Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Prospects with Double-Digit Upside
Joey Devine, 22, RH Reliever
Do not make the mistake of viewing Devine, the twenty-seventh player selected this June, as comparable to AL Rookie of the Year Huston Street. Oakland allowed Street to dominate both A-ball and AA hitters after he signed then gave him an entire off-season to prepare for a significant role before keeping him at the end of camp. He then gradually emerged during the year as the best reliever in the league. Conversely, Devine didn't overly embarrass any minor league hitters prior to entering the record book as the first pitcher ever to surrender grand slams in his first two outings. He experienced arm problems, returned to the minors, and yet still secured the last spot on the playoff roster when injuries felled Blaine Boyer. Devine's season ended when he allowed a walk-off homer to Chris Burke to conclude the longest playoff game in history, sending the Braves home for the winter. Given his struggles and the possibility of Atlanta immediately placing him in an important late-inning role, Devine appears perfectly primed to disappoint anyone who selects him in the spring, so unless he remains available as your draft heads to Dollar Days, don't gamble on this highly risky youngster.
I admit James frequently faced younger competition while also registering an awful .35 ground-fly ratio. He similarly lacks the endorsement of most scouts, which could limit his upside in Atlanta. However, he also compiled a 193:36 K:BB in 161.1 IP with 103 H, 9 HR, and a 2.12 ERA despite skipping from the Sally League to the majors in one year. James absolutely should begin 2006 in the majors, and although he might settle for a career as a dominant reliever, almost every statistic here indicates plenty of potential for more than a decade of success in a big league rotation. Any pitcher who reaches the majors with a career ERA of 2.03 merits a pick-up in reasonably deep leagues - after all, he's Chuck James, bitch.
Improving plate discipline resulted in a strong second tour of Richmond for Jurries, so he easily could break camp with the Braves as Adam LaRoche's platoon partner and another outfield option. While he never will register truly impressive numbers, consider Jurries a viable endgame pick in any standard league where his power potential could net you a nice sleeper.
Four straight strong seasons in the low minors nicely prepared Lerew for the upper levels of the system. Although he simply does not dominate hitters, Lerew's consistent effectiveness places him on the cusp of the Braves' 2006 rotation. He should emerge as a perfectly serviceable starting option by next fall, though his somewhat limited upside suggests Lerew won't post particularly impressive roto numbers until he gains much more big league experience.
With Chipper Jones again appearing attached to third base, Marte now looks like trade bait for a team possessing fairly young impact players at most positions. Marte won't displace Jeff Francouer, and the Braves appear comfortable employing Adam LaRoche at first with some combination of Kelly Johnson and Ryan Langerhans in the other outfield corner. Hopefully some organization needing a young third baseman like the Rays will assemble the necessary package to obtain this future star since he clearly needs no more minor league seasoning. Marte registered a 4.18 #P/PA and .70 G-F in the majors, demonstrating welcome patience and power potential and now only requires an everyday big league job to fulfill his significant long-term promise.
Brad Baker, 25, RH Reliever
Although I recognize Baker failed to excel for Portland, he only needs slight decreases in his WHIP and homer rate to qualify as an asset at any level. Atlanta recognized his potential, swiftly signing him to a major league contract and placing him on the club's 40-man roster. I fully expect Baker to break camp in the majors barring a terrible spring, and with no set closer on the Braves, Baker just might sneak several save opportunities. Feel free to gamble on him during Dollar Days if your league allows fairly free movement of pitchers.
Consider Blanco an ideal candidate for the Rule 5 draft. He nicely handled the move to AA, demonstrating superior patience and respectable speed skills along side his excellent defense. Given the number of teams seeking centerfield help, Blanco looks like a perfect fit as a fifth outfielder and potential leadoff man if he maintains a high OBP as expected. Awarding him any playing time easily could lead to double-digit fantasy earnings next summer.
