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Post-2005 Prospect Review: Pittsburgh
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
Pittsburgh's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects

Prospects with Double-Digit Upside

Tom Gorzelanny, 23, LH Starter
0-1 on a 3:3 K:BB in 6 IP over 1 GS(3G)
with 10 H, 1 HR, an 8-10 G-F, and a 12.00 ERA for Pittsburgh.
8-5 on a 124:46 K:BB in 129.2 IP over 23 GS
with 114 H, 6 HR, a 1.14 G-F, and a 3.26 ERA for AA Altoona(EL).

Leaping through A-ball in barely a year apparently prepared Gorzelanny for the upper minors. He maintained solid skills ratios across-the-board, even posting an 8.7 K/9 that bodes very well for his continued improvement. Expect him to spend four months at AAA due to the Pirates' admittedly diminishing rotation crush before assuming a place alongside fellow southpaws Oliver Perez, Zach Duke, and Paul Maholm, meriting a decent FAAB bid as soon as he reaches Pittsburgh.

Paul Maholm, 23, LH Starter
3-1 on a 26:17 K:BB in 41.1 IP over 6 GS
with 31 H, 2 HR, a 2.29 G-F, and a 2.18 ERA for Pittsburgh.
1-1 on a 21:12 K:BB in 35.2 IP over 6 GS
with 40 H, 2 HR, a 1.76 G-F, and a 3.53 ERA for AAA Indianapolis(IL).
6-2 on a 75:26 K:BB in 81.2 IP over 16 GS
with 73 H, 3 HR, a 2.55 G-F, and a 3.20 ERA for AA Altoona(EL).

The recent trades of Mark Redman and Dave Williams leaves two rotation slots undetermined while Maholm appearing ahead of Josh Fogg, Tom Gorzelanny, Ian Snell, and Victor Santos on the depth chart. An impressive quintet of September starts seemingly qualifies the eighth player selected in 2003 for the majors, though given his limited command in Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, Maholm will need fantastic defensive support to avoid struggling. I still believe he merits a few bucks in the middle rounds, but you certainly should let someone else roster Maholm if the bidding exceeds your target price by even a dollar due to his minimal immediate upside.

Nate McLouth, 24, OF-L
28/109 for .257/.305/.450 with 5 HR, 12 RBI, 20 R, 2/2 SB%,
and a 3:20 BB:K for Pittsburgh.
118/397 for .297/.364/.401 with 5 HR, 39 RBI, 64 R, 34/42 SB%,
and a 39:58 BB:K for AAA Indianapolis(IL).

Currently stuck behind Jason Bay, Chris Duffy, Jody Gerut, and Craig Wilson in the Pirates' outfield, McLouth deserves a chance to win a starting job in spring training. While he failed to post an adequate OBP or display even marginally acceptable plate discipline in a September trial with Pittsburgh, McLouth's five years in the minors depict a potential impact leadoff man with more upside than Duffy or Gerut. McLouth absolutely requires a few bucks during the later rounds as a fifth outfielder, and with an immediate upside near $30 based on his SB potential alone, bid towards the teens as you hope for better results than Tike Redman managed this summer.

Ronny Paulino, 24, C-R
2/4 for .500/.600/.500 with 0 HR, 0 RBI, 1 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 1:0 BB:K for Pittsburgh.
86/273 for .315/.372/.538 with 13 HR, 42 RBI, 49 R, 3/3 SB%,
and a 26:48 BB:K for AAA Indianapolis(IL).
49/168 for .292/.350/.435 with 6 HR, 20 RBI, 24 R, 3/3 SB%,
and a 15:30 BB:K for AA Altoona(EL).

