Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Prospects with Double-Digit Upside
Stephen Drew, 22, SS-L
Waiting a year likely will cost Drew upwards of ten million dollars depending on the length of his three most significant contracts, yet his long-term future remains quite bright. He compiled a .337/.439/.708 performance with 6 HR, 17 RBI, 25 R, 1/1 SB%, and a 17:20 BB:K in 89 AFL at-bats, a strong output even considering the lack of premium pitching talent he faced, ranking third in SLG and fourth in OBP. Hopefully the Diamondbacks will give him another couple of months of seasoning, but even if pressed into service next spring, Drew possesses the power and plate discipline necessary to emerge as an offensive force by his sophomore campaign. A reasonably good chance to remain Arizona's starting shortstop over Justin Upton further solidifies the need to rank Drew with the most promising fantasy prospects in the game.
Jackson essentially emerged as the best long-term offensive prospect in the game this summer, but unfortunately found himself the victim of one of Bob Melvin's few atrocious managerial moves. I fully realize that Tony Clark somehow ranked among the top dozen hitters in the majors this year, however despite Arizona's moronic failure to deal him in the best sellers' trade market in many years, Clark did not deserve to start over Jackson for a team focused on the future. While Jackson slumped to a .609 OPS in scattered playing time, he still posted a .14 walk rate, .87 contact rate, 1.09 BB:K, 3.84 #P/PA, and a .94 G-F, all strong marks for anyone, forget about a rookie barely starting every other day. His minor league numbers include a stunning combination of a .21 walk rate, .90 contact rate, and 184 total bases, a number that if projected over 550 at-bats, would rank him third in the minors. Nothing in Jackson's statistical or scouting history provides any reason to doubt his future stardom, and if new GM Josh Byrnes commits to the rookie as I expect, he could blow past $20 in 2006 on his way to approaching $40 within the near future. Only the continued presence of Tony Clark may keep him from entering 2006 as one of four primary NL Rookie of the Year contenders.
Falling from a .332/.376/.587 performance in 208 AB for Tucson in 2004 to this disaster nearly removes Kroeger from Arizona's plans completely. Nevertheless, he roughly maintained his walk and contact rates while demonstrating completely unexpected speed skills. Kroger certainly appears capable of rebounding at Tucson and even contributing as a big league starter if the Diamondbacks clear a couple of expensive veterans from the big league roster. A strong spring training could vault Kroeger from potential mid-season solution to a superb draft sleeper.
Completely ignore the decision to keep Quentin in the minors all season. He doesn't require a 40-man spot until next year, so the team wisely allowed him to complete his apprenticeship in Tucson despite the near certainty that Quentin will open 2006 in Arizona's outfield. While either Stephen Drew or Justin Upton eventually should push Quentin to right field, he can handle center now and obviously possesses the bat necessary to contribute immediately upon his promotion. I considered him one of the premiere young hitters in the game before he spent the summer crushing PCL pitching, and if given the opportunity, he should contest long-time teammate Conor Jackson for 2006 Rookie of the Year honors.
Jarred Ball, 22, OF-S
The shocking jump in Ball's walk rate from .10 to .19 pushes him well ahead of teammate Marland Williams in Arizona's plans for future bench help despite his slipping power production. Yes, both his unimpressive contact and SB success rates concern me, but with likely AAA openings creating an intriguing opportunity for Ball next year, he could emerge as a tempting roto sleeper by the second half. Don't forget about this youngster when scouring late-season free agent lists for hidden steals.
Considering Carter a viable fantasy prospect right now seems rather silly considering Tony Clark, Conor Jackson, Chad Tracy, Shawn Green, Troy Glaus, and even Jesus Cota rank ahead of Carter on the team's first base depth chart. However, any decent prospect who compiles a .296/.377/.531 performance, accompanied by 31 HR, 115 RBI, and a 65:77 BB:K, certainly warrants a long look from any team. The problem is that defensive difficulties relegate Carter to first base at best, and with the Diamondbacks hopefully committed to Conor Jackson, Carter soon should find himself headed to an AL club prepared to give him a shot at DH. Unfortunately, Carter's skill set suggests the downside of someone like Jack Cust, who helped many fantasy clubs waste annual roster spots as he continued to flounder in the majors despite rather exceptional minor league numbers. Wait until you see some team commit to awarding Carter future playing time before adding him anywhere
Demoting Chico to Lancaster suggests that Arizona will advance him on a slower schedule, however considering he skipped A+ in the first place last year, he should embark on his third AA campaign next spring. The good news is that Chico finally appears prepared to succeed above A-ball, and with his all-around respectable skills, he soon should challenge for a job in the Diamondbacks' rotation. Chico may merit fantasy consideration as soon as he reaches the majors assuming he echoes his career skill ratios as he completes his rise up the minor league ladder.
