Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Only the foolishness of sportswriters who believe "Executive of the Year" means "GM of the Year" will keep Marlins' President David Samson from winning a half dozen awards this winter. During Spring Training he predicted that Florida would win 91 games and draw 1.3 millions fans, seemingly absurd numbers considering they won only 79 games and drew 813K, edging Montreal for 29th place in the majors by just over a thousand fans. The Marlins, of course, won their 91st game on the last day of the regular season as they finished with 1.303 million in attendance. While we could penalize Samson for failing to account for the team's 11 extra wins in the post-season, as well as the nearly 500,000 fans that saw the team at home during the post-season, Samson appears responsible for the Marlins' most significant moves. He spoke for his father-in-law, Florida owner Jeffrey Loria, in the team's financial matters, authorizing the IRod signing, the deals for Mark Redman, Ugueth Urbina, and Jeff Conine, as well as the vital decision to keep Mike Lowell as the trade deadline approached. He also pushed for the firing of Pitching Coach Brad Arnsberg before the season, largely instigating the situation that resulted in the firing of Jeff Torborg. About the only good move I don't attribute to Samson is hiring Jack McKeon, who traveling secretary Bill Beck suggested to team management.
GM Larry Beinfest made few impressive decisions over the past year. Management accountants essentially constructed the huge offseason deal that netted Juan Pierre and Tim Spooneybarger while relieving payroll burdens on Florida and Colorado. Beinfest failed to convert backup catcher Ramon Castro into something the team could use, instead letting him rot on the bench for another season. He allowed Torborg and Arnsberg to run A.J. Burnett and Tim Spooneyberger into the ground, putting both pitchers out for the year. Although Todd Hollandsworth's failure forced an early call-up for Miguel Cabrera, several superior options to Hollandsworth signed elsewhere for similar dollars last winter. Most damaging to the Marlins' long-term prospects, he significantly overpaid to acquire Urbina and Conine, giving up five of the team's best prospects for overpaid veterans. The only moves for which I give Beinfest primary credit were the late-season signings of Rick Helling and Chad Fox.
Now flags fly forever, and no NL team has won as many World Series as the Marlins in the last two decades. If current negotiations result in a baseball-only domed stadium in Miami, a move that also finally would result in a name change for the franchise, dealing Adrian Gonzalez, Denny Bautista, and Ryan Snare will be a small price to pay. Nevertheless, the people primarily responsible for Florida's improbable success are Dave Samson, Jack McKeon, and the player development system that prepared Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera to immediately contribute upon their promotions from AA Carolina.
Although we certainly don't expect the Marlins to repeat, can they contend for the playoffs next year if they don't keep everyone? Of course, although re-signing Ivan Rodriguez is the only way to guarantee a reasonably competitive team. Keeping Luis Castillo and the team's dynamic top-of-the-order also appears more important than insuring the essentially interchangeable right-handed power hitters return. Derrek Lee may develop into a star, but he doesn't fit with this team. Neither does Juan Encarnacion. Mike Lowell also should bring a tidy sum in trade. With IRod, Conine at first until prospect Jason Stokes is ready, Castillo, Alex Gonzalez at short, and Miguel Cabrera at third, Florida will retain a surprisingly productive infield. Juan Pierre's range allows almost anyone to play on either side. Abraham Nunez deserves one starting job, and even if Lee, Encarnacion, and Lowell all depart to free payroll to retain the pitching staff, Florida will not have a difficult time finding a productive replacement, capable of hitting in the middle of the lineup, who can play either outfield corner.
The primary reason I believe Florida can safely deal Lee, Encarnacion, and Lowell while keeping IRod and Castillo is that trades and injuries have depleted all the upper-level pitching depth here. Justin Wayne needs another year of development time, and he easily ranks as the closest pitching prospect to the majors. The good news is that Josh Beckett, Mark Redman, Brad Penny, Dontrelle Willis, and Carl Pavano comprise the best five-man starting rotation in the league at the moment, and Braden Looper should continue developing into an excellent closer. Although the other five bullpen positions could change, finding relievers isn't difficult. Securing young starters with both the long-term upside and immediate value of Penny, Redman, and Pavano is quite difficult in the current market, so even if Florida falls out of contention, a pending free agent like Pavano should bring a couple of solid prospects in a deadline trade.
Florida's executives face a difficult off-season, but with the 2003 World Series' banner potentially flying over a brand new stadium sometime soon, they should retain much of their rediscovered fan base as long as Loria and Samson maintain a payroll above $50 million. If the top half of the lineup and pitching staff both return intact, the Marlins should remain competitive despite the likely loss of several key World Series components.
