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

Today's Fantasy Rx

Pittsburgh remains a refuge for the older, overpaid ballplayer with limited upside. Only Brian Giles continually excels among their offensive players, and they've experienced difficulty keeping their pitchers healthy at most levels of the system. While we agree that manager Lloyd McClendon earned another year with the organization, I'm uncertain how much the Pirates can improve by only losing Mike Benjamin, Keith Osik, Ron Villone, and maybe Brian Boehringer in free agency>

Ideally their offseason will qualify as a success if they don't trade Brian Giles, however they almost must consider any deal involving an exchange of a major league regular for a couple of AAA-ready prospects. Pittsburgh won't reach the playoffs with only one good offensive player, one decent hitter in Aramis Ramirez, and a few players who rank among the worst producers at their positions in the majors. If GM Dave Littlefield can add two or more potential future starting position players, then Giles must remain in play this offseason. Existing contracts basically insure that Kevin Young will remain at first base, Pokey Reese at second, Aramis Ramirez at third, and Jason Kendall at catcher. Jack Wilson also seems likely to stay at short, and Craig Wilson may continue earning much of the playing time in right field, but centerfield is a complete free-for-all at the moment. Considering that Pittsburgh's only decent outfield prospects are the toolsy Tony Alvarez and J.J. Davis, both likely only projecting as backups, a 3-for-1 trade involving two good OF prospects and at least one other player seems like good compensation for Giles.

Fortunately the continuing return of Kris Benson from Tommy John surgery gives Pittsburgh an ace, and Kip Wells and Josh Fogg are very good #2 and #3 starters respectively. Former White Sox's prospect Matt Guerrier is ready to step into the rotation, so the only dilemma here is selecting between Brian Meadows, Salomonn Torres, and any off-season acquisitions for the fifth starter's slot.

Mike Williams and Scott Sauerbeck combine to offer some of the best short relief in the league, and the development of Mike Lincoln and Duaner Sanchez makes Boehringer expendable. So aside from the likelihood of adding one or two very inexpensive free agents, the bullpen will remain relatively unchanged.

Pittsburgh looks prepared to enter another year with relatively good pitching throughout the system but nearly no hitters worth discussing. I'll be shocked if they even approach a winning record, since the only appropriate action for Littlefield likely involves trading some of the young pitching depth for above average offensive players and key positions, even ignoring defense when necessary to add more good bats to the lineup. Anyone who remains willing to keep Reese and Jack Wilson gainfully employed apparently doesn't understand the benefits of actually scoring runs, so Pirates' fans appear destined for another long season.

Double-Digit Upside

Matt Guerrier, 24, RH Starter
7-12 on 130:47 K:BB in 157 IP over 26 GS(27G) with 154 H, 20 HR
and a 4.59 ERA at AAA Nashville(PCL).

While Guerrier still could have really helped the Sox this year, Damaso Marte also pitched great in relief all season. Guerrier suffers from a slight homer problem and general lack of dominance, however he also displays consistently excellent command , so I expect him to combine with Kip Wells and Josh Fogg to give Pittsburgh a very solid ex-Sox middle-of-the-rotation. He could easily return several dollars of profit on a minimal investment.

Duaner Sanchez, 23, RH Reliever
0-0 on 6:7 K:BB in 6 IP over 9 G with 6 H, 2 HR,
and a 9.00 ERA between Arizona and Pittsburgh.
5-7 and 20 Saves on 66:25 K:BB in 63.2 IP over 55 G with 60 H, 4 HR,
and a 3.96 ERA between AA El Paso(TL), AAA Tucson(PCL),
and AAA Nashville(PCL).

Mike Williams' struggles towards the end of the season might result in an open Pittsburgh closer role in the second half of 2003, and Sanchez is the best candidate to pick up any available save opportunities. He began dominating this season after converting from starting, and acquiring Sanchez for Mike Fetters ranks among the better recent Pirates' moves. Sanchez could easily earn several dollars as just as a middle reliever, and he's also the young right-handed reliever in the majors with projectable dominance who seems capable of closing.

Reserve Help

Tony Alvarez, 23, OF-R
8/26 for .308/.379/.500 with 1 HR, 2 RBI, 6 R, 1/1 SB%,
and 3:5 BB:K in Pittsburgh.
161/507 for .318/.361/.483 with 15 HR, 59 RBI, 79 R, 29/47 SB%,
and 27:71 BB:K at AA Altoona(EL).