Prospects too young to drink generally struggle badly upon leaving A-ball, but while Hernandez's power effectively vanished, he somehow bumped his walk rate from .04 to .10 and his contract rate from .83 to .87. Exhibiting excellent defense with this newfound plate discipline provides Hernandez a dramatic advantage over T.J. Pena in the competition for the long-term shortstop slot just vacated by Rafael Furcal. Limited quantitative potential renders Hernandez useless to fantasy teams now, but he still should challenge for the starting job in Atlanta no later than the 2007 season.
A failure to exceed 325 at-bats in any of his five professional seasons effectively pigeonholes Pena as a backup albeit one of the best reserves in the game. His superb plate discipline this season indicates an excellent foundation for a long big league career, though please don't confuse Pena with Brian McCann or Jarrod Saltalamacchia, both potential All-Stars and long-term solutions at catcher. Pena simply ranks as an ideal endgame catcher barring the development of his currently unimpressive durability.
Atlanta again moved Pena closer to the majors, and rather than notably boosting his performance in any area, Pena responded by posting a sixth consecutive OPS under .650, even adding an awful 53% SB success rate to this miserable all-around performance. Perhaps he owns excellent defensive skills, but absolutely nothing in his statistical history indicates Pena possesses the offensive potential to play every day in the majors. Feel free to dismiss claims of Pena as a potential big league starter, especially as Furcal's replacement in 2006, as patently ridiculous since he is not and never should be a viable fantasy option.
Possibly the primary talent in an organization loaded with young catchers, the Braves' first rounder in 2003 owns dramatic power potential and patience for a developing backstop. Although his defensive inconsistency could keep Brian McCann behind the plate for the Braves, Saltalamacchia's bat will enable him to start almost anywhere on the diamond. Despite the likelihood that he will spend two more full seasons refining his catching skills in the minors, the offensive upside present here still warrants a mid-round pick in most prospect drafts.
Focus on the fact that Stevens will hit AA next spring shortly after turning 21. He posted a 2.27 ERA last year on a 140:39 K:BB in 135 IP while finishing a move from relief, and despite his weak command this summer, Stevens seems on track to join the Braves sometime in 2007. Only the risk of him shifting back to the bullpen keeps me from a heartier endorsement at this time, though if he starts strong in 2006, roster him as soon as possible.
Nothing here suggests that Thorman should replace Adam LaRoche in Atlanta. Thorman's plate discipline collapsed in Richmond, and while he performed nicely in the Southern league, he also hasn't demonstrated particularly impressive power potential in any of his five seasons as a professional. Future development certainly could boost Thorman's value, however I currently expect him to emerge as no more than an endgame corner option during this decade.
Kevin Barry, 27, RH Reliever
With little left to prove in the minors and upside as no greater than a middle reliever, Barry needs a change of scenery after Atlanta again refused to promote him. He may never develop into more than roster filler due to control problems, but his 10.8 career strikeout rate warrants a big league opportunity in 2006.
The Braves nabbed Bourgeois off waivers from Texas near the end of spring training then watched his offense collapse in his first season above AA. His speed mostly vanished as he failed to progress in any way at the plate. Only teams with a solid BA base can risk rostering Bourgeois for his SB upside once the former second round pick reaches the majors.
A waiver claim in April moved Brooks into his seventh organization in the last two years, the result of a multitude of minor league transactions that somehow did not harm his development in any overt way. He looks like a perfectly serviceable southpaw specialist who lacks the control to earn a more significant role in the majors, rendering him basically useless to fantasy teams.
Inconsistent control kept Childers from joining the Braves despite another very effective performance from the minor league free agent. I still expect him to merit fantasy attention once some club recognizes his repeatedly impressive AAA campaigns should translate into success in the majors.
The younger Childers brother beat his more dominant sibling to the majors thanks to superior control and endurance. While Matt Childers still seems destined for no more than middle relief, receiving this opportunity with the Braves places him on track for a larger role in 2006, potentially giving him value as no less than roster filler next summer.
Perhaps remaining in the bullpen will result in extended success for Curtis following repeated failures as a starter in the upper levels of the system. Hopefully Curtis also will take advantage of minor league free agency this winter to find an organization more willing to give him at least a brief look in the majors, a reasonable expectation after eight mostly solid seasons in the Braves' organization.
