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December
3rd
2004
Your Daily Fantasy Rx
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Post-2004 Prospect Review: Colorado
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
Colorado's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects


Prospects with Double-Digit Upside

Erick Almonte, 26, 2B/SS/3B-R
143/450 for .318/.402/.507 with 17 HR, 74 RBI, 91 R, 14/22 SB%,
and a 64:87 BB:K for AAA Colorado Springs(PCL).

With only fifteen errors despite over twenty games at three infield positions, including 72 games at second base, Almonte demonstrated competent defense while posting extremely strong offensive numbers. Yes, Colorado Springs inflated his stats, but he still displayed excellent patience alongside intriguing power and speed skills. Failing to promote him in September and then losing him to minor league free agency looks like a missed opportunity for the Rockies. Almonte finally appears ready to contribute on a regular basis in the majors if given the necessary playing time.


Garrett Atkins, 24, 3B-R
10/28 for .357/.424/.536 with 1 HR, 8 RBI, 3 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 4:3 BB:K for Colorado.
163/445 for .366/.434/.578 with 15 HR, 94 RBI, 88 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 57:45 BB:K for AAA Colorado Springs(PCL).

Thanks to Jim Bowden's signing of Vinny Castilla, Atkins can celebrate his 25th birthday next week knowing that he should enter spring training as Colorado's probable Opening Day starter at the hot corner. I see no reason why he won't at least echo his AAA performance after demonstrating respectable plate discipline during his cup-of-coffee. After spending most of two years at Colorado Springs, he appears quite capable of replacing Castilla, albeit without Castilla's power. Atkins could cruise to a $20 value only on the basis of a .300 BA and solid RBI total, making him an excellent buy for any price around half that price even if he appears unlikely to spend more than a couple seasons as a Rockies' starter due to the presence of power prospects like Ian Stewart in the lower levels of the system.


Clint Barmes, 25, 2B/SS-R
20/71 for .282/.320/.437 with 2 HR, 10 RBI, 14 R, 0/1 SB%,
and a 3:10 BB:K for Colorado.
175/533 for .328/.376/.505 with 16 HR, 51 RBI, 104 R, 20/28 SB%,
and a 28:61 BB:K for AAA Colorado Springs(PCL).

With strong baseball instincts, good power potential and speed skills, and the offensive upside suggested by owning a 3.73 #P/PA and .77 G-F in Coors Field, Barmes looks likely to emerge as one of the top NL shortstops, potentially exceeding a $20 value next year if he echoes this performance. A second tour at Colorado Springs allowed Barmes to consolidate his development after shooting AA Carolina in 2002 following only a little over a year of full-season ball. His solid contact rate will compensate for his questionable overall plate discipline, and I don't mind Rockies' prospects that focus on putting the ball in play. Even if he struggles at short, Barmes at least should supplant Aaron Miles at second, making him a quality acquisition in any league.


J.D. Closser, 24, C-S
36/113 for .319/.364/.398 with 1 HR, 10 RBI, 5 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 6:22 BB:K for Colorado.
89/298 for .299/.384/.440 with 7 HR, 54 RBI, 53 R, 0/2 SB%,
and a 41:47 BB:K for AAA Colorado Springs(PCL).

Only a 2.09 G-F with the Rockies concerns me here. A strong contact rate, history of plate patience, and a 3.66 #P/PA in the majors gives Closser an excellent skill foundation to succeed in Colorado. He almost certainly will hold a high average and eventually should develop significant power. Consider closer the best gamble among any young NL catcher given his combination of offensive upside and the favorable hitting environment provided by Coors.


Jeff Francis, 23, LH Starter
3-2 on a 32:13 K:BB in 36.2 IP over 7 GS
with 42 H, 8 HR, a .92 G-F, and a 5.16 ERA for Colorado.
3-2 on a 49:7 K:BB in 41 IP over 7 GS
with 35 H, 3 HR, and a 2.85 ERA for AAA Colorado Springs(PCL).
13-1 on a 147:22 K:BB in 113.2 IP over 17 GS
with 73 H, 9 HR, and a 1.98 ERA for AA Tulsa(TL).

I admit Francis posted superb numbers for the entire season. He only pitched particularly poorly in two of his seven big league starts, demonstrating at least decent skills in his other five outings. A 228:42 K:BB in 178.1 innings above A-ball ranks with the best marks of any pitcher in baseball. However, Francis still will pitch half his games in Coors, resulting in more fatigue than most pitchers while dragging down his qualitative marks. He merits little consideration anywhere that counts ERA or WHIP, not to mention sim leagues that don't consider park effects. Even employing him only in road starts seems unwise given the historical disadvantages suffered by pitchers away from home. Francis certainly possesses the skills necessary to develop into one of baseball's best starters, but he simply won't help most fantasy teams as long as he pitches for Colorado.


