Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Cincinnati closed out RiverfrontCinergy this year and will move into the Great American Ballpark in 2003, theoretically giving them the financial reserves to keep the current offensive core together indefinitely. Barry Larkin should retire after his $27M/3 contract expires following the 2003 season, opening the money needed for the contract extensions of Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, and Aaron Boone. Unfortunately their pitching staff remains largely in shambles and their best prospects are a couple years away. They desperately need to find a couple of underpriced sleeper free agents on which Don Gullett can work his magic. Houston's trying to remain in contention while transitioning away from the Biggio/Bagwell era, St. Louis lacks top prospects and possesses little depth, and Chicago appears at least a year away from seriously challenging in the playoffs. So with the rebuilding projects in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, Cincinnati needs to take advantage of the opportunity in 2003 to push for the World Series in their first year in a new park, solidifying their fan base for half a dozen years.
With every player returning, the Reds' offense is definitely ready to anchor their run. If Griffey finally enters Spring Training healthy and happy, he'll combine with Dunn and Kearns to challenge Atlanta as the most productive outfield in the game. Some combination of Reggie Taylor, Jose Guillen, Ruben Mateo, and Wily Mo Pena gives them an abundance of intriguing reserves to backup the three starters. The presence of Russ Branyan, capable at all four corners, will keep power in the lineup if Sean Casey's slow to recover from surgery. Aaron Boone gives them one of the best all-around players on the left side of the infield, and Todd Walker's a solid leadoff man who only lacks great speed. Future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin will likely play about two-thirds of the games at shortstop, and with Brandon Larson picking up most of the extra at-bats, Juan Castro and Gookie Dawkins will fight for a spot at defensive back-up. Corky Miller may be the best option at catcher, but he may stay in the minors as an injury backup for Jason LaRue and Kelly Stinnett. I suspect they'll move one catcher, DL Pena, and then leave Ruben Mateo and Gookie Dawkins off the roster, staying with their established bench players.
While Cincinnati should lose five pitchers this off-season, only Jimmy Haynes pitched especially well for the Reds, and they won't miss Shawn Estes, Joey Hamilton, Brian Moehler, or Jose Rijo. Elmer Dessens, Ryan Dempster, and Danny Graves give them three decent starters, and a combination of Chris Reitsma, Jose Acevedo, Jared Fernandez, and Bruce Chen gives them a decent rotation. However I'd like to see them deal Graves to a closer-needy team for a young lefty starter, leave Acevedo in the #5 spot at least until the All-Star break almost regardless of his performance, and then actually sign a very good starter in free agency to lead the staff.
A bullpen anchored by Scott Williamson and Gabe White should remain solid, although John Riedling and Scott Sullivan will need to prove they're healthy to continue contributing. Cincinnati does possess a few intriguing relief prospects like Luke Hudson that belong in the majors, but sticking with Reitsma and/or Chen also shouldn't hurt.
The Reds own a very promising collection of players who either seem primed to win in 2003 or a couple years later, but the offensive strength of this team will keep them in contention regardless of their pitching. I expect them to remain in contention all of next year without a noticeable contribution from many rookies, and their chances at playoff success depend upon owner Carl Lindner's willingness to add a couple of veteran pitchers by next July.
Brandon Larson, 26, OF-R
Despite only qualifying in the outfield to begin next season, Larson's very likely to play regularly at second or third base, although I don't expect him to reach more than 400 at-bats. His breakout season occurred because he continued developing power while improving his contact rate to .76 from his career .72. The 14th overall pick in the 1997 draft still lacks power, above average fielding, and plate discipline, so only his power potential and position flexibility make him overly intriguing. Larson missed the last month of the season with a broken left hand, and while he'll work on infield reps this winter, he's stuck competing for playing time with Aaron Boone, Barry Larkin, Todd Walker, Russ Branyan, and likely Gookie Dawkins. I expect Larson will wind up a little over $10, and based on the publicity surrounding his delayed ascent to the majors and potential inclusion in a Scott Rolen trade, Larson will be overpriced in most leagues.
Kevin Witt, 26, 1B/OF-L
Witt finished fifth among all minor leaguers in RBI, however his overall offensive production didn't impress me. His quantitative success seems due to his high number of at-bats as neither his OBP nor SLG even rank among the best in his league. As his walk rate and plate discipline also fell below his career averages, his major league future remains in question. Fortunately he's at least demonstrating promising power potential, making him an intriguing target as a minor league free agent. He easily seems capable of contributing helpful power numbers in a reserve role, and if he can keep his BA over .250, he'd provide more production than several of the current starting first baseman managed this past season.
