Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
The Reds finished only one game ahead of the Brewers in the NL Central, however they finished nearly seven games ahead of their Pythagorean Record, the second best mark in the majors after the Giants. As Cincinnati also finished with a 30-21 record in one run games, the second best mark in the league, again after San Francisco, the 2003 Reds qualify as overachievers despite winning only 69 games.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of the season was that acquiring cash played a primary part in the dump trades. Moving Jose Guillen for Aaron Harang, Joe Valentine, and Jeff Bruksch was the best deal completed by interim GMs Brad Kullman and Leland Maddox. Dealing Aaron Boone to the Yankees should have netted more than Brandon Clauseen and Charlie Manning. Phil Dumatrait and Tyler Pelland also don't appear appropriate compensation for Scott Williamson. Waiver deals, including the swap of Kent Mercker for Matt Belisle, Scott Sullivan for Tim Hummel, John Koronka for Phil Norton, and Kelly Stinnett for Eric Valent, generally look like better talent-for-talent deals for Cincinnati. Yet moving Boone, White, and Williamson rid the Reds of highly paid players while adding somewhere near $3M in cash.
Of course, Cincinnati needed upper level pitchers far more than position players with Sean Casey at first base, Jason LaRue and Corky Miller behind the plate, and Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey, and Austin Kearns locked in the outfield, supported by Wily Mo Pena, Dernell Stenson, Ruben Mateo, and Reggie Taylor. With Barry Larkin, D'Angelo Jimenez, Juan Castro, Rainer Olmedo, Brandon Larson, Russ Branyan, Felipe Lopez, and Hummel competing for playing time in the infield, the Reds possess relatively solid depth at every offensive position. Keeping the outfielders healthy will lead to a modicum of offensive success, and even if the Reds deal Griffey next year, a move which they should only make if they gain talent without paying any salary, Dunn and Kearns should continue improving.
The bullpen will remain as intact as the lineup given that current closer Chris Reitsma, Danny Graves, Brian Reith, John Riedling, and 2003 1st round pick Ryan Wagner all appear likely to break camp in the majors. Phil Norton will compete with several AAAA pitchers for the one or two available relief spots.
Unfortunately, even with a promising young lineup and bullpen consistency, the Reds success rests on their rotation. Jimmy Haynes and Paul Wilson will start if healthy, and based on their 2003 performances, Jose Acevedo, John Bale, and Brandon Claussen seem the favorites for the other slots. However, Aaron Harang, Josh Hall, Seth Etherton, and Jeff Austin, along with nearly everyone in the bullpen, also could win jobs in the rotation. I suspect Harang will push Bale to the pen as Acevedo, Claussen, and Harang could form the core of a contending rotation in a couple years.
Cincinnati hired Texas assistant Dan O'Brien as GM earlier this week, giving him a three-year deal. We can assume the Reds won't sign any major free agents this winter as owner Carl Lindner looks to slash payroll. LaRue, Casto, Mateo, and Ryan Dempster all might be non-tendered, and O'Brien will pursue any avenue to trade Casey, Graves, Wilson, or Haynes. At least few long-term deals are present outside of Griffey, Casey, and Graves, so the team retains enough flexibility to lock up Kearns and Dunn if the young studs develop further in 2004 as expected.
The Reds aren't a terrible team right now, they play in a nice new ballpark, and as they should retain interim Manager Dave Miley, a man familiar with nearly every youngster here from his time coaching AAA Louisville, I see a lot of upside for the current team administration. Any team run by a penny-pinching miser like Carl Lindner probably doesn't deserve to win, but at least the combination of the GAB and the new young players should lead to a winning season soon. Although I don't expect Cincinnati to contend in 2004, I see the foundation of a 2006 playoff team present on the current 40-man roster. A relatively quiet off-season, perhaps including more trades than non-tenders, will keep the team moving in the right direction.
Tim Hummel, 24, 3B-R
Although he probably offers as much fantasy upside as any other Reds' rookie, I don't like Hummel's odds of success for 2004. D'Angelo Jimenez and Barry Larkin almost certainly will break camp as infield starters, so Hummel needs to beat out over a half-dozen players to find regular playing time. While I like his 3.80 #P/PA and 1.00 G-F, and committing 13 errors in 134 games at Charlotte indicates relatively consistent defense, Hummel will be lucky to grab a back-up spot. He definitely merits a buck or two as long as he wins a roster spot, however he certainly qualifies as a high-risk pick given his somewhat stagnant power output.
