Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Beginning with today's article on Baltimore's prospects, I will review minor leaguers who could succeed in the majors in 2006 if given the necessary playing time, discussing one franchise each day for the next month. While I undoubtedly will miss no less than several players who will shoot to the majors next season, I expect to cover most batters and pitchers who will lose their rookie status in 2006.
Unlike practically every other prospect analyst, I am only looking at the potential of these players for 2006 Rotisserie, Scoresheet, and other fantasy baseball teams. I will not examine defense-oriented players with few obvious offensive skills, nor will I analyze pitchers with obvious flaws that should keep them in the minors indefinitely.
I only will consider truly outstanding performers below AA if they appear able to excel in AAA by the second half of 2006 or if they should possess significant trade value in keeper leagues. Among players who spent all of this year in short-season ball, only a few prospects merit serious attention even in the deepest leagues as everyone else needs at least a full season of development time.
To simplify this process, I'm beginning with Baltimore today before alphabetically progressing through the remainder of the AL, which will be followed by the NL in the same order.
I make no distinction between recognized prospects and likely minor league free agents, as long as the player demonstrates fantasy potential, retains MLB rookie status for 2006, and participated in affiliated minor league baseball this year. If you know of any decent prospects who missed the entire regular season, like Val Majewski and John Van Benschoten, please e-mail me with their names so I don't accidentally miss them.
Bernie Castro, 26, 2B-S
Not promoted until September and then outrighted barely a month later, Castro might rank as the most intriguing minor league free agent available this winter due to his immediate potential to start at second base and hit leadoff in the majors. His 2.53 G-F suggests he correctly employs his obvious speed skills, and with his patience and decent defense, Castro offers no less than a strong pinch-running option capable of playing regularly in case of injury. If given the opportunity, Castro should exceed $20 due to the combination of his baserunning talent and plate discipline.
With little left to prove in the minors and a few dominating outings mixed among his late-season disasters, Maine appears the logical option to open 2006 as the Orioles' fifth starter. Only the gradual loss of his control toward the end of the year and some home run problems marred an otherwise decent skill set. Considering Maine merely received 36 starts between short-season ball and Ottawa, his relatively consistent improvement still really impresses me. I see no reason he shouldn't emerge as a reliable option for both Baltimore and fantasy teams as soon as next summer.
Penn exploded up the prospect charts in 2004, compiling a 122:48 K:BB in 136 IP while receiving two in-season promotions to finish the year at Bowie. While skipping him to the majors this summer proved a mistake given his abysmal command, nothing in his minor league stats dims his future in any way. I still consider him an excellent long-term rotation lock for the Orioles if he can adhere nearer the career path of Daniel Cabrera rather than that of Denny Bautista. Consequently, if Penn posts a few strong AAA starts in the spring, feel free to add him whenever he rejoins Baltimore.
Although Chris Ray appears the easy frontrunner for any save opportunities if the Orioles neither re-sign B.J. Ryan nor add another veteran, Rakers' excellent skills merit a look in a significant late-inning role. Of course, Baltimore's unreasonably extreme hesitance in promoting him over the last several years suggests he will need a significant break to leave his middleman pigeonhole. He also probably possess more value to the Orioles outside of the closer's role, so treat Rakers as merely a safe reliever likely to contribute a few bucks of profit for a minimal investment.
While I want to endorse him as an intriguing rookie option likely to contribute as an Orioles' 1B/DH, the massive Young simply lacks the power and patience necessary to secure an everyday big league role right now. Nevertheless, a decent BA might cover his other deficiencies, so you still need to view him as a likely fantasy contributor. Given increasing his OPS by a hundred points in a return visit to Ottawa also would boost his immediate upside nicely, treat Young as a sleeper worth a late-round gamble rather than a potential Rookie of the Year.
I do not know why Baltimore allowed Britton to spend all summer embarrassing Carolina League hitters rather than pushing him up the organization ladder, but I cannot recommend any reliever until he demonstrates some effectiveness above A-ball. At least Britton's clear dominance should allow him to avoid following Aaron Rakers into a multi-year trek through nearly all the team's affiliates. Even echoing this 12.7 K/9 with a 5.4 H/9 at Bowie will let Britton approach the majors next fall. While drafting Britton in the spring remains a mistake, monitoring his progress during 2006 could pay off nicely in the near future.
