Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Fausto Carmona, 21, RH Starter
While Carmona lacks the dominance of a few other starters in the system, his minimal downside and consistent effectiveness make him no less than a low-cost Jake Westbrook. Remember that the Indians fielded the third-best defense in the game, which reduces the drawbacks of low strikeout totals. Carmona's relative youth also suggests intriguing long-term upside, so feel free to bid a few bucks or spend a high minor league pick on the player most likely to spend 2006 as Cleveland's fifth starter.
A weak batting average and plenty of internal competition seemingly destine Cooper for no more than a backup job in Cleveland. However, with the Indians looking for more power and Cooper apparently more prepared for the majors than Franklin Gutierrez, and Brad Snyder, a strong spring training could result in an unexpected starting job. Of course, the likely publicity accompanying a rise in his potential value will translate into a higher draft price, and with Cooper currently lacking the skills to hold a BA much above .250, don't gamble more than a few bucks here under any circumstances.
After shooting from Stanford to Buffalo in fifteen months last year, Garko nicely consolidated his progress with a strong AAA campaign this summer. He appears completely ready to break camp with the Indians, and while I don't expect him to supplant Ben Broussard right away, Garko at least offers an intriguing platoon option, not to mention the best offense of any third catcher in the game. Consider him a strong endgame play with the potential to emerge as an everyday option by year's end.
A healthy Gutierrez again failed to demonstrate strong plate discipline, but his overall performance still warranted a September in Cleveland as a defensive replacement. He remains a strong prospect capable of one day emerging as a star, though nothing here indicates current preparedness for the majors. A full year at the highest level of the minors will give us a better idea of what to expect from Gutierrez when he supplants Casey Blake in 2007.
A consistently dominant season vaulted the two-time first round pick to the cusp of the majors. Sowers now appears set to compete with Fausto Carmona and any veteran holdovers for the fifth starter's job in the spring. However, since the Indians possess no urgent need for him in the majors, Sowers instead should return to Buffalo for a little more seasoning before teaming with C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee to provide Cleveland with the most dominant lefty trio in the majors. I see plenty of reasons to value Sowers among the most valuable young pitchers in fantasy baseball.
Power prospects that lose time to back problems at this age should frighten their fantasy owners. Aubrey remains a respectable prospect, and Ben Broussard's struggles this summer also continue to leave a clear opening for the 11th pick of the 2003 draft. Nevertheless, given he possesses no established performance record after three professional seasons thanks to recurring injuries, we no longer can consider Aubrey a vital piece of the Indians' future.
Although an oblique strain ended his year in mid-August, Bay otherwise continued pitching impressively after Cleveland swiped him from the Cubs for Cliff Bartosh at the end of spring training. Bay now owns a 357:74 K:BB in 378.2 IP, and although his failure to dominate A-ball hitters suggests a limited upside, Bay at least merits watching to see if he maintains his effectiveness as he approaches the majors.
Shifting to relief resulted in a fairly dominant AAA performance for Brown, the PTBNL in the Milton Bradley deal. He now enters spring training on the cusp of a serious bullpen role with the Indians, and while I consider Fernando Cabrera the likely long-term successor to Bob Wickman, Brown grades out as no less than a superb set-up man. Taking a Dollar Days gamble here, especially in 5x5 leagues, could pay welcome dividends if Eric Wedge gives Brown the necessary opportunity in Cleveland.
The 17th overall pick in the 2001 draft, Denham's surprisingly slow progress up the minor league ladder limits the consensus opinion on his long-term potential when compared to several fellow Cleveland prospects. Rather than subscribe to that dogma instead consider treating Denham as a 2004 first-round pick after three years at Pepperdine. While he does not compare favorably to Jeremy Sowers, Denham still started 35 games for Akron over the last two seasons, compiling a 4.08 ERA on a 158:61 K:BB in 216 IP. He avoided the dangers of abuse college pitchers face, accumulated three valuable years of professional experience, and now appears fully prepared to succeed at Buffalo. Denham's sharply improved hit rate also suggests an increasing ceiling, so although drafting him now is a mistake given the competition he faces in Cleveland, he soon could warrant significant fantasy consideration.
