Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
With respectable credentials at first base and the outfield corners, Gall remains the Cardinals' best option in case Albert Pujols, Larry Walker, or Reggie Sanders suffers an injury. Since all three players appear somewhat fragile, Gall deserves every chance to break camp in the majors. Of course, he merited the same shot last year and yet didn't earn even a cup-of-coffee, so I suspect Gall needs a change of scenery to receive the big league opportunity his performance warrants. A Dollar Days' gamble on Gall after a strong camp could pay welcome dividends.
Carmen Cali, 26, LH Reliever
Hopefully a poor AFL ERA won't result in the Cardinals ignoring Cali's 15:4 K:BB in 13.1 AFL innings or his excellent work during the regular season. Yes, his hit and walk rates skyrocketed in St. Louis, however he demonstrated respectable strikeout and ground-fly rates, suggesting that Cali could replace Steve Klins in the Cardinals' bullpen without a significant drop in effectiveness. Of course, he still merits no fantasy consideration until he registers several solid big league outings.
More shoulder problems cost Pearce about half of 2004, however he otherwise dominated hitters and seems set to join the Cardinals' bullpen if he stays healthy and pitches well during camp. While placing Pearce on spring draft lists is a mistake, don't be surprised if he emerges as a quality relief option by next summer.
Brad Thompson's injury problems allowed Reyes to burst past Thompson as the brightest young starter in the organization. The 2003 15th round pick dominated both the Florida State and Southern Leagues in his first professional season. Now Reyes appears likely to challenge for a rotation slot in St. Louis sometime next season. Given his outstanding across-the-board performance, I see few reasons not to gamble on Reyes in deeper leagues.
Thompson realistically earned his promotion to AAA in mid-May, but St. Louis left him at Tennessee until he broke the known minor league record for consecutive scoreless innings in his first season as a full-time professional starter. Unfortunately, shoulder problems soon waylaid his progress, preventing him from receiving the cup-of-coffee his performance merited. At least Thompson appears healthy now after accumulating a few decent AFL outings, and he should begin the year as part of a loaded Memphis rotation that should include fellow top prospects Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright. Since Thompson lacks the health of the former and the statistical history of the latter youngster, don't draft him over either of his likely teammates and only roster him before he reaches the majors in extremely deep leagues.
Although Wainwright never required surgery on his troublesome elbow, the injury cost him most of the season and now should prevent Wainwright from contributing in the majors before next summer. Walk, hit, and homer rate increases dim his prospect star, but at least Wainwright maintained a strong strikeout rate. While he still should develop into a top starter, expecting more than a September cup-of-coffee from him is a mistake.
An elevated homer rate appears likely to keep Axelson from reaching the majors in the near future. Splitting another season between the rotation and bullpen also increases his timetable. While respectable control gives Axelson a strong chance to contribute as a big league reliever at some point, he belongs on no one's draft list right now.
Bolivar finally managed respectable numbers across-the-board in his fifth AA campaign and second season at Tennessee. He now should progress to AAA Memphis, and if he maintains respectable batting and on-base averages, his speed skills should push him to the majors very quickly. However, Bolivar's relatively advanced age and inconsistent history indicate you should wait until he wins a big league bench job before considering him for any team.
Moving into the rotation unsurprisingly didn't result in a noticeable increase in Cook's weak strikeout rate, but he at least held posted a solid, all-around skill set, specifically maintaining his excellent control. While he shouldn't emerge as anything more than a capable middle reliever in the majors, Cook could develop into a useful WHIP asset.
Maintaining good command should result in Cummings eventually reaching the majors, but he appears unlikely to advance in the Cardinals' organization given the respectable depth of quality pitching prospects at the upper levels of the system. I don't expect to contribute in the majors in the next couple of years
Impressively rebounding from an awful .637 OPS at A+ Palm Beach(FSL), Duncan demonstrated solid all-around offensive skills as he dramatically improved both his walk and contact rates despite advancing a level. His performance easily compensates for four mediocre A-ball seasons and now makes him a credible prospect. Although I don't expect Duncan to develop into more than a serviceable reserve with St. Louis, especially after an unimpressive .244/.300/.489 line in 90 AFL at-bats, he could emerge as an acceptable everyday player by the end of the decade if his power keeps increasing.