Abraham Nunez, 27, OF-S
Yes, Nunez gained four years in agegate and never has exceeded 500 at-bats in a season due to repeated injury problems. However, he still owns all the skills that helped him post great numbers in the California League back in 1999, and as he runs out of options next spring, Florida almost surely will keep him in the majors. I'd like to see the Marlins give him a starting job after his excellent half-season at Albuquerque, however he offers double-digit upside even as a bench player. Nunez certainly qualifies as a sleeper right now by almost any definition, and even though he shouldn't enjoy a particularly lengthy career, he certainly could help out fantasy owners over the next few seasons.
Listing a minor league free agent catcher with only 410 AAA at-bats and who turns 27 next March at this level of fantasy potential might strike you as a bizarre choice. Nevertheless, Treanor owns promising plate discipline and decent power upside, and if IRod departs and the Marlins opt against starting Ramon Castro, Treanor could end up with the starting job if he re-signs. Now, I fully expect him to continue establishing his AAAA caddy credentials for another year or two, but if given the opportunity to earn a starting job, Treanor could succeed impressively, thus warranting at least a couple bucks in any spring auction.
Despite little power potential, Valdez's solid defensive ability, respectable plate discipline, and increasingly dynamic speed skills could earn him a starting job in the Marlins' middle infield as soon as next spring. While spending at least one more season in the minors to consolidate his progress is a good idea, Valdez also could approach $20 in 2004 with a little luck, making him an intriguing sleeper. Of course, unless he can hold his OBP over .350, he won't push Florida towards a repeat, but fantasy owners in any league that counts steals should place Valdez relatively high on their rookie draft lists.
Chris Aguila, 24, OF-R
In his third season of AA, Aguila won the Southern League batting title and posted career-best on-base and slugging percentages despite missing six weeks when a pitch broke his right wrist in early June. Nothing in his skills suggests significant upside, yet Aguilia owns decent stats across-the-board, and I see no reason why he won't develop into less than a solid reserve outfielder. Don't consider him next spring, but he might merit a look as soon as he secures a regular job in the majors.
Injuries and inconsistency kept Ambres from reaching this level of performance in any of his three seasons of A-ball. While his decreased speed limits his future roto value, his developing power and plate discipline should insure a reasonably length career in someone's outfield. Of course, the likelihood that Ambres will remain a career back-up means you can't consider him at this time, but he could merit FAAB consideration by the second half of 2004.
I know Erickson's taken advantage of helpful home parks over the last three seasons, yet he also owns a lifetime AAA BA over .300 and an OBP over .375. Considering he can handle both second and third base, not to mention an occasional stint in the outfield, he absolutely belongs in the majors in 2004 given the number of teams that need left-handed utility infielders capable of solid pinch-hitting work. If he breaks camp in the majors, Erickson could earn a couple bucks of profit on a Dollar Days' bid.
Repeated command problems at AAA suggest a low ceiling for Fesh, but this dominant performance merits a long look in some team's spring training. While he probably doesn't qualify as a good fantasy option, the ever-growing desire for solid lefty relievers should insure Fesh at least earns a cup-of-coffee in the next few years.
Flannery owns both less upside and a greater chance of reaching the majors in 2004 than Carolina teammates Franklyn Gracesqui, however Flanney also possesses a strong skill history that suggests he could move quickly to Florida. Yet, until he starts succeeding in a Marlins' uniform, rostering this young reliever won't help your team.
While his walk rate almost insures he needs no less than another season in the minors, his dominance also indicates a pitcher who could excel in a late-inning role. Gracesqui merits no fantasy consideration right now, however he could emerge as an intriguing relief option at any time.
Hall returned to an affiliated minor league team for the first time since 1997. Unfortunately, he still isn't a good baseball player due to his complete lack of power, yet he also owns great speed, decent plate discipline, and the ability to cover second and third base in addition to the outfield. I don't expect him ever to reach the majors, yet if any team goes looking for a decent utility player who can pinch-run down the stretch, Hall might merit a September cup-of-coffee for both big league and fantasy teams.
Instead of emerging as the next David Eckstein, Hooper failed to earn a job in camp and then slumped his way through the season. While he still owns decent plate discipline, good speed skills, and solid defensive abilities, Hooper's almost complete lack of power dooms him to a bench role at best. Barring a surprising turnaround in 2004, he should spend his third straight year at AAA, and I don't expect him to merit fantasy consideration even if he earns an unexpected mid-season promotion.
