Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
The Dan Evans' regime continued the Dodgers five-year mission to gut the farm system at the upper levels by dealing Ricardo Rodriguez, Ben Diggins, Francisco Cruceta, and Lance Caraccioli in deals for Paul Shuey, Tyler Houston, and Jolbert Cabrera. Fortunately Evans also managed to acquire significant major league talent in the past year, giving Los Angeles an excellent shot at the playoffs until the lack of quality offensive players finally doomed them to a third-place finish. Los Angeles still needs to replace Gary Sheffield's production while removing the holes currently occupying almost half the lineup. At least their pitching looks relatively solid, composed of a good mix of veterans and youth, even if half the staff receives rather outrageous salaries. They can succeed even if Kevin Brown never returns to full health, but Evans must take advantage of the opportunities offered this off-season.
While they can cut about 13 million by not re-signing a few players like Marquis Grissom and Omar Daal, they're already committed tomore than that in raises to Andy Ashby, Darren Driefort, Shawn Green, Mark Grudzielanek, Brian Jordan, Eric Karros, Paul LoDuca, and Hideo Nomo. We also need to consider the necessity of negotiating long-term deals with Adrian Beltre, Eric Gagne, and Odalis Perez. Jordan's reportedly stated that he'll exercise his right to demand a trade if LA lets Grissom depart, so even if they just allow him to leave as a free agent, they save $11.5 million without Jordan($9M salary plus a $2.5M buyout of his $10.5M option in 2004). Finding someone to take Grudzielanek's $6M will be more difficult, however plenty of teams need a second baseman, and I recommend the Dodgers include Cesar Izturis if necessary to anyone looking for a new middle infield, such as perhaps Baltimore or Kansas City. Izturis offers decent long-term upside, but he's not ready to contribute to a winning team now.
Only Shawn Green, Paul LoDuca, Adrian Beltre, and perhaps Dave Roberts seem likely to start on the next Dodgers' team to make the Series, and given that Roberts is already 30, I suspect they'll look to replace him in a year or two. Joe Thurston, while not a likely star, will provide more production than Grudzielanek, and Adrian Beltre's capable of sliding over to shortstop. Then they should target either Jeff Kent or Edgardo Alfonzo to play third base. Alfonzo reportedly wants a deal in the $32M/4 year range, and considering he's a much better defender than Kent, can play any infield position, and is peaking while Kent declines due to age, he's a better investment at this time. Eric Karros is a liability at first, but with 2002 1st round pick James Loney perhaps only two years away, Karros should stay as the last link to the old Dodgers' tradition, at least until his contract expires after 2003. Chin-Feng Chen can replace him until Loney is ready.
The outfield situation is a little more complicated. Grissom offered tremendous production, although he only really produces against lefties. Brian Jordan remains perpetually injured, and letting both Grissom and Jordan leave opens up significant payroll. With the Dodgers' need to add a left-handed power bat to complement Green, I'd like to see Luke Allen start in left field next year. These moves would leave them with a lineup of Roberts, Alfonzo, Green, LoDuca, Allen, Karros, Thurston, and Beltre, giving them a balanced attack that features speed and power throughout most of the lineup. If the Dodgers can deal Jordan for an established power-hitting left fielder, he can replace Allen, or if they could somehow grab a powerful centerfielder like Carlos Beltran, Brian Giles, or Hideki Matsui, Thurston could lead off and Allen can drop to the #7 hole. These suggestions create lineup flexibility and stability by leaving every starter except Karros and maybe Beltre under the Dodgers' control for the next few seasons.
Nomo and Perez return as the established aces, and Kaz Ishii and Andy Ashby remain at the bottom of the rotation. Hopefully Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort will return to full health, allowing the former to resume his role at the head of the rotation while Dreifort fights Ishii for the 5th spot. With no pitching prospects ready to start, they desperately need to add someone like Albie Lopez as a long reliever and potential injury replacement. I assume they'll let Eric Gagne continue closing regardless of their need for starters, and Quantrill and Shuey give him an excellent setup team. I suspect Jesse Orosco will return as the left-handed specialist, although they make look to add someone like Mark Guthrie if they're not comfortable with Jeff Williams or Victor Alvarez. Guillermo Mota, Bryan Corey, Brian Mallette, and perhaps even Alfredo Gonzalez will compete with any extra starters for the two or three potentially available bullpen spots.
