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October
22nd
2004
Your Daily Fantasy Rx
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Post-2004 Prospect Review: Cleveland
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

Prospects with Double-Digit Upside
Likely 2005 September Call-ups
Potential Reserve Help
Minor League Draft Picks
Organization Rankings
Cleveland's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects


Prospects with Double-Digit Upside

Fernando Cabrera, 22, RH Reliever
0-0 on a 6:1 K:BB in 5.1 IP over 4 G
with 3 H, 0 HR, a 6-5 G-F, and a 3.38 ERA for Cleveland.
4-3 and 5 Saves on a 92:43 K:BB in 75 IP over 44 G
with 57 H, 9 HR, and a 3.84 ERA for AAA Buffalo(IL).

Although Cabrera still suffers from control problems even after moving to full-time relief work, his very impressive dominance should allow him to flourish in a late-inning role. His 11.0 K/9 makes him an obvious candidate to remain in Cleveland's bullpen in the spring, and he could secure the closer's job sometime next season. Gambling a draft pick on Cabrera if he returns to Buffalo is a bad idea, but feel free to roster him as soon as he finds a stable role with the Indians. Don't be surprised if he approaches $30 within a couple seasons as the closer on a perennial contender.


Francisco Cruceta, 23, RH Starter
0-1 on a 9:4 K:BB in 7.2 IP over 2 GS
with 10 H, 1 HR, a 10-7 G-F, and a 9.39 ERA for Cleveland.
6-5 on a 62:36 K:BB in 83 IP over 14 GS
with 78 H, 6 HR, and a 3.25 ERA for AAA Buffalo(IL).
4-8 on a 45:33 K:BB in 88.2 IP over 15 GS
with 89 H, 11 HR, and a 5.28 ERA for AA Akron(EL).

Cruceta rewarded the Indians' faith in his abilities, registering an across-the-board improvement upon moving to Buffalo. Of course, he didn't belong back at Akron after compiling a 13-9 record and 3:09 ERA on a 134:66 K:BB in 163 IP in 2003, so his success at the highest minor league level isn't an overt surprise. Spending another couple months at Buffalo wouldn't hurt his development, but Cruceta appears prepared to contribute in the majors if given the opportunity next spring. Consider selecting him during Dollar Days if he breaks camp in the majors and your league lets you reserve him if he struggles.


Kyle Denney, 27, RH Starter
1-2 on a 13:8 K:BB in 16 IP over 4 GS
with 32 H, 3 HR, a 1.44 G-F, and a 9.56 ERA for Cleveland.
10-5 on a 113:39 K:BB in 134.2 IP over 24 GS
with 134 H, 17 HR, and a 4.41 ERA for AAA Buffalo(IL).

The largely unheralded Denney concluded his steady rise to the majors by maintaining excellent command over a full year at Buffalo despite scouts' doubts. Unfortunately, a mild left knee injury and mid-summer slump prevented a promotion early in the year when Cleveland desperately needed starters. Getting shot on the team bus by a stray bullet in Kansas City then earned him unwanted national attention in September, especially since he avoided serious injury thanks to the protection provided by cheerleader boots provided by his teammates as part of an inane hazing ritual. However, I expect him to enjoy a reasonable productive big league career even after his unusual season, and if he breaks camp in the Indians' rotation as expected, Denney' skills warrant a few bucks' investment in standard leagues.


Likely 2005 September Call-ups

Michael Aubrey, 22, 1B-L
35/134 for .261/.340/.425 with 5 HR, 22 RBI, 13 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 15:18 BB:K for AA Akron(EL).
74/218 for .339/.438/.550 with 10 HR, 60 RBI, 34 R, 3/4 SB%,
and a 27:26 BB:K for A+ Kinston(Car).

The eleventh overall pick in 2003 finished demolishing A-ball pitching in the first half. He then continues to demonstrate good plate discipline, albeit without great power, after moving to Akron. Unfortunately, multiple hamstring injuries limited his effectiveness with the Aeros. Coupled with the Indians' depth 1B/DH/OF depth in the majors, Aubrey's health questions should lead to another full year in the minors. Expect him to receive a cup-of-coffee next fall before challenging for the first base job during spring training in 2006. Considering his offensive upside compares favorably to Travis Hafner's production, definitely draft Aubrey anywhere he remains available.


