Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Prospects with Double-Digit Upside
Jason Ellison, 26, OF-R
Ellison demonstrated welcome average improvement in his second tour at Fresno. More importantly, he noticeably boosted his quantitative output, which should intrigue most roto owners. I see no reason Ellison couldn't contribute as a full-time starter, but given San Francisco's plans this off-season, only a strong spring even will give him a chance to break camp in the majors. Of course, feel free to roster him once he lands a big league bench job since Ellison could push double-digit value in a limited role on the strength of his speed alone.
Removal of a benign tumor from Hennessey's upper back kept the 21st overall selection in the 20021 draft from debuting professionally until 2003. His 44:27 K:BB with 81 H and 6 HR in 79.1 IP over 15 starts in the Sally League didn't indicate much immediate potential, but a succession of injuries to the Giants' big league staff this year resulted in a mid-season promotion from Norwich, where Hennessey pitched effectively without demonstrating great skills. Somehow he remained relatively successful for both San Francisco and then Fresno over the balance of the year, and Hennessey even pitched rather well in a couple of starts in the majors. However, he still largely struggled and should spend most of 2005 in the minors since he won't emerge as a quality starter for the Giants until his strikeout rate improves, making Hennessey an unnecessary risk for fantasy owners at this time.
Contact rate erosion from .78 to .70 sabotaged his numbers, forcing the Giants to look for additional outfield help this off-season rather than just hand a starting job to Linden. He at least managed a significant power increase while demonstrating better patience, which still indicates solid long-term potential. However only a significant spring training injury will provide Linden the necessary opportunity to contribute to fantasy teams in 2005.
David Aardsma, 22, RH Reliever
His April debut bumped Hank Aaron from the front of the alphabetical list of all baseball players, and while I still like Aardsma's long-term upside, he isn't an adequate replacement for Aaron. Rushed to the majors after accumulating only eighteen innings in the California League, the 22nd overall pick in 2003 continued to experience control problems, even compiling a 17:9 K:BB in 15.1 AFL innings. Of course, his solid strikeout, hit, and homer rates kept his ERA low at Fresno, so I expect him to emerge as a viable complement to Armando Benitez over the next couple of years before replacing Benitez later this decade, making Aardsma a good pick as soon his big league walk rate drops.
As he only turned 20 at the beginning of October, Cain's control problems at Norwich don't concern me considering he still remained effective over a half-season in the Eastern League as a teenager. He ranks as the brightest pitching prospect in the relatively deep upper-levels of the Giants' system and should debut in the majors next September. Nothing here indicates Cain won't develop into an excellent fantasy option over the next few years.
The converted pitcher posted the best numbers of his three-year career at the plate. Although Knoedler probably shouldn't spend much time as a big league starter, solid defensive skills and respectable offense should keep him employed for a long time. Like most other probable backup backstops, he won't belong on any fantasy roster until he begins producing in the majors.
With a career on-base percentage of .395 and respectable speed skills, the 2002 second round pick should emerge as a quality leadoff man within the next few years. Of course, his skills also remain similar to those of Jason Ellison, who can't even earn a bench job with the Giants. Lewis likely will spend at least a full year in the upper minors, so he doesn't deserve significant fantasy consideration right now given the competition he'll face in the upper levels of the system.
A quality performance in the Northwest League last year resulted in a triple-promotion to Norwich for Misch. He easily fulfilled expectations by demonstrating solid across-the-board skills and now should see at least some time with the Giants in 2005. While I can't recommend rostering him right now since he ranks below ten other pitchers already on San Francisco's 40-man roster, Misch definitely merits monitoring next season.
Despite missing the first several weeks of the season with shoulder tendonitis some late-season struggles as he moved up the minor league ladder, Valdez still compiled a 82:27 K:BB in 84 IP with 75 H and 8 HR, respectable marks considering he hadn't pitched above the Sally League until this year. Valdez still could develop into an ace, and the emergence of Noah Lowry and Brad Hennessey, as well as the return to health by Jerome Williams and Jesse Foppert, should give Valdez the extra time he requires before his next promotion to San Francisco. Definitely consider drafting Valdez if you see him available in any NL league.
Jamie Athas, 25, SS-L
With 27 errors in 124 games, little power or plate discipline, and weak speed skills, Athas shouldn't reach the majors any time soon. Of course, San Francisco's weakness for poor offensive middle infielders will keep him in the organization's plans, but Athas shouldn't contribute to fantasy teams any time soon.