Alvarez spent most of a second year at AA, and he doesn't appear to own any impressive baseball skills. His plate discipline is horrible, I don't see much power potential in his near future, and a 62% SB success rate is fairly poor. While Alvarez's power-speed combo will intrigue some owners, he doesn't even appear ready for AAA, so he's not worth selecting in most leagues. Avoid Alvarez until he at least starts walking around 10% of the time.

Humberto Cota, 23, C-R
5/17 for .294/.333/.353 with 0 HR< 0 RBI, 2 R, 0/0 SB%,
and 1:4 BB:K in Pittsburgh.
108/404 for .267/.321/.406 with 9 HR, 54 RBI, 51 R, 5/13 SB%,
and 31:106 BB:K at AAA Nashville(PCL).

Cota looked like one of the best catching prospects in baseball last season but Pittsburgh sent him back for another AAA season due to their refusal to move Keith Osik. He still hasn't developed much plate discipline, and the drop in his averages is troublesome, however he still offers more immediate power potential than any other minor league catcher in the organization. There's no reason he shouldn't break camp as Kendall's backup since I believe Cota' out of options, and even if his BA is a problem, he's a solid choice as a $1 catcher who could contribute Mark Parent-like power.

J.J. Davis, 24, OF-R
1/10 for .100/.182/.100 with 0 HR, 0 RBI, 1 R, 0/0 SB%,
and 0:4 BB:K in Pittsburgh.
100/348 for .287/.351/.526 with 20 HR, 62 RBI, 51 R, 7/11 SB%,
and 33:101 BB:K at AA Altoona(EL).

Davis is very similar to Curve teammate Tony Alvarez in that he offers five-tool upside without the majority of the skills needed to properly use his tools. At least he's posting a decent walk rate this year, and his power numbers are also intriguing, so Davis is mostly ready to determine his distance from the majors by spending 2003 in AAA. While he might continue developing into a future starting outfielder, his overall skills don't warrant any selection above a rather low pick, so I'd wait until he earns another promotion to the majors before considering him for my team.

Carlos Rivera, 24, 1B-L
149/494 for .302/.345/.500 with 22 HR, 84 RBI, 67 R, 1/2 SB%,
and 27:95 BB:K at AA Altoona(EL).

Pittsburgh recently added him to the 40-man roster following this rather impressive AA season. Unfortunately he compiled these stats while repeating the level, although these are his easily his best overall marks from any season. I don't expect him in the majors for another year or two based on his track record, however Rivera may possess the talent necessary to win the first base job in a year after Kevin Young's contract expires. Don't spend a draft pick on him since we don't know if he can repeat these numbers while moving up to AAA, but if he reaches the majors after another impressive season, look to FAAB him as a potential starter for 2004.

Shawn Camp, 26, RH Reliever
4-1 on 59:15 K:BB in 58.1 IP over 39 G with 50 H, 5 HR,
and a 3.24 ERA at AAA Nashville(PCL).

San Diego drafted and developed Camp into a promising relief prospect before trading him to Pittsburgh in the Emil Brown deal. After he compiled these very solid skill ratios at AAA this year, Camp's earned a long look in the majors next year and could emerge as a very effective setup man. He's a reasonable Dollar Days' target if he appears likely to break camp with the team, and at least merits strong consideration as a midseason pickup if his major league skills are relatively close to these excellent minor league rates.

Rick Palma, 23, LH Reliever
2-3 on 68:21 K:BB in 71 IP over 55 G with 67 H, 3 HR,
and a 1.90 ERA between AA West Tenn(SL), AAA Iowa(PCL),
and AA Altoona(EL).

Palma's impressed me for the last two years as perhaps the Cubs' best left-handed relief prospect, and Pittsburgh added a fairly good pitcher when they acquired Palma as part of the renegotiated compensation for Chad Hermansen after Darren Lewis retired. I'm surprised that he only found 3 AAA innings this season despite obvious mastery of AA, but he could be ready to contribute in the majors by mid-2003. If his skills remain good once he reaches the majors, he'll be worth a pickup in some leagues.

Ryan Vogelsong, 25, RH Starter
2-6 on 55:17 K:BB in 59.1 IP over 12 GS with 66 H, 5 HR,
and a 6.22 ERA between A+ Lynchburg(Car) and AA Altoona(EL).

Aside from an unfairly inflated ERA, Vogelsong posted very impressive stats in his return from Tommy John surgery. The trade in which Pittsburgh acquired Vogelsong and Armando Rios for Jason Schmidt and John Vander Wal currently looks very one-sided, but healthy seasons from the two Pirates would help balance the scales. Vogelsong still could easily run into problems in AAA or the majors, but he's the best internal option for fifth starter when healthy, and a Dollar Days' investment could return a nice profit.