Andrew Brown, 23, RH Starter
1-0 on a 4:3 K:BB in 5 IP over 1 GS
with 4 H, 0 HR, and a 0.00 ERA for AAA Buffalo(IL).
3-6 on a 67:36 K:BB in 77.1 IP over 17 GS
with 66 H, 7 HR, and a 4.66 ERA for AA Akron(EL).
1-3 on a 58:14 K:BB in 40.1 IP over 8 GS
with 36 H, 5 HR, and a 4.02 ERA for AA Jacksonville(SL).

Brown exploded through the minors this year after missing nearly all of 2003 due to minor surgery to remove bone chips. Sent to Cleveland as the PBTN in the Milton Bradley trade, Brown finished the season with a 9.5 K/9 despite nearly across-the-board skill deterioration after joining Akron. Brown should open 2005 at Buffalo, and if he remains reasonably dominant, expect him to challenge for a big league rotation spot sometime next summer. Only Brown's historical control problems and the significant competition he faces at the upper levels of the Indians' system keep me from recommending him to most owners at this time.


Fausto Carmona, 21, RH Starter
1-0 on a 2:3 K:BB in 6 IP over 1 GS
with 6 H, 0 HR, and a 6.00 ERA for AAA Buffalo(IL).
4-8 on a 63:21 K:BB in 87 IP over 15 GS
with 114 H, 3 HR, and a 4.97 ERA for AA Akron(EL).
5-2 on a 57:20 K:BB in 70 IP over 12 GS
with 68 H, 6 HR, and a 2.83 ERA for A+ Kinston(Car).

A third straight solid season pushes Carmona to the cusp of the majors, but his relative youth and the position of Francisco Cruceta and Kyle Denney higher on the Indians' starting depth chart should keep Carmona in the minors for most of 2005. Of course, he owns excellent skills and appears quite likely to develop into a top-of-the-rotation asset, so the main reason to avoid him now is that the competition he faces in the upper levels of the Cleveland system could keep him from contributing in the majors for another year or two.


Jason Cooper, 24, OF-L
9/51 for .176/.300/.373 with 3 HR, 7 RBI, 6 R, 1/2 SB%,
and a 9:15 BB:K for AAA Buffalo(IL).
101/422 for .239/.321/.424 with 14 HR, 69 RBI, 54 R, 2/4 SB%,
and a 47:106 BB:K for AA Akron(EL).

Rising from the Sally League to the International League in barely one year proved too tough a jump for Cooper, although he at least managed to maintain decent power and patience as he ascended the minor league ladder. Unfortunately, an unimpressive AFL campaign even might result in him returning to Akron for another year. Cooper eventually should emerge as a capable big league starter, but he merits little consideration right now even in very deep leagues.


Ryan Garko, 23, C/1B-R
7/20 for .350/.391/.400 with 0 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 2:3 BB:K for AAA Buffalo(IL).
57/172 for .331/.397/.523 with 6 HR, 38 RBI, 29 R, 1/1 SB%,
and a 14:28 BB:K for AA Akron(EL).
78/238 for .328/.425/.609 with 16 HR, 57 RBI, 44 R, 4/5 SB%,
and a 26:34 BB:K for A+ Kinston(Car).

Cleveland's third round pick in 2003 out of Stanford, the three-year starter shot to Buffalo, crushing both Carolina and Eastern League pitching before spending the fall compiling a very impressive AFL campaign. Although I don't expect him to supplant Victor Martinez on the Indians any time soon, Garko appears nearly ready to join the big league roster as a platoon player capable of letting Martinez spend a couple days each week at DH. Of course, a trade to a catching-needy organization could result in a long-term starting job for Garko, so until we know where he'll reach the majors, rostering him is an unnecessary risk.


