Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Right now we believe that Omar Minaya will return as GM, Frank Robinson will return to manage, and the Expos will return to San Juan for a quarter of their home schedule. The only likely changes are that the San Juan portion of the schedule will be far friendlier to the team, concluding before the All-Star game, and reigning superstar Vladimir Guerrero will sign elsewhere, probably with Baltimore. With Montreal's players agreeing to the split schedule, we expect Minaya to retain at least four of Jose Vidro, Orlando Cabrera, Javier Vazquez, Livan Hernandez, and Tony Armas. If more than one of these players gets dealt, the only logical reason should be the unexpected return of Vlad, who might find his market rather limited if teams focus on his health problems over the past couple of years.
Nevertheless, even with a somewhat depleted farm system and an All-Star core rapidly approaching free agency, the Expos could contend next year under normal circumstances. A rotation of Vazquez, Hernandez/Armas, Ohka, Day, and T.J. Tucker compares favorably to that of most NL teams. Similarly, a lineup led by Brad Wilkerson, Vidro, and Cabrera at least possesses decent firepower at the top of the order, and the promotion of Terrmel Sledge, accompanied by improvements at the corner infield positions thanks to the depressed market, should provide enough offense for another season with a record over .500.
Of course, Minaya needs to improve the offense even if Vlad doesn't depart, but assuming that Wilkerson, Vidro, Cabrera, Brian Schneider and Sledge comprise the majority of next season's lineup, finding a third baseman, along with an outfielder or two, shouldn't be a severe problem this off-season. Jamey Carroll, Henry Mateo, Endy Chavez, and Ron Calloway all look like decent bench players, however none of them should start for Montreal in 2004.
Dealing Michael Barrett, a starting pitcher, and maybe a reliever or two from Rocky Biddle, Scott Stewart, and Joey Eischen will give the Expos plenty of financial flexibility. Luis Ayala, Chad Cordero, and Eischen or Stewart can anchor the pen, and given Minaya's success in finding inexpensive, solid pitchers, adding a couple of Rule 5 picks or minor league free agents will give Montreal a cheap yet hopefully successful pitching staff.
The only problem here involves the approaching free agency of Javier Vazquez, Jose Vidro, and Orlando Cabrera. Securing Cabrera probably makes the most sense given the number of quality pitchers and second baseman normally available. Then, if Montreal receives an offer for Vazquez or Vidro, perhaps one from the Yankees involving Alfonso Soriano and/or Nick Johnson, acquiring a young stud position player to replace Vlad in the middle of the order isn't a bad plan. This team definitely lacks depth, but any lineup with Wilkerson, Cabrera, and Sledge, especially one that faces opponents in two of the NL's best hitters' parks, should keep the Expos' competitive.
Montreal entered the off-season behind Philadelphia, Florida, and even Atlanta in the race for the 2004 NL East crown. Following his moves over the past two years, I don't expect Minaya to make the deals necessary to propel the Expos to 90 wins, but at least Montreal's marketability shouldn't slip if they snag another winning record.
Chad Cordero, 21, RH Reliever
Montreal drafted him 20th overall this year as a signability pick, but he fulfilled expectations by shooting through the minors almost as quick as fellow 2003 first rounder Ryan Wagner. Unfortunately, even though Cordero arrived in the majors only a couple weeks after Wagner, the latter dominated in the upper minors while Cordero only pitched reasonably well in the Florida State League. Of course, Cordero also obviously excelled with the Expos as he limited all hitters to a sub-.390 OPS, a nearly unbelievable performance for any pitcher even in such a small sample size. Given his effectiveness, I see little reason why he won't spend 2004 as a prominent member of the Montreal bullpen, and if Rocky Biddle leaves for budgetary reason, Cordero could close for much of the year. He looks like a good gamble for a few bucks, especially if you can bench him during any potential Expos' trips to Puerto Rico.
The decision to promote Ron Calloway over Sledge to start in right field during Vlad's absence was a primary reason both why Montreal fell out of the playoff chase and why Omar Minaya is a questionable choice to GM any team. Sledge owns extremely good plate discipline, decent speed, and solid power, and while scouts might not consider him a true five-tool talent, he appears to own all-around above average skills. Barring a disastrous spring, the combination of his great AAA performance and strong numbers for Team USA should guarantee Sledge breaks camp with the Expos next season as an outfield starter. He should cruise to double-digit value and could reach $25 within his first three seasons.
Although Bentz could break camp in the Expos' bullpen if thy decide to deal Scott Stewart or Joey Eischen, Bentz instead appears to need a full year of AAA given his poor command and weak dominance. His lower-level skill ratios suggest he eventually might develop into a dominant reliever, but I see nothing here that suggests he belongs in the majors in 2004.
I didn't view Cepicky as a great prospect prior to the season, I see very little immediate upside here his home run total dropped by more than half from 2002 despite the move to a much betters hitters' park in Edmonton. Giving his weak plate discipline and negligible speed, he warrants no roto consideration until he wins a regular job in Montreal.
