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Your Daily Fantasy Rx
Fantasy Review of Milwaukee Prospects
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

After losing Ken Macha to Oakland, GM Doug Melvin at least chose the most qualified manager among his remaining candidates in Ned Yost. Unfortunately Yost doesn't even approach the qualifications of someone like Jerry Narron, not to mention Chris Chambliss or Fredi Gonzalez, so I don't believe this decision moves Milwaukee towards the playoffs. Melvin also has very little with which to work as he attempts to transform the Brewers into a farm system-driven organization like the Rangers' system he left a year ago. Only Richie Sexson, Ben Sheets, and Luis Vizcaino own solid stats supported by quality skills, which allow us to believe they can form part of the nucleus for the next Milwaukee playoff team. Geoff Jenkins, Alex Sanchez, Nick Neugebauer, and a couple younger pitchers also should contribute to future wins, but I see no second baseman, third baseman, or shortstops likely to contribute above average offense. Hopefully Yost understands that the Brewers are likely to approach 200 losses over the next two years, as only a complete rebuilding project seems likely to fix the leaks in this franchise.

Melvin's indicated he wants to build around Sexson, Jenkins, and Sheets, and he couldn't have chosen a worse course. We like Sheets a lot, but Sexson is peaking now and Jenkins can't stay healthy. Plus most of the best hitting prospects in the system are first baseman who could move only to left field at best, so the two best major leaguers are blocking the minor leaguers. Eric Young and Jeffrey Hammonds return at second and right field respectively in the last year of each of their contracts, and Keith Ginter and Ron Belliard should fight for time at third base. If they can't convince Hernandez to return, then they must acquire a starting shortstop in the offseason since no one in the system is within two years of the majors. If Sanchez is healthy, he'll return to center field, leaving Jim Rushford as the main backup. Paul Bako and Robert Machado should return at catcher, again leaving the Brewers among the worst teams offensively at potentially half the spots in the lineup.

Ben Sheets, Glendon Rusch, and Nick Neugebauer at least give Milwaukee three starters with moderate upside. Mike Matthews, acquired from the Cardinals for Jamey Wright, could start, as could Wayne Franklin, who they picked up in the Mark Loretta deal from Houston. Ruben Quevedo should compete for starts, as might Jose Cabrera, however I wouldn't be surprised if Milwaukee grabbed one or two cheap free agents. They have some starters in the lower levels of the system, but even Ben Diggins and Dave Pember need another full year in AAA.

Fortunately Milwaukee owns one of the most promising bullpens in baseball. Mike DeJean, while ridiculously overpaid, can protect three-run leads for one inning, however they really need to look trade him ASAP while his value is still high. Luis Vizcaino and Ray King give the Brewers excellent setup work, and Jayson Durocher emerged as a quality addition to those two. Valerio de los Santos is a quality second lefty, and Shane Nance could give the Brewers three solid left-handers. Former closer Curtis Leskanic should be healthy for Spring Training, and he'd allow them to move DeJean; once Leskanic shows he's recovered, Melvin can also deal him, finally letting Vizcaino close by the second half. This relief corps isn't especially deep, however they appear able to hold most leads.

With some corner power hitting reaching AA and a decent pitching pipeline, Milwaukee needs to focus on acquiring skilled athletes for the up-the-middle positions. Of course, unless the Brewers start focusing on plate discipline throughout the system, they'll never develop quality offensive prospects. Milwaukee remains a tempting team from which to draft prospects since all their holes should allow youngsters major league playing time, but the best targets here are skilled players acquired in trade from other organizations like Luis Vizcaino in 2002 and Pedro Liriano for 2003.

Double-Digit Upside

Keith Ginter, 26, 3B-R
19/81 for .235/.374/.383 with 1 HR, 8 RBI, 7 R, 0/0 SB%,
and 17:15 BB:K between Houston and Milwaukee.
115/435 for .264/.362/.416 with 12 HR, 54 RBI, 70 R, 3/7 SB%,
and 56:97 BB:K at AAA New Orleans(PCL).

Anyone rating Ginter as a top prospect following his outwardly impressive .333-26-92 season at AA Round Rock in 2000 ignored both his age and park effects. Fortunately he's continued to broaden his position qualifications while spending the last two years in New Orleans, and he also improved his contact rate from .68 to .78. Acquiring Ginter from Houston for the last month of Mark Loretta's contract ranks as a moderately nice coup for the Brewers, and he could easily provide Kevin Young-like production at second or third base over the next few years. Don't expect any great achievements from him, but Ginter easily should earn $10-15 of value if he keeps a starting job.