Baltimore's promotion of Fiorentino to the majors for a few weeks of part-time duty in the spring ranks among the worst prospect handlings of this year. Nothing in his statistical history indicated any ability to produce in the majors right now, and although he posted a decent 3.81 #P/PA, his overall performance impressed few. Fiorentino still should develop into a capable starter, but his currently weak plate discipline suggests he should not return to Baltimore as a regular sooner than the fall of 2007.
Johnson continued his slow progress through the minors, advancing a level to Frederick while roughly maintaining his previous skill level. Although the high strikeout total will push him up most prospect rankings, the increases in both his walk rate and innings pitched concern me. He certainly could contribute in the majors in the near future, but I want to see Johnson echo this performance above A-ball before endorsing his acquisition even in long-term deep keeper leagues.
Merely remaining healthy qualifies 2006 as a successful campaign for Loewen, yet he also frequently dominated hitters, compiling an intriguing skill set that includes a 9.3 K/9 and an excellent 2.58 G-F. The fourth overall pick in 2002 still suffers from control problems that suggest he needs a couple more years of seasoning, but while investing in him now looks rather risky, monitoring his progress seems wise. Any noticeable drop in his walk rate could move him toward the majors very quickly.
Labrum surgery cost Majewski the entire season and should force him back to AA Bowie at the start of 2006. Frequent promotions also resulted in Majewski losing the superb plate discipline he demonstrated in the Sally League only two years ago, so although he still owns strong skills, avoid him until he both appears healthy and demonstrates some semblance of his seven respectable skills.
The Orioles' future right fielder could join the big league club any time next season and then likely not depart the starting lineup for the rest of the decade. Markakis owns every batting skill necessary to emerge as a dominant offensive force if he continues developing as expected. Given the organization appears fully committed to letting him mature into a star, he ranks as the safest Baltimore prospect to own in any long-term fantasy league, so strongly consider taking advantage of any opportunity to grab him for your team before he reaches the majors.
The former 33rd round pick continues to approach the majors, shifting back into the rotation after his promotion from A-ball. Birkins actually posted the best overall numbers of his career in his first AA tour, and given his skill set, he easily should emerge as no less than a decent reliever. While he lacks much fantasy value now, Birkins only needs to maintain his effectiveness at AAA Ottawa to warrant a promotion to Baltimore in some capacity.
First sliding back to Bowie and then to the bullpen sharply dims Bruback's immediate prospects despite his strong AA skill set. I still see no reason he can't contribute in the majors, but after his last two relatively mediocre seasons, he now clearly seems destined to be no more than bullpen filler.
Another respectable minor league season finally earned Calzado a call-up, whereupon he scarcely saw any action and now again appears headed out the door as a minor league free agent. Owning some speed, contact skills, and position flexibility suggests he deserves consideration for a utility job, but barring an injury-related opportunity, Calzado shouldn't contribute to fantasy teams any time soon.
Among the most underrated minor league journeymen, Darula generally demonstrates strong plate discipline, good patience, and a little speed. While his lack of power limits his upside, he only needs one decent opportunity to emerge as a solid big league bench player even capable of earning at least consideration as roster filler in most leagues.
The combination of a career-high BA and AB total resulted in a surprisingly decent season for the fairly unimpressive Fahey. Of course, Fahey essentially echoed his 2004 performance while adding 50 points of BA and 300 AB, so any drop in his contact skills will render Fahey completely useless. Even the possibility of a few steals won't give him any fantasy value once he begins appearing in the majors as a defensive replacement.
Posting a 4.01 #P/PA mildly intrigues me, but his overall performance for the Orioles, especially his troubling 2.27 G-F, indicates little upside for Freire. The minor league journeyman now appears headed elsewhere as a minor league free agent, and after failing to take full advantage of this opportunity, he might not receive a comparable look in the future.
Unable to carry to Bowie the gains he made when repeating the Carolina League, Johnson now seems most likely to peak as a part-time player in the majors. With no dominant skills and a Baltimore infield that seems mostly set for the immediate future, he also possesses little fantasy value as a prospect..
Keefer continued finding success in his second year in the bullpen, effectively dominating AA hitters and emerging as a solid relief prospect. While both his walk and ground-fly rates concern me, he easily should maintain this performance at Ottawa, likely earning an opportunity to contribute to the Orioles' bullpen no later than 2007.
