Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Joe Blanton, 23, RH Starter
While Blanton's dominance dropped and his elevated hit rate concern me, his outstanding control and limited downside conversely rank him among the safest pitching prospects in the game. I see no reason not to expect him to replace either Barry Zito or Mark Redman in Oakland's rotation by spring training, making Blanton a strong contender for Rookie of the Year honors. Pushing double-digit bidding still will be risky, but take advantage of any opportunity to roster Blanton for only a few bucks.
Only an Erubiel Durazo trade stands between Johnson and a successful big league career. He pushed his walk rate to .16 this year while maintaining a respectable .17 contact rate, which allowed him to win PCL MVP honors. Oakland left him on the bench in September due to a bout of vertigo, but if given the opportunity, I expect Johnson to cruise to no worse than a .270/20/80 season, accompanied by a .370 OBP. He owns the skills desired by all sabermetrically-inclined general managers, so expect Johnson to start Opening Day somewhere in the majors, eventually earning Rookie of the Year honors if he stays healthy and reasonably productive.
Despite missing a chance to stick in the majors as the Rangers' Rule 5 pick, Mabeus returned to the Athletics and dominated for five months in the minors. His 10.8 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 this season will him a spot on Oakland's 40-man roster and a long look for a job in a very deep bullpen. Expect him to exceed Justin Duchscherer's 2004 numbers if given a full year as an Athletics' reliever, however I also see no reason to target Mabeus on draft day. Wait until he registers a few strong outings before rostering him even as roster filler.
Street compiled a 1.31 ERA on a 177:35 K:BB in 178 IP over his three years as the closer at Texas. He then somehow improved his overall dominance after Oakland selected him with a sandwich pick in the first round this June. I expect the Athletics only kept him in the minors in September to avoid needing to protect him on their 40-man roster, however I also definitely envision Oakland giving Street a long look in the spring. Of course, while he appears nearly prepared to join a big league bullpen, Street merits little immediate consideration since he likely won't close in 2005 and even could remain in middle relief for a few seasons.
A longtime Billy Beane favorite, Swisher needed barely two full minor league seasons to reach the majors. He impressed nearly everyone in September, compiling a 4.24 #P/PA and .95 G-F at the plate. Coupled with two timely homers down the stretch, and Swisher appears set to enter spring as a likely starter in right field for Oakland. While he might join Joe Blanton and Dan Johnson to sweep the top three spots in Rookie of the Year balloting, Swisher offers much more upside to sim players than roto owners. He won't post a great batting average due to a weak contact rate, he owns little speed, and the benefits from excellent plate discipline and power potential sometimes don't manifest until a couple seasons into a youngster's big league career. I still highly recommend Swisher as a long-term cornerstone, but don't be surprised if he finishes 2005 with a .250/25/75 line, which might obscure a .375 OBP and .475 SLG.
Registering his best numbers since his 1999 debut season, Watson earned significant consideration for a reserve job in spring training. He owns solid plate discipline and respectable power potential, good traits for a fifth outfielder both on Oakland and fantasy teams. Although he easily could spend another year in the minors due to his somewhat limited upside, Watson also possesses the skills necessary to supplant Eric Byrnes as a starter if given the appropriate opportunity. He merits consideration as an offensive sleeper in deep roto leagues.
John Baker, 23, C-L
Demonstrating excellent defense and better power potential than Jeremy Brown makes Baker the likely long-term solution at catcher for Oakland. While he lacks good plate discipline, his superior offensive production appears quite intriguing, especially since he bats left-handed. The Athletics eventually may platoon Brown with Baker to maximize each player's skills, however the uncertainty surrounding the position makes drafting Baker before the latest rounds of any draft a mistake.
Brown either needs to discover a power stroke or find a way to hold a batting average near .280. He lacks the defensive skills of John Baker, yet he also owns enough offensive upside to develop into no less than a respectable big league reserve, possibly teaming with Baker to provide Oakland with a young catching tandem for the rest of the decade. However, Brown's relative lack of progress keeps me from recommending him in most leagues since he easily could spend a couple more years in the minors before heading to AAAA journeyman land.
Although Cruz still suffers from obvious contact problems, he held an acceptable walk rate while demonstrating respectable speed skills and outstanding power potential. Yes, he obviously held an age advantage over many of his competitors, but his progress still merits significant attention. Of course, a crowded situation in Oakland's outfield, coupled with Cruz's limited history of production, suggests you shouldn't draft him in the spring, so only gamble here in the very deepest leagues. Otherwise see if Cruz at least echoes these numbers at Sacramento before rostering him.
Garcia earned significant attention while shooting through the minors, however his control disappeared in the upper minors, leading to his disastrous debut. While he still possesses significant long-term upside, he probably needs another full year of seasoning before he even merits much consideration for a big league bullpen job. Chris Mabeus and Huston Street both appear better prepared to succeed in the majors right now, not to mention the four veteran right-handers of Oakland's current relief corps. Don't roster Garcia anywhere until he demonstrates command commensurate with his nearly unbelievable dominance.
