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Your Daily Fantasy Rx
Post-2005 Prospect Review: Tampa Bay
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

Prospects with Double-Digit Upside
Likely 2006 September Call-ups
Potential Reserve Help
Minor League Draft Picks
Organization Rankings
Tampa Bay's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects

Prospects with Double-Digit Upside

Pete LaForest, 27, C-L
11/64 for .172/.243/.266 with 1 HR, 4 RBI, 5 R, 0/1 SB%,
and a 6:23 BB:K for Tampa Bay.
73/270 for .270/.318/.578 with 21 HR, 52 RBI, 41 R, 2/2 SB%,
and a 17:98 BB:K for AAA Durham(IL).

LaForest nearly replicated his 2003 performance at Durham despite a 50% drop in his walk rate. His decreased patience continues to limit his long-term upside, but with the Rays apparently satisfied with Toby Hall right now, LaForest looks like a backup barring an unexpected trade. Although he possesses the power potential to post fairly helpful numbers, his vanished plate discipline renders his BA too much of a gamble to risk more than a Dollar Days' pick here

Delmon Young, 20, OF-R
65/228 for .285/.303/.447 with 6 HR, 28 RBI, 33 R, 7/11 SB%,
and a 4:33 BB:K for AAA Durham(IL).
111/330 for .336/.386/.582 with 20 HR, 71 RBI, 59 R, 25/33 SB%,
and a 25:66 BB:K for AA Montgomery(SL).

Generally considered the top prospect in baseball, Young skipped jumped over high-A to Montgomery, where he won the Southern League MVP despite departing the circuit in July. He then posted a .750 OPS in the International League as the youngest AAA player, only turning 20 in mid-September. A minor late-season future erupted when the Rays correctly refused to promote him to Tampa. Rather than explain that his awful plate discipline in Durham indicated a need for more seasoning, the Rays stranded Young and B.J. Upton in the minors for no overt reason other than a desire to avoid paying their increased salaries in the majors. Thankfully the long overdue housecleaning undertaken by new owner Stuart Sternberg gives everyone a clean slate heading into 2006, though even if Young begins the year in Tampa, his natural skills should result in a solid season. Conversely, another couple months of development could result in the refined patience required for him to impact the league immediately upon his call-up. Of course, Young will take his place alongside Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli no later then the trade deadline, giving the Rays probably the best all-around outfield in baseball for the rest of the decade. His seven-skill talent mandates the top pick in any minor league draft and bids to the high teens if he breaks camp in the majors.

Likely 2006 September Call-ups

Wes Bankston, 21, 1B-R
88/301 for .292/.362/.482 with 12 HR, 47 RBI, 42 R, 3/6 SB%,
and a 30:64 BB:K for AA Montgomery(SL).
24/62 for .387/.513/.629 with 3 HR, 23 RBI, 15 R, 0/2 SB%,
and a 15:17 BB:K for A+ Visalia(Cal).

Dealing an outfielder for a top first baseman remains the most logical plan for Tampa, but Bankston's continued development since moving to the infield keeps him in discussions of the Rays' future infield. Two solid seasons in the Sally League provided the foundation for him to slam through the California League in less than a month to join Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes at Montgomery. Bankston understandably failed to pace Young, but he posted similar numbers to Dukes at a more important position. Any action by the Rays to use their surplus outfielders to add pitching or a third baseman boosts Bankston's value, potentially pushing a currently solid sleeper pick much higher in most minor league drafts.

Elijah Dukes, 21, OF-S
128/446 for .287/.355/.478 with 18 HR, 73 RBI, 73 R, 19/28 SB%,
and a 45:83 BB:K for AA Montgomery(SL).

Continued anger management problems increasingly dim Dukes' prospect status, but an all-around solid offensive season conversely pushes him to the cusp of the majors. The biggest problem he faces is that even if the Rays deal Rocco Baldelli or Carl Crawford, Dukes shouldn't supplant Delmon Young, Jonny Gomes, or Joey Gathright in the organization's OF/DH plans. You almost certainly should wait until Tampa sends Dukes somewhere with much less competition for at-bats.

Jason Hammel, 23, RH Starter
3-2 on a 48:27 K:BB in 54.2 IP over 10 GS
with 57 H, 8 HR, a .82 G-F, and a 4.12 ERA for AAA Durham(IL).
8-2 on a 76:19 K:BB in 81.1 IP over 12 GS
with 70 H, 5 HR, a .99 G-F, and a 2.66 ERA for AA Montgomery(SL).