Brad Hawpe, 25, OF-L
26/105 for .248/.322/.400 with 3 HR, 9 RBI, 12 R, 1/2 SB%,
and an 11:34 BB:K for Colorado.
111/345 for .322/.384/.652 with 31 HR, 86 RBI, 62 R, 3/5 SB%,
and a 36:91 BB:K for AAA Colorado Springs(PCL).

Improvement of his outfield defense now makes him the likely candidate to open next season in the Rockies' starting lineup alongside Preston Wilson and Matt Holliday. Yes, his 2.11 G-F in the majors this year suggests some likely growing pains, but his 3.98 #P/PA and strong offensive numbers at Colorado Springs should translate into continued success as a big league regular. Hawpe should cruise into double-digit value and possesses the power potential to exceed $30 in Coors later this decade.


Jorge Piedra, 25, OF-L
27/91 for .297/.340/.484 with 3 HR, 10 RBI, 15 R, 0/1 SB%,
and a 5:19 BB:K for Colorado.
126/377 for .334/.372/.557 with 15 HR, 55 RBI, 71 R, 4/7 SB%,
and a 23:56 BB:K for AAA Colorado Springs(PCL).

Although Piedra lacks the long-term upside of many of his fellow Rockies' rookies, a combination of decent contact abilities, a 3.62 #P/PA, and a 1.43 G-F at least make him a good reserve option in Colorado. Of course, gambling more than a couple bucks here seems rather risky unless a dominant camp results in an unexpected starting job, but his increasingly strong offensive performance in the upper minors adds additional credence to his decent big league numbers.


Likely 2005 September Call-ups

Jeff Baker, 23, 3B-R
27/91 for .297/.343/.505 with 4 HR, 20 RBI, 10 R, 1/1 SB%,
and a 7:22 BB:K for AA Tulsa(TL).
88/271 for .325/.434/.539 with 11 HR, 64 RBI, 60 R, 1/1 SB%,
and a 47:73 BB:K for A+ Visalia(Cal).

Committing 26 errors in only 89 games should force Baker to second base very soon. Jayson Nix's terrible 2004 creates an opening for quick promotions, an opportunity Baker won't enjoy in an organization with Garrett Atkins in the majors at third and Ian Stewart surging through the system. Baker still intrigues me due to his power potential, but treating him as more than a late-round flyer in deep leagues is a bad idea as long as his contact rate remains around .74.


Choo Freeman, 25, OF-R
17/90 for .189/.298/.300 with 1 HR, 11 RBI, 15 R, 1/2 SB%,
and a 14:21 BB:K for Colorado.
107/360 for .297/.350/.478 with 10 HR, 50 RBI, 58 R, 7/10 SB%,
and a 26:84 BB:K for AAA Colorado Springs(PCL).

At least Freeman managed decent average gains in his second season at Colorado Springs, but his 3.82 #P/PA and lackluster contact rate won't allow him to succeed in Coors considering his 2.05 G-F and lost speed skills. Yes, he still could enjoy a respectable big league career, and Coors creates a useful opportunity for him. However, I expect the 36th pick of the 1998 draft to need a change of scenery before securing a regular role in the majors.


Chris Gissell, 26, RH Swingman
0-1 on an 11:3 K:BB in 8.2 IP over 1 GS(5G)
with 20 H, 4 HR, a 10-11 G-F, and a 14.54 ERA for Colorado.
14-2 on a 74:17 K:BB in 90.2 IP over 8 GS(24G)
with 80 H, 11 HR, and a 3.67 ERA for AAA Colorado Springs(PCL).

Gissell finally reached the majors on the strength of another strong AAA season. Unfortunately, his abhorrent hit rate destroyed his qualitative stats, so even if he receives another opportunity, he appears relatively unlikely to succeed in the majors in the near future.


Tony Miller, 24, OF-R
114/414 for .275/.387/.406 with 11 HR, 36 RBI, 61 R, 20/32 SB%,
and a 68:99 BB:K for AA Tulsa(TL).

While Miller rebounded from a poor 2004 campaign, his continuous contact problems render him effectively useless given the upside of most of the upper-level outfielders in the Colorado system. I don't expect Miller to offer anything to fantasy owners until he wins a reserve job in the majors later this decade.


