Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Rich Hill, 25, LH Starter
Hill took advantage of younger competition in the low minors to gain confidence in his dominant stuff, surging through the system this summer and emerging as the best rookie pitcher in the organization. He appears untouchable right now and could compete for a starting job next spring, a reasonable expectation given his outstanding skills at both West Tenn and Iowa. Yes, he struggled in Chicago in a variety of roles. Hill also turns 26 in March, making him older than Cubs' veterans Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano. However, any southpaw with these strikeout and command rates should enjoy a long career, so feel free to risk a few bucks on Hill even if he seems headed for a season of middle relief
The Cubs' frantic search for outfielders this winter leads me to conclude that Pie will not break camp in the majors. Apparently the difficulties encountered by Corey Patterson sensibly led to increased conservatism regarding the organization's best prospects, especially with ankle problems costing Pie over half of the 2005 season. While he remains an intriguing young player, Pie's decreasing plate discipline and questionable baserunning skills suggest he needs no less than another full year in the minors. Expect a problematic BA to accompany any big league contribution prior to 2007. Only consider Pie a safe bet if Chicago adds either two veteran outfielders or demonstrates a renewed commitment to Patterson while also picking up a new right fielder.
I absolutely expect to see Sing selected in the Rule 5 draft after the Cubs foolishly left him available while protecting Neifi Perez, Jose Macias, and Henry Blanco. While Sing lacks more than basic defensive skills (the ability to stand at third base or in left field) anywhere other than first base, his combination of power and plate discipline make him a very good comp for Chris Shelton. Nearly every AL team should consider Sing for a 1B/DH slot - Baltimore and Texas look like outstanding fits. He merits a couple bucks in the endgame as long as he breaks camp somewhere in the majors. Unfortunately, the rightfully immovable Derrek Lee renders Sing useless as long as he remains with Chicago, though that blockage does not qualify as an acceptable reason to give away Sing for nothing.
David Aardsma, 23, RH Reliever
Seemingly stolen from San Francisco with Jerome Williams in the LaTroy Hawkins trade, Aardsma simply could not handle the combination of an organization switch and a move back to the bullpen. His walk rate skyrocketed as he lost the faith of the Cubs' management. The 2003 first round pick desperately needs to refine his skills next summer to avoid further backsliding, as he registered a 3.09 ERA in 44 AAA appearances in 2004.
Moving to the bullpen did not result in an improved performance for Brownlie, originally perceived as the top talent in the 2002 draft. Of course, he pitched just fine as a AA starter last year, so I do not know why the Cubs chose to reduce his value this significantly right now, especially when they obviously lacked any desire to place him on the 40-man roster this winter. Brownlie still should enjoy a respectable big league career, but he merely looks like roster filler for now
With nicely developing patience giving Fontenot an intriguing skill foundation, his lack of quantitative upside should not keep him from playing in the majors. Of course, the Cubs instead removed him from the 40-man roster despite his across-the-board progress, so at least he may move to a friendlier organization for 2006. Fontenot possess the limited downside necessary to merit immediate consideration as roster filler whenever he returns to a big league bench with a chance to win regular playing time.
A Victor Santos pitch to Greenberg's head ruined his big league debut, ended his season in July, and caused him to miss an outstanding chance to earn regular playing time with the Cubs. He still should develop into a very useful bench player given his defensive aptitude, respectable speed skills, and impressive patience, but since he currently lacks a 40-man slot and continues to suffer from vertigo even expecting him to help as roster filler in 2006 seems unwise.
Anything Guzman provides the Cubs or fantasy owners will qualify as a nice surprise after arm problems kept him under a total of 160 innings over the last three seasons. The one bright spot here is that Guzman registered a 3.82 ERA on a 28:12 K:BB in 30.2 IP with 28 H and 2 HR during a very tough AFL campaign for most pitchers. Staying healthy looks like all Guzman needs to take advantage of his still-strong skills, making him an intriguing late-round gamble in deep drafts or a superb in-season free agent addition.
Shifting to the mound enabled Marmol to shoot up the organization ladder, first mastering A-ball a year ago before registering strong performances at two levels this season. While his inconsistent control leads me to believe he will move to the bullpen in the near future, Marmol at least deserves another year in a minor league rotation to see if he can refine his skills to a level that merits big league starts.
Acquired in the Kyle Farnsworth deal in February, Moore returned to the Florida State League and reclaimed his dimming prospect status. The eighth player selected in 2002 demonstrated welcome power potential in the pitcher-friendly circuit, even maintaining respectable plate discipline as he more than quadrupled his previous career steal total. You still need to wait to see if Moore repeats this performance for AA West Tenn before considering him for your squad, but he at least seems likely to earn a big league bench job in the fairly near future, if not an outright starting job.
