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December
11th
2004
Your Daily Fantasy Rx
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Post-2004 Prospect Review: Pittsburgh
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
Pittsburgh's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects


Prospects with Double-Digit Upside

J.R. House, 24, C-R
1/9 for .111/.111/.222 with 0 HR, 0 RBI, 1 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 0:2 BB:K for Pittsburgh.
89/309 for .288/.344/.508 with 15 HR, 49 RBI, 38 R, 1/2 SB%,
and a 23:72 BB:K for AAA Nashville(PCL).

A recently discovered extra option year should result in House heading back to AAA for another season rather than opening 2005 in Craig Wilson's old role of backup catcher and bench power. While Pittsburgh probably should just start House to see if he can handle a full-time big league job, I can't argue with their goal of adding a veteran to guide the young pitching staff. Yes, House could post respectable numbers, but questionable plate discipline at least makes him a definite risk, so he won't merit more than endgame consideration as a second catcher unless he unexpectedly breaks camp as the Pirates' starter.


Freddy Sanchez, 26, SS-R
3/19 for .158/.158/.158 with 0 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 0:3 BB:K for Pittsburgh.
33/125 for .264/.326/.360 with 1 HR, 11 RBI, 10 R, 4/5 SB%,
and an 11:17 BB:K for AAA Nashville(PCL).

Ankle surgery cost Sanchez half the season and limited his effectiveness over the balance of the year. Now he enters 2005 as no more than a second infield option behind Ty Wigginton, Jack Wilson, and Jose Castillo; Bobby Hill also remains in the mix. Yes, Sanchez owns solid plate discipline and intriguing SB upside, and a .364/.444/.561 performance in 107 AFL at-bats further enhanced his stock, but a lack of power should keep Sanchez from flourishing as a starter. Right now you can't consider him as anything more than a credible MIF option at a few bucks with the possibility of developing into a capable everyday player.


John Van Benschoten, 24, RH Starter
1-3 on an 18:19 K:BB in 28.2 IP over 5 GS(6G)
with 33 H, 3 HR, a 1.32 G-F, and a 6.91 ERA for Pittsburgh.
4-11 on a 101:49 K:BB in 131.2 IP over 23 GS
with 135 H, 16 HR, and a 4.72 ERA for AAA Nashville(PCL).

Shoulder problems ended Van Benschoten's season early and preserved his rookie status. A 33440 QA log in his five starts certainly indicates excellent long-term potential, so if he receives decent defensive support and continues developing his control, he should emerge as a quality starter for the Pirates next year. I expect him to break camp as no worse than their #5 starter before eventually joining Oliver Perez atop Pittsburgh's rotation. Definitely consider investing a few bucks in Van Benschoten if you can afford the likely WHIP hit in 2005.


Likely 2005 September Call-ups

Bobby Bradley, 24, RH Starter
5-4 on a 78:41 K:BB in 101.1 IP over 19 GS
with 85 H, 8 HR, and a 3.11 ERA for AA Altoona(EL).
0-0 on a 6:1 K:BB in 5 IP over 2 GS
with 6 H, 0 HR, and a 1.80 ERA for R Pirates(GCL).

Selected eighth overall by Pittsburgh all the way back in 1999, Bradley exceeded his IP total for the previous three years in 2004. However, he again missed time with a couple injuries and didn't demonstrate great command when healthy. The most intriguing news here is that Bradley managed a 37:7 K:BB in 32.1 IP with 28 H and 4 HR over 8 GS in the Arizona Fall league, although a 5.01 ERA again depicts a pitcher with limited upside. Certainly don't consider Bradley at this point, but also don't discount him permanently since he owns the skills and tools necessary to develop into a quality starter at some point this decade.


Bryan Bullington, 24, RH Starter
12-7 on a 100:47 K:BB in 145 IP over 26 GS
with 160 H, 18 HR, and a 4.10 ERA for AA Altoona(EL).

The #1 overall pick in 2002 still looks like no more than rotation filler, and I suspect even Bullington's continued development won't keep management from blaming him for not emerging as a better player than B.J. Upton, drafted one selection later. Bullington's lack of dominance definitely concerns me since he doesn't own numbers that warrant much attention if we ignore his draft pedigree. Wait until he at least echoes these marks at AAA before considering him for your team.