Jim Rushford, 28, OF-L
11/77 for .143/.214/.208 with 1 HR, 6 RBI, 8 R, 0/0 SB%,
and 6:9 BB:K in Milwaukee.
132/424 for .311/.386/.455 with 7 HR, 69 RBI, 56 R, 1/3 SB%,
and 47:46 BB:K between AA Huntsville(SL) and AAA Indianapolis(IL).

There's a chance Rushford delivered pizzas to us a few years ago as he was practically out of baseball before the Schaumburg Flyers, then a Northern League expansion team, signed him for the 1999 season. Milwaukee grabbed him after four seasons in the independent leagues, and Rushford proceeded to lead the minors with a .354 BA while splitting 2001 between A+ High Desert and AA Huntsville. He continued hitting this year, even displaying great plate discipline as he spent all but 19 at-bats with Indianapolis. Hopefully Doug Melvin will look at his incredible minor league numbers instead of his poor September performance, since Rushford deserves a starting job in the majors. Milwaukee needs to find a way to deal Jeffrey Hammonds, allow Geoff Jenkins to move back to right field, and start Rushford in left. Even without much power or speed, he's easily the most qualified #2 hitter in the organization, and could earn $15 if he somehow wins a starting job.

Reserve Help

Bill Hall, 22, SS-R
7/36 for .194/.256/.361 with 1 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R, 0/1 SB%,
and 3:13 BB:K in Milwaukee.
106/465 for .228/.272/.301 with 4 HR, 31 RBI, 35 R, 17/27 SB%,
and 25:105 BB:K at AAA Indianapolis(IL).

My selection of Hall as the third and last Milwaukee offensive "prospect" likely to contribute in the majors in 2003 illustrates the horrendous lack of depth in the organization. The Brewers severely overrated Hall after a superficially decent opening at A+ High Desert in 2001, and even though he compiled a dreadful 5:46 BB:K in 160 AA at-bats in the second half of 2001, they still pushed him up to AAA. Posting a .573 OPS, Hall managed some of the worst stats in all of AAA, and I'm not sure if he'll ever emerge as more than a utility infielder. There's no reason for any roto participant to own Hall at this time.

Matt Childers, 23, RH Swingman
0-0 on 6:8 K:BB in 9 IP over 8 G with 13 H, 2 HR,
and a 12.00 ERA in Milwaukee.
2-5 and 12 Saves on 61:29 K:BB in 86 IP over 37 G(10GS) with 104 H, 6 HR,
and a 4.29 ERA between AA Huntsville(SL) and AAA Indianapolis(IL).

As he's never demonstrated much dominance or overall upside, I don't object to Milwaukee moving him to the bullpen this year. However he likely needs to spend most of 2003 at AAA, so you shouldn't see him back in the majors until August barring another string of injuries. While his skills are decent, I even can envision him needing a couple more years of development time before he's ready to succeed in the majors.

Ben Diggins, 23, RH Starter
0-4 on 15:18 K:BB in 24 IP over 5 GS with 28 H, 4 HR,
and an 8.63 ERA in Milwaukee.
7-11 on 135:56 K:BB in 151.2 IP over 26 GS(27G) with 129 H, 8 HR,
and a 3.20 ERA between A+ Vero Beach(FSL) and AA Huntsville(SL).

Los Angeles selected him with the 17th overall pick out of the University of Arizona in 2000, and Milwaukee should be ecstatic at swiping this 6'7" right-hander from the Dodgers for Tyler Houston. While Dean Taylor's overall handling of Milwaukee for the past three years merited his dismissal, Taylor also completed four very impressive trades in 2002, essentially acquiring Diggins, Pedro Liriano, Keith Ginter, two solid A-ball position prospects, and an array of AAAA players for four pending free agents. Diggins may have the highest ceiling of anyone they acquired, however I can't believe they promoted him when he'd only started 7 games above A-ball. He needs at least a full season in the upper minors before he'll belong back in the majors, and I wouldn't be surprised if his skills indicate two years of additional development time make more sense. Only draft him if Milwaukee appears willing to send him back to AA to begin 2003.

Jake Krawczyk, 27, RH Reliever
5-5 and 7 Saves on 84:21 K:BB in 78.2 IP over 52 G with 70 H, 7 HR,
and a 3.32 ERA between A+ High Desert(Cal), AA Huntsville(SL),
and AAA Indianapolis(IL).

I hope he finds his way to Minnesota in the near future to blend with other vowel-challenged players, however Krawczyk is close to the majors after dominating in 66.1 AA innings. Milwaukee's absolutely wasting his potential by forcing him to repeat every level, however hopefully the new regime will notice his excellent skills and consider him for the majors after a couple months in AAA. Krawczyk should start helping roto teams sometime in the second half of 2003.