Luke Hudson, 25, RH Swingman
Either Hudson or Gabe White seemed adequate compensation for dealing Pokey Reese and Dennys Reyes to Colorado, so acquiring both players registers was a sweet coup for the Reds. Hudson appears perfectly ready to step into the rotation, however Cincinnati may continue to use him in relief. Regardless of his role, I expect he'll earn impressive roto value if given an extended chance in the majors. He could combine with White to form a dominant setup duo in front of closer Scott Williamson, and since I could envision him receiving save opportunities if Williamson's injuries return, definitely consider targeting Hudson at your draft.
Bobby Darula, 27, OF-L
After raving about his upside earlier in the year, I'm pleased that he continued to display excellent plate discipline upon reaching AAA for the first time. However, after only posting a .245/.333/.265 line in 49 at-bats at Louisville, Darula will need about another half season to refine his batting skills. He committed only three errors in 100 games, and since he even offers average speed, whoever signs him will gain a top reserve outfielder for a few years.
Mike Edwards, 25, 1B/OF-R
Despite two relatively productive AA seasons and a career OBP slightly under .390, Edwards has only totaled 66 at-bats in AAA over the last two seasons. As he possesses relatively little power or speed, he lacks the tools necessary to receive scouting notice, and he's also not a particularly smooth fielder. He'd likely already be in the majors if he could play in the middle infield, but nothing in his profile suggests the ability to make that conversion. Cornermen without power tend to peak at AAAA even when they own great on-base skills, and Edwards isn't very impressive. He should head to a regular AAA job next year on a team desperate for a quality #2 hitters to give their young power hitters someone to drive home.
Ranier Olmedo, 21, SS-S
Every report I see on Olmedo begins with discussing his great defense, so why should I buck this trend? His range, hands, and arms rank him among the best pure defensive shortstops in baseball, and in his third full minor league season, he dropped his error total to 25 in 132 games while moving to AA after totaling 40 errors in 129 games at A+ Mudville. He began switch-hitting last year and already is a competent left-handed hitter. Olmedo's fantastic plate discipline improvement outweighs my concerns about poor baserunning. He jumped from a .20 BB:K, .04 walk rate, and .77 contact rate to a .62 BB:K, .11 walk rate, and .82 contact rate; Olmedo even bumped his .244/.285/.302 to the .247/.331/.314 listed above. I'd like to see him repeat AA to work on steals and developing power, however as the best remaining shortstop prospect in the organization, Cincy appears likely to push him so he's ready to replace Barry Larkin in 2004. While you should probably hold off drafting him in most leagues, anyone desperate for a shortstop could gamble here in the late rounds.
Wily Mo Pena, 20, OF-R
Instead of spending two months of desperately needed development time in the AFL, Pena tore his left hamstring after three games and will spend the next half-year rehabbing. Pena will probably have to spend next year in the majors as he's now out of options thanks to the major league deal he signed back in 1998. Unfortunately, despite prodigious power displays at events like the Futures Game, Pena needs at least two more years in the minors and might never develop as a prospect unless Cincinnati finds a creative solution. His hamstring injury should allow a very extended "rehab", however if Pena understands that he's extremely unlikely to succeed in the majors, they might be able to buy the needed two years. He can spend all of 2003 on an extended rehab, playing most of his games at AA, and then they can modify the trick that Boston used to keep Steve Lomasney in the system a couple years ago to buy one more year. After the 2003 Rule 5 draft passes in mid-December, Cincinnati should non-tender Pena on the 20th, immediately re-signing him to a minor league deal with the promise of a probable starting job in 2005. Unfortunately the Reds' outfield remains full, so they should look to deal him next summer for pitching help. While Pena's power upside remains quite high, his uncertain health, playing time, and contract situation require you to avoid him for the moment.
Jeff M. D'Amico, 27, RH Swingman
He's shown little dominance in his seven-year career and also suffers from an unfavorable comparison to Jeff C. D'Amico, the Mets' starting pitcher about to enter free agency. This D'Amico is mostly known for his inclusion with Blake Stein and Brad Rigby in the trade that brought Kevin Appier to Oakland in 1999. I'd really like to see him move back to the bullpen since he offers good command but needs to improve his strikeout rate to gain more major league time. While not an overly interesting minor league free agent, D'Amico still should please his new team.
Paul Darnell, 26, LH Reliever
Cincinnati inexplicably stuck him back at AA even after he posted a 2.57 ERA on 32:11 K:BB in 21 AAA innings in 2001. His 2002 combined stats appear deceiving as he managed a 47:18 K:BB in 41.1 AA innings but only a 14:14 K:BB in 27 innings at Louisville. Darnell needs to spent most of 2003 at AAA to refine his skills prior to a probable September call-up and future role as Gabe White's replacement as the Reds' primary lefty reliever.
Dave Gil, 24, RH Starter
A 3rd round pick out of the University of Miami in 2000, Gil almost received a promotion to Cincinnati in mid-2001, although instead he missed the last two months of the season with a strained forearm that didn't require surgery. Now Gil has nothing left to prove at AA, but after posted an 8.86 ERA on 18:11 K:BB in 21.1 IP with 29 hits and 8 homers allowed over four starts and a total of nine AAA games, Gil appears to need another year of development time. I expect the Reds to place him on 40-man roster while leaving him in the minors for almost all of 2003, although he's probably not worth considering even in any of the deepest of leagues due to his AAA struggles.