Chris Narveson, 22, LH Starter
5-10 on a 121:51 K:BB in 127.2 IP over 23 GS
with 114 H, 11 HR, and a 4.16 ERA for AA Tennessee(SL).
0-3 on a 14:13 K:BB in 20 IP over 4 GS
with 16 H, 1 HR, and a 3.15 ERA for AA Tulsa(TL).

The southpaw starter ranked as a top Cardinals' prospect a year ago yet failed to continue developing this year. Still, Narveson looks like the only viable return from the Larry Walker deal given Luis Martinez's departure in minor league free agency and Jason Burch's unimpressive marks as an A-ball reliever. Colorado should give Narveson every chance to succeed, but until he combines stronger control with better results, I don't see him helping in the majors.


Jayson Nix, 22, 2B-R
97/456 for .213/.292/.346 with 14 HR, 58 RBI, 58 R, 14/17 SB%,
and a 40:100 BB:K for AA Tulsa(TL).

With unimpressive plate discipline and diminished power, Nix's stock dropped as much as almost any healthy prospect in the game. Failing to compile even a .650 OPS in a good hitters' environment suggests further problems as he ascends the minor league ladder. While you shouldn't cut him in most leagues, a slower timetable gives him little chance to contribute before late 2006, so deal Nix if you see a decent opportunity.


Jeff Salazar, 24, OF-L
50/224 for .223/.331/.313 with 1 HR, 17 RBI, 39 R, 10/13 SB%,
and a 35:31 BB:K for AA Tulsa(TL).
109/314 for .347/.419/.586 with 13 HR, 44 RBI, 79 R, 17/19 SB%,
and a 38:33 BB:K for A+ Visalia(Cal).

Despite the BA slump that sabotaged all his AA averages, Salazar at least maintained very good plate discipline and speed skills after his mid-season promotion. Unfortunately, his dominance of the California League isn't too shocking given his age, and unless traded to a team with less outfield depth, he may spend his prime as no more than a backup in Coors. Of course, Salazar's five-tool upside still warrants some consideration at this time, but counting on him as more than respectable trade bait during the 2005 season is an unnecessary risk.


Ryan Shealy, 25, 1B-R
149/469 for .318/.411/.584 with 29 HR, 99 RBI, 88 R, 1/2 SB%,
and a 61:123 BB:K for AA Tulsa(TL).

Todd Helton clearly blocks Shealy and his contact problems may sabotage his long-term power potential. However, he still could emerge at least as quality trade bait for the Rockies, so if you see him dealt somewhere with a clearer path to playing time, Shealy may warrant a mid-season pickup quite quickly.


Ryan Speier, 25, RH Closer
3-1 and 37 Saves on a 71:26 K:BB in 62.1 IP over 62 G
with 33 H, 3 HR, and a 2.02 ERA for AA Tulsa(TL).

Although Speier ranks with the best and most dominant relief prospects in the game, control problems may keep him from maintaining his effectiveness in the majors. Colorado needs a closer, giving Speier an intriguing opportunity during camp, but unless you can absorb an irritating qualitative hit, he won't merit more than late-round fantasy consideration in leagues with deep reserve lists.


Cory Sullivan, 25, OF-L
No 2004 stats.

Sullivan, who registered a respectable .300/.341/.417 performance with a 39:83 BB:K in 557 AB for Tulsa(TL) in 2003, needed Tommy John surgery in spring training to repair a torn UCL in his left elbow. Colorado released him to open a spot on the 40-man roster, but they immediately re-signed him to a minor league deal. Sullivan stands a good chance to reach the majors sometime in 2005, however losing a season can severely hinder the development of a young hitter. At least wait until he demonstrates decent skills at AAA Colorado Springs before considering him for your team.


Jason Young, 25, RH Starter
0-1 on a 7:5 K:BB in 8.1 IP over 2 GS
with 15 H, 3 HR, a 17-11 G-F, and a 12.96 ERA for Colorado.
5-2 on a 20:12 K:BB in 40 IP over 7 GS
with 54 H, 6 HR, and a 4.73 ERA for AAA Colorado Springs(PCL).

Although I still like Young and expect him to develop into a quality starter, losing the majority of the season to a fracture rib makes his status with the Rockies uncomfortably tenuous. Most fantasy owners need to wait until Young switches organizations before considering him in any league.


