Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
The pilgrimage of Montreal employees to Miami, displacing scores of loyal Marlins' workers, ranks near the top of the list of shameful acts committed this season. Jeff Loria and Dave Samson managed to use a vendor that ran out of hot dogs on Opening Day. Then they allowed an anonymous benefactor to purchase 15,000 tickets discounted to $1 each on the last day of the season, following the announcement of attendance at the Montreal game earlier in the day, to push Florida above the Expos by less than a thousand people. Dealing Cliff Floyd and Ryan Dempster made some sense, however Loria and Samson reportedly maintain extremely poor communication with the players regarding the direction of the franchise. Now, even following ownership approval of a higher 2003 payroll, they still need to smartly deal a few of their dozen arbitration-eligible veterans to minimize expenses given their horrendous marketing ability.
Florida could field a productive offense based around Luis Castillo and Mike Lowell, each among the best players in the majors at their positions, but we've seen both players prominently mentioned in trade discussions. Derrek Lee looks ready to emerge as a top first baseman, however top prospects Adrian Gonzalez and Jason Stokes both play first. Andy Fox will remain the starter at short due to Alex Gonzalez's health and batting troubles, although his .671 OPS adds little to the team. While Kevin Millar, Preston Wilson, Juan Encarnacion, and Eric Owens constitute the current outfield rotation, Wilson and Owens earn significant salaries and Millar and Encarnacion are heading to arbitration. Abraham Nunez, even though he's no longer a prospect, still looks ready to play in the majors, so he could replace Wilson in center if anyone indicates interest in his contract. Lastly, Charles Johnson, Mike Redmond, and Ramon Castro all deserve to start in 2002; as Johnson's contract practically necessitates him remaining, hopefully Florida at least can convert Castro into a prospect. The future of this lineup depends entirely upon what trades they complete.
We would sign Lowell and Castillo to long-term deals, see if Derrek Lee can handle either corner outfield spot, start Castro at catcher, and find a way to trade Johnson, Wilson, and Encarnacion while keeping Owens and Fox for one more year. By 2005, Adrian Gonzalez, Jesus Medrano, and/or Miguel Cabrera will join Lowell and/or Castillo while an outfield of Stokes, Lee, and perhaps 2002 1st rounder Jeremy Hermida offers excellent power potential. However Florida management shows little indication that they'll focus on anything other than batting average and speed when assembling their team.
A.J. Burnett's workload alone would necessitate firing manager Jeff Torborg from nearly any other franchise, but his tight relationship with Loria seemingly insures he'll remain another couple of years. If he manages not to destroy a half-dozen young arms, their pitching could carry this team. Burnett, Brad Penny, and Josh Beckett rank as one of the most potentially dominant threesomes in all of baseball, and several prospects like Justin Wayne, Rob Henkel, Ryan Share, and Dontrelle Willis could emerge as pitchers equal to the current aces. Michael Tejera posted impressive numbers upon moving to the rotation, so I expect he'll remain their 4th starter in 2003, and Carl Pavano will compete with the prospects and any offseason acquisitions for the 5th slot. Of their current starters, only Brad Penny seems like potential trade bait, and since I'm concerned about his workload, I wouldn't object to moving him for a couple of solid prospects, perhaps a pitcher ready for the majors and a young centerfielder.
At least their bullpen looks relatively solid. I'd like to see Blaine Neal close, but Neal and Vlad Nunez are quality setup men in front of current closer Braden Looper. The pending departures of Vic Darensbourg and Graeme Lloyd leave Armando Almanza as the top lefty, and he's quite dominant albeit somewhat wild. Hopefully they'll leave Pavano in the pen since he's shown relatively little as a starter, and they can pick from a half-dozen semi-decent starting prospects to round out the relief corps. I see no reason why they can't perform better than league average.
With the combination of payroll constraints, departing veteran players, and a severe lack of impact players at the major league level, only continual outstanding performances from their pitchers will keep them out of the basement. Atlanta, New York, and Philadelphia all possess the resources necessary to field perpetually competitive teams, and Montreal will remain a viable playoff contender through 2003 due to the presence of Vlad, Vidro, Vazquez, and Colon. Florida needs to focus on the long-term development vital to franchise stability, keeping only the major leaguers likely to continue developing while moving all extraneous expensive veterans for players able to help the team contend in 2004. If trades of Lowell and Castillo can advance that goal by adding replacements such as Hank Blalock and Marcus Giles, then Marlins' fans even need to accept those moves as management attempts to build a sustainable contender.
Jesus Medrano, 24, 2B-R
Medrano's capable of playing shortstop but only committed 14 errors in his first full year at second base. After repeating A+ in 2001 for a .331 OBP and 61/69 SB%, he somehow exploded in AA to emerge as one of the best leadoff prospects in the game. He possesses plate discipline, an excellent .19 walk rate, and an acceptable 68% SB success rate. I suspect they'll give him a chance to win the second base job if they trade Castillo, and while I'd like him to spend a year at AAA to finish refining his impressive skills, Medrano could manage a decent BA while swiping a couple dozen bases. He's definitely someone I'd like to acquire next spring.