Shane Nance, 25, LH Reliever
0-0 on 5:4 K:BB in 6.1 IP over 4 G with 4 H, 1 HR,
and a 4.26 ERA in Milwaukee.
14-3 on 63:32 K:BB in 75 IP Over 46 G with 70 H, 5 HR,
and a 3.24 ERA between AAA Las Vegas(PCL) and AAA Indianapolis(IL).

Nance isn't a particularly dominant pitcher and he definitely needs to continue developing his control to reduce his walk rate, but he's ready for the majors and will fit nicely behind Ray King and Valerio de los Santos as the third lefty in the Brewers' pen. Wait until he's demonstrating good skill in the majors before rostering him, although he might not hurt anyone who gambles on him in Dollar Days.

Jimmy Osting, 25, LH Starter
0-2 on 7:10 K:BB in 12 IP over 3 GS with 18 H, 3 HR,
and a 7.50 ERA in Milwaukee.
5-7 on 112:38 K:BB in 126.2 IP over 22 GS with 115 H, 7 HR,
and a 3.48 ERA at AAA Indianapolis(IL).

A former widely-touted Braves' prospect, Osting's bounced between a few teams in recent years while finally developing his dominance. His AAA stats clearly indicate he's ready for the majors, however Milwaukee bizarrely only gave him three starts before DFA'ing him. You need to wait for him to post good skills in the majors, but Osting's close to helping fantasy teams.

Dave Pember, 24, LH Starter
0-1 on 5:6 K:BB in 8.2 IP over 1 GS(4G) with 7 H, 1 HR,
and a 5.19 ERA in Milwaukee.
10-6 on 111:53 K:BB in 156 IP over 27 GS with 157 H, 13 HR,
and a 3.17 ERA at AA Huntsville(SL).

Pember continues to pitch effectively as he moves up the ladder, however his lack of dominance might keep him from extended success in the majors. The Brewers need to give him as much AAA time as he needs to maintain quality skills after another promotion, and I highly doubt he'll help anyone's fantasy team for another year or two. Unless he significantly improves in AAA, wait until Pember's displaying solid skills in the majors before taking a chance on him.

Minor League Draft

Prince Fielder, 18, 1B-L
84/258 for .326/.448/.550 with 13 HR, 51 RBI, 50 R, 3/7 SB%,
and 47:54 BB:K between R+ Ogden(Pio) and A Beloit(Mid).

The son of Tigers' MVP Cecil "Big Daddy" Fielder, Prince flambeéd the Pioneer League for a .390/.531/.678 line in 146 at-bats after Milwaukee selected him with the 7th overall pick of this year's draft. He played the last month of the season in A-ball, unsurprisingly failing to reach the same production levels against pitchers usually at least a couple years older than himself. Milwaukee's lack of depth pushes Fielder among the Brewers' top prospects, so they may rush him when possible even though he's theoretically blocked by other prospects. However Fielder owns both better skills (37:27 BB:K at Odgen) and more upside, so if you need to draft a Milwaukee first base prospect who's at least a couple years away from the majors, I'd draft Fielder before anyone from the Brewers' A+ team. Next year Fielder should reach A+ High Dessert, a solid accomplishment for a high school first baseman in his second year of baseball. However Milwaukee's already concerned about Fielder's fitness, and obviously prospects tend to gain weight at High Dessert because...hold on...okay so it's really High Desert(one 's'), but doesn't High Dessert sound like a fun place to play?

Mike Jones, 19, RH Starter
7-7 on 132:62 K:BB in 138.2 IP over 27 GS with 135 H, 3 HR,
and a 3.12 ERA at A Beloit(Mid).

The downside of drafting Jones is that, like Prince Fielder, he's likely at least three years away from the majors. However his skills look fantastic, and I'm particularly impressed by his .2 homer rate. He slipped to the 12th overall pick in 2001 after preseason projections slotted him as high as third, behind only Marks Prior and Teixeira, but he's demonstrated all signs of potentially developing into an ace. Based on his current skills, stat history, system competition, and overall projectability, Jones is probably the best fantasy selection available of any pitcher who hasn't reached A+.

Pedro Liriano, 21, RH Starter
10-14 on 176:74 K:BB in 167.1 IP over 28 GS with 129 H, 14 HR,
and a 3.60 ERA at A+ Rancho Cucamonga(Cal).

