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Your Daily Fantasy Rx
2004 Hitting: May AL Roto Prospects
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

I'm going to spend a few days looking at potential fantasy help currently residing in the upper levels of the minors, specifically examining one hitter and one pitcher on each team, so you can know who to monitor for potential FAABing. Since most teams will still promote talent from AAA if given the chance, I'll only select a AA prospect if a AAA club lacks any promotion-worthy candidates. Rather than follow my standard recommendations of acquire, target, wait, shop, or deal, I instead will substitute "ignore" for shop or deal since several prospects in each article will warrant minimal interest due to their likely limited roles even if they reach the majors.

We begin today with American League batting prospects.

Anaheim: Casey Kotchman, 21, 1B-L
0/3 for .000/.000/.000 with 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 0:0 BB:K for Anaheim.
42/114 for .368/.438/.544 with 3 HR, 18 RBI, 19 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 10:6 BB:K for AA Arkansas(TL).

Posting a .308/.390/.471 performance in 104 at-bats at AAA Salt Lake(PCL) earned Robb Quinlan another look in the majors, however the Angels promoted Kotchman with the intention of starting him on a daily basis. Anaheim's slate of injuries presents opportunities for both youngsters, however Jeff DaVanon merits one of the open jobs, and Chone Figgins and Shane Halter also will play regularly. Now, if Kotchman succeeds in his audition, he could stay in the majors, but I just can't see Anaheim essentially wasting a year of inexpensive service time for a 21-year-old with 130 plate appearances in the upper minors. Of course, his current numbers, including his solid plate discipline and perfect defensive record in 25 games, suggest he warrants this look; I just don't expect him to flourish. While you should look to add Kotchman in any keeper league where he remains available, don't spend more than a few bucks of FAAB when you target him in single-season leagues since the odds of him significantly contributing to a successful fantasy team in 2004 appear quite low.

Baltimore: Pedro Swann, 33, OF-L
37/101 for .366/.430/.683 with 7 HR, 19 RBI, 20 R, 2/3 SB%,
and an 8:16 BB:K for AAA Ottawa(PCL).

He may never lose his MLB rookie eligibility unless some team gives him a shot in the near future. Unfortunately, while he merited promotion this year far more than Ottawa teammates Tim Raines and Darnell McDonald, Swann's absence from Baltimore's 40-man roster gave them little reason to recall him. Despite a relative lack of depth on the Orioles' big league roster, I similarly don't expect Swann to receive much playing time if he returns to the majors this season. He appears able to succeed if given the necessary opportunity, but you still should ignore him unless he starts finding regular at-bats.

Boston: Andy Dominique, 28, C/1B-R
37/110 for .336/.444/.582 with 6 HR, 32 RBI, 20 R, 0/1 SB%,
and a 20:18 BB:K for AAA Pawtucket(IL).

The key to evaluating Dominique is remembering that no other prospect in the system offers his combination of plate discipline and power. Boston could replace Kevin Millar with Dominique and lose nothing other than a few million dollars from their payroll. He currently paces the International League in several categories, and I expect him to receive a long look with the Red Sox sometime this season. Look to acquire Dominique once he reaches the majors since he offers an impressive echo of the upside of Matt LeCroy and Craig Wilson as a power-hitting 1B/DH who should qualify at catcher in many leagues.

Chicago White Sox: Jeremy Reed, 22, OF-L
35/112 for .313/.400/.393 with 0 HR, 7 RBI, 13 R, 7/10 SB%,
and a 14:16 BB:K for AAA Charlotte(IL).

Yes, the lack of power worries me to some extent, but the .13 walk rate and .86 contact rate look quite appropriate. Reed's basestealing success similarly pleases me, especially since his overall performance offers a nice contrast to the regressing Joe Borchard. Given Aaron Rowand's unimpressive .230/.288/.419 line this year, Reed should reach the majors by the mid-season, giving the Sox a nice boost for the second half. While you shouldn't expect a significant qualitative contribution from Reed, look to acquire him in any standard league since a batting average around .300 and a respectable steal total seems like a fair hope for his debut season. I expect he also will look like a good keeper at any salary much under $20 heading into 2005.

Cleveland: Brandon Phillips, 22, SS/2B-R
27/85 for .318/.398/.471 with 2 HR, 6 RBI, 13 R, 3/7 SB%,
and a 10:7 BB:K fore AAA Buffalo(IL).