The Northern League refugee caught my eye with an impressively effective performance for Norwich. Unfortunately, Begg severely struggled at Fresno and then only managed a 3.6 K/9 in the Arizona Fall League, so don't expect to see him in the majors any time soon.
Cervenak thoroughly trashed AA pitching in his fourth Eastern League campaign. Smacking 37 doubles and 26 homers this year, not to mention demonstrating solid plate discipline, earned Cervenak an AFL berth, where he managed a .274/.337/.405 performance in 84 at-bats. However, San Francisco didn't add him to their 40-man roster, and due to his weak batting and on-base averages at Fresno, Cervenak probably won't reach the majors in 2005 barring severe injury problems.
The minor league free agent re-signed with San Francisco for an eighth season despite limited opportunity to accumulate much time at AAA Fresno. Clark's SB spike this season accompanied an OBP decrease, leaving him with little chance to reach the majors in the near future.
Dallimore finally reached the majors in his ninth professional season. Developing plate discipline kept him reasonably productive for the Giants despite limited power and speed, and if given another opportunity, he could contribute even stronger numbers as a big league reserve. Unfortunately, Dallimore appears unlikely to accumulate more than a few bucks of fantasy value due to his minimal quantitative output.
Departing the Devil Rays for the first time resulted in a sharp drop in Gardner's strikeout rate, not to mention the loss of his AAA closing job. I no longer expect Gardner to contribute in the majors any time soon.
The combination of a double-jump from the Sally League and a full-time move to the rotation didn't faze Habel too much, however his relative effectiveness dropped due to across-the-board skill deterioration. While I still expect him to develop into a decent big league option, he likely needs at least a couple more years of seasoning.
Lunsford lost his 40-man roster spot to Justin Knoedler, however he should remain a potential replacement at Fresno for another few years. Unfortunately, his lack of offensive development suggests Lunford won't spend much more time in the majors.
While he finally demonstrated decent power this year, Niekro's unimpressive overall offensive skill set shouldn't result in more than a platoon job in the majors. I don't envision him positively helping fantasy teams any time soon.
I see just enough upside here to keep my attention thanks to a good walk rate and somewhat interesting quantitative upside. However, a sharp drop in Ortmeier's contact rate from .78 to .71 concerns me, so wait to see how if he rebounds in 2005 before considering him anywhere.
Managing across-the-board average improvement despite a promotion to AAA ranks as an impressive accomplishment for Shabala, who also nearly exceeded his SB total from the previous two seasons. Hopefully the Giants soon will provide him with a change of scenery since I don't expect him to receive much major league consideration in San Francisco due to the upper-level outfield depth of the organization.
San Francisco selected Taschner in the second round of the 1999 draft, and due to injuries, he only reached AA a year ago. He rebounded nicely from his command problems in 2003 to effective dominate at Norwich over the first couple months of the season. Yes, abrupt drops in his walk, hit, and homer rates at Fresno make Taschner an extreme risk right not, but any lefty starter with a good strikeout rate at least should succeed in relief, so don't be surprised if he breaks into the Giants' bullpen by 2006.
Torcato finally rewarded the Giants for keeping him on their 40-man roster over the last few years with a few strong hits down the stretch. Of course, he again failed to post a .700 OPS in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, so pay no attention to his big league averages and ignore Torcato whenever you look for fantasy help.
Three straight seasons of relative effectiveness at Fresno failed to earn the 41st overall pick of the 1998 draft even a September cup-of-coffee despite solid all-around skills. Hopefully the minor league free agent will find the necessary opportunity with another organization after his mistreatment by San Francisco. If Urban develops as I expect upon reaching the majors, feel free to roster him after he posts a few solid performances.
San Francisco's system appears headed downward quickly due to trades and Brian Sabean's relatively new desire to give away their #1 draft choice to save money. With no pick until #70 this year and likely no selections in the first two rounds next year due to the signings of Omar Vizquel and Armando Benitez, the Giants' pitching pipeline soon will see an abrupt drop in output. While the current big league squad remains competitive thanks to Barry Bonds, and to a lesser extent, Jason Schmidt, the organizational depth is diminishing rather quickly. Only a couple of upper-level outfielders and pitchers still overly interest me here, but don't expect to see rookies contribute any more than absolutely necessary due to Felipe Alou's increasing preference for veterans.
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)
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