I expect Paulino ranks among the primary reasons for Allard Baird's insomnia. Rather than keep the capable young defender as a 2002 Rule 5 pick, Kansas City instead opted to break camp in 2003 with a 25-man roster featuring Mendy Lopez, Brandon Berger, and perennial retread Mike DeFelice as Brent Mayne's backup. While I admit that returning Paulino to Pittsburgh proved fortuitous for his development, the presence of Paulino would have allowed Baird to seek something other than catching help when shopping Carlos Beltran. Now Paulino ranks among the top catching prospects in the game, possessing the best skills behind the plate in the system and an unexpectedly potent bat. Pittsburgh easily could keep Paulino with Ryan Doumit next spring, providing the potential for a powerful young catching tandem. The problem with that scenario recalls Arizona's disaster over the first of this year, so while Pittsburgh could employ Paulino as a defensive-oriented backup, I instead expect him to return to Indianapolis, preparing as a starter in case Doumit falters on either side of the plate. Paulino remains a solid long-term bet to enjoy a few years above double-digit roto value, but wait until he secures regular playing time before expending more than a Dollar Days' pick or a mid-round draft selection on him.

Likely 2006 September Call-ups

Brady Borner, 26, LH Reliever
6-1 on a 90:13 K:BB in 90.2 IP over 48 G
with 77 H, 8 HR, a .87 G-F, and a 2.08 ERA for AA Altoona(EL).

The Pirates simply don't need another solid southpaw reliever after adding the reacquired Damaso Marte to a bullpen featuring Mike Gonzalez, John Grabow, and Mike Johnston. Borner will remain in the minors until September barring injury even if Pittsburgh deals Marte or Grabow as expected. Although his development as a full-time reliever merits monitoring, he won't belong on any roto roster until he begins echoing these marks in the majors.

Bryan Bullington, 25, RH Swingman
0-0 on a 1:1 K:BB in 1.1 IP over 1 G
with 1 H, 0 HR, a 2-2 G-F, and a 13.50 ERA for Pittsburgh.
9-5 on an 82:26 K:BB in 109.1 IP over 18 GS
with 104 H, 11 HR, a 1.64 G-F, and a 3.38 ERA for AAA Indianapolis(IL).

One of the worst draft selections in recent memory, Bullington joined the Pirates with the first pick of the 2002 after owner Kevin McClatchy ordered the front office to choose a college pitcher, passing on B.J. Upton, Zach Greinke, Prince Fielder, Jeremy Hermida, Khalil Greene, Russ Adams, Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, James Loney, Jeff Francouer, Matt Cain, and Mark Teahen in the first round alone. Of course, Pittsburgh rushed Bullington up the minor league ladder after he held out past the 2002 season, resulting in the effective loss of his dominance by the time he reached the upper minors. Now Bullington merely appears on the cusp of no more than a big league bullpen spot, or at least he seemed set for the majors until October shoulder surgery cost him an AFL appearance and now will prevent him from pitching until next summer. Given the growing competition on the Pirates' pitching staff, he simply doesn't merit a roster spot in any fantasy league, a sad situation for any former top pick.

Mike Connolly, 23, LH Starter
2-4 on a 44:29 K:BB in 71.1 IP over 13 GS
with 74 H, 9 HR, a 1.14 G-F, and a 4.42 ERA for AAA Indianapolis(IL).
5-6 on a 60:24 K:BB in 84 IP over 15 GS
with 90 H, 4 HR, a .83 G-F, and a 3.32 ERA for AA Altoona(EL).

Another half-season of solid AA work finally resulted in a move to Indianapolis after three years at Altoona. Unfortunately, Connolly faces two significant obstacles for continued progress. Unimpressive stuff limits his upside, and the Pirates already possess the deepest crop of talented young left-handers of any team in the game. He seems nearly certain to switch organizations very soon, hopefully in a deadline deal next summer so Pittsburgh receives something after seven seasons of developing the youngster into a viable AAAA arm.

Rajai Davis, 25, OF-S
140/499 for .281/.351/.369 with 4 HR, 34 RBI, 82 R, 45/54 SB%,
and a 43:76 BB:K for AA Altoona(EL).

A worrisome OBP drop following his departures from A-ball places Davis well behind Chris Duffy and Nate McLouth on the centerfield depth chart. Of course, Davis maintained decent plate discipline and speed skills, which suggest at least plenty of upside on a big league bench. He even could break camp in the majors with a strong spring, but I instead expect him to continue honing his skills over a full AAA season before competing for a 2007 job during a September cup-of-coffee.

