Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Scott Baker, 23, RH Starter
The 2003 2nd round pick from Oklahoma State slammed through the system, compiling an excellent 145:34 K:BB in 169.2 IP. His combination of command and dominance, exemplified by a .3 HR/9 that demonstrates his limited downside, suggests he could succeed in the majors next spring, although another few months of seasoning might allow Baker to contend for the 2006 Rookie of the Year award. He owns the skills and tools necessary to develop into a front-of-the-rotation starter, making him an excellent pick in any reasonably deep league.
While a broken wrist limited his offensive effectiveness and extremely inconsistent defense, including 20 errors in 65 games at Rochester, Bartlett's overall performance makes him a prime candidate to start at shortstop next year. Cristian Guzman appears headed out of the organization after Minnesota declined his option, effectively ceding the job to Bartlett. He owns excellent patience and a strong contact rate, and if he regains the speed skills he demonstrated in 2003, he could approach $30 as a rookie. Bartlett's plate discipline also essentially insures a solid batting average, so unless his defensive difficulties irritate management during spring training, expect him to bat next to Shannon Stewart and produce no less than around $10 of fantasy value.
Despite his weak skills during his two months with the Twins, he almost certainly will spend next year in the majors after another dominant minor league season. Jesse Crain. He now owns a 221:65 K:BB in 189 professional innings, and he hasn't allowed a home run since leaving the University of Houston as Minnesota' 2nd round pick in 2002. Jesse Crain. Even with Joe Nathan now established as the Twins' closer, the performances of Juan Rincon and J.C. Romero this year, not to mention LaTroy Hawkins' past success, proved that Minnesota middle relievers can earn double-digit roto value. Jesse Crain. Given his outstanding track record and the obvious faith of an organization that placed him on their playoff roster, he appears positioned to enjoy an excellent rookie season in 2005. Jesse Crain.
After losing most of May and June following surgery to repair a partially torn labrum, Durbin registered fairly impressive numbers over the balance of the season. An elevated hit rate sabotaged his AAA numbers, but he still remained dominant and now should challenge for a rotation slot in spring training. Durbin owns the skills necessary to succeed in any role, and his excellent command since joining Minnesota makes me comfortable recommending him to owners in any AL league. While he might struggle initially with the Twins, he also could coast to double-digit value on the strength of one solid half of starts.
Thanks to a career walk rate of 1.7 BB/9 in 574 minor league innings, Gassner's lack of dominance doesn't worry me, especially since southpaw starters typically develop at a slower rate than their right-handed counterparts. Only two minor league pitchers accumulated more wins this year, however Gassner truly shines when compared to Brad Radke. The Twins' veteran registered a 5.9 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 at AA Nashville prior to joining Minnesota, and although he compiled those marks at a much younger age than Gassner, I see no reason why the lefty can't emerge in similar fashion. If given the necessary opportunity, he owns the skills necessary to enjoy a noteworthy career that certainly will appeal to owners always looking for new WHIP help.
Steady improvement over three full seasons spent at AAA at least makes Guerrier a respectable prospect. Unfortunately, his failure to impress during a brief stint with Minnesota may leave him with a AAAA label. Guerrier possesses similar skills to Red Wings' teammate Dave Gassner, but soft-tossing right-handers rarely receive many chances. He needs to take advantage of any additional opportunities or risk winding up in middle relief indefinitely. Although Guerrier could experience some success in almost any role thanks to his excellent control, wait until he secures a stable job before rostering him anywhere.
Only mild homer problems keep me from ranking Hodge as a top middle relief prospect. His developing dominance and outstanding control virtually guarantees his success once promoted into a big league bullpen. Feel free to target him as soon as you see him echoing this performance over a few solid outings in the majors.
Consecutive, nearly identical seasons at Rochester solidify Rodriguez as one of the most likely upper-level minor leaguers to remain reasonably productive in the majors. While he possesses negligible power and speed skills, excellent plate discipline allows him to maintain a solid batting average, giving him good value as a switch-hitting middle infielder. If Luis Rivas departs, Rodriguez might emerge as a surprisingly strong starter, however I instead expect him to win a reserve job next spring and only earn regular playing time in case of injury.