Mike Connolly, 22, LH Starter
8-7 on a 103:41 K:BB in 112.2 IP over 21 GS
with 124 H, 10 HR, and a 4.71 ERA for AA Altoona(EL).

Returning for a second AA campaign kept the Altoona rotation full of decent prospects but essentially halted his development. Connolly posted very similar marks to his 2002 season, but WHIP problems resulted in his ERA increasing by well over a full point. With a superior cadre of young starters pushing him from below, Connolly appears unlikely to develop into more than bullpen fodder for the Pirates. Hopefully they move him to an organization with a greater paucity of southpaw starters, thereby eventually allowing him to emerge as capable rotation filler.


Jorge Cortes, 24, OF-L
39/139 for .281/.338/.482 with 6 HR, 19 RBI, 17 R, 0/1 SB%,
and a 13:24 BB:K for AA Altoona(EL).
76/260 for .292/.385/.435 with 5 HR, 36 RBI, 32 R, 1/3 SB%,
and a 37:48 BB:K for A+ Lynchburg(Car).

Cortes owns good plate discipline and consistently solid averages but lacks the quantitative upside to emerge as more than a reserve outfielder barring a highly unlikely power surge. He probably needs a couple more years of seasoning, so don't expect him to contribute to any fantasy teams sooner than 2007.


Ryan Doumit, 23, C-S
58/221 for .262/.343/.489 with 10 HR, 34 RBI, 31 R, 0/1 SB%,
and a 21:49 BB:K for AA Altoona(EL).

Despite Ronny Paulino pushing Doumit from below and J.R. House ahead of him, Doumit likely will emerge as the long-term starting solution for the Pirates. Only a sore ligament in his right arm kept Doumit from accumulating more playing time. Combining 20 doubles with ten homers in less than a half-season of everyday at-bats demonstrates obvious power potential, and he even owns decent patience. His upside warrants consideration in most deeper leagues since I expect Doumit to secure the starting job in Pittsburgh no later than September.


Chris Duffy, 24, OF-L
140/453 for .309/.378/.439 with 8 HR, 41 RBI, 84 R, 30/38 SB%,
and a 33:77 BB:K for AA Altoona(EL).

With significant organizational competition for outfield playing time and Curve teammate Nate McLouth far more likely to emerge as the Pirates' long-term leadoff man, Duffy likely needs a change of scenery to reach the majors. Yes, he managed better power and regained a .300 BA in his return to Altoona, but a drop in Duffy's walk rate and increasing contact problems indicate potential struggles as he moves up the minor league ladder. Despite his impressive speed, ignore Duffy until wins a big league job or finds a quicker path of promotion with another team.


Zach Duke, 21, LH Starter
5-1 on a 36:10 K:BB in 51.1 IP over 9 GS
with 41 H, 2 HR, and a 1.58 ERA for AA Altoona(EL).
10-5 on a 106:20 K:BB in 97 IP over 17 GS
with 73 H, 3 HR, and a 1.39 ERA for A+ Lynchburg(Car).

Selected in the 20th round in 2001, Duke demonstrated decent command over two years in the low minors before exploding through the Carolina League in 2004. He led the minors in ERA by more than a half run, and his 15 wins also ranked among minor league leaders. Few young southpaws possess Duke's combination of dominance and extreme control. If Duke consolidates these gains in the upper minors next year as I expect, he could qualify as one of the top prospects in baseball while warranting a long look during spring training in 2006. Owners willing to gamble on a young pitcher should place Duke near the very top of their minor league draft lists.


Brad Eldred, 24, 1B-R
41/147 for .279/.329/.687 with 17 HR, 60 RBI, 41 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 6:51 BB:K for AA Altoona(EL).
104/335 for .310/.397/.570 with 21 HR, 77 RBI, 54 R, 5/7 SB%,
and a 35:97 BB:K for A+ Lynchburg(Car).

The minor league RBI leader registered 31 doubles and 38 homers this year, demonstrating excellent power potential and at least holding an acceptable walk rate in the Carolina League. Unfortunately, Eldred appears uncomfortably similar to Rob Stratton right now, so I can't recommend targeting him even though the Pirates lack another quality first base prospect. While monitoring Eldred's progress in the upper minors remains a good idea, wait until he at least echoes these marks at AAA before rostering him anywhere.