Franklin Gutierrez, 21, OF-R
4/27 for .148/.179/.296 with 1 HR, 3 RBI, 4 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 1:11 BB:K for AAA Buffalo(IL).
79/262 for .302/.372/.466 with 5 HR, 35 RBI, 38 R, 6/9 SB%,
and a 23:77 BB:K for AA Akron(EL).

A sprained right elbow cost Gutierrez nearly half the season. However, he only experienced slight contact and walk rate drops from A-ball while keeping his average over .300. Spending another full year in the minors should enable Gutierrez to refine his offensive approach, making him the top candidate to emerge as Cleveland's long-term right fielder, especially if he produces in a likely September cup-of-coffee. Definitely rank Gutierrez very high on your minor league draft lists if he somehow remains available in your league.


Jeremy Guthrie, 25, RH Reliever
0-0 on a 7:6 K:BB in 11.2 IP over 6 GS
with 9 H, 1 HR, a .93 G-F, and a 4.63 ERA for Cleveland.
1-2 on a 10:18 K:BB in 19.1 IP over 4 GS
with 23 H, 0 HR, and a 7.91 ERA for AAA Buffalo(IL).
8-8 on a 94:42 K:BB in 130.1 IP over 21 GS(23G)
with 145 H, 16 HR, and a 4.21 ERA for AA Akron(EL).

Moved to relief towards the end of the year to expedite his path to the majors, Guthrie likely needs at least one more year of seasoning. His weak overall skills give him significant downside, especially considering he appears unlikely to close in the majors. However, even though drafting him Guthrie now is a mistake, he could emerge as a solid bullpen option rather quickly if his skill set develops as I expect.


Brad Snyder, 22, OF-L
39/110 for .355/.424/.600 with 6 HR, 21 RBI, 20 R, 4/6 SB%,
and a 13:28 K:BB for A+ Kinston(Car).
85/304 for .280/.382/.461 with 10 HR, 54 RBI, 52 R, 11/15 SB%,
and a 48:78 BB:K for A Lake County(SAL).

The 38th overall pick in 2003 performed adequately at Lake County before demolishing a month of Carolina League pitching. Snyder possesses respectable power, speed, and plate discipline, and his high averages make him a better gamble than most position players closer to the majors. While drafting him still qualifies as a definite risk in all save the deepest leagues, Snyder's progress at least requires monitoring since he could move quickly through the Cleveland system.


Potential Reserve Help

Chris Cooper, 26, LH Reliever
5-1 and 2 Saves on a 27:10 K:BB in 35.2 IP over 26 G
with 37 H,1 HR, and a 1.77 ERA for AA Akron(EL).
3-3 and 1 Save on a 44:10 K:BB in 39.1 IP over 25 G
with 36 H, 1 HR, and a 1.60 ERA for A+ Kinston(Car).

After accumulating respectable skill ratios over his first three professional seasons, Cooper finally reached Akron this year on the strength of a 4.4 K:BB. Yes, he probably needs at least a full year in the upper minors, but Cooper soon could emerge as a quality big league reliever if he even echoes these skills at Akron and AAA Buffalo.


Joe Dawley, 33, RH Swingman
0-0 on an 8:7 K:BB in 8.1 IP over 2 GS
with 7 H, 1 HR, a .88 G-F, and a 5.40 ERA for Cleveland.
0-0 on a 7:1 K:BB in 5.2 IP over 1 GS
with 4 H, 0 HR, and a 0.00 ERA for AAA Buffalo(IL).
1-2 on a 29:8 K:BB in 31 IP over 3 GS(9G)
with 26 H, 1 HR, and a 3.19 ERA for AAA Omaha(PCL).

The veteran journeyman reached the majors for the third straight season, remaining reasonably effective despite continued control problems. While his minor league numbers depict a pitcher capable of contributing in the majors, Dawley merits no fantasy consideration until he secures steady work in a big league bullpen and accumulates several solid outings.