Little in this performance still suggests D'Antona will develop into a long-term big league starter. Only a surprisingly strong walk rate qualifies as a highlight given he slipped further back from former teammates Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin. I thoroughly suspect D'Antona may peak as a AAAA cornerman barring far more consistent power production.
Rising from the South Bend bullpen in the Midwest League to the AA rotation on the basis of three solidly successful seasons keeps Gonzalez in Arizona's future plans. He easily ranks as the most consistently effective minor league starter in the system and soon should reach the majors in some capacity. Somewhat limited upside may force him to the bullpen, but if his skills continue improving as he approaches the big league squad, Gonzalez could deserve a fantasy roster spot as soon as he debuts.
Focus on his command, records, and ERA rather than the high hit total caused by pitching in the California League. While he certainly needs to echo these skills at AA in 2006, Mock's overall professional performance provides a strong foundation for a potentially extended career in the majors. Everything here qualifies Mock as a solid sleeper who could reach Arizona unexpectedly soon.
Leaping from a passable .263/.330/.409 performance in the Midwest League to this level of hitting dominance easily ranks Montero as the Diamondbacks' best catching prospect. While my main concern is that he faced mostly younger competition in a great hitting environment for much of the year, his walk rate also slipped, a weakness that AA pitchers clearly exploited. The presence of both Chris Snyder and Koyie Hill in Arizona similarly reduces Montero's value, so I see no reason to roster him anywhere at this time.
Murphy never seemed to recover from the partially torn hamstring that resulted in a late start to his season. His previously inconsistent command collapsed when pushed to AAA before he ever dominated AA. I worry that his irregular progress through the minors, coupled with careening through four organizations in less than four years, could result in slower progress for Murphy than most southpaws. Hopefully the Diamondbacks will send him to a lower level, allow Murphy to reestablish his confidence, and then begin promoting him steadily as his performance dictates.
Arizona rewarded Nippert's need for less than a year of Tommy John rehab with a September promotion to the big league rotation. He understandably struggled and now should return to the minors for another few months of seasoning. Despite Nippert's ranking as perhaps the best pitching prospect left in the Diamondbacks' system, he simply doesn't merit much of a look in fantasy baseball until he proves capable of succeeding in Arizona.
The former Adriano Rosario pitched respectably considering he only received seven starts above the Midwest League prior to this summer. An expected drop in his dominance unfortunately pegs him for a move to the bullpen sometime soon, though given his command, Pena should flourish in a limited role. Don't view him as a fantasy option until he reaches the majors.
Registering two mostly unimpressive seasons since reaching the upper minors seemingly leaves Santos without a future in an organization teeming with high-upside shortstop prospects. The degradation of his plate discipline combines with his failure to improve quantitatively to render Santos nearly useless as more than organization filler. Of course, Santos still possesses solid tools and certainly could rebound, even possibly winning the big league starting job with a strong spring. However, he instead looks like a good candidate for a demotion to AA in the hope that his bat will reemerge against softer competition.
Uggla's development at the plate reminds us of PCL MVP and AAA Tucson second baseman Andy Green, who should break camp next year in the majors, ceding his former job to Uggla. While no longer an obvious prospect, his across-the-board improvement following parts of three seasons in the California League suggests he'll develop into no less than a solid pinch-hitter and reserve infielder. Echoing these marks at Tucson could result in significantly more fantasy upside, so remember Uggla if he appears on free agent lists next summer.
The Diamondbacks' position players with good plate discipline shot through the system while the youngsters lacking sufficient patience posted simply terrible numbers. Zeringue's weak walk rate from his A-ball debut exploded into a disastrous approach at the plate in the Southern League. With a half-dozen superior outfielders in the organization and a relatively small window to secure an everyday job, Zeringue needs to demonstrate drastic improvement next summer or risk slipping out of the team's future plans for good.
Brian Barden, 24, 3B-R
Adding improved patience to respectable all-around skills should place Barden on the short list for a backup infield job next spring. His overall performance and consistent development do not suggest more than a couple of brief starting appearances, but he probably could contribute useful numbers to both the Diamondbacks and fantasy baseball teams as soon as next summer.
Arizona's tenth round pick from 2003 proved rather successful above A-ball, cutting his ERA by over a run due to a vastly improved WHIP. Although nothing here indicates Bass will emerge as more than capable roster filler, posting a similar performance for AAA Tucson will provide him an excellent foundation from which to compete annually for big league roster spots during spring training.
With little left to prove in the minors and only inconsistent control keeping his qualitative stats elevated, Bulger only needs a respectable spring performance to break camp in the majors. He even might compete for the closing job at some point in 2006, but with no less than three veteran relievers ahead of him, treating Bulger as more than roster filler right now looks like a mistake.