Back problems led to a slow start and unimpressive finish to an otherwise solid year. He missed an opportunity to secure a long-term position with the Twins after a separated shoulder cost him over a week of starts in September. Of course, Corey Koskie still should depart Minnesota as a free agent, ceding third base either to Tiffee or Mike Cuddyer, who also could replace Luis Rivas at second base. If he earns the starting job in spring training, Tiffee's developing power and general lack of patience will fit rather nicely with most Twins's veterans, albeit not augmenting the deficiencies of most current Minnesota starters. He should maintain a respectable BA while contributing double-digit homers, but Tiffee does not appear prepared to post particularly great numbers right now due to his questionable plate discipline and poor ground-fly ratio.
Henry Bonilla, 26, RH Starter
While an unexpectedly high hit rate kept Bonilla from repeating the success he enjoyed at New Britain last year, his diminished overall dominance sharply reduces his likely upside. He probably won't reach the majors as a starter, instead returning to his former relief role to advance past AAA. Due to questionable command, he merits little attention right now, although I expect Bonilla to post better numbers if moved back to the bullpen.
Departing San Francisco with Joe Nathan in the A.J. Pierzynski trade apparently allowed Bonser's skills to blossom in a deeper farm system. While his homer rate nearly doubled, his command significantly improved, reasserting his status as an impressive young pitching prospect. Spending a full season at AAA also should help his development, making Bonser a logical contender for a rotation slot in Minnesota, possibly in the second half of 2005 and no later than the following spring.
The 2nd pick in the 2000 draft actually registered fairly respectable skills in his first full year of relief work despite a poor ERA fueled by the high hit rate suffered by many Red Wings' pitchers. Johnson at least demonstrated both dominance and decent control for the first time in a few seasons, and I now expect him to earn a long look in the Twins' bullpen within the next couple years. Of course, you still need to wait until a secures a steady role in the majors before considering him anywhere, but I see enough upside in Johnson's 2004 performance to recommend occasional monitoring of his progress.
Kemp continued his steady march to the majors by maintaining marginally acceptable skills even after finally reaching AAA. However, he neither possesses great dominance nor notable control, so he may peak as a AAAA reliever barring significant command improvement. Don't expect him to receive more than a cursory look from the Twins in the near future.
After a strong stretch run, Kubel appeared ready to supplant Jacque Jones in the Twins' outfield next spring and looked like a frontrunner for the 2005 AL Rookie of the Year award. He surged through the two upper minor league levels, demonstrated excellent plate discipline, power, and speed, earning the respect of both scouts and performance analysts. Unfortunately, a collision with the Tigers' Ryan Raburn during a recent Arizona Fall league game wrecked Kubel's knee. He apparently sustained severe ligament damage, including a torn ACL, and he should miss the majority of 2005 in rehab. We also can't expect him to regain his speed skills until the following season. Hopefully the extended break won't lead to any permanent deterioration in Kubel's baseball ability, and the recent successful of Corey Patterson from a similar injury leads me to treat this problem as no more than mild, albeit obviously irritating setback. You still should place Kubel near the top of your list in any minor league draft where he remains available as long as you recognize that he shouldn't earn a big league starting job until 2006.
Remaining healthy all season allowed the southpaw starter to reemerge as a top pitching prospect. Compiling a 174:60 K:BB in 156.2 IP makes Liriano extremely intriguing; few pitchers possess his long-term upside and he could emerge as the best player acquired in the A.J. Pierzynski deal. While drafting him next spring is a risk considering the competition he faces in the upper levels of the system, Liriano's progress at least merits monitoring since he might reach Minnesota as soon as next summer.
After repeating the Florida State League in 2003 allowed Maza to consolidate his development, he managed the best overall performance of his career this year. He owns the marginal power potential and questionable plate discipline the Twins seem to seek in their middle infielders. All Maza lacks to earn a starting job is strong speed skills, so he may not rush to the majors and therefore merits little fantasy consideration right now.
West exceeded his combined homer total from the previous two seasons while demonstrating decent patience and holding his contact rate at .77. While he doesn't look likely to develop into more than a capable platoon player, especially with him approaching minor league free agency, he gives the Twins a solid seventh outfielder heading into next year. Of course, you definitely should wait until he begins posting both promising power numbers and an acceptable batting average upon reaching the majors before rostering West anywhere.
Travis Bowyer, 23, RH Reliever
Outstanding dominance and effectiveness occasionally allows wild pitchers to overcome control problems. Bowyer posted a very impressive performance this year despite a poor walk rate. While he needs a couple more years of seasoning, his upside intrigues me even if WHIP problems should prevent him from contributing to fantasy teams.