A broken arm delayed his 2005 debut until May, though he shockingly progressed very quickly upon his return despite never pitching above A-ball prior to this summer. Hammel still suffers from inconsistent control and a troublesome ground-fly ratio, but he also clearly possesses the skills to succeed in the majors. Impressing management during camp even might result in Hammel beginning next year with the Rays.

Elliott Johnson, 21, 2B-S
69/264 for .261/.305/.375 with 3 HR, 21 RBI, 31 R, 15/20 SB%,
and a 13:68 BB:K for AA Montgomery(SL).
62/227 for .273/.350/.449 with 8 HR, 33 RBI, 42 R, 28/33 SB%,
and a 24:49 BB:K for A+ Visalia(Cal).

Rushing through the California League unfortunately left Johnson bereft the skills needed to remain successful in Montgomery as his plate discipline disappeared at the higher level. Yes, he still owns impressive speed skills and promising power potential, however unless Tampa foolishly moves Jorge Cantu off second base, I don't see the clear opportunity for Johnson that would allow me to recommennd selecting him in most spring drafts.

Francisco Leandro, 25, OF-L
88/248 for .355/.449/.569 with 8 HR, 40 RBI, 53 R, 9/16 SB%,
and a 37:24 BB:K for A+ Visalia(Cal).
77/253 for .304/.417/.431 with 3 HR, 39 RBI, 44 R, 11/15 SB%,
and a 45:33 BB:K for A Southwest Michigan(Mid).

Leandro continued to rake at the plate in his second full season. He owns a career OPS over .900, supported by a 119:94 BB:K in 750 AB, suggesting he should remain very successful against competition closer to his age at higher levels. Although I don't expect him to emerge as more than a reserve on Tampa, even approaching this output near the majors will warrant significant attention from other clubs, giving him a chance to win a starting job as soon as 2007.

Jeff Niemann, 22, RH Starter
0-1 on a 14:5 K:BB in 10.1 IP over 3 GS(6G)
with 7 H, 0 HR, a .50 G-F, and a 4.35 ERA for AA Montgomery(SL).
0-1 on a 28:10 K:BB in 20.1 IP over 5 GS
with 12 H, 3 HR, a .36 G-F, and a 3.98 ERA for A+ Visalia(Cal).

An injury-plagued season concluded last week with minor shoulder surgery for the fourth overall pick in 2004. I expect Niemann to require at least another year or two of seasoning before securing a rotation spot in Tampa, especially given his difficulty remaining healthy over the past three years. You shouldn't bother gambling more than an end round pick in deep leagues at this time.

Chris Seddon, 22, LH Starter
4-9 on a 70:43 K:BB in 95.2 IP over 19 GS
with 114 H, 11 HR, a .69 G-F, and a 5.46 ERA for AAA Durham(IL).
6-1 on a 46:20 K:BB in 52.1 IP over 10 GS
with 58 H, 4 HR, a 1.23 G-F, and a 4.82 ERA for AA Montgomery(SL).

Pushing Seddon to Durham in May made no sense given his unimpressive AA skill ratios. He understandably struggled in the International League and no longer looks like a particularly impressive youngster. Perhaps another full season in the minors will roster Seddon's lost prospect luster, positioning him for a big league job in 2007.

Jamie Shields, 23, RH Starter
1-0 on a 6:3 K:BB in 6 IP over 1 GS
with 9 H, 0 HR, a 1.20 G-F, and a 6.00 ERA for AAA Durham(IL).
7-5 on a 104:31 K:BB in 109.1 IP over 16 GS(17G)
with 95 H, 6 HR, a 1.26 G-F, and a 2.80 ERA for AA Montgomery(SL).

Spending a second season in the California League clearly prepared Shields for the upper minors. He demonstrated nicely respectable all-around skills and now continues to impress in the AFL. I somehow suspect he soon might move to the bullpen, however the Rays also have no reason to bump him from starting at this time. Feel free to consider a mid-season addition of Shields to your squad if he maintains these skills over several starts at Durham.

Andrew Sonnanstine, 22, RH Starter
4-1 on a 75:7 K:BB in 64 IP over 10 GS
with 71 H, 5 HR, a .62 G-F, and a 3.80 ERA for A+ Visalia(Cal).
10-4 on a 103:11 K:BB in 116.2 IP over 18 GS
with 103 H, 10 HR, a .80 G-F, and a 2.55 ERA for A Southwest Michigan(Mid).

Compiling perhaps the quietest unbelievably dominant season this year, Sonnanstine registered a dynamic 178:18 K:BB in 180.2 IP for an 8.9 K/9 and 9.9 K:BB. Only his poor groundball rate concerns me at all after he posted a 66:10 K:BB in 2004. Of course, like any control-oriented pitcher not beloved by scouts, Sonnanstine needs to repeat this performance above A-ball before meriting serious fantasy consideration in the vast majority of leagues, although if his skill set remains intact through a dozen AA starts, attempt to roster him everywhere you can.