Failing even to maintain his fairly unimpressive power numbers at Tucson pushes Cota from mildly intriguing prospect to AAAA upside at best. Nothing here provides us any indication that he will develop into anything more than short-term roster filler.
Performing adequately for a couple of months in an unexpected return to the rotation resulted in welcome overall improvement in Freed's command. He now appears set to compete for a big league bullpen job next spring, through given his limited dominance, he shouldn't contribute to successful roto teams any time soon.
Hopefully the Diamondbacks soon will let Goocher shift to the bullpen since the last two years provide significant indication that he won't move beyond AA as a starting pitcher. His potential for succeeding at a higher level appears tied to improving his dominance while maintaining his current level of command, though given his difficulties thus far, even expecting him to pitch effectively at AAA seems somewhat unrealistic.
The lone relevant minor league free agent on the club, Myers finally appears set to depart the organization that selected him with the fourth overall pick of the 1999 draft. Seven seasons later he seems to lack both a set position and the bat necessary to carry his declining defense. Myers soon will rank with the worst draft picks in history if a change of scenery doesn't prompt long overdue improvement in his offensive output.
Remaining in the bullpen allowed Slate to handle a double jump from the Midwest League, managing surprisingly strong skills and possibly placing himself back in Arizona's future plans. Continued success at AAA Tucson could result in a late-season promotion this 2000 seventeenth round pick.
A nearly complete lack of power relegates Varner to no more than a reserve role in the majors, yet he at least possesses the batting average, patience, and speed to contribute even in such a limited capacity. While his regression from a very impressive 2004 campaign spent mostly at AAA Tucson certainly worries me, Varner still could augment a power-heavy fantasy squad as soon as the second half of 2006.
Thoroughly regressing in his second AA season reduces Williams from future leadoff man to no more than a likely big league reserve. Although his strong speed skills give Williams definite roto potential, persistent contact problems and a general lack of power leave him little significant upside. He won't merit a roster spot before the day he reaches the majors.
Carlos Gonzales, 19, OF-L
While nothing here wildly impresses me, Gonzales possesses an excellent chance to develop into Arizona's long-term right fielder, especially if Carlos Quentin remains in center. An offensive surge this summer pushed Gonzales up the prospect charts, because he demonstrated excellent power for a teenager in a full-season league as well as fairly respectable overall plate discipline. Gonzales should spend at least two more years in the minors yet now looks like your best chance to roster a potential building block for any fantasy franchise.
The first overall pick this June, Upton only turned 18 in August and did not attend college anywhere this fall despite Arizona's extraordinarily foolish failure to sign him this summer. Most reports indicate scarcely a million dollars difference in current negotiating positions, and to place that number in context for Snakes' fans, Royce Clayton earned $1.35M for performing worse than previous starter Alex Cintron this year. Nearly all scouts consider Justin Upton a superior prospect to older brother B.J., who also didn't sign until months after his selection, reached the majors scarcely two years later, and only returned to the minors this year for unnecessary defensive polishing. We dealt Zach Duke to obtain Upton in a long-term keeper league and believe the deal justified even though Upton won't reach Arizona sooner than the end of 2007. The Diamondbacks' new management might wait until June to sign Justin Upton, but they won't risk losing perhaps the best prep talent since Alex Rodriguez. Fantasy owners also shouldn't dally here, so expect Upton to leave the board with the first minor league pick of your draft next spring with the expectation of him approaching $50 by the end of the decade.
Only the Angels possess as many impressive young hitters as the Diamondbacks, but unlike Arizona's prospects, capable big leaguers block most of the Halos' top rookies. The Snakes conversely could and should deal every veteran position player to clear roughly $30M from the payroll while setting their lineup for the future. Deploying a starting lineup of 2B Andy Green, SS Alex Cintron, 1B Conor Jackson, 3B Chad Tracy, CF Carlos Quentin, RF Scott Hairston, LF Josh Kroeger, and C Chris Snyder should result in a net positive for the club, especially when Luis Gonzalez, Troy Glaus, Shawn Green, Craig Counsell, and Tony Clark all should bring additional pitching prospects. The future promotions of Stephen Drew, Carlos Gonzales, and Justin Upton then will allow Arizona to replace likely placeholders Green, Cintron, Hairston, and Kroeger with players possessing superior upside. Combining available playing time, a payroll capable of keeping these rookies in Phoenix for a long time, and more than a half-dozen impact prospects already pushes Arizona near the top of the ranking. Adding their reasonably respectable pitching depth to the equation bumps the Diamondbacks into a deserved place atop this list thanks to the fantasy potential of placing top batting prospects into one of baseball's best hitters' parks.
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. Arizona Diamondbacks(Co.Jackson, C.Quentin, S.Drew)
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