Minor League Draft

Josh Bonifay, 24, 2B/OF-R
142/463 for .307/.388/.557 with 26 HR, 102 RBI, 83 R, 3/6 SB%,
and 63:97 BB:K at A+ Hickory(Car).

Nepotism picks from the 24th round are never supposed to display this much promise even when repeating a level. Bonifay offers impressive power potential with 63 extra-base hits, and along with his relatively good plate discipline makes, these skills indicate Bonifay's a fairly good second base prospect. I don't expect him to develop into a particularly dynamic player, however his current statistical profile indicates he could hold a starting job for a few years even with his dad a few years removed from active control over the franchise. Only consider drafting him in the deepest of leagues where you just don't want to select more pitchers.

John Van Benschoten, 22, RH Starter
11-4 on 145:62 K:BB in 148 IP over 27 GS with 119 H, 6 HR,
and a 2.80 ERA at A Hickory(Sal).

Of the several intriguing A-ball pitching prospects in the system, only Van Benschoten offers enough overall upside to merit a draft pick as while he couldn't match Sean Burnett's overall effectiveness at A+ Lynchburg, Van Benschoten displayed superior dominance with similar projectability. Van Benschoten ranks among the safer draft picks in the game since he owned among the best power in the 2001 draft, so even if he unexpectedly struggles with pitching at some point, he's capable of emerging as an intriguing roto asset as a position player. Consider spending a low round pick on him in deeper leagues.

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

B.J. Barns, 25, A+ Lynchburg(Car) OF-L
Jose Bautista, 22, A Hickory(Sal) 3B-R
Vic Buttler, 22, A Hickory(Sal) OF-L
Jose Castillo, 21, A+ Lynchburg(Car) SS-R
Brandon Chaves, 23, A Hickory(Sal) SS-S
Domingo Cuello, 19, A- Williamsport(NYP) 2B-R
Yurendell DeCaster, 23, A+ Lynchburg(Car) 3B-R
Ryan Doumit, 21, A Hickory(Sal) C-S
Chris Duffy, 22, A+ Lynchburg(Car) OF-S
Shawn Garrett, 24, AA Altoona(EL) OF-S
Jeremy Harts, 22, A Hickory(Sal) OF-S
Kevin Haverbusch, 26, AAA Nashville(PCL) OF-R
J.R. House, 22, AA Altoona(EL) C-R
Jeff Keppinger, 22, A Hickory(Sal) 2B-R
Brad King, 27, AAA Tulsa(PCL) C-R
Nate McLouth, 21, A+ Lynchburg(Car) OF-L
Ray Navarrete, 24, A+ Lynchburg(Car) 1B/2B-R
John Pachot, 27, AA Altoona(EL) OF-R
Ron Paulino, 21, A+ Lynchburg(Car) C-R
Dave Post, 29, AAA Nashville(PCL) 2B-R
Manny Ravelo, 23, A Hickory(Sal) OF-R
Reed Secrist, 32, AAA Nashville(PCL) 3B/UT-L
Chris Shelton, 22, A Hickory(Sal) 1B/C-R
Rico Washington, 24, AA Altoona(EL) 3B/UT-L
Walter Young, 22, A Hickory(Sal) 1B-L

Jay Alcala, 22, A+ Lynchburg(Car) RH Reliever
Jeff Bennett, 22, A+ Lynchburg(Car) RH Starter
Brady Borner, 23, A+ Lynchburg(Car) LH Swingman
Bobby Bradley, 21, A+ Lynchburg(Car) RH Starter in '01; injured in '02
Bryan Bullington, 22, Ball State RH Starter; no professional experience
Mike Bumatay, 23, A+ Lynchburg(Car) LH Reliever
Sean Burnett 20, A+ Lynchburg(Car) LH Starter
Adrian Burnside, 25, AA Altoona(EL) LH Starter
Dan Carrasco, 25, A+ Lynchburg(Car) RH Reliever
Mike Connolly, 20, A+ Lynchburg(Car) LH Swingman
Carlos de los Santos, 24, A Hickory(Sal) RH Reliever
Greg Dukeman, 23, A+ Lynchburg(Car) RH Reliever
Drew Friedberg, 23, A Hickory(Sal) LH Reliever
Mike Gonzalez, 24, AA Altoona(EL) LH Starter
John Grabow, 23, AA Altoona(EL) LH Starter
Julio Guerrero, 21, A Hickory(Sal) RH Reliever
Brad Guy, 26, AA Altoona(EL) RH Reliever
Josh Higgins, 23, A+ Lynchburg(Car) RH Reliever
Landon Jacobsen, 23, A+ Lynchburg(Car) RH Starter
Mike Johnston, 23, A+ Lynchburg(Car) RH Swingman
Tim Lavery, 23, A+ Lynchburg(Car) LH Swingman
Neal McDade, 26, AA Altoona(EL) RH Reliever
Jeff Miller, 22, A Hickory(Sal) RH Swingman
Matt Montgomery, 26, AA Altoona(EL) RH Reliever
Roberto Novoa, 23, A Hickory(Sal) RH Starter
Pat O'Brien, 21, A Hickory(Sal) RH Starter
Ian Oquendo, 21, A Hickory(Sal) RH Starter
Justin Reid, 25, AA Altoona(EL) RH Starter
Jon Searles, 21, A Hickory(Sal) RH Reliever
Ben Shaffar, 25, AAA Nashville(PCL) RH Starter
Jason Sharber, 20, A+ Lynchburg(Car) RH Starter
Casey Shumaker, 22, A Hickory(Sal) RH Reliever
Chris Spurling, 25, AA Altoona(EL) RH Reliever
Larry Wimberley, 27, AA Altoona(EL) LH Reliver
Chris Young, 23, A Hickory(Sal) RH Starter

