Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Although the Royals stumbled in the second half to finish with only 83 wins, behind both the Twins' 90 victories and Chicago's 86 wins, 2003 qualifies as a complete success for Kansas City by almost any other measure. The Royals posted an 18-22 record in one-run games thanks to the American League's second worst bullpen, yet likely Manager of the Year Tony Pena still pushed them to win five more games than their Pythagorean Record predicted. By Baseball Prospectus' 3rd order winning percentage, Kansas City finished over 11 games above their projected win total, easily the best mark in the league by more than double the second most overachieving team. Also, thanks to finishing above .500, Kansas City also negated an escape clause in Mike Sweeney's contract, so the All-Star first baseman and clubhouse leader will remain with the club through 2007 at $11M a year.
While Carlos Beltran missed much of April due to injury, he provided a needed offensive presence upon his return and should merit serious MVP consideration. Although only Sweeney and Beltran posted an OBP above .350 among regulars, nearly everyone on the team managed an OPS over .700, and the worst hitting players generally contributed excellent defense. Of course, Angel Berroa's stunning emergence might be the most important long-term development. One year after producing a .215/.277/.360 performance at AAA Omaha, Berrora posted a .287/.338/.451 mark, ranked among the top shortstops in the majors by most defensive metrics, and should easily win the Rookie of the Year.
We can attribute some of the 100 run increase in the Royals' offense to simply swapping Berroa for Neifi Perez, however the man most responsible for this surprisingly competent offense is hitting coach Jeff Pentland. Kansas City jumped from a .256/.323/.398 performance as a team to a .274/.336/.427 thanks to a jump in contact rate that led to 111 more singles and 22 more home runs. The team also attempted 43 fewer steals, which helped improve their success rate from 68% to 74%.
The most important task facing the club this off-season is to secure Carlos Beltran to a long-term deal even if that means committing half the payroll to Sweeney and Beltran. Kansas City will lose the boost they'll take from this season if they don't remain in contention next year, and as Raul Ibanez, Michael Tucker, Rondell White, Brent Mayne, and even Joe Randa might leave as free agents, keeping Beltran appears essential.
Keeping Beltran and Sweeney give the Royals potent bats in the middle of the lineup for the next four years. Aaron Guiel, who posted a .277/.346/.489 in limited action but without suffering from a significant platoon split, deserves a long look in right field, combining with Berroa to provide decent power in the lower half of the lineup. While Desi Relaford's .254/.315/.376 suggests he belongs on the bench, both Ken Harvey and Relaford simply crushed left-handers, so if the Royals find left-handed platoon partners for them at DH and second base, the top of the lineup suddenly looks very solid. Relatively inexpensive possibilities at DH include Brad Fullmer, Matt Stairs, and Howie Clark, and neither Marco Scutaro nor Mark Bellhorn should cost much in trade.
Left field looks like a trouble spot with Ibanez departing, however if the Royals keep Beltran, rookie David DeJesus can adequately replace Ibanez's .268 EQA. DeJesus posted a .263 MjEQA at Omaha, owns excellent plate discipline, and possess enough speed and defensive ability to provide an upgrade on Ibanez's performance for a minimum salary.
So Kansas City can platoon Relaford and Scutaro/Bellhorn at leadoff, DeJesus's likely .375+ OBP second, Beltran third, Sweeney fourth, and the Harvey/veteran left-handed masher platoon fifth. Berroa and Guiel will occupy two of the last four lineup slots, and with Brent Mayne cut loose yesterday, Kansas City at least can target solid defensive players at third base and catcher if they can't find obvious offensive upgrades. Keeping Randa also isn't a bad idea as the team lacks infield prospects, however I see a few decent catchers in the pipeline, so the Royals can seek a short-term solution at catcher like Benito Santiago or Greg Myers.
Unfortunately, upgrading the Royals' offense in a payroll-neutral manner is an easy task compared to the massive problems with the team's pitching. Opening Day Starter Runelvys Hernandez required Tommy John surgery in September and should miss 2004. By the end of the season, the starting rotation included Brian Anderson, Jamey Wright, Jose Lima, and Paul Abbott, while the bullpen featured Curtis Leskanic, Jason Grimsley, Al Levine, and Graeme Lloyd. All eight veterans, as well as mid-season pick-up Kevin Appier, are free agents now.
The 2004 Royals' rotation should include nominal ace Darrell May, blister sufferer Jeremy Affeldt, Jimmy Gobble, Kyle Snyder, and possibly Chris George. Kansas City obviously needs to upgrade here to remain competitive, so even replacing a lefty like George with someone like Lima should really help. Adding two starters would help even more, however I want to see Affeldt try to pitch through his blister problems in the rotation, and May, Snyder, and Gobble all deserve most of next season to continue proving themselves.