Brian Stokes, 26, RH Starter
4-6 on a 70:28 K:BB in 93.1 IP over 16 GS
with 82 H, 8 HR, a .76 G-F, and a 3.47 ERA for AA Montgomery(SL).
1-2 on a 21:5 K:BB in 17 IP over 4 GS
with 15 H, 3 HR, a .88 G-F, and a 4.24 ERA for A+ Visalia(Cal).

Stokes returned to his 2003 form after losing nearly two full seasons to injury. As he still owns solid control despite his diminishing upside, Stokes soon should enter the pool of Tampa's AAAA starters, though most Rays' pitchers, he merits only minimal attention until he begins pitching well in the majors.

Jon Switzer, 26, LH Swingman
0-0 on a 5:7 K:BB in 4 IP over 2 G
with 5 H, 0 HR, a 4-5 G-F, and a 6.75 ERA for Tampa Bay.
0-5 on a 28:22 K:BB in 44.1 IP over 8 GS(17G)
with 64 H, 6 HR, a .67 G-F, and a 7.11 ERA for AAA Durham(IL).
3-1 on a 20:5 K:BB in 31.1 IP over 6 GS
with 33 H, 2 HR, a .63 G-F, and a 3.45 ERA for AA Montgomery(SL).

Perhaps Switzer still could start effectively, but after spending 2004 on the DL and watching his command fail upon his return, the bullpen looks like a better fit for the southpaw. A strong spring even might allow him to break camp in the majors despite a current skill set that suggests plenty of qualitative downside.

Potential Reserve Help

Matt Carnes, 30, RH Reliever
5-1 on a 39:15 K:BB in 54.2 IP over 37 G
with 54 H, 4 HR, a 1.05 G-F, and a 4.45 ERA for AAA Durham(IL).

Good control and minimum downside provide Carnes a solid skill foundation. Unfortunately, minor league free agent relievers with limited dominance rarely emerge as impact big leaguers.

Tim Corcoran, 27, RH Reliever
0-0 on a 13:12 K:BB in 23.2 IP over 1 GS(10G)
with 19 H, 1 HR, a 1.04 G-F, and a 5.96 ERA for Tampa Bay.
5-1 on a 49:22 K:BB in 56 IP over 29 G
with 49 H, 3 HR, a .89 G-F, and a 2.89 ERA for AAA Durham(IL).

Finally reaching the majors in his ninth professional season, Corcoran allowed his existing control problems to diminish his overall effectiveness. The good news is that he finished the year in Tampa despite his poor ERA and remains on the Devil Rays' 40-man roster, so he should receive the opportunity needed to improve in Tampa, perhaps even securing an extended job in the big league bullpen.

Fernando Cortez, 24, 2B-L
1/13 for .077/.143/.077 with 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 1:3 BB:K for Tampa Bay.
54/238 for .227/.266/.303 with 2 HR, 26 RBI, 26 R, 13/14 SB%,
and a 10:38 BB:K for AAA Durham(IL).
73/219 for .333/.377/.420 with 0 HR, 23 RBI, 39 R, 12/15 SB%,
and a 15:42 BB:K for AA Montgomery(SL).

Few of the Rays' promotions demonstrated any logic behind the moves, an understandable situation with Cam Bonifay running both the scouting and player development departments. Unimpressive plate discipline indicated that Cortez required another full year at Montgomery, especially since he lacks the power to compensate for any BA dips. Instead he struggled mightily for the Bulls and Rays, so although he should return to the majors in a limited role, Cortez shouldn't contribute to successful fantasy teams in 2006.

Jason Cromer, 24, LH Starter
5-7 on a 68:33 K:BB in 118.1 IP over 21 GS
with 128 H, 15 HR, a 1.21 G-F, and a 4.64 ERA for AA Montgomery(SL).

Another respectable AA campaign still didn't suggest sufficient upside for the Rays to keep Cromer from minor league free agency. His weak strikeout rate indicates a shift to relief would provide his best chance for further advancement up the minor league ladder.

Jeff Deardorff, 27, OF-R
84/336 for .250/.331/.440 with 15 HR, 41 RBI, 50 R, 3/5 SB%,
and a 42:82 BB:K for AAA Durham(IL).

The consistently productive AAAA journeyman unsurprisingly failed to earn a job in Tampa. Signing almost anywhere else will offer Deardorff a better opportunity to take advantage of the injury-related opening he likely needs to debut in the majors.

