Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
The Orioles arrived at yet another crossroads as the season closed. Manager Mike Hargrove's contract expired, and the two-headed GM team of Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie decided to change dugout leadership. Now Beattie could leave to replace Pat Gillick in Seattle, while Hall of Famer Eddie Murray and bench coach Sam Perlozzo look like the top candidates to replace Hargrove.
Even if Beattie and/or Flanagan find a field general to lead the team back to the Oriole Way of decades gone, the franchise remains in flux due to the lack of talent on the roster. Two outstanding deadline deals, moving Sidney Ponson for Kurt Ainsworth, Damian Moss, and Ryan Hannaman and sending Jeff Conine to Florida for Denny Bautista and Don Levinski, brought a welcome influx of young pitching talent. David Segui, Omar Daal, and Buddy Groom continue to clutter the roster, but the decision to give significant at-bats to younger players at least helped the development of Brian Roberts, Luis Matos, Larry Bigbie, and Jack Cust. The contracts of Tony Batista, Brook Fordyce, Deivi Cruz, and B.J. Surhoff, as well as the albatross payments to Albert Belle and Scott Erickson, all expired as September ended, so significant cash resources appear available to add free agents and/or expensive players in trade.
Rebuilding the Orioles into an AL East contender requires adding elite players to the core of role players developing in Camden Yards. The team could enter next season with Geronimo Gil catching, Jay Gibbons, Jerry Hairston, Roberts, and Melvin Mora in the infield, and an outfield of Cust, Matos, and Bigbie. Of course, the wiser strategy involves upgrading at catcher, right field, and shortstop or third base while hoping Gibbons, Roberts, and the outfielders continue improving. Ideally, they should find a way to add Javy Lopez, Miguel Tejada, and Vladimir Guerrero while slotting Mora at third base. Although those three studs might cost over $40 million a year, Baltimore's budget can handle the bump.
Upgrading at least a third of the everyday lineup will necessitate skimping on pitching, however I view Eric DuBose, Kurt Ainsworth, Matt Riley, and some combination of Rod Lopez, Damian Moss, and John Stephens as a perfectly adequate stable of starters. Jorge Julio, B.J.Ryan, and Rick Bauer comprise a respectable late-inning crew, and Groom, Daal, John Parrish, and veteran relievers looking for any available roster spots could round out a decent pen. Nevertheless, I suspect Baltimore will keep Pat Hentgen and add at least one veteran starter while possibly non-tendering Moss, which should result in a cheaper option at third base in lieu of Tejada at short. Losing Sean Douglass on waivers deprives the team of a quality AAAA pitcher with impressive upside, depleting the team of needed replacement-level depth.
The primary objective of the Orioles off-season should be to add an under-30 superstar like Vlad as the new face of the team while finding a manager capable of blending a slow influx of rookie talent with young veterans like Gibbons, Julio, and Ryan. I doubt this team will finish above either the Red Sox or Yankees before 2005, and both Tampa Bay and Toronto could challenge for a playoff spot before Baltimore. Returning the franchise to competitiveness necessitates adding the star power lacking in the farm system. Following the Rangers' plan to build around ARod makes the most sense given Vlad's Hall of Fame upside and the appeal of a non-threatening media market like Baltimore to the reticent Guerrero. The Orioles even hold an advantage over the Rangers in that few long-term contracts constrain their financial flexibility while the presence of young pitchers like Ainsworth, DuBose, and Riley could result in a season of surprising competitiveness by 2006.
Tim Raines, Jr., 24, OF-S
While thanks to abundant strikeout totals he never possessed his dad's potential, Raines looked like an intriguing prospect until Baltimore pushed him from the A+ Carolina League through Bowie and Rochester to Baltimore in order to play with his dad in the majors in 2001. He rebounded nicely this season, however his .261/.310/.342 at Bowie a year ago severely diminishes his long-term upside, particularly since his plate discipline, while increasingly better, isn't at an acceptable level for a player with almost no power. Raines' roto value lies in his impressive SB totals, and he could contribute to winning teams if given an everyday job. Unfortunately, Baltimore already possesses a few young outfielders with better all-around skills, so unless the organization suddenly focuses on speed and defense, don't expect much help from Raines in 2004.