Lee Gronkiewicz, 26, RH Reliever
0-0 on a 0:0 K:BB in 1 IP over 1 G
with 0 H, 0 HR, and a 0.00 ERA for AAA Buffalo(IL).
1-4 and 20 Saves on a 68:21 K:BB in 65.1 IP over 52 G
with 65 H, 5 HR, and a 3.03 ERA for AA Akron(EL).

Nobody drafted Gronkiewicz out of South Carolina in 2001, but after he signed with Cleveland, he racked 93 saves over the following three-and-a-half seasons. He owns career marks of a 9.8 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9, although he doesn't own the emphatically dominant skills to indicate he can defy established trends to emerge as a big league closer. While Gronkiewicz still should develop into a quality reliever in the majors, wait until he registers some solid options before rostering him anywhere.


Kenny Rayborn, 30, RH Starter
8-2 on a 65:40 K:BB in 123.2 IP over 22 GS(23G)
with 122 H, 13 HR, and a 3.64 ERA for AAA Buffalo(IL).
1-1 on a 6:5 K:BB in 12 IP over 6 G
with 13 H, 4 HR, and a 6.75 ERA for AA Akron(EL).

Despite decent control, Rayborn appears unlikely to remain effective as a big league starter due to his weak strikeout rate. Don't expect Rayborn to reach the majors until he shifts to the bullpen, rendering him useless to fantasy teams for now.


Jake Robbins, 28, RH Reliever
0-0 on a 0:0 K:BB in 1.2 IP over 2 G
with 3 H, 1 HR, a 4-2 G-F, and a 5.40 ERA for Cleveland.
6-1 and 4 Saves on a 41:29 K:BB in 65.2 IP over 2 GS(32G)
with 51 H, 4 HR, and a 3.15 ERA for AAA Buffalo(IL).
2-1 and 1 Save on a 21:7 K:BB in 24.2 IP over 12 G
with 16 H, 4 HR, and a 3.28 ERA for AA Akron(EL).

Consistent control problems caused Robbins to spend parts of five campaigns in A-ball. Similar command difficulties in the upper minors kept him from reaching the majors until his eleventh professional season this year. He still struggled at Buffalo this year, so I don't expect Robbins to contribute as part of a big league bullpen any time soon.


Corey Smith, 22, 3B-L
2/18 for .111/.200/.167 with 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 1:6 BB:K for AAA Buffalo(IL).
113/454 for .249/.347/.419 with 19 HR, 66 RBI, 79 R, 3/5 SB%,
and a 63:106 BB:K for AA Akron(EL).

While at least Smith's power improved in his second campaign at Akron, his contact rate decreased and he accumulated a whopping 40 errors in 130 games. Five straight seasons of leading his league in errors should push Smith off third base soon, and his currently unimpressive offensive skills could keep him even from achieving AAAA status any time soon. I see no reason to roster him right now in any fantasy league.


Brian Tallet, 27, LH Reliever
0-0 on a 7:3 K:BB in 8.2 IP over 5 G
with 7 H, 0 HR, and a 4.15 ERA for AAA Buffalo(IL).
1-1 and 1 save on a 24:13 K:BB in 23.2 IP over 14 G
with 26 H, 0 HR, and a 5.32 ERA for AA Akron(EL).
0-0 on a 1:0 K:BB in 2 IP over 1 GS(2G)
with 1 H, 0 HR, and a 0.00 ERA for A Lake County(SAL).
0-0 on a 2:0 K:BB in 2.2 IP over 1 GS(2G)
with 3 H, 0 HR, and a 0.00 ERA for A- Mahoning Valley(NYP).

Tommy John surgery cost Tallet half of 2003 and much of this year. He now appears most likely to return to the majors as a reliever, and the 6'7" Tallet could develop into a dominant late-game presence. However, until he at least registers several solid big league outings, Tallet belongs on no one's fantasy team.


Jose Vargas, 27, RH Reliever
3-3 and 2 Saves on a 64:27 K:BB in 56.1 IP over 33 G
with 46 H, 5 HR, and a 3.51 ERA for AA Akron(EL).

