Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
After a multi-year delay caused by overzealous local politicians who fully subscribe to the theory of baseball's worthlessness in spurring economic development, San Diego's new baseball stadium will debut in 2004. Of course, Petco Park ranks with the worst stadium names in history, and only the strong identification of San Diego with the San Diego Zoo makes the name partially palatable. Nevertheless, the Padres will field a surprisingly strong team in their new digs as the new revenue streams give GM Kevin Towers room to target a couple of solid free agents.
Towers set the tone for next season by moving Jason Bay, Oliver Perez, and Cory Stewart for Brian Giles a few days before the August trade deadline. Bay should develop into an excellent player, and both Perez and Stewart possess significant long-term upside, but Giles is one of the best hitters in baseball and costs under $10M/year through 2006.
Giles will anchor a lineup that will feature 3B Sean Burroughs and 2B Mark Loretta at the top of the order, along with 1B Phil Nevin, LF Ryan Klesko, and CF Mark Kotsay batting behind Giles. The decision regarding which outfield positions Giles and Klesko occupy will be made once the coaches and players begin practicing at Petco. I don't expect San Diego to fulfill initial expectations by adding an expensive shortstop this winter since Ramon Vazquez can man the position until Khalil Greene finishes developing; Greene could be ready as soon as spring depending his off-season progress.
The only giant black hole in the lineup is at catcher, where Wiki Gonzalez and Miguel Ojeda currently look like the best options. San Diego will upgrade their backstop this winter, either by signing a free agent or trading for someone like A.J. Pierzynski, Ramon Castro, or either Ramon Hernandez or Adam Melhuse on Oakland. If they add a decent right-hander, he can hit sixth, followed by Kotsay and Vazquez, given San Diego both a deep and balanced lineup.
Other than the offensive core, San Diego's right-handed pitching is the primary strength of the team. Brian Lawrence, Adam Eaton, and Jake Peavy each pitched over 180 innings in 2004 while holding an ERA under 4.20. All three pitchers should develop into #2 starters at worst, so while losing Oliver Perez hurts, the central starters provide an excellent foundation. Although the Padres lack the pitching depth they possessed a few years ago, Ben Howard and Dennis Tankersley remain on the 40-man roster, as does Kevin Jarvis, who appears likely to break camp in long relief.
Along with finding a catcher, Towers' other primary goal involves adding two starting pitchers. San Diego certainly could use a true ace, and replacing Perez with a left-handed also looks like a priority. Assuming the money works out, Greg Maddux and David Wells look like superb fits, respectively followed by Kevin Millwood and Chuck Finley. Millwood may be the best pitcher of this group, however signing Maddux would be a huge coup considering the similar stuff possesses by Lawrence and Eaton; Maddux simply looks like a better tutor than Millwood right now. Letting Wells pitch near his Torrance, California birthplace also should yield surprising dividends, and if anyone succumbs to injury, Jarvis, Howard, and Tank provide excellent depth.
Towers accomplished his first priority by re-signing Trevor Hoffman to a one-year deal with an option that only should cost San Diego about $3M in 2004. Scott Linebrink, Brandon Villafuerte, and Jay Witasick should provide solid middle relief work, and while signing a solid left-hander in addition to Kevin Walker is important, I expect a decent rebound from this bullpen with their captain back. Once he finds a starting catcher and a couple of starters, Towers still should be able to acquire a couple of decent veteran relievers. Adding Ricardo Rincon or Tom Martin, in addition to an experience right-hander like Steve Reed, should provide the pen with needed stability assuming Rod Beck ends up closing elsewhere.
Until San Diego actually fills their off-season holes, we can't cite them as NL West favorites. However, with the Giants losing 11 free agents, 10 players likely departing Los Angeles, and Arizona potentially losing Miguel Batista and Curt Schilling, the Padres definitely should contend in 2004. Whether they finish first is dependent on Towers' moves over the next nine month, as well as if Bruce Bochy again demonstrates the solid managerial touch he displayed in 1998 despite watching his team significantly decline over the past five seasons.