Brian Henderson, 23, LH Reliever
5-1 and 1 Save on a 49:21 K:BB in 55 IP over 48 G
with 62 H, 3 HR, a 1.73 G-F, and a 3.60 ERA for AA Montgomery(SL).

With a creeping walk rate and elevated hit rate, even Henderson's strong ground-fly ratio doesn't guarantee a promotion in 2006. He simply must improve his WHIP before earning a long look in AAA Durham, not to mention the majors.

Carlos Hines, 25, RH Reliever
3-1 on a 22:17 K:BB in 35.2 IP over 26 G
with 39 H, 1 HR, a 1.36 G-F, and a 3.28 ERA for AAA Durham(IL).
0-2 and 6 Saves on a 24:16 K:BB in 34 IP over 22 G
with 28 H, 1 HR, a 2.17 G-F, and a 3.71 ERA for AA Montgomery(SL).

At least Hines convinced management he deserved a shot at Durham even his primary sills collapsed. Disappearing command eventually will destroy any pitcher's effectiveness, so although his limited downside should keep Hines productive for now, he needs to cut his walk rate immediately to approach AAAA status.

Jim Magrane, 27, RH Swingman
1-5 on a 38:7 K:BB in 62 IP over 5 GS(26G)
with 95 H, 12 HR, a 1.94 G-F, and a 6.68 ERA for AAA Durham(IL).
2-5 on a 26:21 K:BB in 50 IP over 8 GS(9G)
with 63 H, 2 HR, a 1.61 G-F, and a 5.40 ERA for AA Montgomery(SL).

Beginning his expected move to the bullpen resulted in the worst year of Magrane's career. He previously normally managed a sub-4.00 ERA as a starter despite weak command, but with a shooting hit rate accompanying diminished dominance, Magrane barely still merits a spot above A-ball.

Darnell McDonald, 26, OF-R
101/359 for .281/.337/.457 with 13 HR, 38 RBI, 45 R, 7/7 SB%,
and a 27:81 BB:K between AAA Buffalo(IL) and AAA Durham(IL).

A 15-day suspension for steroids contributed to his release from Cleveland in June, yet Tampa's decision to sign McDonald absolutely baffles me. The Rays DFA'd Alex Sanchez even though he owned the third-best OPS on the team, wisely recalled Jonny Gomes to Tampa, and then added McDonald as part of the same set of transactions. While Gomes certainly deserved an everyday job, ceding his lineup slot to McDonald essentially undermines the Rays' apparent rationale for dumping Sanchez in the first place. Fortunately for McDonald, he finished with his best numbers since 2002 and definitely seems set to begin an annual trek to camp as an NRI somewhere.

Franklin Nunez, 28, RH Reliever
1-0 on a 2:4 K:BB in 5 IP over 5 G
with 5 H, 0 HR, a 9-5 G-F, and a 10.80 ERA for Tampa Bay.
5-1 and 3 Saves on a 34:21 K:BB in 32.2 IP over 27 G
with 32 H, 1 HR, a 1.30 G-F, and a 6.34 ERA for AAA Durham(IL).

A fairly awful campaign finally removes the prospect label from Nunez as he control problems unsurprisingly returns, overwhelming the otherwise fairly dominant reliever. His consistently weak WHIP could keep him from pitching effectively in the majors indefinitely.

John Raburn, 26, 2B-S
114/401 for .284/.351/.337 with 1 HR, 31 RBI, 62 R, 27/28 SB%,
and a 39:65 BB:K for AA Montgomery(SL).

Selected in the minor league phase of last year's Rule 5 draft from Milwaukee, Raburn continued developing his second AA campaign. His superb speed skills and consistent patience suggests plenty of upside on a big league bench. Raburn might merit a minimum FAAB bid from anyone needing a fast MIF immediately upon his eventual promotion .

Shawn Riggans, 25, C-R
97/313 for .310/.365/.454 with 8 HR, 53 RBI, 40 R, 1/3 SB%,
and a 26:69 BB:K for AA Montgomery(SL).

Nothing here suggests that Riggans will develop into more than a competent backup. He merits no fantasy attention until either his power or plate discipline results in a respectable performance closer to the majors.

Earl Snyder, 29, 3B-R
130/505 for .257/.320/.501 with 29 HR, 92 RBI, 80 R, 1/2 SB%,
and a 42:99 BB:K for AAA Durham(IL).

While the Rays allowed Snyder to play every day at Durham, he still somehow failed to earn a big league slot over Alex S. Gonzalez in Tampa. The scouting community's consensus regarding Snyder's defensive problems apparently will keep him from contributing offensively in the majors until some forward-thinking franchise slots the flexible Snyder as their 25th man. He needs to take advantage of his minor league free agency to find that organization.