Tom Gorzelanny, 22, LH Starter
3-5 on a 61:19 K:BB in 55.2 IP over 10 GS
with 54 H, 6 HR, and a 4.85 ERA for A+ Lynchburg(Car).
7-2 on a 106:34 K:BB in 93 IP over 15 GS(16G)
with 63 H, 9 HR, and a 2.23 ERA for A Hickory(SAL).

Gorzelanny didn't demonstrate this level of skill after the Pirates selected him in the second round of the 2003 draft, but his excellent development this year now ranks him with the best starting prospects in the system. A similar campaign at AA will result in a September cup-of-coffee and a long look the following spring. His lack of experience above A-ball keeps me from recommending him as highly as Zach Duke, but I see a lot to like here, making Gorzelanny someone to watch next year.


Nate McLouth, 23, OF-L
166/515 for .322/.384/.462 with 8 HR, 73 RBI, 93 R, 31/38 SB%,
and a 48:62 BB:K for AA Altoona(EL).

The best all-around leadoff prospect in the system easily conquered AA this year, maintaining good plate discipline while demonstrating impressive speed skills. Expect McLouth to echo these marks rather strongly at AAA, perhaps even earning a mid-season promotion. As his combination of a supported batting average and SB upside makes him a potential $40 player, definitely target McLouth in most standard leagues.


Ronny Paulino, 23, C-R
105/369 for .285/.344/.480 with 15 HR, 60 RBI, 54 R, 3/5 SB%,
and a 32:62 BB:K for AA Altoona(EL).

Although I don't believe Paulino possesses as much long-term upside as Ryan Doumit, both Curve catchers should ascend to AAA together next year before eventually moving to the majors by 2006. Expect Paulino to settle as Doumit's backup barring an unexpected reversal in performance, especially since Doumit possesses superior skills behind the plate. Now Paulino still merits watching and soon should emerge as an acceptable option as your second catcher, but spending a minor league pick on him now is a bad idea.


Matt Peterson, 22, RH Starter
9-6 on a 119:67 K:BB in 140.2 IP over 25 GS(26G)
with 133 H, 18 HR, and a 4.03 ERA between AA Binghamton(EL) and AA Altoona(EL).

The primary return in the Kris Benson deal, Peterson posted solid numbers his first full AA season. While his control problems concern me and he lacks the upside of several other pitchers discussed today, Peterson still should develop into a quality middle-of-the-rotation starter by 2007. Drafting him now is a mistake, but monitoring his progress looks like a good idea given his success in the low minors.


Ian Snell, 23, RH Starter
0-1 on a 9:9 K:BB in 12 IP over 1 GS(3G)
with 14 H, 2 HR, a 1.25 G-F, and a 7.50 ERA for Pittsburgh.
11-7 on a 142:40 K:BB in 151 IP over 26 GS
with 147 H, 16 HR, and a 3.16 ERA for AA Altoona(EL).

If Snell continues his consistent ascent to the majors as a AAA starter next year, he should receive another cup-of-coffee before contending for a rotation slot the following spring. His solid all-around skills make him a likely long-term asset for the Pirates, so only general questions regarding his eventual role in the majors should keep you from considering him in minor league drafts now.


Cory Stewart, 25, LH Starter
7-6 on a 53:47 K:BB in 93 IP over 18 GS
with 112 H, 11 HR, and a 5.13 ERA for AAA Nashville(PCL).
0-1 on a 4:2 K:BB in 5.1 IP over 2 GS
with 8 H, 1 HR, and an 8.44 ERA for R Pirates(GCL).

Acquiring Jason Bay and Oliver Perez alone make the Brian Giles deal a huge win for the Pirates, and any contribution from Stewart might elevate the deal to one of the best moves of the decade. Unfortunately, a rib muscle strain cost Stewart half the season. He now needs a strong performance in 2005 to remain in the Pirates' plans as more than bullpen depth, so wait until you see him echoing his 133:50 K:BB in 126 AA IP from 2003 before rostering Stewart anywhere.


Potential Reserve Help

Andy Abad, 32, OF-L
88/301 for .292/.382/.468 with 12 HR, 49 RBI, 45 R, 4/5 SB%,
and a 40:52 BB:K for AAA Nashville(PCL).

Another fine AAA season for Abad again failed to result in a big league promotion. His limited power potential simply doesn't interest many teams, so he won't emerge as a viable fantasy option unless he somehow nets a bench job with a strong spring.