Note: I accidentally listed Liriano with Anaheim even though Milwaukee acquired him in September as the last PTBNL for Alex Ochoa. He's likely now Milwaukee's best pitching prospect.

While he looked impressive in Rookie ball last year, where he posted a 2.78 ERA on 76:31 K:BB in 78 IP with 80 hits allowed at R+ Provo(Pio), he looks prepared to rocket up the minor league ladder after dominating following his jump to A+ this season. All these ratios, including a 2.4 K:BB, 9.5 K/9, .8 HR/9, and 6.9 H/9, suggest he can maintain these numbers at higher levels, and my only concern is his need to lower his 4.0 BB/9. Considering he'll start 2003 at AA, he'll compete for any available rotation spots in 2004.

Wait 'til 2004
(Each player listed with the highest level they reached in 2002.)

Eliezer Alfonzo, 23, AA Huntsville(SL) C-R
Chris Barnwell, 23, A+ High Desert(Cal) SS-R
Jason Belcher, 20, A Beloit(Mid) C-L
Dan Boyd, 24, A Beloit(Mid) OF-R
Lance Burkhart, 27, AAA Indianapolis(IL) C-R
Scott Candelaria, 23, A+ High Desert(Cal) 2B-R
Dionys Cesar, 26, AAA Indianapolis(IL) 2B/3B-S
Ozzie Chavez, 19, A Beloit(Mid) SS-S
Daryl Clark, 23, A+ High Desert(Cal) 3B/UT-L
Jeff Deardorff, 24, AA Huntsville(SL) OF/CR-R
Brian Foster, 21, AA Huntsville(SL) C-R
Brandon Gemoll, 22, A+ High Desert(Cal) OF-L
Cristian Guerrero, 22, AA Huntsville(SL) OF-R
Derry Hammond, 23, A+ High Desert(Cal) OF-R
J.J. Hardy, 20, AA Huntsville(SL) SS-R
Corey Hart, 20, AA Huntsville(SL) 3B/1B-R
Kade Johnson, 24, A+ High Desert(Cal) OF-R
Ryan Knox, 25, AA Huntsville(SL) OF-R
Dave Krynzel, 20, AA Huntsville(SL) OF-L
Brian Moon, 25, AAA Indianapolis(IL) C-S
Chris Morris, 23, A+ Potomac(Car) OF-S
Brad Nelson, 19, A+ High Desert(Cal) 1B-L
Elvis Pena, 28, AAA Indianapolis(IL) 2B-S
Francisco Plasencia, 18, R+ Ogden(Pio) OF-L
John Raburn, 23, A+ High Desert(Cal) 2B/SS-S
Jaisen Randolph, 23, AA Huntsville(SL) OF-S
Ralph Santana, 22, A Beloit(Mid) 2B-L
Rob Sasser, 27, AAA Indianapolis(IL) 3B-R
Steve Scarborough, 24, AAA Indianapolis(IL) 2B/SS-R
Bill Scott, 23, AA Huntsville(SL) 1B-R
Florian Villanueva, 24, A+ High Desert(Cal) C/UT-R
Todd West, 23, AA Huntsville(SL) 2B-R
Peter Zoccolillo, 25, AA Huntsville(SL) OF-L

Mike Adams, 24, AA Huntsville(SL) RH Reliever
Jason Childers, 27, AAA Indianapolis(IL) RH Reliever
Doug Dent, 25, AA Huntsville(SL) RH Reliever
Derrin Ebert, 26, AAA Indianapolis(IL) LH Reliever
Jose Garcia, 24, AAA Indianapolis(IL) RH Starter
Roberto Giron, 26, AAA Indianapolis(IL) RH Reliever
J.M. Gold, 22, A+ High Desert(Cal) RH Starter
Justin Gordon, 23, A+ High Desert(Cal) LH Starter
Dan Hall, 23, A Beloit(Mid) RH Reliever
Tim Harikkala, 31, AAA Indianapolis(IL) RH Swingman
Ben Hendrickson, 21, AA Huntsville(SL) RH Starter
Andy High, 28, AA Huntsville(SL) RH Reliever
Dan Kolb, 22, A Beloit(Mid) RH Swingman
Derek Lee, 28, AA Huntsville(SL) LH Swingman
Rob Marquez, 29, AAA Indianapolis(IL) RH Reliever
Luis Martinez, 22, AA Huntsville(SL) LH Swingman
Roberto Maysonet, 22, A+ High Desert(Cal) RH Swingman
Chris McGee, 25, A+ High Desert(Cal) RH Reliever
Carl Michaels, 21, A Beloit(Mid) RH Reliever
Ryan Miller, 24, A+ High Desert(Cal) RH Swingman
Jose Mieses, 25, AAA Indianapolis(IL) RH Starter in '01; injured in '02
Takahito Nomura, 33, Milwaukee(NL) LH Reliever
Matt Parker, 23, AA Huntsville(SL) RH Reliever
Mike Penney, 25, AA Huntsville(SL) RH Reliever
George Perez, 23, A+ High Desert(Cal) RH Swingman
Chris Saenz, 21, A Beliot(Mid) RH Reliever
Aaron Sams, 26, A+ High Desert(Cal) RH Starter
Greg Schaub, 25, A+ High Desert(Cal) RH Reliever
Rob Sismondo, 25, A+ High Desert(Cal) RH Reliever
Pete Smart, 24, A+ High Desert(Cal) RH Starter
Tony Stavros, 22, A Beloit(Mid) RH Reliever
Jon Steitz, 22, A Beloit(Mid) RH Swingman
Paul Stewart, 24, AA Huntsville(SL) RH Starter
Matt Yeatman, 20, A Beloit(Mid) RH Starter