At least the Royals' system features some impressive arms, led by 2002 first round pick Zach Greinke, who stormed through A-ball and pitched effectively during two months at AA Wichita. With Greinke arriving by the end of 2004, the team might have their first true ace since prior to Kevin Appier's injury problems.
Kansas City's bullpen is even more unsettled than the rotation as only Mike MacDougal, D.J. Carrasco, and Nate Field appear set. Although MacDougal began sharing the closer's job in the second half and wound up with a 1.50 WHIP, his relative dominance and upside should force the team to look past his 8 blown saves to his 27 completed opportunities. Neither Carrasco nor Field owns great skills, so finding at least two veteran middle relievers should be a priority. Of course, since nearly 100 decent relievers should be looking for jobs this winter, I don't see this as a severe problem for the Royals.
While failing to make the playoffs qualifies as an obvious disappointment, Kansas City possesses the pieces necessary to remain competitive in a division where the Twins, White Sox, and Indians all expect to make the playoffs no later than 2006. The Royals easily could steal a title or two in the meantime as long as they trust a few capable rookies, don't overpay mediocre veterans, and either secure Beltran for several years or acquire at least one elite CF, 2B, or 3B prospect ready for the majors in return.
David DeJesus, 23, OF-L
DeJesus saw 50 pitches in his 10 plate appearances with the Royals, and if he can maintain that level of patience, he'll spend several years in Kansas City's outfield. Although he possesses neither extreme speed nor power, a .16 walk rate and .86 contact rate are solid marks even for AAA. He might manage a dozen homers and 20 steals in a full season in the majors, however his strength rests with his consistently impressive batting and on-base averages. I expect DeJesus to exceed double-digit value if the Royals start him in 2004, and if he bats high in the order, he could accumulate enough quantitative stats to challenge for Rookie of the Year.
Although Greinke won't turn 20 until Tuesday, his stunning debut in the Carolina League, followed by two extremely effective months in the Texas League, forced him into any discussion of 2003's best minor leaguers. Perhaps the biggest surprised is that he maintained such a high level of excellent during the season after compiling a 14:2 K:BB in 25.2 IP over 4 GS(9G) for Mayaguez of the Puerto Rican Winter League. Almost no teenager ever pitches there, forget about compiling such solid ratios. With four plus pitches and solid speed, control, and movement, Greinke's stuff ranks with nearly any starting pitcher in the minors, and his skills suggest a very high ceiling. He may need one more year of seasoning, however he could dominate even if he reaches the majors before his 21st birthday as long as he stays healthy.
Ryan Baerlocher, 26, RH Starter
Baerlocher rebounded nicely this season after his selection by the Padres in the 2001 minor league draft resulted in an unimpressive year for him even though he returned to the Royals before the 2002 season began. Now he again looks like a decent prospect, and although a 5.5 K/9 doesn't give him much projectability, a 3.2 BB/9 suggests he could pitch effectively in Kansas City now if needed. Expect him to spend a couple more months in Omaha before he likely graduates to fill Kris Wilson's long relief role for the Royals.
The former second round pick reached the majors before his 22nd birthday, fell out of favor with the Padres by his 23rd, and then spend the last couple of years in Japan. While 17 games in his return to the States qualifies as a fairly small sample size, his 13.5 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 at Wichita should catch the attention of anyone looking for an intriguing former starter. Carlyle likely still could emerge as competent rotation filler in some organization, however his performance at Wichita also indicates a potential dominant future in relief.
While Gemoll doesn't possess many obvious tools, he looks like the closest prospect capable of replacing Randa at third base, a fact that tells us more about the Royals' shallow minor league system than Gemoll's current ability. He committed a relatively low total of 13 errors in 108 games this season, however he also only managed a total of 20 extra-base hits. Unless he discovers significant power somewhere, I don't see him seeing much time in the majors.
Although Gettis normally improves in his second tour at a league, his debut AA performance should propel him up Royals' prospect lists, particularly due to his three-digit RBI total. His contact rate improved from .77 to .78 as his walk rate held steady at .11. Gettis also compiled the best extra-base totals of his career, smashing 31 doubles and 4 triples in addition to his decent homer total. He needs to improve his baserunning, however if he can maintain his current skills at Omaha, he should challenge for the starting right field job in 2005.
I don't expect Gilfillan to rejoin the Royals in 2004, however his improvement over the last few years should earn him a long look in some spring camp. While a 5.6 K/9 at Omaha won't garner him much attention, plenty of teams can use a right-hander with a 2.1 BB/9. Of course, he needs to fix his flyball problem, but we should see him again in the majors in the near future if his new team trust his minor league stats.