Lynchburg pitching coach Blaine Beatty looks like a rising star as nearly every pitcher on the Hillcats demonstrated solid skills across the board, yet Hickory boasted more potential top starters with Van Benschoten, Chris Young, and Ian Oquendo. So the pitching depth in the lower levels of the organization is extraordinary, and with Wednesday's signing of Bryan Bullington, who likely would have debuted in at A Hickory, Pittsburgh might possess the best collection of A-ball pitchers in the majors. However I only see a couple of position players throughout the system that own the skills normally necessary to find success in the majors, and few prospects seem likely to contribute in the majors in 2003. Matt Guerrier, Duaner Sanchez, Shawn Camp, and Humberto Cota are probably on the short list, but I wouldn't be surprised if Pittsburgh rookies earn a total of around $15 in roto value. Pittsburgh still offers a better selection of rookies than teams like the Yankees and Brewers, but Toronto holds both better major league talent and trade bait.

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. Philadelphia Phillies(M.Byrd, C.Utley, E.Junge, T.Chapman, G.Floyd)
10. Houston Astros(J.Lane, J.Robertson, B. Lidge, J.Buck, C.Burke)
11. New York Mets(A.Heilman, T.Wigginton, M.Scutaro, Jo.Reyes, J.Phillips)
12. Atlanta Braves(T.Hodges, M.Hessman, W.Betemit, A.Wainwright)
13. Florida Marlins(A.Nunez, J.Medrano, K.Hooper, Ad.Gonzalez, J.Stokes)
14. Oakland Athletics(E.German, R.Harden, J.Rheinecker, J. Arnold, J-F.Griffin)
15. Seattle Mariners(W.Bloomquist, C.Snelling, J.Strong, C.Nagoette, T.Blackley)
16. Detroit Tigers(E.Munson, F.German, O.Infante, A.Torres, J.Bonderman)
17. Chicago Cubs(H.S.Choi, F.Beltran, D.Kelton, S.Smyth, B.Harris)
18. Kansas City Royals(I.Ferguson, K.Harvey, J.Gobble, A.Gomez)
19. Cincinnati Reds(B.Larson, L.Hudson, W.M.Pena, J.Hall, R.Olmedo)
20. Tampa Bay Devil Rays(R.Baldelli, L.Carter, D.Brazelton, J.Gomes(x2))
21. Toronto Blue Jays(J.Werth, K.Cash, S.Fagan, G.Gross, M.Smith, F.Rosario)
22. Pittsburgh Pirates(M.Guerrier, Du.Sanchez, H.Cota, S.Camp)
23. New York Yankees(J.Rivera, D.Henson, J.DePaula)
24. Milwaukee Brewers(K.Ginter, J.Rushford, P.Liriano, M.Jones, P.Fielder)
25. Boston Red Sox(K.Youkilis, F.Sanchez)
26. Montreal Expos(R.Calloway, J.Carroll, V.Pascucci, T.Sledge, S.Song)
27. Baltimore Orioles(E.Bedard)

Today's Fantasy Rx: We continue to hear a lot about Pittsburgh "hitting" prospects like J.R. House and outfielders like Tony Alvarez and J.J. Davis. None of these players look relatively close to contributing in the majors, so there's no reason to own them in the vast majority of leagues.

As we're attending the AFL Symposium this weekend, we will be unable to reply to e-mail until later next week. However we will continue posting new columns every day, and I expect to complete these prospect reviews before spending several days discussing news and notes from Arizona.

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