Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Not that Colorado possesses any chance at competing for the playoffs any time soon unless they either focus completely on offense or move the fences closer to home plate by a couple dozen feet to eliminate doubles and triples, but no team in the game suffers from worse contracts. While only five players are signed for 2004, all five also are under contract in 2005. They owe Denny Neagle $19M over the next two seasons, along with a 2006 buyout of $2M per year through 2010. Charles Johnson will receive $18M through 2005, Preston Wilson, the best "bargain" here, earns $21M through 2005, and Larry Walker's contract calls for $26M through 2005.
Yet none of these deals appears nearly as bad as the one belonging to Todd Helton. Signed in the spring of 2001, Helton earned $10.6M in 2003, and then will receive $130.9M by the end of the 2011 season. Of course, if Helton's power doesn't return due to his back problems, Colorado appears likely to overpay him by no less than $50M over the course of his contract. He remains one of baseball's best hitters, but the Rockies counted on development during these years that doesn't appear particularly likely right now.
Of course, these numbers don't include Colorado's responsibility for Mike Hampton. Per the terms of last winter's 3-way deal, the Rockies still owe Hampton his $20M signing bonus, which adds another $2M to the payroll every year from 2010 through 2019.
The odds of Colorado making a significant free agent acquisition any time soon seem remote. Declining Steve Reed's eminently reasonable $1.2M option, a perfectly fair price for the Rockies' career ERA leader, ranks as the worst move of the off-season thus far. Chris Stynes, Greg Norton, Darren Oliver, and Jose Jimenez, all of whom performed decently for much of 2003, don't appear likely to return as free agents. Of their five arbitration-eligible players, Jay Payton, Ron Belliard, Gregg Zaun, Scott Elarton, and Justin Speier, only Speier should remain in Colorado, although Payton should bring a decent prospect back in trade.
Mark Bellhorn, Juan Uribe, Garrett Atkins, and Rene Reyes look like the current favorites to start respectively at second base, shortstop, third base, and left field, although Pablo Ozuna will challenge for infield playing time. Johnson, Helton, Wilson, and Walker obviously will occupy catcher, first base, center field, and right field. While I definitely believe Bellhorn deserves a starting job, more seasoning wouldn't hurt Atkins, and neither Uribe nor Reyes looks ready to excel. Expect the Eric Young rumors to pan out as Colorado needs a leadoff man, and hopefully the Rockies will ignore Bellhorn's strikeouts and occasional defensive lapses to slot him second in the lineup, playing third base. Young, Bellhorn, Helton, Wilson, and Walker could give Colorado a surprisingly strong offense, and a platoon of Reyes and a veteran lefty in the #6 or #7 hole also wouldn't hurt, particularly if they grab a decent offensive shortstop.
The problem with focusing on offense is that the Rockies' pitching is extremely weak. Shawn Chacon, Jason Jennings, Chin-Hui Tsao, and some combination of Denny Stark, Aaron Cook, Jason Young, and Cory Vance likely would fair far worse than the surprisingly decent 2003 Colorado rotation. GM Dan O'Dowd must find at least one veteran, and preferably two, to take the pressure off the youngsters, giving Chacon, Jennings, and Tsao time to develop at the end of the rotation. The top priority must be groundball pitchers capable of pitching 200 innings, although given the variety of pitching talent available on the market this winter, I expect they'll be able to overpay for a couple arms. Although this expenditure won't put them within striking distance of a playoff spot, they can't afford to rush the youngsters into overwork and injury.
Losing Steve Reed is another dumb move in a series of questionable bullpen choices. The Rockies gave right-hander Matt J. Miller all of 4.1 innings in the majors this year despite an impressive performance history, and after ignoring him all year, they again added him to the 40-man roster after the season. Failing to leverage Jose Jimenez's nominal success as closer into a prospect also ranks as a very poor choice.