Los Angeles possesses a respectable franchise without the loaded minor league system to which Dodger fans are accustomed. The chances of the Dodgers succeeding in the playoffs depends primarily on making intelligent decision this offseason to allow rookies like Joe Thurston a chance to play in the majors, along with taking every precaution regarding the health of the pitchers. They missed the post-season this year due to the Brown, Jordan, and Dreifort injuries, along with the late-season ineffectiveness of Ashby and Ishii. I definitely think they have a chance to compete in an NL West in which Arizona, Colorado, and San Francisco all might lose key personnel, however the lack of organizational depth probably limits their immediate post-season upside.
Luke Allen, 24, OF-L
He finally spent all year at AAA following three full AA seasons, and he somehow maintained his power production while developing very impressive plate discipline. A .72 BB:K, .11 walk rate, and .85 contact rate look very impressive when compared to his previous career marks of a .41 BB:K, .09 BB%, and .79 CT%. Considering he's widely praised for his work ethic and leadership, he owns a fantastic arm that could push Shawn Green to left field, and he's an organizational success story since LA signed him as a free agent, I wouldn't be surprised if he receives some Rookie of the Year votes. He's earned a starting job in the majors, so I expect the Dodgers will move Brian Jordan to create room for Allen, making him a very solid fantasy pick who should go for under $10 in most leagues.
Chin-Feng Chen, 24, OF-R
As he only posted a .277/.355/.376 at AA San Antonio in 2000 due to an unannounced shoulder injury, his rise to Los Angeles over the last two years leaves him as the likely immediate successor to Eric Karros. Chen became the first Taiwanese player to play in the majors this season, however I expect he'll return to AAA in 2003 given Karros is practically untradable due to his contract and 5-and-10 rights. Hopefully Chen will use the extra development time to improve his strike zone judgement, since while he's always owned a good walk rate, he's averaged over 135 strikeouts each season of his minor league career. If given a chance in 2003, he'd provide more overall offense than Karros for the Dodgers while giving his fantasy owners a line around .255-20-80, and he still should develop into a thirty homer player in a couple of years.
Joe Thurston, 23, 2B-L
Only a September promotion kept Thurston from becoming the first Pacific Coast League player since Bobby Valentine in 1970 to reach 200 hits. He displayed both good speed and defense when we saw him in the AFL last fall, however despite his amazing hit total, I'm a little concerned about his role in the majors. Thurston only posts an average OBP due to his lack of patience, and his BA is entirely a product of his speed and great contact rate. Of course anyone that can compile 39 doubles, 13 triples, and 12 homers at AAA should have a bright future, and he's ready to start in the majors. While I'd probably stop bidding shortly after reaching double-digits, he's capable of earning over $20 due to his speed and batting average.
Rick Bell, 23, 3B-R
Bell spent three years in A+ and 63 games at AA before rising to AAA this season, so his overall performance isn't as unpromising as a .293 OBP indicates. He actually posted a slugging average 82 points higher than his previous career-high, so while I don't view him as a prospect, he finally showed some indication of developing to a major league contributor. Don't consider him as a 2003 fantasy option, however I wouldn't be surprised to see him dealt to a 3B-needy team at some point in the next year.
Bubba Crosby, 26, OF-L
The 23rd overall pick in the 1998 draft, Crosby no longer appears likely to see more than a season or two as a starter. He's demonstrated little plate discipline above A-ball, and even his speed is vanishing. While he could emerge as a reserve in the next couple of years, Crosby's fighting Wilkin Ruan and Shane Victorino at minimum, and both those youngsters offer much more speed and overall upside. Despite the coverage he might receive for finally spending most of a season at AAA, Crosby is not prepared to contribute to fantasy teams.