Somewhat surprisingly, Gomez remained in the minors the entire year after debuting in Kansas City in 2002. Of course, his .295/.359/.466 performance during his second tour at AA Wichita barely merited a promotion, and both his power and speed essentially disappeared in Omaha. Gomez no longer looks like a top prospect, so while he should spend some time starting in the majors eventually, I don't expect to see him succeed with the Royals unless he receives another year in Omaha as he seems to improve in his second season at every level.
His upside doesn't even approach that of the Brewers' prospect of the same name, however the Royals' Hart owns solid plate discipline, decent overall batting skills, and respectable defensive flexibility. He spent at least six games at every infield position and maintains batting and on-base averages at a level that warrants promotion. Although Hart's lack of power always will keep him on the bench, he shouldn't hurt roto teams as eventual roster filler.
The minor league free agent doesn't possess the upside of the 16-year-old prospect who signed with Oakland nearly a decade ago, but Salazar's skills continue to improve and he still could develop into a decent big league starter. Although he isn't worth drafting in the spring, I see enough upside here to warrant keeping him in mind if he succeeds at AAA.
Acquired from the Mets for an as-yet-unnamed PTBNL, Serrano now looks like the Royals' best remaining relief prospect. Over the last three years he owns a 9.2 K/9 and a 3.8 BB/9 at AAA, and while the latter number worries me, his obvious dominance gives him an excellent shot to break camp with Kansas City. He isn't someone to target in spring drafts, however he could challenge MacDougal to close at some point with a little luck.
I don't see a lot of upside in Thompson's numbers, however he posted good skill ratios during parts of four seasons at Midland. His performance at Wichita also suggests he will develop into no less than a competent reliever. Yet even if that 11-0 record in the Kansas City organization raises his off-season profile, Thompson needs to see some extended AAA success before anyone should consider him in fantasy leagues.
Kansas City's selection of Mitch Maier early in this year's draft means that Tonis must stay healthy and finally begin hitting in the very near future or risk losing his support in the organization. This year qualifies as a near-disaster after he posted a .270/.344/.447 in 226 at-bats at Wichita a year ago, so even if he is the only catching prospect close to the majors for the Royals, don't risk a pick on him now.
Vasquez entered this season with a 306:75 K:BB in 272 minor league innings, and in his one year in full-season ball, he posted a 72:18 K:BB in 57 IP split between Burlington and Wilmington. Now he ranks as perhaps the most dominant upper-level prospect in the organization. Given the Royals' recent promotion tendencies, I expect to see him in the majors by next summer. Vasquez should established himself as a competent setup man for or even an alternate closer to MacDougal by no later than 2005.
Kansas City grabbed Walrond off waivers from the Cardinals, and while he struggled in his debut, his AAA performance should earn him a long look in the spring. As Walrond historically posts good strikeout rates with acceptable walk rates, his upside as either a starter or reliever makes him rather intriguing. Of course, you still shouldn't draft him given we have no idea when he'll begin to see success in the majors.
Aside from players listed above, no other Kansas City prospect deserves consideration in 2004 fantasy drafts.
Kansas City burned a lot of upper level depth to acquire Brian Anderson, Curt Leskanic, Graeme Lloyd, Al Leiter, and Rondell White. Now they stand to lose perhaps a third of the players discussed above as minor league free agents. Aside from staff filler and bench help, few prospects anywhere in the system look like future major leaguers. Of course, the organization also graduated Berroa, Guiel, MacDougal, Gobble, and Snyder to the majors in 2003, and both DeJesus and Greinke should be long-time fixtures in Kansas City beginning in the near future. Unfortunately, unless Colt Griffin matures surprisingly quickly, 2003 draftees Chris Lubanski and Mitch Maier lead the next wave of prospects, so Royals' fans shouldn't expect much help from the farm system over 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. Chicago White Sox(J.Reed, Rauch, Miles, Gload, Borchard)
7:00(CDT): Florida @ New York Yankees
While the Marlins unsurprisingly stole Game One from a Yankee team still completely winded from the ALCS, New York should bounce back tonight even if David Wells wasn't able to end Florida's winning streak against left-handed starters. However, if Redman pitches decently and Pettitte struggles in his second start in a row, Torre really might regret not bringing back Mussina and Clemens in Games 2 and 3. If Florida wins out against the Yankee lefties, New York will go down in six games. Of course, we still believe the Series will go the distance before the home team Yankees win, but they should be very worried if they go down 2-0.
1. David DeJesus, OF
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