Javier Guzman, 23, SS-S
62/263 for .236/.262/.312 with 3 HR, 24 RBI, 27 R, 8/13 SB%,
and a 10:46 BB:K for AA Altoona(EL).
83/256 for .324/.374/.488 with 5 HR, 35 RBI, 40 R, 13/18 SB%,
and a 20:41 BB:K for A+ Lynchburg(Car).

Another age discrepancy added two years to Guzman's age, pushing him from an intriguing youngster on a slow development track to an older prospect who must master at least one of the upper levels of the system next summer. Despite plenty of defensive gifts, Guzman appears set to stall at no more than AAAA status baring an unlikely offensive surge in 2006.

Craig Stansberry, 23, 2B-R
100/421 for .238/.314/.470 with 18 HR, 67 RBI, 62 R, 14/19 SB%,
and a 44:114 BB:K for AA Altoona(EL).
33/94 for .351/.430/.564 with 3 HR, 19 RBI, 17 R, 7/8 SB%,
and an 11:13 BB:K for A+ Lynchburg(Car).

A month of demolishing the Carolina League pushed Stansberry to Altoona, where he maintained decent patience, power, and speed despite a worrisome BA collapse. While he currently appears destined for the Pirates' bench, Stansberry also possesses the upside necessary to develop into a more significant asset if he fixes his average difficulties in a probable return to the Eastern League.

John Van Benschoten, 25, RH Starter
No 2005 stats.

Multiple shoulder surgeries cost Van Benschoten the entire season, and although returning to the outfield seems unlikely at this point, the Pirates certainly erred by developing the former two-way star on the mound. At least Van Benschoten should rebound over the course of the 2006 season, potentially even pushing for a rotation slot by summer. Of course, given his merely mediocre skills prior to losing a full year to the DL, he merits no more than an endgame flyer in any league.

Potential Reserve Help

Josh Bonifay, 27, 1B-R
106/376 for .282/.339/.556 with 25 HR, 77 RBI, 53 R, 0/1 SB%,
and a 33:110 BB:K for AA Altoona(EL).

Although the former GM's son kept Altoona competitive over the past couple of years, his failure to develop as more than a one-dimensional player left him little value to the club. Bonifay now should elsewhere in minor league free agency, though he no longer appears on track to reach the majors barring an unlikely breakout.

Matt Capps, 22, RH Reliever
0-0 on a 3:0 K:BB in 4 IP over 4 G
with 5 H, 0 HR, a 3-3 G-F, and a 4.50 ERA for Pittsburgh.
0-2 and 7 Saves on a 26:1 K:BB in 20 IP over 17 G
with 21 H, 2 HR, a 1.27 G-F, and a 2.70 ERA for AA Altoona(EL).
3-4 and 14 Saves on a 39:5 K:BB in 53.2 IP over 35 G
with 47 H, 0 HR, a 1.73 G-F, and a 2.52 ERA for A Hickory(SAL).

Owning a 4.75 ERA on a 127:39 K:BB in 188 IP over three years spent at the lowest levels of the Pirates' system prior to this summer, Capps shockingly shot to the majors, compiling unbelievable command marks at both his stops. Relatively few players earn even one double promotion each year, yet Capps landed two of these jumps, placing himself in the middle of competition for a big league bullpen job in 2006. Of course, given his inconsistent career and lack of upper level experience, you just can't risk rostering him until he registers several solid outings in Pittsburgh.

Yurendell De Caster, 26, OF-R
116/415 for .280/.346/.453 with 11 HR, 61 RBI, 60 R, 7/12 SB%,
and a 37:103 BB:K for AAA Indianapolis(IL).

Reaching the upper minors somehow resulted in significant improvement at the plate for De Caster, who posted two of the best stat lines of his career since leaving A-ball after the 2003 season. He shockingly earned a 40-man slot after the season, and given his versatility at the corner positions, he just might break camp in the majors. Of course, I don't believe he possesses the offensive skills to emerge as more than short-term roster filler next summer, so wait until De Caster begins producing in Pittsburgh before considering him for your team.