Khalil Greene, 24, SS-R
I don't plan on forgiving the Cubs any time soon for failing to sign Greene after selecting him in the 14th round of the 2001 draft. Now, although I see no reason not to give Greene another few months in the minors given Ramon Vazquez's decent play, Greene's performance in his first full professional season should convince the Padres not to overspend on a free agent shortstop. His 3.81 #P/PA in September indicates increasing patience from Greene, and contact rates of .76, .84, and .71 as he ascended through the system also demonstrate his BA upside. Of course, while Greene could contend for the Rookie of the Year if San Diego gives him the starting job out of camp, I don't expect him to emerge as a top NL shortstop until no earlier than 2006.
Detroit claimed Bartosh off waivers last month, costing San Diego a surprisingly good relief prospect. I don't know why the Padres risked losing him when their system lacks upper-level lefties following the trade of Oliver Perez and Cory Stewart and Rusty Tucker's injury, yet Bartosh now will challenge a half-dozen similar pitchers for a spot in the Tigers' pen. His development this season suggests he could approach double-digit value with a little luck, and although he shouldn't close in the majors, he could help as roster filler as soon as next spring.
San Diego rushed Bozied through the system, and then he unsurprisingly didn't excel after only a mediocre half-season at AA Mobile in 2002. Fortunately, he demonstrated decent across-the-board skills at Portland, and while Phil Nevin and Ryan Klesko effectively block him now, San Diego almost certainly will make room for Bozied if he continues developing. Of course, he isn't a great fantasy pick now with Jon Knott also pushing him and Xavier Nady deserving playing time in the majors, but Bozied is still reasonably young and should enjoy a productive big league career.
Originally acquired by Pittsburgh this summer as the primary return for Aramis Ramirez, San Diego snagged Bruback off waivers when the Pirates stupidly tried to outright his contract when the acquired Bobby Hill, the PTBNL in the same deal. While he isn't a top prospect, he now ranks as the Padres' rookie pitcher most prepared to start in the majors. We've liked Bruback for a couple years and expect him to succeed in the majors when given the necessary opportunity, making him an intriguing potential mid-season addition to your team, albeit not someone who merits drafting in the spring.
A sprained ACL ended his season in August, preventing Castro from approaching 60 steals. He obviously owns great speed skills, yet his questionable defense, negligible power, and declining plate discipline suggest he might plateau as a utilityman. Of course, he still regularly could approach double-digit value as a reserve thanks to his speed, but unless he surprisingly earns a roster spot next spring, avoid him for now.
Signed out of Panama only a season ago, Deago shot to the majors thanks to a respectable AA performance when San Diego needed a spot starter. He hadn't pitched professionally prior to 2003, so these numbers appear fairly impressive. Of course, his weak walk rate limits his upside, however we really don't know how Deago will perform in his second season, so wait until he we se him remain effective at AAA before considering him for your team.
While Germano's decreasing dominance means we shouldn't consider him anywhere for another season, he possesses the skills to develop into one of the game's top pitching prospects by next fall. Keep an eye on Germano as could surge to the majors in 2004 with a little luck and might merit rostering immediately if he maintains his current command.
Gomez already re-signed with San Diego this off-season and should continue to provide them with a solid outfield alternate in case of injury. While he possesses very little power, his strong speed skills and respectable plate discipline suggest the potential to contribute in the majors. Consider him for your team if he earns a regular role for any reason.
Despite the relative strength of the Padres' offense, San Diego lacks a leadoff hitter and could use a centerfielder capable of covering Petco Park's unique dimensions. Guzman should fill that need sometime in 2005. He led the minors in steals while demonstrating both good walk and contact rates. While he lacks power, his superb speed skills could allow him to push $30 almost as soon as he earns an everyday job. Consider Guzman with a top pick in any minor league draft since his skills make him one of the most potentially valuable players in roto.
While we're seeing gradually improvement in his walk rate, the control development appears mostly related to a slipping strikeout rate than any overt skill development. However may be the most advanced rookie pitcher left in the system following promotions and trades, but he barely appears capable of remaining successful at AAA, forget about pitching effectively in the majors. You don't want to draft Howard next spring, and he likely won't be an in-season option for many fantasy teams barring a sudden skill increase or a permanent move to the bullpen.