The third player selected in 2000 finally posted his first impressive season at the plate since his AZL debut. Of course, Montanez needed to return to the Midwest League after spending parts of three seasons at A+ Daytona(FSL), but his solid all-around offensive performance again gives him some value to the team. While I worry that his move to West Tenn caused further problems with his development, the main problem with Montanez is that he no longer resembles the player drafted by Chicago more than five years ago. He needs to echo his Peoria numbers in the upper minors before deserving more than the briefest glance by fantasy owners.
Nolasco finished mastering AA competition this year yet failed to return to AAA Iowa after six poor weeks in 2004. Instead Nolasco appears as available as anyone in the system. Daily rumors during the ongoing winter meetings suggest he should switch teams by week's end, and since he deserves a chance to compete for a big league roster spot, a fresh start seems a good idea for the youngster. Of course, I disagree with the Cubs likely including him as a throw-in given his dominant upside, but now he will merit serious fantasy consideration once he reaches the majors next summer.
The Cubs gave Pinto six starts at AAA following his 2004 performance at West Tenn, which included an 11-8 record, 2.92 ERA, and a 179:72 K:BB in 142 IP. His control remained so terrible that he returned to the Southern League this summer, where he stayed for the rest of the season, essentially repeating his stats from the previous year. I recognize that Pinto's lofty strikeout rates give him as much upside as almost any rookie southpaw, but until his walk rate drops toward 3.0 BB/9 or he succeeds above AA, he won't merit a roster spot in any fantasy league.
Birdkiller reemerged as a solid prospect this summer and now appears near the forefront of the Cubs' trade discussions. Ryu remained healthy, finally translating his occasional A-ball dominace into AA success. He could reach the big league rotation next summer, especially if facing less competition for starts in another organization. However, Ryu's general inconsistency over the course of his career keeps me from recommending him until you see his name on your league's free agent list.
The Cubs thankfully do not need a new catcher with Michael Barrett behind the plate, but given Soto's plate discipline and defensive skills, hopefully the organization will deal Henry Blanco if given the chance. Soto at least should replace the parade of veteran backups by 2007. While he still could blossom into a capable starter, Soto merits no more than a minimum bid if he somehow breaks camp in the majors.
A late-season need for middle infield depth resulted in a surprise promotion for Theriot, whose limited power and inconsistent speed skills overshadow his superb plate discipline. Wait until he secures his destined role as a big league backup before risking even an end-round pick on the defensive specialist.
Bizarrely dealt to Boston for a PTBNL a few days ago, Van Buren deserved to spend most of the summer in Wrigley yet instead fell victim to Dusty Baker's professionally insane preference for experienced pitchers. Now he faces even more intense competition for a job with the Red Sox, but given his overall effectiveness since moving to the bullpen last year, Van Buren could thrive in middle relief. Any echoing of these skills in the majors will bump him from viable roster filler to solid fantasy option.
Dwaine Bacon, 26, OF-S
He never will play regularly and even might lack the BA to earn a bench job, but Bacon sizzles on the basepaths and will emerge as a useful fantasy player if he reaches the majors in the next couple of years. Teams looking for steals should grab him off free agent lists upon his promotion.
Backsliding to this level, during a senseless return to West Tenn following his .275/.363/.509 campaign in 2004, leaves Craig with little obvious value. Between his defensive limitations and unimpressive offensive upside, he may never see the majors as more than occasional bench filler.
Scouts may hate him, however Haines owns some of the best skills of any upper-level reliever in baseball. The minor league free agent walks very few batters and only the occasional homer boosts his ERA above these outstanding marks. Haines not only didn't deserve to return to AA, he merits a big league bullpen job more than all save perhaps a half-dozen AAAA hurlers and could emerge as a fantasy factor very quickly.
Diminished power potential and unimpressive plate discipline render Hoffpauir nearly useless to a Chicago organization fairly brimming with corner talent. He should peak as no more than an occasional pinch-hitter.
Minor league free agency finally liberated Kelton this fall after two mostly wasted seasons at Iowa and four years following his last impressive season. Even his recently improved stolen base total doesn't lead me to endorse his acquisition anywhere, so cut Kelton in all leagues before essentially ignoring him until he secures a regular role in the majors.