Although Vargas remains extremely dominant, control problems could keep him in the minors indefinitely. However, his effectiveness throughout his career should result in Vargas at least spending much of the rest of the decade at AAA. Of course, he also could flourish in the majors with more command development, so expect Vargas to merit fantasy consideration as soon he registers a few solid big league outings.


Dusty Wathan, 31, C-R
72/238 for .303/.379/.387 with 1 HR, 34 RBI, 41 R, 3/3 SB%,
and a 17:30 BB:K for AAA Buffalo(IL).

Wathan deserves a long look in the majors very soon given his consistently respectable AAA averages. Of course, he lacks both noticeable power and plate discipline, so even if an injury opens a spot for Wathan, he appears unlikely to contribute to fantasy teams.


Minor League Draft Picks

Adam Miller, 20, RH Starter
3-2 on a 46:12 K:BB in 43.1 IP over 8 GS
with 29 H, 1 HR, and a 2.08 ERA for A+ Kinston(Car).
7-4 on a 106:28 K:BB in 91 IP over 19 GS
with 79 H, 7 HR, and a 3.36 ERA for A Lake County(SAL).

The 31st overall pick in 2003 thoroughly dominated A-ball in his first full professional season. Miller appears quite ready for AA, and if he even echoes this performance at Akron, he could compete for a big league roster spot as soon as the spring of 2006. Of course, he also faces significant competition as he approaches the majors, so only patient owners in deep leagues should consider Miller now.


Aside from players listed above, no other Cleveland prospect deserves consideration in 2005 fantasy drafts. Cliff Bartosh lost his rookie status by exceeding the service time minimum.


Organization Rankings

Cleveland's infield already appears loaded with inexpensive starters, a list that includes Victor Martinez, Josh Bard, Travis Hafner, Ben Broussard, Ron Belliard, Brandon Phillips, Johnny Peralta, Casey Blake, and Aaron Boone. Coco Crisp, Grady Sizemore, Jody Gerut, and Ryan Ludwick similarly all could develop into All-Stars in the outfield, and the middle of the Indians' rotation seems strong with C.C. Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, and Cliff Lee. Yet despite graduating nearly a dozen quality youngsters to the majors in recent years, repeatedly solid draft classes give Cleveland impressive depth of high-upside outfield and starting pitching prospects. Gutierrez and Cabrera both should develop into roto studs, and I expect at least a half-dozen of the starters discussed above to develop into quality big leaguers. Of course, targeting young Indians is somewhat risky given the intra-system competition, but the top few prospects here certainly merit significant consideration in most leagues.

Current ranking of potentially helpful fantasy depth for teams discussed thus far in 2004, 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. Anaheim Angels(McPherson, Kotchman, Callaspo, E.Aybar)
2. Cleveland Indians(F.Cabrera, Denney, F.Gutierrez, Aubrey)
3. Baltimore Orioles(Majewski, W.Young, Maine)
4. Chicago White Sox(W.Valdez, B.McCarthy)
5. Boston Red Sox(H.Ramirez, B.Moss)


Today's Fantasy Rx: Despite the upside demonstrated by Denney, Cruceta, Brown, and Carmona, I see little reason to spend a minor league pick on any Cleveland pitcher. Selecting Denney or even Martin in a deep Ultra league makes some sense, but with C.C. Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, and Cliff Lee firmly embedded in the Indians' rotation, I simply don't see sufficient openings to accommodate even half of these impressive prospects. Gambling on any one young gun offers little hope of an immediate payoff, so only consider drafting guys like Denney and Cruceta if they open the year in Cleveland as starters.


Cleveland's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects for 2005
1. Kyle Denney, SP
2. Franklin Gutierrez, OF
3. Fernando Cabrera, RP
4. Michael Aubrey, 1B
5. Francisco Cruceta, SP
6. Ryan Garko, C/1B
7. Fausto Carmona, SP
8. Brad Snyder, OF
9. Andrew Brown, SP
10. Joe Dawley, SP
11. Jason Cooper, OF
12. Adam Miller, SP
13. Jeremy Guthrie, RP
14. Corey Smith, 3B
15. Brian Tallet, RP


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