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December
5th
2004
Your Daily Fantasy Rx
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Post-2004 Prospect Review: Houston
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
Houston's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects


Prospects with Double-Digit Upside

Chris Burke, 24, 2B-R
1/17 for .059/.200/.059 with 0 HR, 0 RBI, 2 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 3:3 BB:K for Houston.
152/483 for .315/.396/.507 with 16 HR, 52 RBI, 93 R, 37/51 SB%,
and a 55:76 BB:K for AAA New Orleans(PCL).

If the Astros let both Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent depart, Jason Lane will join Lance Berkman and Craig Biggio in the outfield while Burke starts at second base. The youngster owns impressive patience and plate discipline and possesses intriguing power potential in Minute Maid given his 55 extra-base hits in the Pacific Coast League this year. He also only committed 11 errors in 121 games, so as long as he enters the year as a likely starter, I see no reason not bid into double digits to secure Burkes' services, especially if he hits second and your league counts runs.


Chad Qualls, 26, RH Reliever
4-0 and 1 Save on a 24:8 K:BB in 33 IP over 25 G
with 34 H, 3 HR, a 1.97 G-F, and a 3.55 ERA for Houston.
3-6 and 1 Save on a 72:30 K:BB in 106.2 IP over 13 GS(32G)
with 134 H, 8 HR, and a 5.57 ERA for AAA New Orleans(PCL).

Shifting to the bullpen pushed Qualls from AA to the majors in one season. He pitched very effectively down the stretch, winning a post-season roster spot and at least demonstrating decent skills in the playoffs despite poor qualitative marks. Qualls enters spring training as the probable top set-up man for Brad Lidge, and given the skills he compiled in 2004, I see no reason why he won't remain successful as he emerges as no less than viable roto roster filler .


Likely 2005 September Call-ups

Ezequiel Astacio, 25, RH Starter
13-10 on a 185:56 K:BB in 176 IP over 28 GS
with 155 H, 12 HR, and a 3.89 ERA for AA Round Rock(TL).

The third player in the Billy Wagner trade effectively dominated in his first season above A-ball. Astacio boosted his strikeout rate from 5.0 to 9.6 K/9, positioning himself nicely for an early promotion to the majors in 2005 whenever an Astros' starter struggles to suffers an injury. While a corresponding walk rate concerns me, Astracio now almost certainly should enjoy a lengthy big league career. Even if settles into the bullpen, he still could emerge as a significant contributor, although don't roster Astacio until he begins succeeding in the majors.


Taylor Buchholz, 23, RH Starter
6-7 on a 74:29 K:BB in 98 IP over 17 GS(20G)
with 107 H, 16 HR, and a 5.23 ERA for AAA New Orleans(PCL).

Shoulder problems and general ineffectiveness destroyed Buchholz's season. Of course, he still demonstrated good control, yet Minute Maid simply isn't forgiving to pitchers with hit or homer rate problems. While I expect Buchholz to emerge as a quality starter later this decade, he should encounter the same difficulties that Tim Redding, Carlos Hernandez, and other Houston prospects encountered upon joining the Astros.


Mike Burns, 26, RH Reliever
11-3 and 9 Saves on a 94:15 K:BB in 80.2 IP over 56 G
with 63 H, 1 HR, and a 1.67 ERA for AA Round Rock(TL).

Completing a move to the bullpen allowed Burns to dominate hitters in his second season at Round Rock. His excellent command from A-ball reemerged, coupling with an excellent strikeout rate to give him one of the best skill sets in the upper minors. While Houston's reluctance in promoting Burns concerns me, he may merit some fantasy consideration as soon as the Astros give him a shot a the big league bullpen.


Jeremy Griffiths, 26, RH Starter
0-0 on a 5:3 K:BB in 4.1 IP over 1 GS
with 4 H, 1 HR, a 5-6 G-F, and a 10.39 ERA for Houston.
5-2 on a 31:29 K:BB in 70 IP over 13 GS
with 63 H, 6 HR, and a 3.47 ERA for AAA Norfolk(IL).
3-6 on a 58:26 K:BB in 80 IP over 14 GS(15G)
with 95 H, 9 HR, and a 5.85 ERA for AAA New Orleans(PCL).