Josh Hall, 21, RH Starter
Hall dominated in seven A+ starts before continuing to pitch effectively while spending most of the year at Chattanooga. We saw his name in several trade rumors and he appeared headed to Texas for Kenny Rogers, however Cincinnati will be glad they kept him in the organization. He should move to AAA in 2003, spending one more season developing his repertoire. Hall's probably the closest to contributing to roto teams out of any pitcher discussed today other than Hudson, so he's worth your consideration as a low round pick.
Mike Neu, 24, RH Reliever
Generously listed at 5'10", this University of Miami product has dominated opponents at every level since Cincinnati drafted him in 1999. Neu mastered the Southern League in 27 innings, and he suffered little skill slippage while compiling a 47:18 K:BB in 40.1 IP with 35 hits and 4 homers allowed at AAA. The Reds must protect him on the 40-man or he'll merit a very high selection in the Rule 5 draft, as not only is he ready to contribute in middle relief but he could begin closing within the next two years. Neu is a very viable Dollar Days candidate if he breaks camp in the majors.
Brian Reith, 24, RH Starter
Reith traveled from Louisville to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and back as the Phillies and Reds engaged in waiver tag. In the last three seasons, he moved from New York to Cincy in the Denny Neagle trade, jumped to the majors for 8 starts without only one game of AAA experience, and now split his first real year of AAA traveling between the affiliates of two different NL teams. I still like his upside as a starter, but I'd only give Reith one more year before shifting him to relief. He should begin a move towards the bullpen near the end of 2003 if his dominance doesn't improve, and he doesn't seem like a good fantasy option right now.
Edwin Encarnacion, 19, 3B-R
Acquired with Ruben Mateo for Rob Bell in June of 2001, Encarnacion may rank as the best position prospect left in the Reds' system who hasn't reached the majors. Unfortunately he's still extremely raw. He committed 40 errors in 133 games, fails to display much plate discipline or a good walk rate, and he's only beginning to develop power. However Encarnacion also smacked 53 extra-base hits in his first complete year of full-season ball. His power-speed combo makes him a somewhat intriguing low round pick, especially since I expect he'll continue compiling solid quantitative stats at A+ even though he likely needs four more years in the minors barring sudden improvement. Consider him with a low round pick, talk him up as the future partner for Rainer Olmedo on the left side of the infield, and then deal him before he starts struggling in AA.
Bryan Anderson, 24, A+ Stockton(Cal) 3B/UT-R
Ricardo Aramboles, 20, AA Chattanooga(SL) RH Starter
Current organizational ranking by potentially helpful fantasy depth, based on both the quality and quantity of players ready to contribute in the majors, and consideration of the trade value of minor league draft picks from the lower levels of each system:
1. Minnesota Twins(M.Cuddyer, M.Restovich, T.Sears, L.Ford, J.Mauer, J.Morneau)
7:00: Anaheim@San Francisco
While Anaheim and San Francisco are tied at 2 games each, I was eliminated from World Series contention last night by incorrectly predicting the winner of the fourth straight game. I even managed to name the correct pitcher who recorded a decision in each of the last two games, except I expected Livan and KRod to win their games. So I don't advise placing any wagers based on my daily guesses, unless, of course, you want to bet against me.
You can go ahead and cancel any plans for Saturday night with Game 6 now guaranteed.
Baseball American finally published the list of minor league free agents. While I will likely review the list in general even before I begin my position-by-position analysis, a few names jump out at me, and I'll probably have more to add to this list within the next two weeks. Anaheim infielder Rick Short led the minors in batting average. Julio Zuleta of the Cubs finished fourth in homers. Cincinnati's Kevin Witt finished fifth in RBI. Many more players still rank as prospects, but aside from Short, Zuleta, and Witt, I'd target the following fielders: Aaron Miles of the White Sox, Bobby Darula from Cincinnati, Greg LaRocca of Cleveland, Rontrez Johnson and Mike Rose of Kansas City, Kevin Gibbs of the Yankees, and Tampa's Ryan Freel. The most intriguing pitchers at first glance are Jancy Andrade and Lesli Brea from Baltimore, Mike Kusiewicz of Boston, Chris Gissell of the Cubs, Jason Beverlin of Detroit, Kiko Calero of Kansas City, Scott Randall of Minnesota, Justin Kaye of Seattle, and Robbie Crabtree of Toronto. LaRocca, Zuleta, Darula, Beverlin, Calero, and Kaye offer the most immediate upside of this group, each deserving a full-time role in the majors for much of 2003. Congratulate your team's GM if he signs two or more of these players.
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