Knott's skills and development remind me of a right-handed Graham Koonce, now a top hitting prospect for Oakland. However, unlike Koonce and Portland teammate Tagg Bozied, Knott may be able to handle a corner outfield spot, giving him a chance to snag a long-term role in San Diego next to Freddy Guzman and Brian Giles. The more significant problem is that Knott doesn't profile as an offensive star, and his unimpressive contact rate could leave him a AAAA player. Wait until he echoes these numbers over a full season at Portland before considering him for your team.
While not a great prospect, McAdoo keeps marching towards the majors on the strength of his strong command and still-improving skills. He should spend 2004 in AAA, and only the good health of the Padres' pitching staff will keep him at Portland all season. If he continued developing on his current schedule, McAdoo should warrant fantasy consideration as soon as he echoes these stats over a couple weeks with San Diego.
Although Oxspring's questionable control keeps me from recommending him right now, his impressive adaptation to starting makes him one of the Padres' better pitching prospects. If he continues developing as I expect, he'll spend part of 2004 in the majors prior to securing a permanent staff spot the following season. Of course, we don't know what role Oxspring will fill in San Diego, but he possesses the skills to succeed in almost any capacity.
Assuming San Diego adds a veteran starting catcher this winter as expected, Quintero looks no better than the fourth catcher on the depth chart after capable backup Miguel Ojeda and the expensive Wiki Gonzalez, both of whom own much better upper level stats than Quintero. Although Quintero's performance this year certainly appears promising, much of this improvement likely is due to the Padres allowing Quintero to spend all season at one level after splitting the previous two years between five different affiliates. Also, only Quintero's average appears decent among his offensive skills. He displayed little power or plate discipline, and as he lacks a clear path to the majors, he isn't worth considering for your team in 2004.
San Diego acquired Sanches from Kansas City in the Rondell White deal, although now he appears stuck behind several homegrown products in the Padres' upper minors. Of course, if he echoes these numbers at AAA Portland, he should spend the second half of next season in the majors, but since we don't know if he'll get that opportunity, ignore him in the spring.
San Diego sent him to Pittsburgh last month as the PTBNL in the Brian Giles deal, a move that could tip the trade in favor of the Pirates if Stewart continues developing as we expect. While I wouldn't be shocked to see Stewart develop into an ace, he instead ranks as merely a very good prospect, capable of dominating offenses, and if his walk rate drops, he could emerge as an elite prospect next season. For now, he merely warrants some spring consideration in deeper leagues, however waiting to see how he'll respond to AAA also isn't a bad idea since any skill degradation could force him to the bullpen.
Homer problems forced him back to Mobile by mid-season, however Trujillo rebounded nicely and could challenge for a big league bullpen spot in spring training. Of course, he likely will spend another year in the minors, and his inconsistent skills history makes him no more than an endgame pick even if he reaches San Diego in 2004.
Given his potential at the plate, San Diego will leave Barfield at second base indefinitely, particularly considering he only committed 20 errors in 130 games this season. While Barfield needs another couple years of seasoning, his offensive upside ranks with that of any infielder in the game. Crushing 68 extra-base hits as a 20-year-old in the California League as an impressive accomplishment, and if he reduces his strikeouts while maintaining his solid walk rate, we should see some $30 seasons from Barfield. However, I wouldn't rush to draft him since Sean Burroughs, Khalil Greene, and Mark Loretta effectively block him from finding a starting spot in the Padres' infield prior to 2006.
Khalil Greene likely will spend 2004 starting for San Diego, giving them a better fantasy prospect than a dozen teams right off the bat. The respective upsides of Guzman and Barfield also impress me, and I expect several of the young pitchers to develop into effective big leaguers. However, nearly all the rookies also appear destined to spend next year in the minors, leaving the Padres somewhat devoid of fantasy-worthy prospect depth.
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. Pittsburgh Pirates(Bay, F.Sanchez, Van Benschoten, J.Davis)
1. Khalil Greene, SS
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