Only two years ago Haynes posted a .312/.355/.510 performance in 504 AB for AA New Haven(EL). Unfortunately, after following his .252/.279/.442 2003 line at Memphis with this questionable effort, he no longer looks like anything more than a potential big league reserve. At least his power potential remains mildly intriguing, but I don't envision Haynes contributing to fantasy teams in the near future.
I'll take another look at Oakland's Rule 5 pick in tomorrow's Rule 5 review, but Johnson continued his impressive adaptation to relieving. While I still see no reason he couldn't develop into a respectable starter, Johnson ranks among the most dominant young lefties right now. Only control problems will keep him from emerging as an intriguing option next season.
While labrum surgery cost Journell nearly the entire season, he appears likely at least to compete for a bullpen job during 2005. Journell owns an intriguing skill history that indicates significant promise as a reliever, so although you shouldn't roster him until he secures steady big league work, he could emerge as a quality set-up man within the next couple of years.
Prieto again failed to earn even a cup-of-coffee following another respectable season, his twelfth as a professional. Of course, aside from good speed and plate discipline, he offers relatively little to big league teams, so only a succession of injuries now appear likely to provide the minor league free agent with an opportunity in the majors.
The primary return in the Tino Martinez trade, Rust failed to build on his impressive statistical history. His control problems increased, sabotaging his overall ineffectiveness and preventing him from earning an opportunity in the injury-depleted St. Louis relief corps. Although I still see sufficient upside here to believe that Rust will emerge as a quality big league bullpen option, he first needs to attain AAAA status before warranting much more fantasy attention.
Boosting both his batting and on-base averages to impressive levels in his second campaign at Tennessee should push Schumaker to AAA Memphis in 2005. His speed skills also returned, combining with improved walk and contact rates to give him mildly intriguing upside as a future big league reserve. However, Schumaker also won't belong on any fantasy roster until he demonstrates the ability to employ his speed and BA in a limited role in the majors.
St. Louis somewhat surprisingly added Seabol to the 40-man roster following the season despite not promoting him in December. The Cardinals apparently correctly figured that two seasons of posting an OPS around .900 for Memphis warrants a long look in the majors, especially from an infielder who only committed 14 errors in 138 games. Seabol should rank as the primary backup to Scott Rolen, making him an intriguing insurance policy in very deep leagues or a Dollar Days' pick with solid upside.
The minor league free agent quickly signed with Kansas City after the season, which should result in his first big league opportunity despite three straight strong AAA performances with St. Louis. However, while Stemle possesses excellent control, an obvious lack of dominance limits his upside, so don't expect him to emerge as more than a capable middle reliever.
Moving to the bullpen at least resulted in a promotion to Memphis, but his struggles with the Redbirds leave Stocks unlikely to receive much big league consideration in the near future. Consistent control problems throughout his career similarly render him useless to fantasy teams until he secures steady work in the majors while compiling solid skills.
The 28th overall pick of the 2003 draft only turned 19 in the middle of August. Few teenagers even manage passable marks at any level of full-season ball, yet after returning from an early injury, he posted a .22 walk rate and .86 contact rate, not to mention a .445 OBP that ranked second all minor leaguers. Of course, Barton still won't reach the majors until the summer of 2006 at the earliest, and he probably lacks the all-around skill to supplant Yadier Molina as the Cardinals' starting catcher. However, even though I can't heartily recommend him, Barton merits at least some consideration in almost every NL league since his combination of age, level, and performance give him as much offensive upside as almost any prospect, regardless of position.
The Cardinals upper-level starter trio of Reyes, Wainwright, and Thompson soon could join Dan Haren and Rick Ankiel in an extremely impressive homegrown rotation of young pitchers with significant long-term upside. However, I suspect injuries will limit the effectiveness of no less than two of these pitchers, and among St. Louis rookie pitchers, only Reyes seems somewhat safe right now. The organization also possesses few overly interesting position players, especially with Yadier Molina in the majors as the likely starting catcher. While Deric Barton warrants significant attention, the combination of long-term contracts for half the current Cardinals' lineup and the apparent plan to continue contending indefinitely leaves few other opportunities for St. Louis rookies in the foreseeable future.
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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