When not drafted out of LSU, the 5'10" right-hander signed with the Expos and shot to the majors in a little over two seasons. He dominated in A-ball last year, and then zoomed through the system this season, excelling at every level before pitching effectively in Montreal at the end of the year before undeservedly losing his roster spot in September to Chad Cordero for budgetary reasons. I don't expect him to break camp with the Expos this season, but his minor league numbers indicate intriguing upside. While you still should wait until he gains more experience at either AAA or the majors before rostering him, Cordero's future appears very promising.
If the Expos wanted another left-hander in June, they should have promoted Eric Knott instead of waiting until July to recall him. Instead Montreal rushed Ferrari, who hasn't demonstrated much skill since leaving A-ball and probably should have remained at Harrisburg all year. While his control is promising, his weak dominance and a high hit rate at AAA suggest little immediate upside. Don't expect him to contribute to any fantasy team in the near future.
A smart organization would look past Figueroa's unimpressive offensive tools to see his decent defense, normally strong batting average, and solid plate discipline. Unfortunately, Figueroa appears likely to depart the Expos as a minor league free agent this winter, so while he could provide a nice batting boost off a big league bench, don't expect to see him in Montreal any time soon.
Montreal released him for no apparent reason in the spring of 2001, and while he didn't play much last year, this tremendously impressive seasons should earn him an NRI somewhere next spring. The Expos unsurprisingly didn't protect Hall this winter, so despite an intriguing overall skill set that only lacks power, Hall will reach the majors elsewhere. He merits serious fantasy consideration as soon as he secures a big league roster spot given his significant long-term upside.
Hopefully another year at Edmonton will allow Hodges to rediscover his apparently forgotten plate discipline from 2002 while continuing to improve his power skills. He still should be a long-term solution at third base for Montreal, and while I don't particularly like his skill set, he can contribute in many fantasy leagues. Don't expect great numbers if he surprises to win the starting job next spring, however you also at least should keep him in mind since he more likely will warrant consideration in the latter rounds of some minor league drafts.
The UCLA product, selected sixth in the 2001 draft, doesn't even appear ready for AAA yet, however his ranking as one of the Expos' most advanced pitching prospects suggests he should see some spot starts next year. Of course, Montreal also could include him in a deadline deal since I don't see much immediate upside here. Karp still should develop into a solid big leaguer, but I see little reason to roster him on a fantasy teams at this time.
Three impressively dominant A-ball seasons somehow led Montreal management to conclude that this reliever belonged in a rotation, so Maust understandably struggled upon reaching AA. Of course, if he shifts back to the pen where he belongs, Maust's potential ranks with that of any relief prospect in the game. Consider him for your team assuming he maintains these skills as he approaches a big league bullpen.
McKinley is a decent infielder with good plate discipline, respectable power potential, and intriguing speed skills. Of course, not satisfied with his progress given his pedigree as the 11th selection in the 1998 draft, Montreal has him catching in the Arizona Fall League. Given his offensive potential, McKinley looks like a decent fantasy option at either position, however check to see where the Expos slot him in the spring before considering him for your team.
Pascucci remains among our favorite prospects due to his impressive production, cool name, and the foul ball he hit to us in the AFL two years ago. Unfortunately, I expect the combination of his lofty strikeout totals and unimpressive power upside to limit his big league playing time in 2004, potentially even keeping him in the minors another season. Pascucci's uncertain situation sadly makes him a poor fantasy pick right now despite his .397 career OBP barring unlikely support from Expos' management.
Although Song's dropping dominance suggests either an injury or a future in the bullpen, his continued effectiveness makes him the most prepared product in this system to join the big league rotation if needed. He owns good control and little downside given his impressive homer rates, and only my concerns regarding rostering any pitcher who plays home games in Puerto Rico keeps me from wholeheartedly recommending Song. Given his fantastic performance at every lower level of the minors, I see no reason Song can't reemerge as an elite prospect since he at least didn't slump this year. He merits at least mild consideration in any minor league draft thanks to his relatively clear path to the majors.
I view Young as one of the best sleeper prospects in the game. Despite two impressive Sally League seasons, Dave Littlefield traded Young with a second prospect to Montreal last December for Matt Herges, and then cut Herges during spring training, cementing a potentially disastrous deal. The 6'10" Young may never develop into a dominant pitcher, but he already looks like an effective starter capable of succeeding in the majors by 2005. After a full year in the upper minors, I expect him to earn significant attention next winter, making him a decent target next spring in deep NL leagues.
Mike Hinckley, 21, LH Starter
While he may not reach the majors for another few years, Hinckley looks like a respectable target in the deepest NL leagues. The southpaw owns good command and solid strikeout rates, and his utter dominance in four Florida State League starts could push him towards a big league debut late in 2004. I don't view him as a great target due to his youth and relative inexperience, however Hinckley also could emerge as one of the best pitching prospects in the game by the end of the season.
Although the Expos possess better upper-level prospect depth than a couple team, only the presence of Sledge, who should contend for the 2004 NL Rookie of the Year, makes this system overly special. Chad Cordero, Scott Hodges, and a few pitchers like Song and Young also interest me, however you shouldn't give serious thought next spring to drafting anyone beyond the top few players.
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. Terrmel Sledge, OF
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