Of Brewers' prospects at the upper levels of the system, only Keith Ginter appears likely to approach $10, and I can easily envision him losing the starting third base job to Ron Belliard or an offseason acquisition. However he's still more likely to contribute in the majors than anyone on Boston or Baltimore, and the potential trade value of Liriano, Jones, and Fielder allows me to rank Milwaukee slightly ahead of the Red Sox, albeit still last in National League thus far.

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)
2. Cleveland Indians(B.Phillips, V.Martinez, A.Escobar, & a dozen young SP)
3. Texas Rangers(T.Hafner, M.Teixeira, R.Ludwick, J.Hart, Je.Clark, C.Lewis)
4. Chicago White Sox(J.Borchard, J.Rauch, M.Olivo, K.Honel)
5. Los Angeles Dodgers(J.Thurston, L.Allen, C-F.Chen, W.Ruan, J.Loney)
6. Anaheim Angels(F.Rodriguez, R.Quinlan, C.Bootcheck, C.Kotchman)
7. Arizona Diamondbacks(L.Overbay, J.Patterson, J.Valverde, O.Villarreal, C.Tracy)
8. Colorado Rockies(J.Cust, J.Young, C.Freeman, G.Atkins, B.Hawpe)
9. Houston Astros(J.Lane, J.Robertson, B. Lidge, J.Buck, C.Burke)
10. Atlanta Braves(T.Hodges, M.Hessman, W.Betemit, A.Wainwright)
11. Florida Marlins(A.Nunez, J.Medrano, K.Hooper, Ad.Gonzalez, J.Stokes)
12. Oakland Athletics(E.German, R.Harden, J.Rheinecker, J. Arnold, J-F.Griffin)
13. Seattle Mariners(W.Bloomquist, C.Snelling, J.Strong, C.Nagoette, T.Blackley)
14. Detroit Tigers(E.Munson, F.German, O.Infante, A.Torres, J.Bonderman)
15. Chicago Cubs(H.S.Choi, F.Beltran, D.Kelton, S.Smyth, B.Harris)
16. Kansas City Royals(I.Ferguson, K.Harvey, J.Gobble, A.Gomez)
17. Cincinnati Reds(B.Larson, L.Hudson, W.M.Pena, J.Hall, R.Olmedo)
18. Tampa Bay Devil Rays(R.Baldelli, L.Carter, D.Brazelton, J.Gomes(x2))
19. Toronto Blue Jays(J.Werth, K.Cash, S.Fagan, G.Gross, M.Smith, F.Rosario)
20. New York Yankees(J.Rivera, D.Henson, J.DePaula)
21. Milwaukee Brewers(K.Ginter, J.Rushford, P.Liriano, M.Jones, P.Fielder)
22. Boston Red Sox(K.Youkilis, F.Sanchez)
23. Baltimore Orioles(E.Bedard)

Today's Fantasy Rx: When you look at the usual lists of Milwaukee's top prospects over the winter, you'll see names like Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, Brad Nelson, and Dave Krynzel. Aside from Nelson, who spent most of the season at A Beloit, the other three earned promotions to AA based on offensive statistics inflated at A+ High Desert, which is on the short list of best hitting parks in baseball. As none of these four prospects displayed even acceptable plate discipline, I recommend you wait at least another year before drafting any of them. Also, if you draft Mike Jones for his long-term upside, don't worry if you see some fairly poor numbers as he pitches in High Desert in 2003; based on the likelihood of him posting at least a 4.00 ERA, you also could consider waiting one more year before selecting him for your fantasy team.

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