Koyie Hill, 23, C-S
Hill emerged as one of the best catching prospects in the game this year, displaying very good plate discipline and power potential even though he skipped A+. As a switch-hitter who's still developing defensively, there's no reason for the Dodgers to continue rushing him. Paul LoDuca's one of the top offensive catchers in baseball and David Ross is prepared to replace Chad Krueter as LoDuca's backup, so I'd like to see Hill potentially even return to AA to work on developing power. However his season merits a promotion, so look for him to spend the next two years at AAA before likely replacing LoDuca behind the plate in 2005. Only draft him as a late round pick in deep leagues as he should be available next year.
Brennan King, 21, 3B-R
After King posted a .243/.286/.294 line at A+ Vero Beach in 2001, earning himself a demotion to the Dodgers' Gulf Coast League team to finish the year, John Sickels briefly assessed him with "Former second-round pick. Can't hit." Instead of slumping out of baseball, King recovered to regain his prospect status even as Los Angeles pushed him up to Jacksonville. While he still hasn't developed power, I'm astounded that he improved his skills to a 1.21 BB:K, .13 walk rate, and .89 contact rate despite owning career marks of a .46 BB:K, .09 walk rate, and .81 contact rate. He really needs to spend another year at AA to focus on developing power, however his wonderful plate discipline indicates he could repeat this performance at AAA. King could replace Adrian Beltre in two or three years, but he doesn't warrant consideration as a draft pick given his currently limited quantitative production.
Dave Ross, 25, C-R
Ross posted the best numbers of his career after a few unimpressive seasons in which he displayed little power potential or on-base ability. His 2002 performance and defensive abilities should merit a backup role in 2003, and he's probably among the safer $1 catchers since he's capable of earning several dollars of value with more playing time. While the Dodgers seem likely to pick up Chad Kreuter's 2003 option, I've seen reports indicating they plan on trading him, so Ross probably won't block Koyie Hill by staying at AAA for another year.
Wilkin Ruan, 24, OF-R
Acquired in Spring Training with Guillermo Mota from Montreal for Matt Herges and Jorge Nunez, Ruan somehow finagled a mid-season promotion despite a .253/.306/.367 line at Jacksonville. He owns excellent speed and he's also a superb defensive outfielder. Unfortunately he shows practically no talent at the plate, so he seems more likely to peak as a fourth outfielder than a starter; gaining a year in agegate also doesn't help his prospect status. Once he reaches the majors, he'll deserve consistent ownership in most leagues due to his SB upside, but he's not a quality draft pick due to his weak hitting skills and current lack of foreseeable upside.
Shane Victorino, 21, OF-R
Like seemingly every other decent Dodgers' prospect discussed today, Victorino reached Jacksonville this year despite only two games at A+ Vero Beach in 2001, and along with Brennan King and Koyie Hill, drastically improved his plate discipline while emerging as a future roto option. The Dodgers rewarded AA hitting coach Gene Richards with a midseason promotion to the majors as outfield and baserunning coach. Victorino owns some of the best speed in all of baseball, and a move from second base to the outfield last season allowed him to emerge as a top defensive outfielder. Unfortunately I don't see much upside here given his rather complete lack of power, so if he can maintain a decent batting average, he should reach the majors in a couple of years as a back-up outfielder. Together with Wilkin Ruan, Victorino should provide the Dodgers with some of the best pinch-running and late-inning outfield defense of any team in the league.
Victor Alvarez, 25, LH Swingman
Alvarez continues to display very good command and solid dominance regardless of his role, and only playing in the Pacific Coast League keeps his ERA over 4.00. He's sold in every facet of the game, and if Los Angeles gives him the lefty reliever job he deserves in 2003, his skills merit drafting in most deeper leagues as a middle reliever who shouldn't hurt you.