The best news here is that Rule 5 selection Javier Lopez, who Colorado acquired from Boston for Ryan Cameron, is one of the best Rule 5 finds in years and already ranks among the best lefty specialists in the game. Justin Speier and Brian Fuentes emerged as competent short relievers towards the end of the year. Adam Bernero, added from Detroit for Ben Petrick, should remain as a long reliever. Unfortunately, the team still needs a middle reliever and closer, and replacing Reed's performance for under $800K is nearly an impossible task. I also believe Jimenez was an underrated closer, but as long as they find someone with a great groundball ratio, Colorado easily should be able to create a new closer.
As much as Colorado looked like an impressive organization a couple years ago, a few years of abominable financial decisions, coupled with an inconsistent farm system, likely leave them struggling to finish above .500 for the next few years. While this team at least remains a bastion of roto talent among position players, I see no pitcher currently on the Rockies' 40-man roster worthy of draft consideration at this time.
Garrett Atkins, 23, 3B-R
I see definite obstacles to Atkins' succeeding in 2004, but if Colorado non-tenders Mark Bellhorn and Ron Belliard as some expect, Atkins should enter camp as the unquestioned starter. Of course, his 1.71 G-F in September looks like an obvious problem, and committing 20 errors in 110 games at third in the minors suggests his defense needs work. Yet he also managed a .10 walk rate and .88 contact rate in debut AAA season, skills that suggest Atkins' 2004 performance could resemble Jeff Cirillo's years in Colorado. Hope that your competition only pays attention to Atkins' September struggles as I see no reason not to rank Atkins very high on your spring draft list, particularly considering his long-term $30 upside.
Reyes' 3.65 #P/PA and especially a 2.15 G-F make him rather ill-suited to taking advantage of Coors Field. He used to own impressive power and speed, however skipping from the Sally League to AA Carolina a year ago deprived him of a year of development. Considering only a fluke batting average at Colorado Springs earned him a call-up, I expect his lack of secondary skills to keep him from emerging as a viable fantasy option. He still could reach double-digit value if the Rockies give him Jay Payton's job, and Reyes could discover the skills that vanished in 2003, but realistically, unless he remakes his swing into an obvious uppercut, I don't believe most owners should target Reyes in 2004.
Luke Allen, 25, OF-L
While Allen's plate discipline suggests potential double-digit fantasy value sometime in the future, his unimpressive power numbers this season, combined with his weak speed skills, make him a questionable player to target. Unless we see some evidence by spring of him receiving more playing time in 2004, Allen does not merit serious fantasy consideration.
Barmes committed 29 errors in 134 games at Colorado Springs, failed to post an OBP over .350 for the fourth straight minor league season, and seems to own little plate discipline. The only fantasy value Barmes should possess in the near future likely will stem directly from playing at Coors as his skills simply don't indicate much upside. Only his 37 doubles this season give me an hope that he can fulfill the Rockies' expectations by developing into a solid starting middle infield, but until he demonstrates he can post decent averages over an extended period without the usually necessary supporting skills, don't invest in Barmes in any fantasy league.
The winner of the 2000 Golden Spikes award, given to the nation's top amateur, Bouknight deserves better than toiling for Colorado's minor league teams. Unfortunately, unimpressive control and declining dominance suggest Bouknight belongs in the bullpen, and Rockies' relievers are not a fertile source for fantasy owners. Ignore him until he demonstrates the ability to succeed in the majors on a consistent basis.
Few teams generally like first basemen with little power even if they possess good plate discipline. Departing Colorado as a minor league free agent at least removes one obstacle to Burford's path to the majors, however unless he develops his decent doubles' totals into double-digit homers, he likely won't even spend much time at AAA, forget about the majors.
Leaving him at AA for a second straight year made little apparent sense, particularly since Closser essentially echoed his 2002 numbers. Now, Colorado at least seems intent on finally letting Closser move to Colorado Springs, but his lack of development over the two last two years worries me. Of course, he also would rank as an impressive prospect in any system, and the Coors' upside only adds to his allure to fantasy owners. Strongly consider a mid-round draft pick on Closser since he should caddy for Charles Johnson in 2005 before displacing the veteran no later than 2006.
