even Darren Bragg due to his poor plate discipline, although 34 doubles indicate some homer potential over the next few seasons. After all this time with the Braves, I'd like to see him receive a fair chance to win a spot as a back-up next spring, although considering he didn't even receive a September call-up to help rest the four major league outfielders, I don't expect him to see a second cup-of-coffee anytime soon.
Ryan Langerhans, 22, OF-L
He received a promotion to AA after two seasons at A+ Myrtle Beach, and aside from respectable plate discipline and good defense, Langerhans displayed no skills that indicate a bright future in the majors. Atlanta chose him in the third round in 1998 as one of their many gambles on toolsy position players, and he's neither showing the power nor speed necessary for advancement. They could probably safely remove him from the 40-man roster if they need space for other prospects, as while he should contribute in the majors at some point, he needs another year of AA before anyone considers sending him to AAA Richmond.
Steve Torrealba, 24, C-R
Torrealba should lose his rookie eligibility in 2003 while splitting another season between Richmond and Atlanta as Bobby Cox's third catcher. I thought he had some long-term starting upside after 2001, when he hit .271/.347/.424 in 292 AA at-bats, but Atlanta's shown little interest in developing him as Javy Lopez's eventual replacement. He likely need the extra year in AAA just to raise his offense up to the level of a back-up catcher, so while I still like his plate discipline and projectability, I don't expect to see him as a vital part of successful fantasy teams in 2003.
Ray Beasley, 26, RH Reliever
In his second full season at Richmond, Beasley improved all of his skill ratios. With a 2.8 K:BB, 7.3 K/9, .5 HR/9, and 8.9 H/9, he's ready for the majors and deserves an extended look in Spring Training. If not protected, there's no reason he shouldn't go in the Rule 5 draft, and his presence allows the Braves to re-sign either Mike Remlinger or Chris Hammond for setup work use while using Beasley as a specialist. Assuming he breaks camp in the majors, he's an excellent Dollar Days pick who even could vulture a few wins.
Matt Belisle, 22, RH Starter
After missing all of 2001 due to surgery to repair a ruptured disc in his back, he returned for the AFL and instructional league before resuming this season. While both his homer rate and a weaker strikeout rate than in past years suggest some trouble, he seems ready for AAA in 2003. I suspect he'll need two years at Richmond to refine his skills, although he might be able to help as a spot starter in the meantime.
Jung Bong, 22, LH Swingman
I still don't understand why the Braves shifted him to relief; of course calling him up for a spot start also made no sense. Bong seemed fully prepared for AA, so his performance ranks as somewhat disappointing, although he's obviously still quite young and possesses significant upside. I'd like to see Bong return to starting full-time in 2003, likely splitting the season between Greenville and AAA Richmond, however I don't believe he'll earn much value in most leagues.
William Collazo, 22, LH Reliever
A 10th round pick in 2001, Collazo compiled a 6-3 record on a fantastic 36:4 K:BB in 38 IP over 21 G with 22 hits allowed, so he somehow maintained most of his skills while jumping past A+. Collazo's an excellent candidate to replace Chris Hammond in the Braves' pen, although he'd benefit from some AAA time. For now, he's one of many potentially solid middle relievers toiling in the higher minors.
Joey Dawley, 31, RH Starter
Now with two very impressive seasons in the high minors under his belt, Dawley's earned an extended fifth starter audition and the chance to spend a few years in the majors. Atlanta's apparently keeping him on the 40-man roster as insurance against Maddux and Glavine leaving; if both depart, I expect he'll slot behind Trey Hodges in a suddenly questionable rotation. Fortunately Dawley possesses excellent skills across-the-board, and if he breaks camp with the club in any role, he should be able to contribute in some fantasy leagues for a minimum bid.
John Ennis, 23, RH Starter
Ennis doesn't even appear ready to advance to Richmond, so there was no reason for him to receive a spot start. Atlanta's decision to choose pitchers based on the rested starters in the AA rotation lacked nearly all sense, especially considering the presence of several more prepared starters at AAA. Several A-ball pitchers could pass Ennis this year, so perhaps he'll evolve as a reliever, although regardless of his future, I don't see much roto value for him in 2003.
Brett Evert, 21, RH Starter
While he missed the second half of 2001 with shoulder problems, he continued to dominate this season at both levels. Only a 1.4 homer rate strikes me as overly troublesome, so Evert likely just needs another two years of development time. At 6'6" he remains one of the most promising and projectable pitchers in the organization, and Evert even wouldn't be a bad lower round draft pick in some leagues.
John Foster, 24, LH Reliever
Calling Foster up made even less sense than almost any other promotion this year since he started in the majors after never starting in any of his four minor league seasons. I'm also concerned that his walk rate continues to rise, so instead of competing for a bullpen role in Spring Training, I'd like to see Foster return to Richmond for at least half a season. He possesses enough dominance where he's a likely long-term contributor in that area, but I don't expect any short-term roto value here.
Buddy Hernandez, 23, RH Reliever
Hernandez is on few prospect lists since he's a 5'9" undrafted free agent from Division III baseball, but after three minor league seasons, he owns an astounding 222:49 K:BB in 149.2 IP with 94 H, 2 HR, and a 1.44 ERA. Atlanta must protect him since I can't imagine many teams passing on anyone who simply dominated his AA opposition. While he could use one more year in the minors, he likely could help in a bullpen in 2003, however I don't expect he'll begin closing for another several seasons.
Kris Keller, 24, RH Reliever
Atlanta dealt George Lombard for Keller while Detroit was at Turner Field during interleauge play, but the Braves didn't recall him over the rest of the season. He looked like a decent AAA reliever in 2001, but he's suffered from control problems since skipping A+. I still think he needs more development time, and I'm not sure he'll reach the majors with the Braves.