The formerly intriguing Mets' prospect bombed both for Houston and New Orleans after the Astros acquired him in the Richard Hidalgo. Houston unsurprisingly outrighted him in November, Griffiths still should rebound, developing into a decent big league option. Unfortunately, his uncertain eventual role and difficulties this year render Griffiths currently useless to fantasy teams.


D.J. Houlton, 25, RH Starter
12-5 on a 159:47 K:BB in 159 IP over 28 GS
with 141 H, 14 HR, and a 2.94 ERA for AA Round Rock(TL).

Leaving Houlton to repeat Round Rock after he managed a 3.47 ERA on a 101:28 K:BB in 109 IP in the Texas League last year boggles the mind. Yes, he only managed a 5.40 ERA on a 48:19 K:BB with 70 H and 12 HR in 62 IP over 11 starts at AAA New Orleans(PCL) over the last couple months of 2003, but only his homer rate really worries me at all. He deserves a AAA rotation slot this year far more than at least half of the Zephyrs' starting pitchers this season. Now Houlton no longer looks likely to receive a shot with Houston in the near future, so hopefully the Astros will move him to a team that appreciates a pitcher with excellent control and the capability to develop into a quality #3 starter.


Fernando Nieve, 22, RH Starter
2-0 on a 17:8 K:BB in 17.1 IP over 3 GS
with 12 H, 0 HR, and a 1.56 ERA for AA Round Rock(TL).
10-6 on a 117:40 K:BB in 149 IP over 24 GS
with 136 H, 9 HR, and a 2.96 ERA for A+ Salem(Car).

With his strikeout rate already headed down, Nieve could struggle significantly over a full year at Corpus Christi, the Texas League replacement for Round Rock. Despite the upside suggested by Nieve's lower-level dominance, he probably needs at least two years in the minors before receiving any extended look in the majors.


Luke Scott, 26, OF-L
62/208 for .298/.401/.654 with 19 HR, 62 RBI, 62 R, 0/2 SB%,
and a 33:43 BB:K for AA Round Rock(TL).
67/241 for .278/.376/.469 with 8 HR, 35 RBI, 45 R, 6/7 SB%,
and a 41:58 BB:K for A+ Salem(Car).

Cleveland's ninth round pick in 2001 headed to Houston with Willy Taveras for Jeriome Robertson at the end of spring training and then joined Taveras in the Round Rock outfield following an impressive first-half performance at Salem. Scott excelled in the Texas League, posting the best marks of his career and appearing prepared to compete for a big league bench job in the spring. While he lacks the ceiling of youngsters like Taveras and Josh Anderson, especially considering his lack of speed skills, Scott still should enjoy no less than a few years in the majors if he even can echo this power development.


Todd Self, 26, 1B-L
150/476 for .315/.420/.460 with 11 HR, 81 RBI, 86 R, 8/8 SB%,
and an 86:95 BB:K for AA Round Rock(TL).

As he should reach the majors before Jeff Bagwell retires, expect Self's inclusion in a deal next summer. He also could develop into a passable outfielder, however regardless of his eventual position, excellent plate discipline, developing power, and even decent speed skills should insure he soon begins contributing as a big league starter. While his questionable role with the Astros makes Self a risky pick now, he'll warrant fantasy consideration almost immediately upon his upcoming promotion from AAA.


Willy Taveras, 22, OF-R
0/1 for .000/.000/.000 with 0 HR, 0 RBI, 2 R, 1/1 SB%,
and a 0:1 BB:K for Houston.
137/409 for .335/.402/.386 with 2 HR, 27 RBI, 76 R, 55/66 SB%,
and a 38:76 BB:K for AA Round Rock(TL).