Potential Reserve Help

Mike Bumatay, 25, LH Reliever
2-4 on a 45:44 K:BB in 53 IP over 37 G
with 60 H, 7 HR, and a 6.28 ERA for AAA Colorado Springs(PCL).
1-0 on a 12:9 K:BB in 11.1 IP over 12 G
with 10 H, 1 HR, and a 3.18 ERA for AA Tulsa(TL).

The two-time Rule 5 pick, selected in the AAA and then Major League phase respective in 2002 and 2003, returned to the Rockies this spring and then completely bombed his AAA debut. Bumatay's control problems could keep him out of the majors indefinitely.


Mike Esposito, 23, RH Starter
10-6 on a 90:35 K:BB in 143.1 IP over 24 GS
with 138 H, 12 HR, and a 3.33 ERA for AA Tulsa(TL).

Pitchers with unimpressive strikeout and hit rates are terrible gambles in Coors. While Esposito possesses decent skills and could succeed in the majors under the right circumstances, he almost certainly won't contribute positively to fantasy teams if he remains with the Rockies.


Shawn Garrett, 26, OF-S
43/116 for .371/.416/.552 with 3 HR, 22 RBI, 25 R, 5/7 SB%,
and a 9:28 BB:K for AAA Colorado Springs(PCL).
115/374 for .307/.382/.463 with 12 HR, 51 RBI, 73 R, 14/24 SB%,
and a 41:104 BB:K for AA Tulsa(TL).

With a .299 career average, developing patience, and some power and speed skills, Garrett appears ready to contribute in a reserve role. If the minor league free agent succeeds in the majors after finding the necessary opportunity, feel free to employ him as roster filler.


Jason Gilfillan, 28, RH Reliever
6-3 and 1 Save on a 65:45 K:BB in 68.2 IP over 50 G
with 67 H, 8 HR, and a 5.37 ERA for AAA Colorado Springs(PCL).

Despite strong dominance, Gilfillan's increasing control problems render him useless to fantasy teams. Don't expect to see him in the majors any time soon.


Justin Hampson, 24, LH Starter
10-9 on a 104:63 K:BB in 170.1 IP over 27 GS
with 176 H, 22 HR, and a 3.49 ERA for AA Tulsa(TL).

Nothing here suggests that Hampson even deserves a promotion to AAA right now. Given his unimpressive skill set and slow rise through the system, he appears highly unlikely to remain even at this mediocre level of effectiveness in Coors.


Alex Herrera, 28, LH Reliever
6-3 and 1 Save on a 72:57 K:BB in 77.1 IP over 7 GS(37G)
with 77 H, 10 HR, and a 5.24 ERA for AAA Colorado Springs(PCL).

Colorado really needs to find a AAA pitching coach capable of improving the control of prospects like Herrera. While any lefty with a strikeout rate over 9.0 K/9 will remain employed indefinitely, Herrera needs to find a better organization for developing pitchers this winter as a minor league free agent or risk spending the majority of his prime in the minors.


Luis Martinez, 24, LH Starter
2-2 on a 21:16 K:BB in 27.2 IP over 4 GS(5G)
with 34 H, 4 HR, and a 6.83 ERA for AAA Colorado Springs(PCL).
0-5 on a 35:23 K:BB in 42.2 IP over 7 GS
with 53 H, 7 HR, and a 5.06 ERA for AAA Memphis(PCL).
7-7 on a 77:36 K:BB in 94.1 IP over 16 GS
with 96 H, 7 HR, and a 4.10 ERA for AA Tennessee(SL).

Martinez fairly plummeted off prospect lists following his alleged shooting of another man last winter. St. Louis claimed him off waivers in late February, but he failed to rediscover the solid skills he demonstrated with Milwaukee last year. Moving onto Colorado in the Larry Walker deal failed to provide him an adequate fresh start, so now Martinez needs to impress someone during camp or risk spending the next several winters as a minor league free agent.


Zach McClellan, 26, RH Starter
4-7 on an 111:36 K:BB in 138.2 IP over 23 GS(26G)
with 145 H, 17 HR, and a 4.15 ERA for AA Tulsa(TL).

Acquired from Kansas City this spring for Justin Huisman, McClellan finally reached AA after four seasons of A-ball and produced some of the best numbers of his career. Of course, growing homer and hit rate problems render him largely useless to fantasy owners, so ignore him until he departs the Rockies.


Elvis Pena, 28, 2B-S
73/269 for .271/.359/.375 with 2 HR, 30 RBI, 39 R, 4/6 SB%,
and a 35:45 BB:K for AAA Colorado Springs(PCL).