Luke Allen, 26, OF-L
107/414 for .258/.312/.435 with 17 HR, 43 RBI, 53 R, 3/9 SB%,
and a 33:94 BB:K for AAA Nashville(PCL).

Significantly regressing over his last two AAA seasons leaves Allen with little hope of reaching the majors in the near future. Yes, he owns decent power, but his inconsistent plate discipline and diminished speed skills offer little upside to both big league and fantasy teams.


Tony Alvarez, 25, OF-R
8/38 for .211/.289/.342 with 1 HR, 8 RBI, 5 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 4:7 BB:K for Pittsburgh..
97/335 for .290/.365/.457 with 14 HR, 48 RBI, 59 R, 19/31 SB%,
and a 35:63 BB:K for AAA Nashville(PCL).

Pittsburgh wisely tossed Alvarez off their 40-man roster this fall to make room for their cadre of AA position prospects. While he owns some power, speed, and plate discipline, his general mediocrity since reaching the upper minors leaves him with relatively little long-term potential. Don't draft Alvarez until he secures steady work as an outfield reserve somewhere.


Josh Bonifay, 26, 1B-R
95/343 for .277/.360/.490 with 19 HR, 76 RBI, 52 R, 5/6 SB%,
and a 40:96 BB:K for AA Altoona(EL).

While he qualifies as one of the better nepotism picks over the last several years, Bonifay appears unlikely to peak as anything more than a platoon player and pinch-hitter. He certainly doesn't merit any fantasy consideration right now after only managing mild improvement in his second straight AA season.


Frank Brooks, 26, LH Reliever
0-1 on an 18:9 K:BB in 17.1 IP over 1 GS(11G)
with 13 H, 5 HR, a .40 G-F, and a 4.67 ERA for Pittsburgh.
6-3 on a 55:22 K:BB in 83.1 IP over 8 GS(42G)
with 81 H, 13 HR, and a 4.10 ERA for AAA Nashville(PCL).

Brooks continued his tour of sabermetrically-inclined teams today as Los Angeles claimed him off waivers. Playing for the Dodgers should minimize the downside of his poor groundball rate, so we might not see him dealt to Toronto for another couple of years. Even a decent spring should result in Brooks opening 2005 in the majors, so feel free to roster him as soon as you him compile a few solid outings.


Luis D. Figueroa, 27, 3B-R
95/321 for .296/.353/.399 with 6 HR, 44 RBI, 40 R, 2/4 SB%,
and a 25:37 BB:K for AAA Nashville(PCL).

Impressive plate discipline alone does not seem sufficient to warrant Figueroa even a cup-of-coffee from any team. As he owns little speed and power potential, don't expect him to reach the majors in the near future barring severe injury problems on the left side of an infield.


Keith McDonald, 31, C-R
70/274 for .255/.342/.380 with 6 HR, 30 RBI, 29 R, 1/3 SB%,
and a 34:58 BB:K for AAA Nashville(PCL).

A sharp drop in McDonald's power production sabotaged an otherwise decent season highlighted by his best walk rate in a few years. While he probably deserves a chance to contribute as a backup backstop, McDonald appears unlikely to see much more time in the majors.


Jeff Miller, 24, RH Reliever
5-4 and 18 Saves on a 79:28 K:BB in 68 IP over 52 G
with 48 H, 8 HR, and a 2.91 ERA for AA Altoona(EL).

Members of the Pirates' cadre of impressive upper-level pitching prospects eventually should fill most spots on the Pittsburgh pitching staff, but the success of their AA closer should keep him in competition for a big league job. Miller boosted his strikeout rate to 10.5 from only a 7.0 mark in the Carolina League last year while only suffering a mild increase in his walk rate. Although I suspect Miller will peak as AAAA fodder, his improved dominance merits a look in spring training.


Justin Reid, 27, RH Starter
5-3 on a 121:35 K:BB in 122.2 IP over 16 GS(32G)
with 112 H, 18 HR, and a 3.96 ERA for AAA Nashville(PCL).
0-1 on a 1:3 K:BB in 3 IP over 1 GS
with 6 H, 1 HR, and a 9.00 ERA for AA Altoona(EL).

While Reid lacks the upside of most Pirates' pitchers, he clearly deserves a chance to contribute in the majors after a second straight strong AAA campaign. Yes, you need to wait until he registers several solid big league outings before rostering him anywhere, but Reid belongs in Pittsburgh much more than another inconsistent veteran free agent.