Successive solid seasons for Iowa resulted in a mid-season promotion for a couple of spot starts. Koronka now remains on the 40-man roster and should compete for a roster spot during spring training. While he lacks the upside of nearly all his fellow starters, a pair of decent debut starts, coupled with consistently respectable control, could keep Koronka on the Chicago-Des Moines shuttle next summer. He just won't merit much fantasy consideration until he secures a regular role in the majors.
Suffering a broken leg at the end of his fairly impressive 2004 campaign slowed Lewis this spring and led to another poor AAA performance. He didn't even earn a 40-man slot this fall as he no longer appears in the Cubs' long-term plans. As I questioned his upside due to limited all-around skills prior to this summer, Lewis still doesn't look like a viable fantasy option and doesn't warrant a roster slot in any league.
The journeyman masher returned from a couple years in Japan to resume his abuse of AAA pitchers, a triumphant move that culminated in his second career cup-of-coffee in September. McClain clearly owns the offensive skills necessary to contribute in a limited role, though unless an exceptional spring somehow lands him a platoon job in one of the half-dozen organizations looking for a right-handed 1B/DH, he never should possess any fantasy value.
Bouncing from a .261/.310/.394 performance last summer in the Florida State League to this comparatively exceptional line elevates McGehee from organizational soldier to potential big league backup. His combination of plate discipline and doubles power also hints at additional quantitative potential. Any further injury problems encountered by Aramis Ramirez just might result in the recall of McGehee, though he won't help your team in 2006 unless a midsummer miracle hands him a starting job.
His failure to conquer AAA lends further credence to the apparent consensus scouting opinion that Pignatiello will plateau as AAAA fodder. I still expect him to develop into a very useful reliever, though unless he can cut his WHIP rather abruptly, he may need to spend a few more years in the upper minors.
Only inconsistent control prevents Rohlicek from taking his rightful place in the back end of a big league bullpen. He certainly owns the necessary strikeout and ground-fly rates to succeed in the majors, but he neither merits much attention from MLB clubs nor fantasy teams until his walk rate dips below 4.5 BB/9.
Nabbed from the Red Sox in the summer of 2004 for Jimmy Anderson, Shipman continued blossoming after departing A-ball. While he appears headed for no more than a brief career in middle relief, consistently strong strikeout rates and overall effectiveness could result in a better outcome for the former undrafted free agent. Shipman just might challenge for a spot in the Cubs' bullpen by next September.
Signed in 2004 as a Cuban defector, Valdes unexpectedly headed straight to the high minors without gaining obviously necessary experience lower in the system. While he might compete for a bullpen spot in the coming years, I simply don't see much upside in these skills and currently can't recommend him for any fantasy purpose.
No otherwise healthy prospect lost more fantasy value this year than Dopirak. His OPS dropped from .956 to .670 despite only a single promotion to the Florida State League as his patience also suffered. Meanwhile Derrek Lee's development from a potential free agent following 2006 to an assured new deal as one of the best players in the game leaves no position for Dopirak in Chicago. He also needs at least two more years in the minors, so I simply see no reason to retain him in any leagues where the average owner keeps fewer than three prospects.
Normally a high school outfield prospect selected sixth overall manages more than a .786 OPS in full-season ball during his third year as a professional. Instead Harvey's formerly mediocre plate discipline descended to Jimersonian levels while his average also remained low. Don't lump Harvey into the Luis Montanez level of problematic prospects quite yet, but you also lack any reason to target him in spring drafts.
The decision to double-promote Patterson at the end of the season should provide the final necessary condemnation for anyone still viewing the MacPhail/Hendry/Baker management team as Chicago saviors. While Patterson owns strong all-around skills and could develop into an offensive force at second base, pushing him to the majors without demanding steady development will force him into his older brother's career path. Eric Patterson still possesses sufficient upside to deserve late-round consideration in deeper NL leagues, however please recognize that he may need as many as three more years of seasoning to echo this performance in the majors.
Barring the unexpected departure of both Dusty Baker and Jim Hendry, only Felix Pie, Eric Patterson, and possibly Rich Hill should receive more than the briefest looks in Chicago. I still scarcely believe Matt Murton and Ronny Cedeno will remain everyday players despite their extremely impressive 2005 campaigns. The only reason I feel comfortable rating the system higher than the Tigers and Jays is that the Cubs still possess plenty of pitching depth and a couple of premium offensive prospects, although the most prepared pitchers could vanish over the next couple days in the rumored Juan Pierre deal and the Rule 5 draft. Despite the seemingly obvious potential possessed by many of the youngsters discussed here, the uncertainty in the Chicago clubhouse means that no savvy fantasy owner should gamble roster space on anyone past the top couple of prospects here.
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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