After compiling a .297/.411/.413 with a 79:82 BB:K and 39 SB in 414 at-bats at AA Portland(EL) a year ago, Medrano looked like the logical successor to Luis Castillo at second base for Florida. Instead, Medrano horribly regressed this year, and if he doesn't rebound in 2004, he may peak as a utility infielder. Of course, he still possesses considerable roto potential given his plate discipline and speed skills, but now we need to wait until he actually secures a big league job before considering Medrano in any fantasy league.
Although his apparently poor stamina suggests Moser will need to move to the bullpen if he wishes to make the majors in the near future, his continued success as a starter also indicates greater potential. Of course, given his slow progress through the system, see how he handles AAA before considering Moser for any fantasy team.
Despite atrociously poor contact skills, a respectable walk rate and very impressive power potential should earn Stratton a shot at a regular big league job at some point. Unfortunately, his skills also suggest a pending label of AAAA player, and considering the potential for Stratton to kill the BA of a fantasy team, avoid him until further notice.
Despite little publicity, Ungs now owns a career 2.85 ERA on a 255:45 K:BB in 370 IP. His unimpressive dominance theoretically limits his upside, but if an Florida pitcher will repeat Dontrelle's journey to the major in 2005, Ungs looks like a stronger candidate than even top lower-level prospects Jeff Allison and Scott Olsen. Don't draft Ungs in the spring, however if he moves as quickly through the upper minors as I suspect he might, consider him for your team as soon as he reaches the majors.
Given his decent power, speed, plate discipline, and ability to play anywhere except catcher, Wathan merits a long look in spring training as a utility infielder. Any team could use him someone with his flexible skills, and Florida should have an opening for a complementary player to Brian Banks. However, Wathan also doesn't possess much upside, so until he secures a regular job, he isn't a viable fantasy option.
Considering the Montreal and Florida player development systems rushed him to the majors, this strong AAA performance represents a welcome season of skill growth for Wayne. He still doesn't seem quite ready for the majors, but as he currently looks like the only decent alternative to the young starters already on the Marlins, Wayne merits some consideration in spring drafts since I don't believe he will disappoint when given his next opportunity.
If Mike Lowell's injury had occurred a weak later, I expect we would have seen Wood in the majors for the first time since 1999. Instead, Florida dealt for Jeff Conine, so even if Wood stays with the team this winter, he'll need another significant injury to open his path to the majors. Despite his continually solid AAA production, he doesn't appear likely to see much more big league playing time, so he probably won't belong on a fantasy roster again.
Jeremy Hermida, 19, OF-L
Hermida's roto upside ranks with any minor league outfielder. Rarely do teenagers post both a .17 walk rate and a .93 SB success rate in their first full season of pro ball. Even a .79 contact rate doesn't look like more than a slight problem given his tools. While we may not see him develop much power for a while, I expect to see him in the majors in 2005 before likely winning a starting job in 2006. Between Hermida's status as the 11th player selected in the 2002 draft and his five-tool upside, I don't see many safer speed prospects anywhere in the minors. Anyone who regularly targets low-level prospects should invest in Hermida.
For someone with an upside somewhere between Tom Goodwin and Juan Pierre, falling to the 9th round of the 2002 draft was a disappointment for Reed. Yet he nicely rebounded in his first full season in the Florida system, displaying impressive speed and earning recognition as one of the best fielding outfielders in the minors. Unfortunately, though he appears one year closer to the majors than fellow 2002 draftee Jeremy Hermida, Reed's lack of power and over three years of seniority on Hermida could leave Reed eventually battling for bench jobs. He appears to possess enough speed and plate discipline to emerge as a capable leadoff man and respectable heir to Pierre, but you probably should wait until Reed repeats these numbers at AA before drafting him.
Losing two months to knee surgery would be a troubling development for any prospect, forget about a potentially elite hitting prospect converting to catcher. Willingham only caught 40 games this year, yet his impressive plate discipline and overall performance at both Jupiter and Carolina makes him the sleeper catching prospect of the National League. If IRod departs Florida, Willingham could displace Ramon Castro and Mike Redmond by 2005, and even if he needs to move elsewhere, he possesses the offensive capability necessary to earn a starting job at almost any position. Drafting Willingham is a definite gamble, but he makes sense in the latter rounds of deeper leagues.
Any system that graduates Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis in one season, in addition to losing five solid prospects in mid-season trades, obviously will plummet down these rankings. While Abraham Nunez and Wilson Valdez probably deserve starting jobs, both easily could peak as back-ups, leaving Willingham, Hermida, and Reed as the only overly intriguing prospects here right now. Of course, someone like Wayne could surprise, but given the relative youth of most of the Marlins' current major leaguers, I see no reason to pay particularly interest to Florida's minor league system this winter.
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. Abraham Nunez, OF
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