Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Against our prediction and the hopes of baseball fans across America, the Yankees somehow lucked into another World Series appearance thanks to the incompetence of Grady Little. Of course, possessing a payroll essentially 50% higher than the next biggest spenders gives them an incredible amount of flexibility, allowing the team to rob the Reds of ALCS hero Aaron Boone and relatively dependable relievers Gabe White and Felix Heredia. I don't believe New York belongs in the Series any more than I believe Florida should have beaten San Francisco, but at least these are mostly different teams from the last time either appeared here.
Regardless of the outcome against the Marlins, New York will enter next season with Jorge Posada, Nick Johnson, Jason Giambi, Alfonso Soriano, Jeter, Aaron Boone, Juan Rivera, Bernie Williams, and Hideki Matsui all under the team's control. Even back-ups like 3rd string catcher Michel Hernandez, infielders Enrique Wilson and Erick Almonte, and outfielder David Dellucci all easily could return.
The starting rotation is where this team could experience dramatic changes, yet Mike Mussina, David Wells Jose Contreras, Jeff Weaver, and Jon Lieber all easily could return, as will Mariano Rivera, Chris Hammond, and the perpetually injured Steve Karsay in relief.
While the Yankees possess a couple of quality prospects, including starter Julio DePaula, infielder Bronson Sardinha, and a few other likely role players, not to mention Drew Hensen, I, along with nearly every other analyst, expects the team to upgrade via free agency this winter.
Given the core that will return in 2004, adding at least one starting pitcher, middle reliever, and possibly a right fielder seem like logical moves. Of course, finding an actual leadoff man and improving the defense might even be more important.
I thoroughly expect the Yankees to exercise David Wells' option and to re-sign possible Hall of Famer Andy Pettitte as few other decent lefties appear available. New York will overpay for a top setup man like LaTroy Hawkins, and if Sammy Sosa opts for free agency, I expect him to head to the Bronx. I just don't see Vlad settling here given his reported preference for smaller markets, however somebody like Richard Hidalgo might be a good fit as many teams look to dump payroll.
Unfortunately, none of those moves address an increasingly terrible defense. Moving Jeter to second base, Soriano to center field, and Bernie to right field is one possible solution, as is moving Jeter to third, Boone to second, and then again forming an outfield of Matsui, Soriano, and Bernie. Without improved team range, the Yankees' plethora of groundball pitchers appear at an obvious disadvantage. Kaz Matsui should be everyone's preference to fill middle infield holes, although Miguel Tejada looks like a perfectly viable solution. Adding Luis Castillo at second at least would compensate for Jeter's decreasing range, as well as filling the empty leadoff slot.
Given their essentially unlimited payroll, I don't believe the Yankees can make a bad choice as long as the team manages to improve the defense of a least one position up the middle. They will maintain a top offense under any circumstances, and only continued drops in production from Giambi, Bernie, and an uncertain pitching staff will keep them from returning to the playoffs.
Jorge DePaula, 24, RH Starter
DePaula continued adding to his growing list of credentials by demonstrating competent command and control after advancing to Columbus. More impressively he held the Orioles to two baserunners while striking out six batters in a September start, so although his decreasing dominance limits his long-term upside, DePaula appears ready to contribute in the majors. If New York unexpectedly awards him a starting slot, he easily should attain double-digit value, although I suspect the Yankees instead will treat him like most of their prospects by packaging him for veteran help in the near future. His value would increase in an organization more dependant upon his success, however he still merits a lot of attention as long as he remains only an injury away from regular turns in New York's starting rotation.
Converting to the bullpen this year resulted in a significantly improved fastball, which helped elevated Proctor to the ranks of the game's best relief prospects. New York grabbed him in the deal for Robin Ventura, and after continuing to dominate hitters at Columbus, he easily could break camp in the majors, particularly if the Yankees don't overpay for a few right-handed veterans. Proctor even could develop into a worthy successor to Mariano Rivera if given the opportunity, so while he isn't worthy of a draft pick if he heads back to the minors, consider spending a couple bucks on Proctor if he makes the team. He should earn a few dollars of qualitative value even if doesn't net any wins or saves, but his value also could increase quickly if he earns a vulture role.
Erick Almonte, 25, SS-R
While Almonte's surprisingly strong OBP allowed the Yankees to weather the loss of Jeter into May, he no longer possesses the upside I expected after his strong debut season at AAA in 2001. Inconsistent plate discipline and unimpressive speed skills suggest Almonte not start 29 games in a season again. He should plateau is a moderately useful utility infielder, leaving him with negligible fantasy value in the foreseeable future.