Andy Pratt, 23, LH Starter
Atlanta haphazardly dealt impressive prospect Ben Kozlowski to Texas in early April for Pratt, a solid pitcher without as much upside. While most of Pratt's ratios at AA Tulsa indicated he should begin this season at AAA, the Braves left him at AA for most of the year, and his control problems worsened. Yet they still gave him 6 AAA starts, and he surprisingly dominated at the higher level with a 36:9 K:BB in 40.2 innings. Pratt could still develop into a solid major league starter, but he needs at least another year in the minors, and his skills don't merit the same level of consideration for fantasy owners as most of Atlanta's other young starters.
Mike Saipe, 29, RH Swingman
Saipe seems likely to leave Atlanta following the season to find a more consistent starting opportunity despite his success in Richmond over the last two years. He hasn't shown much dominance in several years, so I don't really expect his strikeout rate to jump in the near future. His overall skill profile just seems closer to AAAA pitcher than to a regular contributor in the majors, so I see no reason to consider him for your teams right now.
Billy Sylvester, 26, RH Reliever
While Sylvester has a better chance for major league success than most minor league closers due to his solid dominance, his control problems have continued to worsen since leaving A-ball. He appears destined for his third straight year at Greenville as I don't see any solid reason for Atlanta to promote him. Until he can post a K:BB better than 2.0, he doesn't belong above AA or near your fantasy teams.
Gregor Blanco, 18, OF-L
While Blanco's likely more than three years away from contributing in the majors, his skills are amazingly solid for an 18-year-old at any level, especially one playing against mostly older competition in the Sally League. With a .71 BB:K, .18 walk rate, and 71% SB success rate, he possesses the qualities necessary to develop into a top leadoff man. Only a .74 contact rate and limited power potential prevent him from a brighter future. If your fellow owners will trade established major leaguers for A-ball speedsters, strongly consider selecting Blanco in a late round, as I suspect he'll start receiving significant notice for his SB potential sometime during the middle of next season after he's stolen 20 bases in two months at A+ Myrtle Beach.
Andy Marte, 19, 3B-R
Signed in September of 2000 out of the Dominican, Marte is probably the Braves' best position prospect due to his combination of tools, skills, and especially youth. He only turned 19 yesterday, which placed him among the youngest players in full-season ball in 2002, yet Marte led the Sally League in RBI while finishing second in homers. While his skills are weak across the board at a .36 BB:K, .08 walk rate, and .77 contact rate, he's approaching respectability, and he possesses the defensive abilities to remain at third. I've noticed Atlanta's youngsters receiving consistent media coverage over the past few years, and I expect to see Marte included in future articles discussing Furcal, Giles, Betemit, and Kelly Johnson. Marte's likely three or more years away from the majors, but between his overall upside and potential as trade bait, he's a respectable low round pick.
Bubba Nelson, 21, RH Starter
Kenny led all minor league starters in ERA, a rather remarkable accomplishment considering he probably wasn't the best pitching prospect on his team. His skills at limiting baserunners jump out at me: 2.9 BB/9, 6.3 H/9, and .3 HR/9; none of them are particularly wonderful but they're impressive when accumulated in one pitcher. Unfortunately his 7.1 K/9 is a disappointment when compared to the 9.2 he managed in the Sally League in 2001. Nelson could wind up in the bullpen if he can't maintain these rates at AA, so he's probably not someone to consider drafting in most leagues.
Adam Wainwright, 21, RH Starter
Wainwright is a superior prospect to Pelicans' teammate Bubba Nelson in nearly every respect. He owns skill ratios of 2.5 K:BB, 9.2 K/9, and .4 HR/9, so he's both a more dominant starter and more projectable at 6'6", four inches taller than Nelson; he's even four days younger. Perhaps the only advantage Nelson holds is a hit rate 1.9 H/9 lower than Wainwright's 8.2, and we shouldn't expect that difference to continue in the future. At this time, Wainwright easily appears the pitching prospect in Atlanta's system with the most long-term upside, so if you want to gamble on a Braves' pitcher likely to spend the year in the minors, you want to invest in this guy.
Cory Aldridge, 23, R Braves(GCL) OF-L
Ray Aguilar, 22, A+ Myrtle Beach(Car) RH Swingman
1. Minnesota Twins(M.Cuddyer, M.Restovich, T.Sears, L.Ford, J.Mauer, J.Morneau)
7:00: Anaheim@San Francisco
After splitting the first two games as we expected(though they reversed the order), Livan should boost the Giants to a 2-1 lead as he's never lost a post-season game. Bonds will also try to win tacos for everyone in America by hitting the floating target in McCovey Cove.
John Sickels recommended a site in last year's Minor League Scouting Notebook that detailed the worst pitcher abuses in college baseball from 2001. Following the 2002 college season, Boyd Nation posted lists of both the worst abuses and the workload of nearly every college starter. I heartily suggest you visit both pages if you wish to discover who's likely to suffer injury-related breakdowns, especially among 2002 draft choices. Comparing Nation's estimates to the workload data that Baseball Prospectus compiles suggests some frightening likelihoods. We discover 26 pitchers more abused than Randy Johnson, and Harvard's Ben Crockett, a third round pick of Colorado who we really liked, suffered through a workload more than three times higher than Randy. Livan Hernandez and A.J. Burnett were the only other pitchers to reach half of Randy's workload, and over 70 college pitchers exceeded the abuse suffered by Hernandez and Burnett. We can only imagine the strain of high school pitchers, but as I haven't found a single pitcher in the American League from the 2002 draft worth recommending for 2003 minor league drafts, we'll likely have a year of data and potential injuries before we'll need to consider the ramifications of their workloads in school.
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