Joseph finally appeared on the cusp of blossoming a year ago after registering a .272/.354/.322 performance on a 48:90 BB:K in 423 AB in the Carolina League. Instead, the promotion to AA left his plate discipline in tatters and his overall offensive output plummeted. Even expecting him to develop into a useful fifth outfielder seems somewhat outlandish barring an immediate reversal of his skill decay.
Look past the poor qualitative stats to see that 14.1 strikeout rate as Atlanta's lefty specialist. Combining such dominance with a steady stream of groundballs gives McBride little long-term downside and plenty of fantasy potential if his control rebounds as expected. He soon could emerge as an intriguing late-inning option or even return to the rotation, however a destined second tour of the Braves' bullpen instead leaves McBride as no more than an interesting player to monitor and not one worth selecting in any roto league at this time.
Injuries and massive problems at the plate cost this formerly interesting prospect an ideal chance to contribute in the majors. Even an awesome spring may not earn him a slot in an Atlanta outfield loaded with promising youngsters and one future Hall of Fame Gold Glover in center. Limited quantitative upside likely renders McCarthy useless to roto teams for the foreseeable future.
McConnell allows so many balls in play that erosion of his defensive support can translate into huge qualitative degradation. Although any lefty with his control should compete for regular bullpen work, he seemingly lacks the secondary skills necessary to avoid spending the vast majority of his career in the minors.
A return to affiliated ball resulted in a surprisingly solid performance from O'Connor, who hadn't pitched this well in the upper minors since 2000. Unfortunately, command problems still leave him set for a permanent move to the bullpen as I don't see him pushing toward the majors in his current role.
The long-time Cleveland farmhand posted the third-best OPS of his career in his second full AAA campaign. However, with his speed seemingly gone and relatively little power potential, Pratt will need plenty of luck even to land a reserve job in the majors. Only an abrupt and completely unlikely rebound in his steal total could bump Pratt from the outskirts of the fantasy radar.
Schuerholz finally justified his selection as an eighth round pick in 2002 by managing the best performance of his career upon departing A-ball. Of course, he then jumped to AAA far too quickly and now will enter 2006 in desperate need to echo his Mississippi numbers. Make sure he maintains solid plate discipline closer to the majors before even considering the future big league reserve as roster filler.
Lacking almost any semblance of power shouldn't keep Snead out of the majors given his other skills. Any team employing even basic tactical strategies could use his speed, plate discipline, and defense as a fifth outfielder, so his failure to so much as earn a September call-up in two of the last four seasons strikes me as a poor use of resources. Snead certainly still owns the SB potential to help fantasy teams, so absolutely feel free to take a flyer here whenever you see him appear on your free agent list.
Two dominant months in Mississippi earned Vasquez a chance with the Braves. Despite performing quite well for a month, the downshift from 12 to 11 pitchers at the break forced Vasquez back to the minors, where he combusted in the second half on his way to a DFA and minor league free agency. He still appears fully prepared to contribute in any big league bullpen that needs a strikeout artist and doesn't mind his control problems. Consequently, Vasquez remains a good bet to emerge as a useful late-inning option within the next couple of years and ranks as a safer signing this winter than any free agent reliever changing teams in the past month.
Another failure to dominate AAA hitters further depresses Ward's slipping upside from future closer to middle reliever. While I still see plenty to like here, Ward simply must reach the majors at this point before warranting any fantasy consideration.
Generally organizations that employ well over a dozen rookies in a season both fail to make the playoffs and deplete their minor league system. The Braves used eighteen rookies this summer, won the deepest division in the game, and still own an impressive cadre of youngsters. Yes, graduating Jeff Francoeur, Kelly Johnson, Ryan Langerhans, Brian McCann, Pete Orr, Kyle Davies, and Blaine Boyer in one season costs Atlanta rookie depth, however I still see several intriguing players here. Marte and James highlight a solid group of prospects in a system primed with a couple future impact players at almost every level. Only a relative lack of depth concerns me even though plenty of long-term jobs also remain available in Atlanta for everyone discussed above. The Braves remain a consistently productive source of developing fantasy baseball talent.
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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