Rich Thompson, 25, OF-L
0/1 for .000/.000/.000 with 0 HR, 0 RBI, 1 R, 1/1 SB%,
and a 0:0 BB:K for Kansas City.
118/411 for .287/.348/.404 with 5 HR, 36 RBI, 73 R, 40/55 SB%,
and a 26:62 BB:K for AAA Nashville(PCL).

Kansas City surprisingly returned the Rule 5 pick to Pittsburgh in April, allowing Thompson to spend his first full season at AAA. He again demonstrated solid speed skills, however diminished plate discipline should keep him in the minors for a couple more years. Yes, Thompson could earn double-digit value as soon he begins playing regularly as a reserve outfield, but wait until he finds that big league job before rostering him.


Minor League Draft Picks

Rajai Davis, 24, OF-S
160/509 for .314/.388/.424 with 5 HR, 38 RBI, 91 R, 57/72 SB%,
and a 59:60 BB:K for A+ Lynchburg(Car).

Two straight strong seasons of A-ball for the former 38th round pick merit some attention given the upside suggested by his plate discipline and speed skills. However, Davis possesses little power and appears highly unlikely to develop into a better player than Nate McLouth, who performed similarly this year at a younger age while at a higher level. Don't draft Davis in the spring in any save the deepest NL leagues, but if he echoes these marks in the upper minors next year, he might warrant some consideration as a mid-season pickup.


Aside from players listed above, no other Pittsburgh prospect deserves consideration in 2005 fantasy drafts. Jose Bautista, Humberto Cota, J.J. Davis, and Mike Johnston each lost his rookie status by exceeding the service time minimum.


Organization Rankings

The influx of talent to Pittsburgh over the last sixteen months leaves surprisingly few openings on the Pirates' big league roster right now. Freddy Sanchez and J.R. House deserve at least bench jobs, however trading for Mark Redman leaves only two rotation spots for Josh Fogg, Dave Williams, and all the rookies discussed above. Don't be surprised if no Pittsburgh rookie earns more than a couple bucks in 2005, however the long-term upside of youngsters like McLouth and Duke give this organization more overall prospect depth than most teams in the league.

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. Milwaukee Brewers(J.Hardy, C.Hart, Krynzel, P.Fielder, Weeks)
10. Atlanta Braves(Da.Meyer, J.Capellan, Marte)
11. Texas Rangers(Kinsler, Ad.Gonzalez, C.Young)
12. Los Angeles Dodgers(Brazoban, Ed.Jackson, Loney, Joel Guzman)
13. Pittsburgh Pirates(Fr.Sanchez, McLouth, Z.Duke)
14. Florida Marlins(Hermida, Willingham, Stokes)
15. New York Yankees(Halsey, D.Navarro, E.Duncan)
16. Baltimore Orioles(Majewski, W.Young, Maine)
17. Toronto Blue Jays(R.Adams, F.Rosario)
18. Chicago White Sox(W.Valdez, B.McCarthy)
19. Kansas City Royals(Teahen, Den.Bautista, Maier)
20. Philadelphia Phillies(R.Howard, Bourn)
21. Houston Astros(C.Burke, Josh Anderson)
22. Boston Red Sox(H.Ramirez, B.Moss)
23. Cincinnati Reds(E.Encarnacion, W.Bergolla)
24. New York Mets(Lydon, Yusmeiro Petit)
25. Detroit Tigers(Granderson, Giarratano)
26. Montreal Expos(Hinckley)
27. Chicago Cubs(DuBois)


Today's Fantasy Rx: Gambling on any young Pirate pitcher is a definite risk due to the questionable Pittsburgh defense, hitter-friendly PNC Park, and the sheer depth of starters angling for a shot in the majors. Yet despite these drawbacks, both John Van Benschoten and Zach Duke merit drafting in almost every NL league.


Pittsburgh's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects for 2005
1. Freddy Sanchez, SS
2. Nate McLouth, OF
3. Rich Thompson, OF
4. John Van Benschoten, SP
5. J.R. House, C
6. Ryan Doumit, C
7. Zach Duke, SP
8. Ian Snell, SP
9. Tony Alvarez, OF
10. Andy Abad, OF
11. Chris Duffy, OF
12. Justin Reid, SP
13. Matt Peterson, SP
14. Brad Eldred, 1B
15. Bryan Bullington, SP


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