Wagner turned 21 on July 15th, four days prior to his big league debut and only a little over a month after Cincinnati selected him out of Houston with the 14th pick of the draft. He slammed through the system in six weeks as the Reds fulfilled their plan to draft Wagner with the idea that he could contribute in the majors during 2003. Not only did he contribute, Wagner finished the season as the third best reliever on the roster and should break camp in short relief next year. Although he might move to the rotation at some point, he first should dominate out of the bullpen for a few years while developing arm strength. Spending a couple bucks on him won't hurt if you believe he'll emerge as Cincinnati's closer in the near future.
Andrew Beattie, 25, 2B-S
His very solid defense should earn Beattie steady work at AAA, but despite good plate patience, I don't envision him seeing more than an occasional cup-of-coffee. His weak AA power indicates he doesn't possess enough offensive upside to merit even a reserve role in the majors.
Stolen from Atlanta in exchange for a few weeks of Kent Mercker, Belisle isn't a dominant pitcher but possesses sufficient skill to spend several years pitching effectively in the majors. He appears fully recovered after missing the 2001 season, and while he probably needs at least another half-season of seasoning, he could emerge as a decent roto option as soon as he secures a regular role in the majors. Unfortunately, he doesn't profile as a front-of-the-rotation starter and easily could slip into relief, so don't draft him now and exercise caution when considering him in the future, especially if he suddenly switches role again.
Finally debuting in the majors after 9 minor league seasons, Budzinski only hit one ball out of the infield in seven unimpressive at-bats. Most teams don't want good outfielders with plate discipline and few other tools, although he at least possesses enough speed to compete for a bench job somewhere. Yet I don't know if he ever will find consistent playing time due to his lack of power, so make sure Budzinski's role is solidified before rostering him.
Cerros demonstrated good control but little dominance in a few seasons at the upper levels of the Mets' organization prior to 2003. His ratios this year appear quite similar to his previous marks, suggesting that while Cerros isn't a bad pitcher, he offers little upside to fantasy owners. Since I don't expect him to see much more time in the majors with Cincinnati under any circumstances, don't consider him for your team any time in the near future.
The minor league veteran owns fairly good power, respectable plate discipline, and enough versatility to find a secure bench job on some team. Of course, none of those attributes make him a good roto pick until he begins seeing regular at-bats in the majors, so you shouldn't need to worry much about Chamblee for another couple years.
A tired arm ended Claussen's season in August, and given his unimpressive 2002 stats and early recovery from Tommy John surgery, Claussen may need another season in the minors. Despite decent overall AAA marks this year, he isn't the dominant the pitcher that demolished the Eastern League in 2001, so the Reds have no reason to rush him. While he should develop into a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter, I don't really expect him to develop into an ace, and his growth curve should remain slow. He isn't a terrible pitcher to target in spring drafts if he appears healthy, but I see many other starters I'd rather own right now.
Committing 40 errors in 119 games at third base worries us, yet considering Encarnacion possesses sufficient range to play either middle infield position, I'm not concerned about his defensive struggles. Both his walk rate and basestealing prowess are very good marks for someone at his age and level, and if he echoes this Carolina League performance in a full season at Chattanooga, he might rank next to Andy Marte and David Wright as the NL's best third base prospects. However, I also am not convinced Encarnacion will be a star based on his minor league performance thus far, and the Reds already possess a respectable group of infielders, nearly all of whom just reached the majors. Encarnacion merits a low-round pick in most leagues, but don't expect to see him in Cincinnati for more than a cup-of-coffee before mid-2005 at the earliest.
Given his excellent command when starting for Chattanooga a year ago, Gil still could succeed in a rotation, but Cincinnati will consider him for the majors sooner if he remains effective in relief. Unfortunately, nothing in his stats suggests he'll develop into a dominant reliever, making him no more than decent roster filler right now, especially given the cadre of quality relievers already established in the Reds' bullpen.
Two solid seasons at Chattanooga should force him to AAA Louisville next season, and if Gray receives decent defensive support, we could see him in the majors by December. He may plateau as a AAAA reliever, but as long as his skills remain consistently good in the majors, he'll merit fantasy consideration once he earns a regular bullpen role somewhere.
His second tour at Chattanooga barely differed from his 2002 season, so hopefully Hall will recover from his torn labrum as effectively as he rebounded following reconstructive shoulder surgery five years ago. Hall probably needed a couple months of AAA time anyway, making him a poor bet to contribute to the Reds next season despite remaining a decent long-term prospect.
If you're looking for someone capable of contributing in the majors next season, Moseley looks like an excellent Ultra gamble. The only problem is that his low strikeout rate makes him particularly dependent on a strong defense to carry him, and we don't currently know how the Reds' position players will gel. Fortunately, his great walk rate at least suggests he should post a decent WHIP, making the odds of Moseley positing decent marks in Cincinnati fairly good given the injury questions facing most of the likely starters. Don't expect great numbers from him, but his upside intrigues me.