Moving the increasingly ineffective Jeriome Robertson to Cleveland secured Houston the right to demote Rule 5 pick Taveras. He flourished in his first AA season, posting his best averages since Rookie-ball. However, Taveras demonstrated little power, and decreasing plate discipline also kept him from posting even more impressive speed skills. While Taveras owns the skills necessary to emerge as a long-term center field solution for the Astros, his negligible power might keep him from developing into more than a solid fourth outfielder. Although that role might result in surprising roto value for Taveras, you probably shouldn't risk spending a pick on someone who appears reasonably likely to peak as a reserve.


Tommy Whiteman, 25, SS-R
27/98 for .276/.336/.337 with 0 HR, 9 RBI, 11 R, 2/4 SB%,
and an 8:21 BB:K for AAA New Orleans(PCL).
93/277 for .336/.381/.473 with 8 HR, 45 RBI, 39 R, 5/8 SB%,
and a 20:45 BB:K for AA Round Rock(TL).

Improvement at Round Rock should allow the middle infielder to challenge for a bench job on the Astros next season. While he lacks great power and speed skills, Whiteman's overall offensive abilities could make him fairly valuable in Houston. Only wait until he begins demonstrating decent averages after reaching the majors to consider employing Whiteman as roster filer.


Potential Reserve Help

Jason Alfaro, 27, SS-R
2/11 for .182/.182/.182 with 0 HR, 0 RBI, 1 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 0:5 BB:K for Houston.
151/465 for .325/.363/.477 with 13 HR. 67 RBI, 62 R, 3/9 SB%,
and a 26:58 BB:K for AAA New Orleans(PCL).

Alfaro finally reached the majors in his ninth year in the system, but he contributed nothing in a couple weeks of duty and then departed as a minor league free agent after the season. While a respectable average and acceptable contact rate keep him valuable in the minors, I don't envision him emerging as more than a part-time big league reserve.


Heath Bost, 28, RH Reliever
4-1 and 3 Saves on a 40:21 K:BB in 49 IP over 44 G
with 41 H, 6 HR, and a 4.41 ERA for AAA New Orleans(PCL).

Effective work at New Orleans remains somewhat impressive, but Bost possesses relatively little upside, especially considering he hasn't reached the majors despite spending parts of six seasons at AAA. You definitely should wait to see if he ever begins contributing after securing a big league bullpen role before adding him anywhere.


Brooks Conrad, 24, 2B-S
139/480 for .290/.365/.475 with 13 HR, 83 RBI, 84 R, 8/15 SB%,
and a 63:105 BB:K for AA Round Rock(TL).

The Astros' eighth round pick in 2001 fairly excelled upon leaving A-ball. While persistent contact problems should keep Conrad from developing into a big league starter, his overall offensive upside makes him likely to enjoy a lengthy career as a reserve in the majors after another couple years of seasoning.


Chris Enochs, 29, RH Swingman
6-8 on a 92:35 K:BB in 112.2 IP over 14 GS(38G)
with 114 H, 11 HR, and a 4.15 ERA for AAA New Orleans(PCL).

With good command and increasing effectiveness, the former Oakland prospect now appears quite close to reaching the majors. Although Enochs never may emerge as a viable fantasy option, signing with an organization somewhat depleted in upper-level pitching talent could result in a mid-season call-up in 2005 for the minor league free agent.


Jared Gothreaux, 24, RH Starter
9-7 on a 110:35 K:BB in 157 IP over 24 GS(27G)
with 173 H, 16 HR, and a 3.96 ERA for AA Round Rock(TL).

Increasing his strikeout rate over 6.0 K/9 in his first Texas League tour ranks as an impressive accomplishment for Gothreaux. While his questionable dominance may force him back to the bullpen, Gothreaux at least appears likely to reach the majors in some capacity even if you shouldn't pay him much attention until he begins contributing as a big leaguer.


Royce Huffman, 27, 1B-R
164/531 for .309/.393/.450 with 10 HR, 60 RBI, 81 R, 8/10 SB%,
and a 71:94 BB:K for AAA New Orleans(PCL).