Beal appears unable to successfully complete the transition to AAA, and his hit rates indicate the likely problem. Fortunately, his continually solid dominance and control suggest that either he'll succeed as a starter on a team with a strong defense, or he'll convert to the bullpen by 2005, emerging as a potential closer. I suspect the former scenario given the Yankees' willingness to discard pitching prospects, however since we don't know Beal's next team, we can't view him as a viable fantasy pick.
After a couple of dominating seasons at A+ Tampa, which surrounded two unimpressive stints at Trenton, Bean essentially skipped AA on his way to posting one of the most dominant seasons of any AAA Reliever. While his 3.5 walk rate suggests he won't emerge as a primary part of the Yankees' bullpen, his overall skills indicate a pitcher capable of spending several years in the majors. Viewing Bean as more than roster filler right now is a mistake, but he easily could emerge as a solid set-up man within the next couple of years.
Acquired at the trade deadline from the Dodgers when the Yankees dumped Robin Ventura, the former first round pick enjoyed welcome success after five mostly unimpressive seasons. Crosby doesn't project as anything more than an occasional platoon starter, but he owns decent power and plate discipline, so he could contribute for several years as a backup. Somewhat surprisingly, New York actually provides more opportunity for him than Los Angeles given the Yankees' roster construction over the past few years. Consider grabbing Crosby in Dollar Days if he breaks camp next spring since he could turn a nice profit for you.
Graman now owns a 7.0 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, a .8 HR/9, and a 9.3 H/9 after over 260 innings at Columbus over the last two years. While these aren't great marks, he obviously possesses the skills necessary to succeed in the majors. I don't envision him receiving the necessary opportunity with the Yankees, but as soon as another organization liberates Graman, likely prior to next July's trading deadline, he should see some success in a big league rotation. Keep an eye on his progress even though he isn't a viable fantasy option at the moment.
Irrespective of his fairly terrible hit rate this year, Halsey should enjoy a bright future in baseball. New York selected him in the eighth round of the 2002 draft out of the University of Texas, and now he could reach the majors as soon as late 2004. I certainly don't believe Halsey is a future star, but lefties with consistently solid command remain prized commodities. Expect him to emerge as roster filler by 2005, and if he finds the right situation, he easily could develop into a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
A nearly across-the-board statistical regression leaves Henson with little immediate upside as walk rate and power production drops offset a contact rate leap from .68 to .75. Of course, he also hit 40 doubles, suggesting he still owns incredible upside. Barring an apparently likely breakthrough, Henson needs to begin 2004 at A-ball, then proceed up the minor league ladder after he dominates each level for a couple months. New York still could develop him into a long-term solution at third base, however since the Yankees appear unwilling to try this plan, perhaps Henson should return to football. While he could enjoy a more impressive career and make more money in baseball, his stagnation as a prospect could force him out of this sport, finally eliminating the last vestiges of his fantasy value.
While a full-time conversion to the bullpen should secure Hernandez an extended look in the majors, his dominance still suggests he could succeed as a starter. However, he simply must change organizations soon since the Yankees obviously no longer expect him to succeed. His age makes him a bad roto pick right now, but if he finds a better situation and posts a couple of decent outings after a call-up, consider Hernandez as a free agent since he remains a moderately intriguing prospect.
Despite an atrocious showing in the Arizona Fall League, where Hernandez hit .147/.256/.147, he possesses the defensive skills necessary to supplant Joe Torre's veteran backup backstop of the year on the Yankees' roster. Assuming Hernandez performs sufficiently well in the spring to earn a roster spot, he looks like the first backup catcher in New York worth targeting in spring drafts since Jorge Posada rode the bench behind Joe Girardi in 1997. Hernandez's consistently solid plate discipline almost guarantees a decent batting average, and while he lacks power, he certainly shouldn't hurt you for a buck.
Converting from third base to the outfield definitely limits his upside, however this strong performance in his first full AA season suggests he could spend a couple years as a big league reserve. The Yankees' uncertain outfield depth also could force a call-up in the near future, but unfortunately Jones' overall skills depict a hitter barely ready to succeed at AAA, forget about the majors. I'll be surprised if he even emerges as roster filler before 2006.
Experiencing success as a AAA closer doesn't even insure Marsonek of a call-up in the near future, especially considering his unimpressive dominance. Of course, converting to the bullpen this year at least should improve his chance of reaching the majors. While Marsonek isn't a good prospect, he could contribute for a few years if his command improves.
New York purchased Myrow from Winnipeg of the Northern League in June of 2001, and he compiled a solid .281/.417/.416 performance in the previous season-and-a-half. Still, his overall level of production this season was rather unexpected since he hadn't demonstrated much power potential prior to 2003. Combined with his excellent plate discipline and ability to play third, second, and the outfield, Myrow merits consideration for a Yankee bench spot in the spring. Of course, Myrow is far more likely to leave the system as a minor league free agent eventually than to see many at-bats in New York, but he possesses the skills necessary to contribute in the majors if given an opportunity.