Spending more time as a starter surprisingly resulted in Eyre remaining effective at the highest level of the minors. Of course, I don't envision him staying in a rotation since his skills suggest the most upside in a big league bullpen. Wait until he experiences success in that role before considering him.
He suffers from patience and contact deficiencies, committed 18 errors in 140 games, and never exceeded a .756 OPS professionally until this year. Yet somehow Jones nearly matched his previous five-year career total of 34 homers in only one season. Although his power potential certainly intrigues me, do not draft him until he at least echoes this performance while developing more plate discipline.
The third player acquired by Minnesota in the Eric Milton deal, Korecky continued dominating minor league hitters, remaining every effective in his first season above A-ball. Of course, he could stagnate at AAA Rochester like so many otherwise impressive Twins' relievers, but I simply see little reason Korecky at least will emerge as a capable middle reliever. Feel free to roster him once he compiles several strong big league outings.
Minnesota's fourth round pick in 2000 finally reached AA after shifting to relief and unsurprisingly dominating. While Miller possesses decent upside as a starter, he should flourish in the bullpen, potentially challenging for a spot in the majors as soon as next fall. He currently looks like the probable successor to J.C. Romero but will need to improve his control to continue rising up the minor league ladder.
Three consecutive strong AAA seasons should result in a long look during spring training for Palki, but a rising walk rate certainly limits his immediate upside. The minor league free agent needs to find an organization with much less pitching depth than Minnesota to debut in the majors.
I don't know why the Twins kept Pulido last winter, but his problems this year even might keep him returning to the majors at any point. He appears unlikely ever to emerge as a viable fantasy option.
Rabe ranks as one of the few outfielders in the system above A-ball who won't spend several seasons starting in the majors. Of course, he owns good speed skills and decent patience, so don't be surprised to see him earn a job as a big league reserve, especially if he changes organizations in the near future. Consider rostering Rabe as soon as he demonstrates the ability to remain a productive basestealer after his final promotion without suffering BA problems.
Shifting to relief resulted in the continued diminishment of Schoening's prospect status. He lacks dominance and lost effectiveness this year, so although he should see some time in a big league bullpen, Schoening merits only minimal fantasy consideration.
After only once exceeding a .259 BA, .333 OBP, or .309 SLG heading into this season, Watkins posted the best overall offensive performance of his career in his first year out of A-ball. He demonstrated decent plate discipline, power potential, and speed skills, not to mention useful position flexibility. Although the 1998 38th round pick shouldn't develop into anything more than a quality utilityman, he offers intriguing roto upside if he can add a respectable big league average to his possible double-digit steals.
Demonstrating nearly across-the-board offensive improvement after another promotion earned a look here despite his unimpressive power and speed skills. The problem is that Romero faces nearly overwhelming competition for playing time in the upper levels of the system. Minnesota also doesn't prize plate discipline, so he seem most likely to head elsewhere in a mid-season trade, eventually developing into a competent part-time starter for a sabermetrically-friendly organization. Romerto probably doesn't merit fantasy consideration in any league at this time.
Joe Mauer, Mike Ryan, and Mike Restovich each lost their rookie eligibility this year. Justin Morneau, Lew Ford, and Mike Cuddyer lost their rookie eligibility in 2003. Previous rookie classes include 2002's Dustan Mohr and Bobby Kielty, 2001's Luis Rivas and Kyle Lohse, and 2000's Matt LeCroy and Johan Santana. Only six of the 24 position players that played for Minnesota this year did not debut in the majors with the Twins; only eight of the 18 Twins' pitchers in 2004 failed to achieve the same distinction. The Twins' dynamic player acquisition and production system, keyed by payroll limitations that create new opportunities following the departures of All-Stars like David Ortiz, Matt Lawton, and A.J. Pierzynski, somehow graduates another half-dozen quality major leaguers every year.
Amazingly, I see few signs of a pending downturn despite an AL Central threepeat that leaves the Twins annually drafting in the bottom third of teams. The only risk you take in acquiring a Minnesota prospect is that the talent depth will limit his playing time. However, owners in long-term leagues always should target a couple Twins since Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire hate dumping prospects, give almost everyone a shot to contribute at some point, and believe in building from within the system. The stability created by that approach makes the best young Minnesota players perhaps the safest gambles of any fantasy baseball rookies.
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. Minnesota Twins(Bartlett, Kubel, Tiffee, Crain, S.Baker)
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