Claimed off waivers from Tampa in June, Diaz immediately rediscovered his lost command, dominating the Eastern League in several appearances before remaining an effective option for the contending Buffalo squad. Staying healthy this year automatically improves his status as a prospect, and while I don't rank him with the organization's best young relievers, he could contribute in Cleveland as soon as next summer.
Again repeating a level thankfully resulted in another marked improvement for Dittler, who remained healthy all season while demonstrating markedly improved control as well as an outstanding groundball rate. Unfortunately, the Indians do not need another soft-tosser with Jake Westbrook and Fausto Carmona already in the majors, so barring a move to an organization more desperate for consistent pitchers, Dittler will need to rediscover his A-ball dominance to reemerge as a top prospect.
With a couple of established young veterans in the majors and several more dominant starting pitching prospects rising through the system, the Indians should not require Guthrie's services as anything more than a reliever. Despite his Stanford pedigree as the 22nd pick of the 2002 draft, he only appears to possess a good chance to break camp with Cleveland if he settles into middle relief, a potentially jarring adjustment for the former star prospect. Guthrie merits no fantasy consideration until he secures as steady big league job.
Acquired from Toronto last year in the John McDonald deal, Mastny continued dominating hitters as he advanced up the minor league ladder. Only Mastny's advanced age when compared to Cleveland's best pitching prospects suggests a future in the bullpen. He appears able to dominate in any role, although I also see little reason to select him for your team until he reaches the majors.
Elbow problems limited Miller's progress this year, and while he maintained respectable command despite such difficulties, most owners should focus on the fact that Miller still has not pitched in the upper levels of the system despite tremendous buzz and a fairly exceptional 2004 campaign. Although no one should cut him this winter barring further injury developments, Miller appears unlikely to impact the Indians until mid-2007.
Right-handed first basemen from college normally can dominate at the lower levels of the system. Mulhern's sustained production in the Eastern League suggests a reasonable chance for an extended big league career. Although I do not consider him a likely starter on a team as loaded with 1B/OF prospects as Cleveland, even echoing these numbers during another summer will secure Mulhern's place on fantasy prospect lists.
Possessing both a dominant big league bullpen and a few top relief prospects suggests Cleveland's starters will not worry about losing late leads any time soon. Even mild control and home run problems should not keep Sipp from pushing to the majors by next September. The only reason to avoid him in fantasy leagues now is that the presence of alternatives like Francisco Cabrera and Andrew Brown leave little chance for the southpaw Sipp to emerge as Cleveland's closer.
Cleveland's 2003 first round pick arrived at the Eastern League on schedule while maintaining the power and patience that initially intrigued the team's scouts. Another similar season easily could vault Snyder ahead of Franklin Gutierrez as the strongest offensive prospect in the system with both prospects pushing for starting outfield jobs in 2007. With no Cleveland corner outfielder particularly established on this ascending team desperate for another power bat, selecting Snyder early in spring drafts might net you a very valuable property.
Kyle Denney, 28, RH Starter
One of the unluckiest players in recent baseball history, Denney's 2004 season ended when a random gunshot glanced off his leg in Kansas City. The 28-year-old followed that indignity by failing to avoid a line drive off the bat of Joey Gathright, which fractured his skull in June, forcing him to the DL for over two months. An abundance of prospects pushed Denney from Cleveland's 40-man roster, and despite a history of effective pitching, he enters minor league free agency with little chance of competing for a big league job in the near future. I no longer view him as anything more than potential short-term rotation filler for a second-division team.
Returning to Akron resulted in welcome improvement for Francisco, who needed a season to consolidate his skills after jumping past A+ last year. He still seems destined for no more than a bench job in the majors, but with decent patience, some speed skills, and passable power potential, he could enjoy a few years as a starter on a team with fewer options than the Indians.