Abraham Nunez, 25, OF-S
Nunez's status as a prospect nearly evaporated after he gained three years in agegate. However he still should develop into a potential $20 ballplayer within the next few years. He possesses the range and arm needed for any outfield position, and while his .46 BB:K and .74 contact rate indicate he'll struggle to hold a high batting average, a .12 walk rate and 84% SB success rate give him impressive upside in roto. If Florida trades Wilson, I expect Nunez to replace him in centerfield and possibly provide more production; I envision him as a #2 hitter given his power-speed combo. When your fellow owners ignore Nunez due to his plummet on prospect lists, snap him up at a discount and enjoy the rewards.
Andy Abad, 30, 1B/OF-L
Oakland finally gave him one at-bat in 2001 after nine impressive minor league seasons, but despite decent power and solid overall offensive potential, I wouldn't be surprised if Abad doesn't return to the majors. He's a solid AAAA player and valuable minor league free agent, however I don't expect him to contribute to fantasy teams.
Matt Erickson, 27, 2B/3B/UT-L
Erickson deserved a major league job this year after posting a .310/.386/.380 line during his first year at AAA in 2001. Instead Florida left him in the minors for another full season, and he suffered only a slightly loss of production while generally maintaining his skills. If given an opportunity in the majors, he wouldn't hurt you as roster filler, however I don't see much upside given the Marlins' persistent refusal to promote him.
Kevin Hooper, 25, 2B/SS-R
Hooper holds a very strong chance to reach the majors next year given everyone continues to compare him to current national wunderkind David Eckstein. He's a dependable middle infielder who could even emerge as the starter at either middle infield position depending on Florida's offseason moves. Unfortunately Hooper's uncertain position prevents any recommendation of him as a draft pick, but he could easily turn a few dollars profit as a Dollar Days selection if he breaks camp with the team.
Derek Wathan, 25, SS-S
Wathan looked fairly impressive at AA Portland in 2001 and he improved his OPS from .654 to .752 while moving to AAA. However Calgary plays in a great hitters' park, his walk rate and plate discipline deteriorated, and he showed far less speed. I don't expect him to earn any greater role than utility infielder, and he hasn't displayed the offensive prowess normally necessary to start in the majors. Don't look to Wathan for fantasy help in 2003.
Jason Wood, 32, 3B-R
Unlike Cannons' teammate Derek Wathan, Wood deserves a long look in the majors in 2003 as he still could contribute for a few years despite his age. He has experience around the infield, particularly on the left side, and if Florida trades Lowell, Wood could replace some of his production. I don't expect much from him and probably would wait a few weeks to see how he'd perform in the majors before adding him to my team, but he offers more immediate upside than many AAA infielders.
Nate Bump, 26, RH Starter
San Francisco selected him 25th overall in 1998 before trading him with Jason Grilli for Livan Hernandez in 1999. He completed his fourth straight year of AA this season, and he's back in the Marlins' plans after a disastrous, injury-plagued 2001 forced him off the 40-man roster. Now he's pitching effectively in the Arizona Fall League and should play in AAA next year assuming he doesn't win a rotation spot. Bump's no longer a particularly promising prospect but remains a decent pitcher who should either emerge as a decent #4 or dominate in the bullpen. Monitor his 2003 progress before considering him for your team.
Rob Henkel, 24, LH Starter
I'm somewhat concerned here since he only pitched 42 professional innings prior to 2002 due to injuries, and now his workload increased over 250% in his second season with Florida. However Henkel dominated at two levels this year, and I see no reason he shouldn't move to AAA in 2003. If given a chance at the majors after a couple more months of seasoning, he might help as a free agent pickup, although I wouldn't spend a pick on him considering Florida's poor recent track record at properly pacing their recovering pitchers. Based on his 2002 numbers, his ceiling ranks with that of any pitcher in the organization, so I also might gamble a couple bucks of FAAB on him unless his AAA stats are awful.
Tommy Phelps, 28, LH Reliever
Phelps is one of the minor league free agents most prepared for a job in the majors. He's played in the minors for ten years without even one cup-of-coffee, and given Florida's need for a second lefty reliever to complement Armando Almanza in 2003, I'm somewhat surprised they didn't promote Phelps. I don't believe he'll develop into more than a competent middle reliever, but competent left-handed middle relievers with a few years of experience can earn contracts in the $10M/3-year range. He might help as a mid-season injury replacement if some team likes him in Spring Training.