Despite two good seasons as an A-ball starter during which Dohmann demonstrated good control, decent dominance, and a worrisome homer rate, Colorado cut his upside in half by converting him to relief this year. Unfortunately, aside from an impressive strikeout rate increase, his skills didn't notably improve, and his homer rate makes him a high risk pitcher as he moves to Colorado Springs and potentially Denver in 2004. While Dohmann might be able to contribute to the Rockies as soon as next summer, I see nothing here that suggests he's ready to contribute to any fantasy team.
Freeman really impressed me a year ago be developing his hitting skills, power potential, and walk rate as he moved to AA Carolina for the first time. Unfortunately, he regressed to his previous level in almost every skill ratio this year, leaving us little idea if he can recapture the upside that made him a top prospect. Until he proves that his 2002 numbers weren't the outlier in his time as a professional, Freeman won't merit much fantasy attention.
Although Gissell could develop into a respectable starter or reliever, improving his walk rate despite moving from AAA Iowa to Colorado Springs suggests he belongs in the bullpen. Of course, he won't be a fantasy option until some team gives this minor league free agent an extended look in the majors, but given Gissell's age and skills, you shouldn't forget about him.
A separated shoulder cost Hawpe six weeks of the regular season, yet this season qualifies as an obvious disappointment after his .347/.447/.587 performance with an 81:84 BB:K in 450 AB at A+ Salem(Car) in 2002. With his walk and strikeout rates both eroding, his power decreasing, and questions regarding his conversion to the outfield, Hawpe is a poor investment right now, though playing in the Colorado system at least gives him more value than he might possess on any other team.
Consistently good walk rates and double-digit homer and steal totals suggest more fantasy upside than we might expect from his averages alone. My biggest concern is that Holliday barely improved upon his 2002 performance despite repeating AA while moving to the Texas League from Carolina(SL). A drop in strikeouts occurred at the expense of his formerly impressive walk rate, and while I see enough potential here to mention Holliday right now, I don't expect him to start in the majors any time soon.
Other than a poor second half in 2002 following an apparently hasty promotion to AA Carolina(SL), Huisman's ERA hasn't risen above 1.85 in any of his four minor league seasons. Moving to Colorado Springs next year obviously will pose additional problems for him, but considering his great command and a .3 career homer rate, I see no reason Huisman won't remain an effective pitcher. While I don't see much upside in drafting a Rockies' minor league reliever, Huisman could develop into an impressive closer, yet unless you see some indication that Colorado view him similarly, don't target him quite yet.
Despite demonstrating both dominance and command at every level of the minors in his seven-year career, Miller only debuted in the majors this season. While the Rockies demoted him almost immediately for no logical reason, they recently purchased his contract and appear likely to give him a chance to make the team next spring. Now, while Miller's stuff doesn't impress scouts, his skills suggest significant potential, although as long as he plays for Colorado, he only merits significant attention if he emerges as the closer. The Rockies' uncertain pen gives him an outside chance at that role, but I instead expect him to settle into middle relief for a few years.
With six seasons and 125 homers in the Pacific Coast League under his belt, Pellow deserves a spot as the 25th man on some team's bench as he can play the four corner positions and catcher; other than the lack of switch-hitting, he appears remarkably similar to Brian Banks. Of course, Pellow doesn't possess great plate discipline, but he owns good power and makes enough contact to hold a respectable average in the majors. Assuming he earns a roster spot in 2004, Pellow also appears quite useful for roto owners since he will qualify at catcher in almost any league. Feel free to attempt to sneak him onto your team in Dollar Days.
The reason not to give up on formerly impressive prospects, particularly young tools goofs, is that they always can develop rapidly as they approach their peak seasons. Piedra finally conquered AA, nicely echoing his 2002 numbers from A+ Salem(Car). Now he ranks among Colorado's better outfield prospects and could emerge as a potential starter in 2005 if he posts a strong season at Colorado Springs next season. I don't advise targeting him quite yet, but Piedra probably merits a couple bucks of FAAB if he reaches the majors any time next summer.