The combined performances of Cleveland's upper-level middle infielders rank with the game's biggest surprises this year. Ron Belliard's .383/.468/.483 obviously seems rather unlikely, especially compared to Omar Vizquel's expected .287/.355/.402, but aside from Phillips at Buffalo, both Jhonny Peralta's .369/.402/.459 and Brent Abernathy's .342/.392/.548 give the Indians impressive depth. Of course, Peralta's significant defensive troubles and Abernathy's lack of patience propels Phillips to the front of the prospect pack. If Montreal hasn't leapfrogged him through their system, Phillips likely would have reached the majors for good this spring. Instead, his early advancement and subsequent struggles and demotion make him a fantastic sleeper. He should secure a starting spot in Cleveland's middle infield this fall before emerging as a top fantasy second sacker next year, so certainly look to acquire Phillips as soon as he returns to the majors.

Detroit: Marcus Thames, 27, OF-R
36/113 for .319/.364/.628 with 9 HR, 22 RBI, 20 R, 1/2 SB%,
and an 8:21 BB:K for AAA Toledo(IL).

With Brandon Inge and Craig Monroe starting regularly, the Tigers don't have enough at-bats for Greg Norton and Chris Shelton even with Dmitri Young sidelined. Despite Monroe's weak performance, I also don't expect Detroit to cut him in favor of Thames any time soon. The former Yankee outfield prospect certainly possesses significant power, but his unimpressive plate discipline and skill history make him a gamble for any team. Thames' best bet is to maintain this approximate level of performance for couple years at AAA before taking advantage of an injury-related promotion to earn steady playing time. Since he failed fairly badly in Texas last year, I also don't see him even echoing these numbers with the Tigers. Wait until you see Thames earn some manager's favor before adding him to your roster.

Kansas City: Calvin Pickering, 27, 1B-L
28/90 for .311/.457/.789 with 13 HR, 31 RBI, 22 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 20:28 BB:K for AAA Omaha(PCL).

A shockingly successful April for Ken Harvey kept Kansas City from enjoying Pickering's probable career year. Of course, given the Royals' continuing injury problems, they might find a spot for the 6'5" power prospect by mid-season. If given the opportunity, Pickering should contribute a half-dozen homers a month while probably damaging your batting average due to his contact problems. Yet his age and current performance suggests he also could enjoy a couple of superlative seasons, making him an intriguing target upon his promotion assuming Kansas City intended to award him a steady spot in their batting order.

Minnesota: Alex Prieto, 27, 3B/IF-R
29/97 for .299/.369/.423 with 2 HR, 9 RBI, 15 R, 2/4 SB%,
and an 11:16 BB:K for AAA Rochester(IL).

A broken wrist suffered Saturday by Jason Bartlett puts him out of action at least for a month. The pending return of Matt LeCroy and Joe Mauer, combined with outstanding performances by Lew Ford and Mike Ryan, also should keep Justin Morneau and Mike Restovich from reaching Minnesota in the near future. Instead the Twins appear likely to promote Prieto if Nick Punto heads to the DL as expected. While he offers far less upside than teammates Luis Rodriguez, Prieto owns a better batting average and apparently impressed Minnesota in a 2003 audition. Unfortunately, his relative lack of secondary skills makes him a poor fantasy player, especially since Mike Cuddyer should see the majority of any excess middle infield playing time. Ignore Prieto since I just don't see him helping any fantasy teams.

New York Yankees: Caonabo Cosme, 24, 2B-R
37/114 for .325/.394/.465 with 3 HR, 18 RBI, 19 R, 2/3 SB%,
and an 11:18 BB:K for AAA Columbus(IL).

Despite the Yankees' struggles at second base this season, New York almost certainly will look outside the organization for an update. Of course, if injury and a lack of upper-level prospects lead the team to opt for an in-term solution for a couple months, Cosme looks like the best choice among Yankee minor leaguers. He owns respectable batting skills, especially considering he only played a couple of AA seasons prior to this year. However, with a .84 contact rate far above his normal .74 mark, I don't expect Cosme even to maintain his current averages, forget about holding this level of effectiveness if promoted. Plan to ignore him unless you see a middle infield need on your team that coincides with a surprisingly strong debut performance from Cosme.