The stupid decision to promote the overworked Riley at the end of 1999 led to three disastrous seasons that included Tommy John surgery and no ERA under 6.00 at any level. His reemergence as a very promising starting prospect this year is one of the better developments for Baltimore in a couple years. Riley managed a 34 QA log in two starts against the powerful Toronto offense, and given his dominating performance in the minors, he should receive every opportunity to break camp in the rotation. I see nothing here that suggests Riley hasn't regained the promise he displayed a few years ago, so a minimal investment on Riley at the end of spring drafts should result in an impressive return over the next couple of seasons.
Denny Bautista, 20, RH Starter
Thanks to the Mike Lowell injury, Baltimore managed to swipe Bautista and Don Levinski from Florida for the overrated and overpaid Jeff Conine at the August trade deadline. Bautista should rank with Matt Riley, John Maine, and Mike Fontenot at the top of Baltimore's prospect lists next year as his raw stuff and improving skills give him an incredibly high ceiling. While he obviously needs more development time, Bautista's dominating inning at the 2003 Futures Game announced his pending arrival to the rest of the league. Expect him to receive a cup-of-coffee next September and then earn a rotation spot for good some time in 2005. As Florida has taken remarkably good care of his arm, a relatively safe low pick spent on Bautista could net you a future ace.
Bedard's arm self-destructed a year ago in June when his manager and pitching coach at Bowie allowed him to exceed his organization-imposed pitch count, leading to the nearly immediate reassignment of the guilty parties. Although he attempted to correct the problem with rehab, Bedard required Tommy John surgery that September and only returned to mound late this summer. We really can't tell if he's ready to return as a successful pitcher and top prospect, however he demonstrated excellent control and dominance in these rehab starts, so I still expect him to develop into a top starter. You shouldn't need to select Bedard early in any drafts, but a late round pick here, while still rather risky, could net you a future ace.
After gaining three years in agegate, Calzado's performance in his debut season at AAA suddenly thrusts him into the role of AAAA utility infielder. He lacks power, plate discipline, and a steady glove, however he can handle any position on the left side of the field and owns good speed. While I don't view him as a viable fantasy option at the moment, he should emerge as a decent MIF within a few years if he finds a helpful new organization.
Drumright still hasn't sniffed the majors despite his status as the 11th overall pick of the 1995 draft and seven straight years of pitching effectively at AAA. I really don't believe that some scout that propped him a decade ago hasn't pushed to give him a shot, particularly given his increasingly solid skill ratios. Of course, he hasn't demonstrated any overly obvious upside, and consistently poor qualitative marks tend to negate decent skills in the minds of most front office personnel. Drumright still should succeed in the right situation, but his window is beginning to close, meaning he likely won't be a viable fantasy option any time soon.
The 19th overall pick in the 2001 draft, Fontenot didn't sign in time to play that year, so he instead debuted last season in the Carolina League, compiling a weak .264/.333/.364 and a 42:117 BB:K in 481 at-bats. He doesn't possess overly impressive physical gifts at 5'8", yet he leapt forward this year in almost every category. We saw his walk rate jump from .09 to .11 and his contact rate increase from .76 to .80 while he moved to AA and improved his slugging percentage by well over 100 points. Fontenot even posted a 76% SB success rate while committing a relatively decent total of 18 errors in 114 games. The only obstacle to Fontenot's development is the presence of Jerry Hairston and Brian Roberts in the majors, so hopefully the Orioles will deal Hairston and shift Roberts to shortstop, as Fontenot could man second base in Baltimore indefinitely, provided his move to AAA goes smoothly.
Forystek's AA debut should merit some attention from prospect watchers, as among young left-handers, he established himself as one of those closest to contributing in the majors. His move to the rotation appears an unqualified success, since his walk and hit rates improved while his homer and strikeout rates didn't deteriorate significantly. I don't view him as a viable fantasy pick now, however he could emerge as no less than reasonably safe roster filler in the very near future.
Despite three straight years at AAA, Baltimore still hasn't deigned to promote Garabito, although that decision appears based on Garabito's empty batting average, mediocre speed, and the inconsistent defense suggested when one commits 29 errors in 111 games in the field. Garabito also gained two years in agegate, so I don't see him contributing to the Orioles any time soon. Perhaps a new organization will better appreciate his limited gifts, but he won't belong on any fantasy roster for the foreseeable future.
In 2000, we expected Garcia to emerge as the logical option to close in Pittsburgh, but a disastrous April performance cast him out of the majors and led to stops in the Korean and Mexican Leagues over the last couple of years. Of course, Garcia still owns excellent core skills, and a smart organization would invite him to Spring Training and give him an extended chance to contribute in the majors. However, fantasy owners should wait until he actually receives that opportunity before seriously considering him.