The former Brewers' backup spent last season in the Atlantic League, although his respectable performance for Colorado Springs at least should keep him employed with an affiliated team. Unfortunately, Pena failed to demonstrate his formerly solid speed skills this year, so while he still possesses some fantasy upside, I don't expect him to contribute as a big leaguer in the near future.


Minor League Draft Picks

Ian Stewart, 19, 3B-L
161/505 for .319/.398/.594 with 30 HR, 101 RBI, 92 R, 19/28 SB%,
and a 66:112 BB:K for A Asheville(Car).

As only his 25 errors in 116 games concern me at all, Stewart ranks high on any list of lower-level draft picks. He owns exceptional power potential and patience for a teenager, as well as intriguing speed skills and even a respectable contact rate. While he won't displace Garrett Atkins for a couple of years, Atkins ranks among the safest selections in baseball when considering both his offensive upside and solid trade value.


Aside from players listed above, no other Colorado prospect deserves consideration in 2005 fantasy drafts. Scott Dohmann and Allan Simpson each lost his rookie status by exceeding the service time minimum.


Organization Rankings

With the Rockies finally invested in rebuilding thanks to the apparent burden of the Mike Hampton, Denny Neagle, Preston Wilson, Larry Walker, and Charles Johnson contracts, Colorado accidentally presents several of the best opportunities in the game for the smart fantasy owners. Atkins, Closser, Barmes, and Hawpe all possess excellent chances to post double-digit value in 2005. Jorge Piedra similarly could contribute if given the chance, and Jeff Francis and Ian Stewart own excellent long-term value. Rostering at least one of the top five prospects here, especially Closser, could pay welcome dividends for several seasons.

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. Colorado Rockies(Atkins, Closser, Barmes, Hawpe, I.Stewart)
2. Minnesota Twins(Bartlett, Kubel, Tiffee, Crain, S.Baker)
3. Oakland Athletics(D.Johnson, Swisher, Blanton, Street)
4. Seattle Mariners(Je.Reed, Choo, J.Strong, Fe.Hernandez)
5. Tampa Bay Devil Rays(Gathright, Kazmir, Delmon Young)
6. Anaheim Angels(McPherson, Kotchman, Callaspo, E.Aybar)
7. Cleveland Indians(F.Cabrera, Denney, F.Gutierrez, Aubrey)
8. Arizona Diamondbacks(C.Snyder, Kroeger, Quentin, C.Jackson)
9. Atlanta Braves(Da.Meyer, J.Capellan, Marte)
10. Texas Rangers(Kinsler, Ad.Gonzalez, C.Young)
11. New York Yankees(Halsey, D.Navarro, E.Duncan)
12. Baltimore Orioles(Majewski, W.Young, Maine)
13. Toronto Blue Jays(R.Adams, F.Rosario)
14. Chicago White Sox(W.Valdez, B.McCarthy)
15. Kansas City Royals(Teahen, Den.Bautista, Maier)
16. Boston Red Sox(H.Ramirez, B.Moss)
17. Cincinnati Reds(E.Encarnacion, W.Bergolla)
18. Detroit Tigers(Granderson, Giarratano)
19. Chicago Cubs(DuBois)


Today's Fantasy Rx: Since Colorado finally appears committed to a youth movement, perhaps employing only Todd Helton and Preston Wilson as a veteran starters, feel free to invest in rookie hitters like Closser, Atkins, and Barmes. While only Closser possesses the overall skills that make him likely to emerge as a Rockies' starter for the rest of the decade, Atkins, Barmes, Hawpe, and even sophomores Aaron Miles and Matt Holiday appear likely to spend at least a couple seasons as everyday players. The tremendous offensive upside of these prospects presents all fantasy owners with an excellent opportunity, especially if someone like Hawpe opens the year as a fourth outfielder, you can snag him for a couple bucks, and he hits his way into regular playing time.


Colorado's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects for 2005
1. Garrett Atkins, 3B
2. J.D. Closser, C
3. Brad Hawpe, OF
4. Clint Barmes, SS/2B
5. Jorge Piedra, OF
6. Jeff Francis, SP
7. Ryan Shealy, 1B
8. Jeff Salazar, OF
9. Ian Stewart, 3B
10. Choo Freeman, OF
11. Cory Sullivan, OF
12. Jeff Baker, 3B
13. Ryan Speier, RP
14. Jayson Nix, 2B
15. Jason Young, SP


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