Bryan Corey, 29, RH Reliever
While Bryan Corey's skills are peaking right now, he's never shown much dominance above A-ball and he normally suffers from homer problems. He's a quality AAA reliever, but I don't believe he deserves more than an occasional cup-of-coffee in the majors unless his skills suddenly improve.
Alfredo Gonzalez, 23, RH Reliever
Gonzalez pitched between 13 and 17 games at each of his stops, and after compiling a 23:9 K:BB in 21.2 IP in Las Vegas, he's earned a spot on the 40-man since he appears ready to emerge as a dominant middle reliever. I expect him to receive significant Spring Training press, especially in the Los Angeles area, before heading back to Vegas with the last group of cuts. He should debut in the majors a little before the All-Star break, and he seems capable of replacing Paul Quantrill in the late innings by August. Don't bother using a draft pick on him, although I'd definitely try to FAAB him for a couple bucks when he reaches LA.
Lindsay Gulin, 25, LH Swingman
Gulin's bounced between five different organizations in his eight-year career, and the Dodgers gave him his first chance at AA in 2001 before a mid-season promotion to Las Vegas this season. He encountered some homer problems at AAA, and since he's a minor league free agent, he'll probably spend most of 2003 in AAA. However Gulin continues to display good command and dominance, so he's likely to merit a chance in the majors in the next year or two.
Brian Mallette, 27, RH Reliever
Los Angeles acquired him after the season as the PTBNL in the Tyler Houston trade for Ben Diggins and Shane Nance. After a fantastic 2001 split between his first opportunity at both AA Huntsville and AAA Indianapolis, Mallette continued displaying excellent skills in the minors throughout all of 2002. He's earned a shot at a major league job, and if the Dodgers can't find room for him, hopefully they'll deal him to one of the several teams needing quality middle relievers to give their younger pitchers more development time. Don't draft Mallette in the spring, but remain ready to roster him once he displays good skills in the majors.
Rick Roberts, 23, LH Reliever
He never developed as a starter in four minor league seasons, so the Dodgers converted him to relief in 2001 and he immediately displayed both command and dominance. Roberts maintained his skills in AA, although he's still walking too many batters for my preference. I definitely think he needs at least a full season of AAA, but he could earn consideration for a bullpen job near the end of 2003.
James Loney, 18, 1B-L
We've seen John Sickels repeatedly rave about Loney as a superb fantasy selection next spring, and I see no reason to argue with that assessment. The 19th overall pick from the 2002 draft posted a stunning .371/.457/.624 in 170 at-bats at Great Falls, along with a more impressive 25:18 BB:K. Then LA jumped him to A+ for the last three weeks of the season, and he continued demonstrating respectable offensive skills by compiling a .299/.356/.388 with a 6:10 BB:K in 67 at-bats. High school pitchers are not supposed to successfully compete in the Florida State League in the year that they're drafted; hitters rarely even reach the FSL before they turn 20, forget about hitting .300. The truly stunning aspect of Loney's rise is that he received first round consideration primarily due to his qualifications as a pitcher; Dodgers' scouting director Logan White compared him to Ryan Klesko and John Olerud due to his incredible array of tools. Due to the general lack of press he's received, you should be able to secure his rights in later rounds, and if he moves to AA next year and continues excelling as I expect, he'll deserve consideration in any discussion of top first base prospects.
Joel Hanrahan, 21, RH Starter
Somehow Hanrahan improved across-the-board despite a promotion from A Wilmington. Although he only reached AA for three starts at the end of the season, this second round pick from 2000 probably ranks as the Dodgers' best pitching prospect. He owns three plus pitches and could reach the majors next September for a spot start or two. While he's likely two years away from emerging as a regular contributor in Los Angeles, Hanrahan also faces little competition in the system, making him a solid draft pick in leagues that appreciate pitching prospects.
Reggie Abercrombie, 21, AA Jacksonville(SL) OF-R
Aron Andrews, 25, A+ Vero Beach(FSL) RH Reliever
1. Minnesota Twins(M.Cuddyer, M.Restovich, T.Sears, L.Ford, J.Mauer, J.Morneau)
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