Rico Washington, 27, 3B-L
136/454 for .300/.387/.500 with 19 HR, 77 RBI, 84 R, 6/11 SB%,
and a 63:63 BB:K for AA Montgomery(SL).

One of the more unfairly underrated minor league journeymen, Washington owns very good plate discipline and sufficient defensive flexibility to help plenty of teams. Hopefully this leap forward at the plate will push Washington onto additional talent radars and secure him a deserved NRI.

John Webb, 26, RH Swingman
0-1 on a 2:4 K:BB in 4 IP over 1 GS
with 6 H, 1 HR, a 5-8 G-F, and an 18.00 ERA for Tampa Bay.
10-6 on an 86:61 K:BB in 163.1 IP over 27 GS(28G)
with 165 H, 23 HR, a 1.18 G-F, and a 4.85 ERA for AAA Durham(IL).

Nothing in this performance especially deviates from Webb's career norms. He strikes out few batters yet generally remains effective thanks to a fairly passable WHIP. Unfortunately, his skill set doesn't warrant another shot in the majors unless he somehow improves in the near future or perhaps blossoms after a move to the bullpen.

Minor League Draft Picks

Reid Brignac, 19, SS-L
135/512 for .264/.319/.416 with 15 HR, 61 RBI, 77 R, 5/10 SB%,
and a 40:131 BB:K for A Southwest Michigan(Mid).

Demonstrating good power and some patience as a teenager in full-season ball suggests we can expect a bright future for the 2004 second round pick. Of course, risking a pick on most Midwest League players rarely makes sense, but Brignac's defensive skills could result in him eventually displacing B.J. Upton to join one of the best young offenses in baseball. Owners in deep leagues with plenty of patience could gamble an endgame pick here.

Aside from players listed above, no other Tampa Bay prospect deserves consideration in 2006 fantasy drafts. Chad Orvella and Lee Gardner no longer qualify as rookies due to exceeding the service time maximum.

Organization Rankings

Tampa still possesses a respectable system, obviously highlighted by Delmon Young, even after graduating Scott Kazmir, Jonny Gomes, Joey Gathright, and Chad Orvella to the majors this year. Unfortunately, those promotions, combined with B.J. Upton's previously lost rookie status, result in a significant drop for Tampa after a few years of annually fielding several of the best fantasy prospects in the majors. At least the Rays retain a stable of several potential rotation horses like Niemann and Sonnanstine, as well as about a half-dozen likely future starters on offense. Delmon Young alone would warrant a middle ranking, though given the immediate opportunities awaiting the better prospects here, only the uncertain new direction of the organization keeps me from awarding Tampa a top-3 slot.

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. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim(J.Mathis, B.Wood)
2. Seattle Mariners(S.Choo, J.Strong)
3. Minnesota Twins(F.Liriano, Kubel)
4. Boston Red Sox(Pedroia, C.Hansen, Papelbon)
5. Chicago White Sox(Br.Anderson, Ch.Young)
6. Tampa Bay Devil Rays(Del.Young)
7. Baltimore Orioles(Markakis, Maine, W.Young)
8. Oakland Athletics(D.Barton)
9. Cleveland Indians(Fr.Gutierrez, F.Carmona)
10. Kansas City Royals(Huber)
11. Detroit Tigers(Verlander)
12. New York Yankees(K.Thompson)

Today's Fantasy Rx: The general inability of the Rays to develop homegrown pitching prospects severely diminishes the current fantasy value of otherwise impressive youngsters, primarily Andrew Sonnanstine, Jeff Niemann, and 2005 1st round pick Wade Townsend. Risking a pick on any Tampa hurler, especially given the limited win totals normally awarded Rays' starters, remains a poor gamble on par with drafting Colorado and Kansas City pitchers. Perhaps the young and talented corps of position players soon will provide the support necessary to invest in these pitchers, but no current evidence suggests that the 2006 campaign will defy nearly a decade of unimpressive results.

Tampa Bay's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects for 2006
1. Delmon Young, OF
2. Wes Bankston, 1B
3. Elliott Johnson, 2B
4. Pete LaForest, C
5. Elijah Dukes, OF
6. Fernando Cortez, 2B
7. Francisco Leandro, OF
8. Andrew Sonnanstine, SP
9. Jason Hammel, SP
10. Shawn Riggans, C
11. Reid Brignac, SS
12. Jamie Shields, SP
13. Brian Stokes, SP
14. Jeff Niemann, SP
15. Chris Seddon, SP

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