While Sullivan's BA increased after leaving A-ball, his power numbers noticeably plummeted, his speed skills declined, and his strikeout rate rose. Given his already unimpressive power potential, Sullivan shows no indication of developing into a competent starter. He may not hurt the Rockies as a reserve outfielder with decent tools and good defense, but he won't deserve an fantasy consideration until he secures a regular job in the majors.
Cutting Tsao's season slightly short to keep him eligible for the 2004 Rookie of the Year was a silly move by Colorado since nothing in Tsao's big league stats suggests he's prepared to succeed in the majors. He pitched worse on the road than in Coors, and while his minor league marks obviously are solid, he certainly appears to need no less than a couple months at Colorado Springs. Since he also needs to conquer Coors when he reaches the majors to stay, I see no reason to invest in Tsao in any fantasy league that doesn't include park factor corrections.
While Vance struggled in his three starts, he posted a 5:3 K:B in 11.1 IP with 1 H over 6 games in relief. Combined with his skill decline as he rises in the system, even that limited sample size illustrates that bullpen work offers him a better shot of success as remaining as a starter. Perhaps he'd find success in an organization when homer problems and an unimpressive strikeout rate are less of a problem, but unless Colorado moves him soon, I don't see Vance holding a regular job in the majors as more than a middle reliever. As this role essentially eliminate the usefulness of almost any Rockies' pitcher, avoid Vance indefinitely.
Young rebounded nicely from a nearly lost 2002 season, yet his control problems suggest he could struggle at Colorado Springs. The Rockies at least don't need to rush him considering their excellent current lefty corps of Brian Fuentes and Javier Lopez. While Young may not merit much attention now, he should begin appearing on draft lists as soon as 2005, especially if Colorado moves him for help elsewhere.
Perhaps Colorado should have allowed Young to start a game somewhere other than the two best full-time hitters' parks in the league. I realize he needs to adjust to pitching in Coors, however the Rockies must exercise some caution in exposing their rookies to the well-known downside of home games. Another solid minor league season leaves Young little to prove in the minors, so hopefully Colorado just will give him a rotation spot and allow him to grow for a year, especially since Jennings and Chacon both flourished after the Rockies demonstrated faith in their abilities. While Young isn't a viable roto option for 2004, given his solid skills and the expectation of an improved Colorado infield defense, he could emerge as an interesting gamble for road games in deep leagues with loose transaction rules.
Not only can Nix handle second base, his shortstop pedigree even suggests he could switch back to his former position if needed. Of course, these stats depict a player worthy of fantasy attention at any position, and his 46 doubles in particularly demonstrate significant future power potential. Considering Colorado desperately needs homegrown middle infielders in the majors, we could see Nix reach the Rockies as soon as the fall of next season. While two more years in the minors should insure steady development, the upside of playing in Colorado Springs and Denver could push him to Coors even sooner, making him someone you need to grab at the beginning of next season to insure you roster him. Nix merits a high pick in any minor league draft.
Given Salazar's age and his absence from all pre-season prospect guides, recommending him as a minor league draft pick after his full professional season is a questionable choice. However, the upside suggested by his skills merits attention. Compiling a .16 walk rate and .85 contact rate while demonstrating impressive power and solid speed makes Salazar a contender to eventually replace Larry Walker in right field at Coors. Only owners interested in high-risk, high-upside prospects should consider Salazar given the struggles of past Colorado multi-tool offensive prospects, but Salazar could emerge as a dominant player in a few years if he maintains these level of performance while rising through the system.
The inability of most Colorado rookie pitchers to contribute to fantasy teams due to pitching their home games at Coors limits the upside of this system, but the additional upside for the hitting prospects here at least compensates for the first problem. Unfortunately, the biggest concern here is that neither Atkins nor Reyes appears particularly likely to develop into a superstar, and aside from a couple of younger third base prospects, only Nix and Closser should emerge as long-term solutions in Colorado's lineup. Of course, the potential for one of the outfielders to emerge in Coors intrigues me, but I just see no reason to target most of the players in this system right now.
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. Garrett Atkins, 3B
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