Oakland: Dan Johnson, 24, 1B-L
35/121 for .289/.392/.554 with 8 HR, 29 RBI, 23 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 23:11 BB:K for AAA Sacramento(PCL).

While Johnson ranks just behind 2003 PCL MVP Graham Koonce on the Oakland organizational depth chart at 1B/DH, neither player should see many at-bats in the majors this year thanks to the presence of Scott Hatteberg, Erubiel Durazo, and Eric Karros. Yet, like Koonce, Johnson appears ready to thrive in the majors if given the necessary playing time. He ranks among the PCL leaders in most hitting categories, and both his .19 walk rate and .91 contact rate support continued success. Take advantage of any chance to acquire Johnson since he could reach double-digit value in only a half-season of at-bats.

Seattle: Jamal Strong, 25, OF-R
22/61 for .361/.443/.426 with 0 HR, 9 RBI, 11 R, 1/3 SB%,
and a 6:6 BB:K for AAA Tacoma(PCL).

The long-term deals for Ichiro, Randy Winn, and Raul Ibanez technically block Strong from a regular lineup spot, but his strong plate discipline, historical speed skills, and promising plate discipline make him Seattle's primary option if the aging, slumping team rebuilds. While he also could contribute in a reserve role, his nearly non-existent stolen base total this year leads me to doubt Strong's chance for immediately helping any fantasy team. Anyone needing speed still should target Strong once the Mariners promote him, however don't expect much from him unless he surprisingly finds consistent playing time even as just a pinch-runner for the Seattle's several slow veterans.

Tampa Bay: Jonny Gomes, 23, OF-R
18/59 for .305/.389/.831 with 8 HR, 20 RBI, 15 R, 2/3 SB%,
and a 7:20 BB:K for AAA Durham(IL).

With Joey Gathright close to winning a job in the majors as Tampa's long-term third outfielder, Gomes needs to take advantage of any opportunity presented him to impress the Rays with his power potential. Homering once every two games for Durham is a good start, and maintaining a solid walk rate similarly gives him a good chance to continue succeeding. Unfortunately, since his .66 contact rate ranks as an improvement over his .64 career minor league mark, Gomes will need to hold an extremely solid slugging percentage to compensate for a level of strikeout totals that consistently will frustrate most managers, not to mention team announcers. Don't target Gomes unless you can afford a potential BA drag to register respectable quantitative stats.

Texas: Gary Matthews, Jr., 29, OF-S
33/110 for .300/.370/.582 with 5 HR, 27 RBI, 20 R, 2/2 SB%,
and a 14:25 BB:K for AAA Oklahoma(PCL).

Little Sarge headed back to the minors this spring for the first time since the beginning of 2000. Yet with his strong performance and a lack of healthy outfielders with good defense skills on the Rangers, he should receive a call-up in the near future. Since he can handle all outfield positions, owns a decent walk rate, and still possesses some speed skills, he certainly appears able to contribute as a reserve outfielder. Playing in Texas also nicely increases his offensive upside thanks to both their currently impressive lineup and hitter-friendly Ameriquest Field. Target Matthews whenever you need short-term roster filler.

Toronto: Shawn Fagan, 25, 1B-R
23/82 for .280/.398/.390 with 2 HR, 7 RBI, 13 R, 0/1 SB%,
and a 16:16 BB:K for AAA Syracuse(IL).

Delgado, Phelps, and Hinske should block Fagan most of this year, but since at least one of Toronto's cornermen always seems to suffer from some malady, Fagan's OBP skills make him an acceptable alternative. However, he also failed his AAA audition last year and isn't displaying any power now. Limited quantitative upside similarly negates the usefulness of a decent BA supported by strong plate discipline. Wait until you need low-risk roster filler before considering Fagan for your team.

We'll continue tomorrow with National League hitting prospects.

Today's Fantasy Rx: The seemingly continuous list of new injuries creates many unexpected playing time opportunities, however players already in the majors as reserves normally receive the first shot as regulars. Most of the players listed above only will secure starting jobs due to an organization's decision either to trade, cut, or bench the current big league starter at their position. Of the players listed above, only Reed and Phillips, Gomes, and possibly Johnson appear reasonably likely to win a permanent job if given an injury-induced two-week trial.

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