After compiling a 28-12 record on a 267:81 K:BB in 313 IP over 53 GS during two seasons of A-ball, this season ranks a mild disappointment. Yet Mottl remained reasonably effective, demonstrating good overall skills, and he deserves a full season at Louisville. He isn't a good fantasy pick right now, but a strong AAA performance will move him up prospect lists.
While Norton impressed Cincinnati with his fantastic .155/.265/.155 performance after his promotion to the Reds, a long history of control problems suggests he'll struggle if given a large role. His atrocious .8 K:BB will scare off many fantasy owners, and even if he posts numbers closer to his minor league stats, I don't envision him emerging as a good roto option any time soon. Norton may spend much of the next few years in a big league bullpen, but the limited upside I see here won't warrant serious in standard drafts.
His ERA bears little resemblance to the stat suggested by the fairly solid skills Randall posted in his debut. Only the high hit rate is particularly troublesome, especially since he suffered from a similar problem in the minors. If he reduces that hit rate while simultaneously improving his control, he should develop into a useful middle reliever. However, until you see that abrupt skill adjustment, don't consider him for your team.
Cincinnati recently rectified a three-year old mistake by removing Sardinha from the 40-man roster despite his major league contract. While he rebounded nicely in second season in the Southern League, he needs at least two more years of development time before his bat will be ready for the majors. Don't bother considering him in any league next spring.
Considering Cincinnati barely let Mike Curry or Bobby Darula play above AA in recent years, I don't expect Senjem to receive an opportunity unless injuries create an opening. While Senjem's overall skills suggest he could develop into a decent bench option, I don't see significant upside here and expect he'll need to find another organization before advancing much closer to the majors.
Smitherman impressively improved his walk rate while maintaining his contact rate in his first season above A-ball. Unfortunately, although his 4.32 #P/PA and .71 G-F suggest significant upside as someone with skills similar to Brad Wilkerson, Smitherman's sub-.500 OPS for both Cincinnati and Louisville demonstrates his need for a full year at Louisville. He should emerge as a decent big league starter for a few seasons, however unless the Reds move Casey and shift Dunn to first base, I don't see him finding much playing time with the Reds in the near future.
A demotion to AA for the first time since 1998 allowed Stenson to rediscover his lost production, and he continued displaying power and decent plate discipline, eventually earning regular big league playing time by September. His 4.06 #P/PA demonstrates his promising patience, so even though he shouldn't start in Cincinnati despite demolishing the AFL thus far with a .413/.472/.543, I expect him to earn a bench spot next spring. While he lacks obvious upside, Stenson's potential place as a primary pinch-hitter, backing up fragile outfielders in a hitters' park, makes him a good Dollar Days' pick in nearly any NL league.
Acquired near the end of the season as the PTBNL for Kelly Stinnett, Valent will need to crush the ball in the spring to have any chance of beating out Dernell Stenson and possibly a few others as a primary lefty pinch-hitter and reserve outfielder. Given his sub-.700 OPS at Scranton the last two years, perhaps he needs to emulate Stenson by beginning next season no higher than AA until he regains his pre-2002 form. Perhaps changing organizations will spur Valent's development, however he belongs on no roto teams right now due to his terrible average.
I know Valentine dominated AA in 2002, compiling a 1.97 ERA and 36 Saves, but a right-handed reliever should not post a 4.6 BB/9 at any level aside from possibly the majors under certain circumstances. While he finally started dominating hitters during his brief stint in the International League, Valentine's statistical history gives us significantly more evidence that suggests he'll continue suffering from control problems. His strikeout rate gives him intriguing long-term upside, however until he posts solid skills in the majors and moves past a couple of the half-dozen veteran right-handed relievers on the Reds, Valentine isn't worth owning in fantasy baseball.
Appearing in his third season in the majors, Watson still hasn't reached either 13 career appearances or innings pitched. Of course, if he can echo his performance at Louisville for another season or two, he should receive a much longer look at the big league level. Watson owns promising dominance and command, however like nearly every other unestablished AAAA lefty reliever, wait until he displays solid skills over a few weeks in the majors before rostering him.
Aside from players listed above, no other Cincinnati prospect deserves consideration in 2004 fantasy drafts.
Although Wagner should enjoy a long career and Hummel, Smitherman, and Stenson already look like decent role players, the Reds' prospects with the most upside don't appear ready for the majors. Claussen, Moseley, and Encarnacion join Dunn and Kearns to form the core of the next Cincinnati contender, but Moseley and Encarnacion likely won't see any significant playing time in the majors until 2005. The loaded major league bullpen also will keep some of the better relief prospects in the minors, giving this organization less depth than is readily apparent from a quick glance at the players listed above.
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)
1. Tim Hummel, 3B
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