The complete collapse of Mitchell's strikeout rate upon moving from Bowie to Ottawa significantly reduces his odds of reaching the majors any time soon. A mostly unimpressive skill set leaves Baltimore with little reason to promote him, and barring an abrupt rebound that echoes his 2004 stat line, you definitely should avoid Mitchell if he somehow joins the Orioles as bullpen filler.
Morris now looks like one of the Orioles' better pitching prospects despite his advanced age. Finally spending the entire season at one level without any trips to A+ Frederick for the first time in his five-year career, he compiled a 10.1 K/9 that at least heralds a very bright future out of the bullpen. Further control improvement may even result in some big league starts, but I instead suspect Morris will emerge as a solid middle reliever after another year or two of seasoning.
Pitching with relative effectiveness at Ottawa places Ormond in position for one more promotion, but with no overwhelming skills and an inconsistent statistical history, gambling on him in fantasy leagues looks like a mistake. Nothing here indicates a big league future involving anything more than middle relief and then coaching.
Finishing a move to the bullpen allowed Piersoll to blossom into a very intriguing relief prospect. Of course, his age effectively negates any significant chance of emerging as a fantasy factor barring a big league bullpen collapse, but he at least shouldn't hurt you if needed as roster filler in the near future.
Leaving Pond at Bowie all season despite a tremendous need for capable big league outfielders indicates the organization's general opinion of the minor league journeyman. An abundance of strikeouts coupled with unimpressive power more than offsets his defensive flexibility and touch of patience, so I don't see him contributing above the minors at any point.
The former top prospect in the organization finally reached the majors yet still lacks any significant offensive abilities. Of course, Reed's solid AAA BA partially obscured a lack of any relevant secondary skills outside of his decent power. Consistently weak plate discipline and his failure even to remain at AAA until this year leave him as no more than a potential future reserve unworthy of much fantasy attention.
Baltimore's failure to promote successful relievers on the same timetable as scout-preferred prospects not only unfairly limits otherwise intriguing options like Aaron Rakers and Rleal but also results in unnecessary overpayment for veteran pitchers. Yes, Rleal nicely echoed his 2004 performance, however he belonged at AAA Ottawa this summer instead of receiving more AA save opportunities. While I still like his upside, Rleal definitely appears in need of a change of scenery before he will merit much roto attention.
With this expected decline in across-the-board offensive production upon leaving AA Bowie, Rogers finally appeared headed out of the organization, which for most of the past several years falsely promoted him as a probable shortstop solution. Perhaps he could contribute as a defensive replacement on some teams, but nothing here provides any hope for a future place on successful fantasy teams.
Do not mistake Whiteside for a viable fantasy option despite his formerly respectable status on several prospect lists. He owns scarce offensive skills outside of a little power, so while he might spend next year as a big league back-up, Whiteside will not manage a sufficient quantitative output to compensate for his poor average.
Clear openings exist in the primary power spots in Baltimore's lineup. With only Jay Gibbons looking overly likely to occupy any position in the LF/RF/1B/DH side of the defensive spectrum, Young, Markakis, Majewski, and even Fiorentino soon could emerge as Baltimore regulars. Nevertheless, I fully expect the Orioles instead to add 2-3 high-priced veteran options over the winter, sharply reducing the current fantasy value of their hitting prospects. The high likelihood of a couple of veteran pitchers also joining the team similarly limits the immediate opportunities for Maine, Penn, and Rakers to contribute in any significant way, though I at least consider their odds of emerging in 2006 far better than those of the club's most promising hitters. Perhaps more importantly, the general uncertainty regarding the entire organization limits the reasonable trade value of most of these youngsters, leaving the Orioles no better than a questionable target for bargain prospect hunters. You probably shouldn't leave the draft with anyone here outside of Maine, Markakis, possibly Rakers, and if he breaks camp in the majors, Castro.
Current ranking of potentially helpful fantasy depth for teams discussed thus far in 2005, 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. Baltimore Orioles(Markakis, Maine, W.Young)
7:05: St. Louis@Houston
As we mostly expected a Houston sweep of the SD/STL winner, I see no reason why Pettitte can't close out the Cardinals tonight, setting up a superb match-up in the World Series between two tremendous factions of very long-suffering baseball fans.
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