Huffman heads into his fifth season in the Astros' upper minors in 2005 despite never reaching the majors. His strong plate discipline and decent power potential might make him a good option for a team needing a platoon first baseman or pinch-hitter, but Jeff Bagwell's right-handed power stroke and general durability renders Huffman somewhat useless to Houston. Hopefully they'll give him the chance to find playing time elsewhere soon, especially with Todd Self needing playing time at the team's new AAA affiliate in Round Rock.


Charlton Jimerson, 25, OF-R
116/488 for .238/.290/.414 with 18 HR, 53 RBI, 78 R, 39/45 SB%,
and a 31:163 BB:K for AA Round Rock(TL).

Scouts may like Jimerson for his athletic prowess, and his speed impresses, however his abysmal contact rates give him little shot of contributing in the majors. Do not roster him anywhere until he earns a big league job and begins producing decent numbers even in a limited role.


Kyle Logan, 29, OF-L
99/399 for .248/.301/.346 with 4 HR, 33 RBI, 35 R, 17/19 SB%,
and a 23:48 BB:K for AAA New Orleans(PCL).

Increasingly poor performances at AAA soon should force Logan out of the organization. While his speed skills merit some fantasy attention, Logan simply lacks the offensive talent to earn more than a brief cup-of-coffee in the majors.


Tim McClaskey, 28, RH Starter
7-9 and 2 Saves on a 94:36 K:BB in 140.1 IP over 19 GS(34G)
with 148 H, 17 HR, and a 4.62 ERA for AA Round Rock(TL).

A long history of solid skills allowed McClaskey to remain relatively effective at Round Rock. If he shifts back to the bullpen and regains his lost dominance, McClaskey could emerge as a reliable option in middle relief.


Santiago Ramirez, 26, RH Reliever
6-4 and 32 Saves on an 83:38 K:BB in 78.2 IP over 55 G
with 71 H, 2 HR, and a 2.63 ERA for AA Round Rock(TL).

Santiago soon needs to convert his AA dominance into AAA success or else risk spending the majority of his career in the minors. Yes, command problems leave him unlikely to develop into a great fantasy option; minor league free agency also lowers his value. However, Ramirez's impressive strikeout rates give him a good chance to develop into a useful part of a big league bullpen if given a better opportunity to earn a promotion.


Wandy Rodriguez, 25, LH Starter
11-6 on a 115:57 K:BB in 142.2 IP over 25 GS(26G)
with 159 H, 15 HR, and a 4.48 ERA for AA Round Rock(TL).

The southpaw starter reached Round Rock while respectably echoing his skills from the Sally League back in 2002. While command problems may doom Rodriguez to middle relief, don't be surprised to see him join the Astros relatively soon, especially if he gains dominance after a likely eventual move to the pen.


Rodrigo Rosario, 26, RH Starter
No 2004 stats.

Arm surgery to repair significant damage to his rotator cuff, labrum, and biceps tendon ended the 2003 season early for Rosario and forced him to miss all of this year. While he should enter spring training in competition for a bullpen job, expect him to spend most of the next season in the minors rebuilding his arm strength. Since he also didn't demonstrate overly impressive skills prior to his injury, Rosario merits no fantasy consideration in spring drafts.


Miguel Saladin, 29, RH Reliever
1-6 and 6 Saves on a 42:30 K:BB in 64.2 IP over 49 G
with 51 H, 3 HR, and a 4.04 ERA for AAA New Orleans(PCL).
1-0 and 1 Save on a 6:2 K:BB in 5 IP over 3 G
with 3 H, 0 HR, and a 0.00 ERA for AA Round Rock(TL).

Increasing ineffectiveness in the upper minors could keep the minor league free agent from ever taking full advantage of his formerly strong strikeout rate. Saladin will merit no fantasy consideration until he secures a regular role in a big league bullpen.