The biggest problem here looks like Quintanill's 32 errors in 127 games. However, with Bobby Crosby now quite secure as the Athletics' shortstop, Quintanilla should shift to second base at AAA Sacramento. His strong all-around skills, specifically his nicely improving plate discipline, give him an excellent shot to join Crosby in Oakland's middle infield by 2006. Strongly consider targeting Quintanilla in standard AL leagues if you need a long-term infield option with a good chance to maintain a career .300 average.
Increasing plate discipline led to the best season of Rose's career, and he deserves a big league contract after Oakland foolishly cut him loose as a minor league free agent. Rose owns very comparable skills to Adam Melhuse, so while he shouldn't secure a starting job any time soon, he looks like a potentially superb backup. Feel free to make him your second catcher if he wins a job in spring training.
While solid defense gives Rouse an edge on Omar Quintanilla as Oakland's long-term second baseman, his somewhat limited offensive upside indicates he may peak as a reserve. Of course, he probably will spend a few seasons starting somewhere in the majors, but the Athletics' decision to keep Rouse at shortstop most of the year even after losing Mark Ellis to injury suggests he won't start in Oakland. Since we don't know where he'll emerge as a useful fantasy player, selecting Rouse in the spring offers little obvious upside.
A mid-season demotion suggests the 2002 second round pick needs significantly more seasoning, however strong plate discipline and an outstanding performance at Midland should insure Stanley remains on the cusp of the majors at Sacramento. My biggest problem here is that he owns very little power, and no more than marginal speed skills further reduce Stanley's upside. Don't expect him to emerge as more than a respectable fifth outfielder barring very unexpected offensive development.
While Bazzell's record and overall performance demonstrate improvement over his past couple seasons at Midland, he still failed to earn a promotion to AAA Sacramento. He now will depart Oakland in minor league free agency, and although he owns the command necessary to succeed at a higher level, Bazzell also appears no less than three years away from any significant contribution in the majors.
Very impressive speed skills and a decent walk rate give Bynum moderately intriguing upside as a utility player. Although his lack of power probably will keep him out of Oakland indefinitely, Bynum should emerge as a respectable endgame pick once the Athletics include him as trade filler to a tools-friendly team. Despite his SB upside, his likely lack of playing time insures him no more than meager fantasy value in the near future.
Cammack appears unlikely to return to the majors unless he impresses management during spring training and then takes advantage of an in-season opportunity as injury filler. While he continues to register strong strikeout rates, control and homer problems leave him too risky even to qualify as a AAAA pitcher. Don't consider Cammack anywhere unless you see notable improvement in his walk rate.
With a career AAA average below .310 and scant speed or power, Castro didn't deserve the opportunity he received this year. He owns decent plate discipline, but his lack of a secondary offensive skill renders him useless both to big league and fantasy teams.
Demonstrating consistent dominance and acceptable command should result in a promotion to AAA Sacramento in 2005, however Crowell appears a couple years away from the majors. Oakland's upper-level relief depth also will prevent him from receiving a cup-of-coffee, so don't expect Crowell to contribute in the big leagues until he joins an organization with less impressive bullpen options.
Oakland bizarrely kept him on the 40-man roster all year, allowed him to help anchor Sacramento's playoff push, and then failed to promote him at the end of the year before letting him depart this winter as a minor league free agent. Of course, Edwards also registered two seasons of strong stats and even debuted in the majors late last year, nicely enhancing his value on the open market. He could break camp on almost team with an impressive spring, however I instead expect him to head to AAA again as only a mid-season injury likely will give Edwards the necessary break to emerge as a reliable big league reserve.
While Flores hopefully will replace Chris Hammond in Oakland's bullpen next spring, he owns relatively little upside given the impressive depth of the Athletics' relief corps. Of course, Flores also possesses a skill set that indicates the potential for him to emerge as reliable roster filler almost immediately. Feel free to target him standard leagues as soon as he registers a few solid outings.
Mild problems after a mid-season promotion didn't obscure Gwyn's dominant season as Midland's closer. Although I expect he needs at least a full year at Sacramento to refine his skills, he also could earn a spot in a big league bullpen by 2006 if afforded the necessary opportunity.
Committing only 16 errors over 134 games distributed between nearly every defensive position save catcher demonstrates Kiger's upside as a utilityman. He possesses good plate discipline, respectable speed skills, and potentially intriguing power potential. While spending a year or two at Sacramento won't hurt him, he also could contribute in the majors sooner thanks to his position flexibility. Unfortunately, that flexibility also will lead managers to avoid giving him the consistent starting job that leads to a secure big league job, so I expect Kiger will peak as a Dollar Days' option in the middle infield.