Chris Enochs, 30, RH Swingman
4-4 on a 58:42 K:BB in 102.2 IP over 14 GS(33G)
with 116 H, 8 HR, a 1.19 G-F, and a 5.17 ERA for AAA Indianapolis(IL).

The eleventh player selected in the 1997 draft, Enochs left Oakland two years ago after stagnating in the upper minors. He shows little ability to prosper in almost any role, so although he could continue pitching in the bush leagues indefinitely, Enochs shouldn't reach the majors for any extended period.

J.J Furmaniak, 28, 2B-R
5/26 for .192/.300/.308 with 0 HR, 1 RBI, 3 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 4:4 BB:K for Pittsburgh.
40/139 for .288/.315/.410 with 2 HR, 21 RBI, 12 R, 5/8 SB%,
and a 4:32 BB:K for AAA Indianapolis(IL).
103/387 for .266/.324/.437 with 14 HR, 47 RBI, 54 R, 9/14 SB%,
and a 28:86 BB:K for AAA Portland(EL).

Dealt from the Padres in July for David Ross, Furmaniak landed in Pittsburgh during September despite extremely mediocre marks with Indianapolis. While his developing power suggests some potential as a starter, his inconsistent plate discipline, defensive flexibility, and comparatively advanced age indicate a far stronger likelihood of a career on a big league bench, rendering him mostly useless as more than fantasy roster filler.

James Johnson, 29, LH Reliever
5-4 and 1 Save on a 54:16 K:BB in 51.1 IP over 1 GS(31G)
with 50 H, 4 HR, a 1.27 G-F, and a 3.33 ERA for AA Altoona(EL).

A seemingly capable southpaw reliever, Johnson desperately needs to find a AAA slot to see if he can handle that last level of the minors. Finding an organization with less left-handed depth than the Pirates thankfully looks like an easy task, so he just might reach the majors by next fall with a little luck.

Graham Koonce, 30, 1B-L
113/422 for .268/.358/.488 with 23 HR, 77 RBI, 60 R, 0/1 SB%,
and a 57:109 BB:K for AAA Indianapolis(IL).

The AAAA masher watched Brad Eldred sail right past him despite another respectable AAA season. He simply seems stuck waiting for merely an opportunity as injury filler. If Koonce somehow lands in the right place, he absolutely must take advantage of any big league at-bats ceded him as his window to emerge as an asset in the majors seems narrower every year.

Pat Magness, 27, DH-L
131/425 for .308/.481/.574 with 24 HR, 92 RBI, 98 R, 0/1 SB%,
and a 141:114 BB:K for A+ Lynchburg(Car).

Perhaps the minor league free agent doesn't deserve a mention here, but Magness simply obliterated Carolina League pitching in his second look at this circuit. He led the minors in OBP by more than twenty points on the strength of a Bondsian .33 walk rate. I fully expect him to find either a AAA slot or even a job overseas as Magness looks to build on this outstanding performance before his advancing age completely eliminates his best shot at reaching the majors.

Matt Peterson, 23, RH Starter
11-9 on an 87:74 K:BB in 143.2 IP over 26 GS(27G)
with 156 H, 19 HR, a .81 G-F, and a 5.51 ERA for AA Altoona(EL).

Removed from the 40-man roster yesterday after stagnating in the Eastern League, Peterson simply can't remain in the rotation if he wants to reach Pittsburgh any time soon. Of course, considering his skills completely collapsed upon departing the Mets in the Kris Benson deal, he just might require a change of scenery to resuscitate his career. He certainly doesn't merit much attention in any fantasy league.

Justin Reid, 28, RH Starter
7-5 on a 61:44 K:BB in 99 IP over 18 GS(25G)
with 122 H, 20 HR, a .71 G-F, and a 5.82 ERA for AAA Indianapolis(IL).

The normally effective swingman collapsed in his third AAA tour with the Pirates, a fairly shocking development given Reid's historical skill set. Hopefully he'll find a more comfortable environment to see if he can rebound on his way to earning that last promotion.