Baltimore may only possess a few prospects with exciting upside, but their reserve of upper level utility prospects is quite impressive. Hammond is the best of the group, as while he doesn't own many obvious tools, he possesses consistent defense and the ability to play nearly any position. He committed only 6 errors this year while playing 38 games at 2B, 33 in the outfield, 20 at 3B, 18 at SS, and 14 at 1B. Between his solid plate discipline, fantastic position flexibility, and the Orioles' willingness to employ older minor leaguers in reserve roles, he easily could break camp in the majors and contribute in a limited role off the bench.
Nearly a decade of demonstrating consistent control in the upper minors has only resulted in three brief promotions for Harikkala, each lasting less than 15 innings. However his performance this season again shows us that he owns sufficient skills to succeed as either a middle reliever or bottom-of-the-rotation starter. If a front office executive is willing to give him another chance, Harikkala will be an intriguing roto sleeper.
Oakland dumped this nondrafted free agent after two unsuccessful looks at him in the California League. I suspect they were as surprised as anyone when Baltimore signed him, immediately placed him in their starting lineup at AA, and watched Hoffpauir develop into a decent backup prospect. He isn't a particularly reliable defender, but he can handle shortstop and the outfield, possesses a great contact rate, and owns enough speed and power upside to merit further examination. Unless he succeeds quickly after finding a AAA job somewhere, Hoffpauir will lose his best chance at seeing extended time in the majors. Hopefully, his averages will hold next year as his overall upside could make him an intriguing Dollar Days MIF pick.
Instead of matriculating to Baltimore this summer alongside Lynx teammates Luis Matos and Larry Bigbie, McDonald missed the last few months of the season following surgery to repair a torn labrum. While his missed development time should lead him to spend most of 2004 back in the minors, McDonald remains a solid prospect who could emerge as a decent starter once he develops more power. Only the Orioles' increasingly crowded outfield situation makes him a poor draft pick next spring.
After spending the majority of four seasons at Bowie, Rakers finally moved to AAA. His increasing dominance as the Bay Sox's closer merited him a promotion as soon as 2000, and while he posted a poor ERA at Ottawa, he still compiled solid skill ratios. Rakers remains one of the better homegrown relief prospects in the system, and he should begin contributing to the Orioles' bullpen in a limited role sometime in 2004.
Yes, Swann somehow still qualifies as a rookie despite spending at least part of each of the last nine seasons at AAA. Of course, he doesn't own great skills, only a decent walk rate, little speed, and marginal power, so unless he's hiding impressive pinch-hitting ability, he doesn't offer the one-dimensional upside teams appear to desire in bench players. While I still see some potential here since he owns a career 4.67 #P/PA over 30 plate appearances, but he isn't someone likely to help roto teams until you see an organization commit a bench spot to him. Even then, he's more likely to emerge as safe roster filler rather than as someone you should target.
John Maine, 22, RH Starter
My only real concern regarding Maine's future involves the propensity of Orioles' prospects to require intensive injury. While his lack of time in the upper minors makes him a mildly risky selection, Maine has completely dominated three different leagues since Baltimore selected him in the 6th round of the 2002 draft. His career ratios of an 11.7 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, .3 HR/9, and 5.6 H/9 all scream "Ace" without reservation. Maine could see a cup of coffee next September before he assumes his place in the Orioles' rotation as the best Baltimore starter since Mike Mussina. He obviously merits a very high pick in any minor league draft in deeper keeper leagues.
The Orioles' system remains relatively devoid of prospect depth, largely due to injuries to top prospects like Riley, Bedard, and Stahl over the past few years. The development of Fontenot and Maine, couple with the 2003 promise displayed by Matos and Bigbie, place this organization in its best position in years. While there aren't many players I'd want to draft here, the presence of the aforementioned prospects, in addition to Raines, Bautista, and McDonald, at least should provide enough talent to give Baltimore a reasonable shot at competitiveness within the next few years.
Current ranking of potentially helpful fantasy depth for teams discussed thus far in 2003, based on both the quality and quantity of players ready to contribute in the majors, as well as consideration of the trade value of minor league draft picks from the lower levels of each system:
1. Anaheim Angels(Amezaga, McPherson, E.Santana, Quinlan)
3:15: New York Yankees @ Boston
Prior should insure the Cubs clinch tonight while Derek Lowe will give the Red Sox the lead as they head back to New York.
1. Matt Riley, SP
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