After three minor league seasons Kohn owns a 194:32 K:BB in 194.2 IP while demonstrating a solid all-around skill set. His success following a double-promotion at mid-season significantly accelerates his timetable, and if Oakland doesn't protect him this winter, I expect he'll spend next year in the majors in another organization as a Rule 5 pick. Although he won't merit any consideration in the spring regardless of his likely role, Kohn certainly could emerge as viable roster filler or even a qualitative help by next June if supported by a strong defense in a relatively friendly park.
Koonce never rebounded after barely failing to earn a roster spot at the conclusion of spring training. Rather than build on his fairly dynamic 2003 numbers, he suffered an across-the-board skill let down that led to his departure from Oakland's 40-man roster this fall. While every team should desire the minor league free agent as a AAA lineup anchor, Koonce unfortunately appears unlikely to receive many more chances to contribute in the majors, so don't roster him anywhere unless you see an organization commit to the underrated journeyman.
His success at Sacramento following an unimpressive 2003 campaign at AA Midland helped Morrissey mildly reassert his status as a prospect. However he still owns a weak contact rate and apparently limited power potential, so I don't envision him starting in the majors any time in the foreseeable future. Most owners should wait until Morrissey demonstrates some fantasy upside as a big league backup before considering him at all.
While I see little wrong in Rheinecker's performance, he failed to register a single impressive skill ratio, further reducing his long-term upside to little more than rotation filler. His overall skill set still suggests the potential to emerge as a quality middle-of-the-rotation starter, but his slow progress and complete lack of dominance might keep him in the minors for another couple seasons. Rheinecker merits little fantasy consideration unless he take advantage of any opportunity as an injury replacement.
Another poor AAA season essentially eliminates Ramos' remaining value as a prospect. He appears most likely to emerge as a reliever right now, although he also could remain in the minors indefinitely unless he cuts his homer rate. Don't draft him in any league.
The former Royals' closer-of-the-future continued his rebound from arm surgery after Oakland nabbed him from the Cubs in the minor league Rule 5 draft. Sonnier demonstrated a very strong skill set and now should return to AAA wherever he lands in minor league free agency. Expect him to begin contributing in the majors no later than 2006, however Sonnier now appears likely to plateau as a reliable middle reliever rather than a designated closer, rendering him useless to fantasy teams at the moment.
Ziegler finally reached Sacramento after starting a third season at Midland. Although hit and homer problems eviscerated his ERA, he at least demonstrated solid command, indicating mildly intriguing upside even if forced to the bullpen. He merits no fantasy consideration now, however he soon could contribute in a limited role if he continues developing.
Brant Colamarino, 23, 1B-L
While his contact problems at Midland, not to mention his overall ineffectiveness, definitely concern me, these numbers remind me of Nick Swisher's performance last year. Yes, Colamarino only is two weeks younger than Swisher, appears at least a year behind him, and lacks Swisher's natural gifts. However Colamarino owns good plate discipline and obliterated the California League. My biggest concern is that Scott Hatteberg and Dan Johnson effectively block Colamarino, but if he continues hitting, Oakland will promote him over the aging Hatteberg. Although drafting Colamarino looks like an extreme risk and seems a questionable strategy in any save the deepest AL leagues, at least consider him a very late-round sleeper due to his offensive upside.
A 14th round pick in 2002, Knox posted a 42:9 K:BB in 41 IP that fall in the Arizona complex league. His 2.06 ERA 63:18 K:BB in 70 IP over 12 GS(15G) in short-season A-ball at Vancouver demonstrated intriguing potential, and then Knox exploded this year in his first full minor league season. His complete dominance of the Midwest League probably ranks him as the best Oakland pitching prospect with no big league experience. While drafting any A-ball pitcher remains quite risky, Knox appears on the Rich Harden and Joe Blanton path to success, so spending a late-round pick here in very deep leagues offers sufficient upside to merit consideration.
Oakland's minor league system continues to produce a couple of quality big leaguers each year. The likely 2005 class of Johnson, Swisher, Blanton, and perhaps Street appear particularly impressive. Although I don't see any likely future stars in the lower levels of the system save perhaps Knox, the overall depth, especially among right-handed relievers and upper-level up-the-middle-players, remains very strong despite the yearly exodus of talent. The Athletics seem nicely situated to remain competitive indefinitely even against talented and better funded opposition. Only Billy Beane's willingness to deal prospects for in-season help keeps this system ranked below the Twins' player production machine despite the presence of more likely stars in the Oakland organization.
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)
7:25: Boston@St. Louis
We expected the Cardinals to force the Series back to Boston on the back of a strong Jeff Suppan performance, followed by St. Louis crushing Tim Wakefield in his second start. With Suppan defeated and Derek Lowe likely to limit flyballs tonight, only a shocking rebound by the Cardinals' All-Star position players will prevent a sweep.
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