Ray Sadler, 25, OF-R
2/8 for .250/.250/.625 with 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 0:1 BB:K for Pittsburgh.
65/251 for .259/.310/.422 with 10 HR, 30 RBI, 28 R, 8/14 SB%,
and a 15:57 BB:K for AAA Indianapolis(IL).
51/209 for .244/.301/.416 with 5 HR, 23 RBI, 23 R, 4/8 SB%,
and a 17:54 BB:K for AA Altoona(EL).

Added from the Cubs in 2003 for Randal Simon, Sadler remained at Altoona in 2004 before finally reaching the International League and then the majors this summer. Despite decent power and speed, poor plate discipline and somewhat limited defensive skills leave Sadler rather low on the team's outfield depth chart. He may never see more than the briefest additional look above the upper minors.

Cory Stewart, 26, LH Starter
7-10 on a 77:67 K:BB in 132 IP over 23 GS(24G)
with 144 H, 18 HR, a .60 G-F, and a 5.52 ERA for AAA Indianapolis(IL).

A May arrest for public intoxication likely contributed for Pittsburgh's decision to release Stewart in September. The third player acquired in the Brian Giles deal, Stewart immediately stumbled at AAA Nashville last year before continuing his collapse with Indianapolis this summer. Perhaps he simply needs a move back to a more comfortable environment, but until Stewart shows that his initial five seasons better illustrate his upside than consecutive AAA disasters, he barely belongs on our prospect radar.

Paul Stewart, 27, RH Starter
2-0 on a 10:1 K:BB in 10.1 IP over 1 GS(3G)
with 6 H, 0 HR, a .43 G-F, and a 0.87 ERA for AAA Indianapolis(IL).
6-10 on a 76:44 K:BB in 120.2 IP over 20 GS(26G)
with 143 H, 19 HR, a 1.03 G-F, and a 4.92 ERA for AA Altoona(EL).

His 2002 performance for AA Huntsville(SL) first caught my eye as Stewart compiled a 12-9 record and 3.28 ERA on a 124:42 K:BB in 162 IP. Then Stewart's skills slipped over an uneventful year in Pawtucket before a downshift back to Huntsville's bullpen seemingly restarted his career in 2004. Now he looks like just another marginal upper-level arm, so although I still believe he owns the skills necessary to emerge as a contributor in the majors, Stewart must register a strong AAA performance in the near future.

Rich Thompson, 26, OF-L
19/91 for .209/.308/.297 with 1 HR, 3 RBI, 9 R, 13/15 SB%,
and a 9:12 BB:K for AAA Indianapolis(IL).
89/346 for .257/.330/.344 with 3 HR, 30 RBI, 58 R, 45/51 SB%,
and a 30:60 BB:K for AA Altoona(EL).

Understandably miffed at his failure to earn any serious consideration for a big league bench job, Thompson slipped back to AA after spending most of the last few seasons on AAA rosters. He needs a solid rebound in 2006 to remain in contention for a spot one of the limited number of clubs still interested in a speedy, defense-oriented fifth outfielder with very minimal power.

Minor League Draft Picks

Neil Walker, 20, C-S
11/42 for .262/.244/.357 with 0 HR, 12 RBI, 4 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 0:12 BB:K for A+ Lynchburg(Car).
146/485 for .301/.332/.452 with 12 HR, 68 RBI, 78 R, 7/11 SB%,
and a 20:71 BB:K for A Hickory(SAL).

I consider Walker one of the least draftable players in the game right now. Not only does he face long odds as a high school catcher selected 11th in the 2004 draft, but the Pirates already possess two very strong catching prospects that just reached the majors this year. Yet Walker posted perfectly respectable numbers for Hickory and his bat should carry him to Pittsburgh even if Doumit or Paulino block him at catcher. Owners who target young hitters with upside regardless of projected position can consider adding Walker in very deep leagues.

Aside from players listed above, no other Pittsburgh prospect deserves consideration in 2006 fantasy drafts. Chris Duffy, Jose Bautista, and Mike Johnston no longer qualify as rookies due to exceeding the service time maximum.