Nate Robertson, 25, LH Starter
The Expos' page on mlb.com lists his birthdate as 9.03.02, but I'll assume that's not correct for rather obvious reasons. Robertson's promotion to the majors ranks among the more surprising Marlin moves in 2002 as he barely looks ready for AAA. He definitely pitched effectively all year, however he lacked the dominance that normally insures success at the highest levels of the system. Since he appears to need another full year of development time, I see no reason to own Robertson at the moment.
Ryan Snare, 23, LH Starter
While I like Rob Henkel's upside a lot, Snare, picked up in the Juan Encarnacion deal, holds even more promise as he's six months younger and hasn't missed time due to injuries. He owns a solid, three-pitch repertoire that enables him to rack strikeouts even without completely dominating batters. If you want to gamble on a Marlins' pitching prospect joining the potential $100+ rotation in Florida, Snare seems the most likely to remain effective at higher levels.
Nate Teut, 26, LH Swingman
Florida swiped him from the Cubs for the arbitration-eligible Jesus Sanchez, but they missed their first opportunity to make Chicago look foolish for moving Teut. Back in 2001 at AAA Iowa, Teut compiled a 125:69 K:BB in 167 innings, and as he hadn't shown good dominance at lower levels, he looked like a great candidate to convert to the bullpen. The Marlins instead let him start for the most of the year, even briefly promoting him for a spot start in the majors before removing him from the 40-man roster. If they work him strictly in relief, I expect he'll quickly emerge as a valuable contributor in the majors, so he might help as a mid-season pickup under the right circumstances.
Justin Wayne, 23, RH Starter
Montreal selected him out of Stanford with the 5th overall pick of the 2000 draft before dealing him to Florida as the key to the Cliff Floyd deal. Unfortunately he was barely prepared to leave A-ball this year and a 77:45 K:BB in 141.1 IP in the Eastern League is far from impressive, so of course the Marlins bumped him to AAA and then the majors on the basis of his 3.12 AA ERA. He showed little skill in the majors, and now I expect he'll struggle at Calgary for most of 2003. His tenuous position makes him a poor fantasy selection next spring, although Wayne certainly possesses the talent necessary to emerge as a solid major league starter within the next two seasons.
Miguel Cabrera, 19, 3B-R
He looked very impressive in the Futures' Game, performing great at third base while displaying a solid bat. He'll likely rank at the top of most lists of Florida prospects, although there's nothing in his stats that specifically justifies that placement. Fortunately he'll only turn 20 next April, so he was among the youngest players at A+ and improved most areas of his offense, including moving a .268/.368/.382 line from A Kane County to a promising .274/.333/.421. Cabrera also hit 43 doubles in addition to his nine homers, and his good SB success rate suggests that both his power and speed skills will continue developing. Florida expects him to supplant Mike Lowell no later than 2005, and they may rush him if Lowell departs this off-season. I wouldn't select him in an early round, but Cabrera's upside warrants a pick in 2003, since if his homers jump in AA, his trade value will skyrocket in many leagues.
Adrian Gonzalez, 20, 1B-L
Gonzalez's BA continues to slide as his strikeouts increase, yet the Marlins keep promoting him in the expectation he'll arrive in Florida to stay no later than 2004. He'll likely move to AAA next year, and due to the benefits of AAA Calgary, his overall offensive display will falsely convince some people that he's ready for the majors. While I believe he'll earn consistent salaries in the $10-15 range, I think he's probably two years away from making a helpful contribution and you should only draft him with the intention of dealing him to any owner looking for 2004 help. His age makes him among the youngest AA players, so he hit quite well with respect to his league, but his deteriorating plate discipline indicates approaching average struggles.
Jason Stokes, 20, 1B-L
Possessing some of the best raw power of any minor leaguer, Stokes remained at Kane County all season, earning the Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year Award despite not playing after August 21st due to a cyst in the lunate bone of his left wrist. Wrist injuries often result in reduced power output, so considering Stokes is likely at least two years away from the majors, there's no reason to draft him in any but the deepest of leagues. I suspect he'll struggle somewhat in 2003, lowering expectations for his future and making him a nice sleeper for 2004 drafts, however you should look for health updates on Stokes during Spring Training.
Chris Aguila, 23, AA Porland(EL) OF-R
Phil Akens, 20, A Kane County(Mid) RH Starter
1. Minnesota Twins(M.Cuddyer, M.Restovich, T.Sears, L.Ford, J.Mauer, J.Morneau)
6:30: Anaheim@San Francisco
With potentially the last game of the year on tonight, as well as very little else happening in sports, plan on watching Game 6. Plus, now that I've been wrong on all five games thus far and I expect Anaheim to win, I probably should just predict the Giants to win their first Series since moving to San Francisco. Any columnist who questions Bonds' abilities now should forfeit their BBWAA card.
If Florida moves Castillo and doesn't acquire another second baseman, jump Jesus Medrano near the top of your minor league draft lists for his BA and SB potential.
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