Chris Tremie, 35, C-R
0/0 for .000/.000/.000 with 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 0:0 BB:K for Houston.
47/195 for .241/.332/.313 with 2 HR, 24 RBI, 23 R, 0/1 SB%,
and a 24:30 BB:K for AAA New Orleans(PCL).

While Tremie technically remains a rookie, his career average as a professional remains below .220, so he almost certainly won't contribute positively in any league even if an injury open a spot in the majors. He probably possesses as little fantasy value as any rookie I'll discuss this fall.


Minor League Draft Picks

Josh Anderson, 22, OF-L
75/280 for .268/.314/.379 with 2 HR, 21 RBI, 45 R, 31/35 SB%,
and a 13:53 BB:K for A+ Salem(Car).
97/299 for .324/.402/.425 with 4 HR, 31 RBI, 69 R, 47/56 SB%,
and a 33:47 BB:K for A Lexington(SAL).

Houston's fourth round pick in 2003 slammed through the Sally League and remained a force on the bases while holding a decent average in the Carolina League. The problem with Anderson is that he lacks power, so any drop in his batting average or walk rate renders him rather useless to Houston. Yes, he should continue developing into a solid big leaguer; his 78 steals and 86% SB success rate suggest potential roto glory. However, spending a pick on an A-ball speedster with limited primary hitting skills rarely returns a decent dividend. Only owners in very deep leagues should select Anderson in the spring.


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


Organization Rankings

While Houston generally fields upper-level minor league teams with intriguing pitchers of various ages, the Astros possess few quality position prospects. Yes, Chris Burke will hold a middle infield job in Minute Maid at least for the rest of the decade. Willy Taveras, Todd Self, Luke Scott, and Josh Anderson also all look like no worse than interesting reserves. Unfortunately, you can't risk drafting any young pitcher here, and if the team re-signs Carlos Beltran, expect some combination of Beltran, Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio, and Jason Lane to hold the outfield spots here for several more seasons. Few owners should consider selecting anyone discussed here in spring drafts other than Burke.

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. Florida Marlins(Hermida, Willingham, Stokes)
12. New York Yankees(Halsey, D.Navarro, E.Duncan)
13. Baltimore Orioles(Majewski, W.Young, Maine)
14. Toronto Blue Jays(R.Adams, F.Rosario)
15. Chicago White Sox(W.Valdez, B.McCarthy)
16. Kansas City Royals(Teahen, Den.Bautista, Maier)
17. Houston Astros(C.Burke, Josh Anderson)
18. Boston Red Sox(H.Ramirez, B.Moss)
19. Cincinnati Reds(E.Encarnacion, W.Bergolla)
20. Detroit Tigers(Granderson, Giarratano)
21. Chicago Cubs(DuBois)


Today's Fantasy Rx: Even if the Astros only re-sign Roger Clemens as we expect without keeping any other free agent, few rookies should see significant opportunities aside from Chris Burke at second base and a couple of young relievers with too much fantasy downside to merit much consideration given the problems encountered while pitching in Minute Maid. A solid lineup, a loaded rotation that includes five starters with playoff experience, and the best reliever in baseball this year should keep Houston competitive even in the impressively top-heavy NL Central. Of course, their continued need to win before Bagwell and Biggio retire could lead to the trades of Josh Anderson, Willy Taveras, or even a young big leaguer like Jason Lane in similar deals to the Beltran acquisition, so investing in anyone outside of a starting Burke appears rather risky.


Houston's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects for 2005
1. Chris Burke, 2B
2. Willy Taveras, OF
3. Todd Self, 1B
4. Royce Huffman, 1B
5. Ezequiel Astacio, SP
6. Chad Qualls, RP
7. D.J. Houlton, SP
8. Luke Scott, OF
9. Josh Anderson, OF
10. Tommy Whiteman, SS
11. Jeremy Griffiths, SP
12. Taylor Buchholz, SP
13. Rodrigo Rosario, SP
14. Tim McClaskey, SP
15. Fernando Nieve, SP


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