Organization Rankings

Pittsburgh slammed through sufficient rookie talent in 2005 to please many organizations for a couple of years. Highlighted by the dynamic debut of Zach Duke, Ryan Doumit, Brad Eldred, Chris Duffy, Mike Johnston, and Ian Snell all lost their rookie eligibility this summer, easily halving the quality of prospects remaining the in the upper levels of the system. While McLouth, Paulino, Maholm, and Gorzelanny all should emerge as important contributors to the Pirates, only Maholm and Gorzelanny even enjoy relatively clear paths to regular jobs. McLouth and Paulino respectively need to beat out Duffy and Doumit for playing time, a tough task given the impressive debuts of the rising sophomores. The Pirates absolutely need quick recoveries from Van Benschoten and Bullington, coupled with the rapid development of more recent selections like Neil Walker, to stem the ebbing number of capable prospects remaining in the system.

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. Florida Marlins(Hermida, Jacobs, E.Reed, Willingham, J.Wilson, Petit, Olsen)
2. Arizona Diamondbacks(Co.Jackson, C.Quentin, S.Drew)
3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim(J.Mathis, B.Wood)
4. Colorado Rockies(Shealy, J.Salazar, Quintanilla, Stewart)
5. Los Angeles Dodgers(Billingsley, R.Martin, J.Guzman, Loney)
6. Texas Rangers(I.Kinsler, J.Botts)
7. Milwaukee Brewers(P.Fielder, C.Hart)
8. Seattle Mariners(S.Choo, J.Strong)
9. Minnesota Twins(F.Liriano, Kubel)
10. Boston Red Sox(Pedroia, C.Hansen, Papelbon)
11. Chicago White Sox(Br.Anderson, Ch.Young)
12. Atlanta Braves(Marte, Chuck James)
13. Tampa Bay Devil Rays(Del.Young)
14. Baltimore Orioles(Markakis, Maine, W.Young)
15. Oakland Athletics(D.Barton)
16. Cleveland Indians(Fr.Gutierrez, F.Carmona)
17. New York Mets(Milledge, And.Hernandez)
18. Pittsburgh Pirates(McLouth)
19. Cincinnati Reds(Denorfia)
20. Kansas City Royals(Huber)
21. Chicago Cubs(F.Pie)
22. Houston Astros(Hirsh)
23. Toronto Blue Jays(D.McGowan)
24. Detroit Tigers(Verlander)
25. New York Yankees(K.Thompson)
26. Philadelphia Phillies(M.Bourn)

Today's Fantasy Rx: The rapid turnover of Pittsburgh's primary big league positions over the past year leaves several players with a current fantasy value sharply different from their generally perceived values. Brad Eldred, Jose Bautista, Tom Gorzelanny, and especially Mike Gonzalez all remain primed to emerge in significant roles over the next couple of years. Of course, only Gonzalez appears likely to break camp in the majors, and even he suffered through some tough stretches this summer. This quartet appears particularly undervalued, however Ryan Doumit remains the safest bet among the club's youngsters. If management persuades Jim Tracy to play the rookie catcher every day, Doumit seems primed for a breakout after registering a .313 BA with 4 HR, 21 RBI, and 17 R in regular playing time over the final two months of 2005. Projecting those numbers over a full season, Doumit's potential .300/15/80 line easily would rank him among the best fantasy values at his position, and I expect him to cost no more than a few bucks in the majority of spring drafts.

Pittsburgh's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects for 2006
1. Nate McLouth, OF
2. Ronny Paulino, C
3. Rajai Davis, OF
4. Tom Gorzelanny, SP
5. Paul Maholm, SP
6. Yurendell De Caster, OF
7. J.J. Furmaniak, 2B
8. Neil Walker, C
9. Craig Stansberry, 2B
10. John Van Benschoten, SP
11. Matt Capps, RP
12. Bryan Bullington, SP
13. Rich Thompson, OF
14. Brady Borner, RP
15. Ray Sadler, OF

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