In February, Cleveland flipped Corey Smith, their first round pick in 2000, to San Diego for Gautreau, the fourteenth player selected in 2001. Acquiring a potential starting second baseman with good power for a defensively-challenged strikeout machine like Smith added welcome middle infield depth to the organization. Yes, Gautreau ranks behind Ron Belliard, Jose Hernandez, Ramon Vazquez, and Brandon Phillips right now, but one injury and a couple of slow starts could open a starting job for the prospect. Teams looking for MIF power can feel free to roster Gautreau as soon as he appears on free agent lists.
An off-season devoted to improving the Indians' bench with veteran talent resulted in a full AAA season for Inglett. Unfortunately, even an outstanding batting average failed to earn him a September promotion, and barring a couple of injuries in the majors, I do not envision Inglett receiving more than the briefest of promotions any time soon.
Moving to the bullpen at least should speed Perez's path to the majors. While even his new role should not result in a significant big league job, Perez appears to own the skills necessary to remain effective even if no fantasy team can risk rostering him until he compiles several solid outings.
The veteran journeyman failed to return to Cleveland this year, and now his increasing credentials as a minor league closer actually reduce his chance of spending much more time in the majors. Poor command also worries me as his lack of dominance offsets both his relative effectiveness and an outstanding ground-fly ratio. Consider the minor league free agent as no more than short-term roster filler under the best of circumstances.
While the 2002 second round pick not only arrived at AA but managed improved ratios across-the-board, nothing here indicates much long-term potential to contribute to a loaded Cleveland pitching staff. A move to the bullpen might result in additional dominance, however Slocum currently ranks at the back of the pack of upper-level Cleveland pitching prospects.
Combining a consistently strong average with elevated steal totals as a switch-hitting middle infielder virtually guarantees Torres an extended career in the majors. While limited power and plate discipline should keep him in a reserve role, his SB upside makes him an interesting free agent for fantasy teams as soon as he graduates from the minors.
Minor leaguers with a .60 contact rate need outstanding power and patience to earn more than the briefest of looks in the majors. Van Every fortunately possesses intriguing skills in those areas, as well as a little speed, so although his low average will keep him from helping in roto leagues, some sim owners might find him very useful by 2007.
Three straight seasons at Buffalo suggest that Wathan will not find a big league job any time soon, considering he keeps returning to an organization that pushed Victor Martinez, Josh Bard, and now Ryan Garko past him to Cleveland. Owning decent power and patience only makes Wathan short-term roster filler for you even if he someday receives more than a weekend pass in the majors.
Joining the Indians as a minor league free agent helped Watkins produce another strong AAA season yet kept him from the big league job his skills warrant. Despite his potential to contribute in almost any role, you definitely need to wait for him to secure a steady job in the majors before rostering him anywhere.
Another savvy mid-season pick-up, Young adds even more depth to Cleveland's wealth of upper-level pitching prospects. His age and recent ineffectiveness perhaps sharply limit Young's status as a prospect, but he remains a groundball pitcher with decent control, thereby insuring at least a chance of succeeding in front of the Indians' forgiving defense if provided another big league opportunity.
Martin excelled this year, dominating AA hitters until injuries ended his season at the beginning of summer. Now Tommy John surgery, performed in July, likely will keep him disabled for the vast majority of 2006, rendering him useless to fantasy owners in all save the deepest of long-term leagues.
Injuries felled several promising pitching prospects, including Adam Martin, Kyle Denney, and J.D. Martin, costing the Cleveland system significant overall depth. Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Aubrey also failed to progress as expected. Graduating several waves of talent to the majors, including the advancement of future closer Fernando Cabrera this summer, additionally leaves almost no rookies ready to contribute. The good news is that Fausto Carmona and Jeremy Sowers look like long-term solutions, and barring further injury problems, Adam Miller soon will join Carmona, Sowers, C.C. Sabathia, and Cliff Lee to give the Indians an entirely homegrown rotation of potentially dominant pitchers. Garko, Snyder, and Gutierrez similarly seem headed for Cleveland's starting lineup in the near future, though the presence of fairly productive veterans throughout the Indians' roster presents the biggest challenge both for these prospects and fantasy owners attempting to find the next young impact player on a team headed toward playoff contention for the rest of the decade.
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. Boston Red Sox(Pedroia, C.Hansen, Papelbon)
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