Injuries cost Parker nearly all of 2001 and 2002, and he only reestablished himself as a decent starter this year in time to leave the organization as a minor league free agent. Parker likely needs another full AAA season before we can consider recommending him, however if he can't regain his apparently lost command, we won't need to discuss him many more times.
While his quantitative stats indicate decent long-term upside, unimpressive plate discipline and low averages depict a player with little immediate chance of impacting the majors. Rifkin could see the majors in 2004 as a short-term injury replacement, but he probably won't contribute to many fantasy teams in any significant capacity until 2006 at the earliest.
Even though Schmitt's strikeout rate decreased after he shifted back into the rotation at Columbus, a similar drop in his walk rate indicates impressive upside for the right-hander. He hasn't posted a command ratio below 2.8 K:BB at any level, so if he can maintain or improve his 5.9 K/9, Schmitt should emerge as a solid option for almost any team. While he deserves little fantasy consideration until New York actually promotes him into a regular role, Schmitt should rank as a solid trade option for many teams, which gives him a shot at seeing significant action in the second half of 2004.
Although a couple of solid AA seasons give him some upside, Shepard isn't likely to see more than an occasional couple of weeks in the majors. Definitely wait until some team gives him an extended shot at AAA before placing him on your fantasy radar.
Thompson's limited power and poor AA debut make him a terrible fantasy pick right now, but his prodigious speed, intriguing plate discipline, and developing batting average make him a mildly intriguing prospect. While I don't expect to see him in the majors as more than a fifth outfielder and occasional pinch-runner, he could approach double-digit value someday thanks to his stolen base upside.
Injuries and inconsistency keep him from ranking as a particularly impressive fantasy prospect, however Wang's performance this year bodes well for the future, particularly considering he skipped A-ball completely. Don't draft him in the spring since he easily could wind up as trade bait, but if his strikeout and hit rates improve in a return trip to Trenton or he maintains these skill ratios at Columbus, Wang could emerge in 2005 as the first quality starter developed by the Yankees in several years.
Dioner Navarro, 19, C-S
Only the presence of Jorge Posada will keep Navarro in the minors for another full season, and while Posada should stay in New York indefinitely, if the Yankees label any prospect as untouchable, Navarro deserves the designation. Not only does Pudgito possess excellent defense, Navarro's performance at the plate this year ranks him with any prospect in the game offensively. Nineteen-year-old catchers are not supposed to compile a .09 walk rate, .86 contact rate, and a .467 slugging percentage in a half-season in the Florida State League. Yet Navarro's AA performance overshadowed even those impressive numbers. In his first exposure above A-ball, he bested all his first-half stats by posting a .09 walk rate, .88 contact rate, and a .471 slugging percentage. Joe Mauer remains a superior player in almost every respect, but considering Navarro is nearly a year younger, Navarro's development this season suggests he possesses only a little less long-term upside. Only the fact Mauer stands a half-foot taller than Navarro, and therefore should develop more power as he fills out, keeps Mauer ahead of Navarro on my list. Hopefully ranking Navarro near Mauer will help earn him the attention he merits as one of baseball's best prospects. New York certainly could deal Navarro for immediate help, however the apparent foolishness of such a move leaves you little reason not to place Navarro near the top of any 2004 minor league draft list.
The Yankees' annual trade parade keeps their system stripped fairly down, however their depth of upper-level finesse lefties is impressive. Any organization with two young catchers as promising as Dioner Navarro and Michel Hernandez also deserves credit. While I don't envision any New York prospect emerging as a significant contributor in 2004 aside from possibly Scott Proctor, they at least possess enough prospects to keep making deadline deals, and Navarro, Wang, and Henson all could develop into stars under the right circumstances.
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. Minnesota Twins(Restovich, Mauer, Crain, Balfour, Bartlett)
7:00(CDT): New York Yankees @ Florida
The Marlins didn't lose Game Two that badly, still should be riding high from Game One, will return home to a stadium filled with 60+K fans, and will deploy NLCS savior Josh Beckett against the increasingly inconsistent Mike Mussina, last Thursday's performance not withstanding. I expect Game Three to determine the entire direction of the Series. A Yankee win should allow them to wrap this up in no more than six games, and they could sweep in Florida. However sitting Nick Johnson severely weakens the infield defense against Florida's fantastic bunting, and I expect Beckett will announce himself on a national stage. Florida takes an edge tonight before Clemens evens the Series tomorrow.
1. Jorge DePaula, SP
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