Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Cleveland's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects for 2007
1. Kevin Kouzmanoff, 25, DH/3B-R
Kouzmanoff only finished second behind James Loney for the minor league batting title due to the effects of season-long hamstring problems. He appears in direct competition with Ryan Garko for the first base job, and after continuing his pitcher abuse in the Arizona Fall League, Kouzmanoff at worst should snag a bench job, backing up Garko, Andy Marte at third, and Travis Hafner at DH. Grabbing him anywhere in single digits should give you a nice piece of trade bait since Kouzmanoff's bat simply demands regular playing time within the next few years.
Nearly converted to second base this winter, Crowe instead remains in the outfield, Cleveland opting to avoid the risk of stunting his offensive growth by keeping him in the minors for two years to learn a new position. He'll return to Akron in 2007, and if he can echo his Carolina League numbers, he should supplant Jason Michaels by next fall while simultaneously letting Grady Sizemore slide down in the lineup. Crowe's lack of power mildly concerns me, yet with the Indians' strength up the middle and the club's need for a leadoff hitter, he might reach $30 as soon as 2008. He merits a top draft pick in all standard roto leagues.
The nondrafted free agent quietly destroyed both the Sally and Carolina Leagues in 2005, compiling a combined .326/.442/.506 line while demonstrating power, speed, and plate discipline. Receiving little recognition due to his advanced age, Barton proved his performance no fluke by nearly echoing those marks this summer while splitting the year between the Carolina and Eastern Leagues. Turning 25 next April keeps me from treating him as a premiere prospect, especially given his declining walk rate, but his power/speed upside ranks with almost anyone in the minors. Barton could challenge for the right field job during camp in 2008, making him a worthwhile mid-round draft pick in most AL leagues.
While Mastny carried a 2.24 career ERA into this season, his five games of experience in the upper minors suggested a far lengthier transition to the majors. Instead he spent the early spring dominating the Eastern League, the first two months of summer similarly setting down most AAA opponents, and then the last several weeks of the season in the Indians' relief corps, even acting as the de facto closer following the Bob Wickman trade. Unfortunately, his increasing difficulties in that role effectively return him to middle relief for 2007, so despite plenty of overall upside, continued control problems even could push him back to the minors. Mastny appears capable of earning anywhere from $0 to $20 next year, so unless he excels during spring training, don't gamble more than a dollar on the hope that he'll see additional save opps.
Everything here just screams that Francisco probably deserves a chance to start in the majors, likely won't receive it, could hit double-digit value even if kept on Cleveland's bench, and yet will need an outstanding camp just to earn some consideration for a mid-season promotion as the Indians will keep an overrated veteran as their fifth outfielder. In short, Francisco will merit a Dollar Days pick if he opens 2007 in the majors and otherwise warrants your wholehearted disinterest until he demonstrates some ability to stay on Eric Wedge's roster for a couple weeks at a time.
Remaining all healthy all year reestablishes Miller as one of the game's best pitching prospects. All his skills illustrate the profile of a future ace, and with plenty of room for a hard-throwing right-hander in the Indians' rotation, Miller will reach Cleveland sometime in 2007. Only additional injury problems can keep him from blossoming into a significant fantasy asset, worthy of drafting in any AL league with a minor league system.
A respectable albeit lackluster starting prospect, Perez truly blossomed after a mid-summer shift to the pen. His overall dominance makes him the southpaw reliever Cleveland needed, and with plenty of young starters in the pipeline, Perez should stay in relief for the rest of the decade. Consider him a solid low-risk, low-upside Dollar Days pick.
Winning seventeen games with a 2.32 ERA ranks Lofgren with anyone in the minors statistically. His overall skill development suggests a blindingly bright future, and he should entice someone in your league to draft him in the spring. Let them. An excellent hit rate, unimpressive walk and ground-fly rates, and a solid yet unspectacular strikeout rate all depict someone at severe risk of a shift to relief. Lofgren's limited endurance to date also concerns me, preventing me from recommending him in any save the deepest AL leagues.
A teammate of Jeremy Sowers at Vanderbilt, this 2005 third round pick should reteam with Sowers no later than 2008. Excellent control and mid-rotation upside actually suggests Lewis as a right-handed mirror for the southpaw Sowers, though given his lesser pedigree, Lewis shouldn't enjoy such a meteoric rise to the majors. Selecting him before he reaches AAA seems an unnecessary risk given the competition Lewis faces for starts in Cleveland.
A useful member of the Athletics for much of June, Rouse instead lost his next chance for a promotion to D'Angelo Jimenez, a move that eventually prompted Oakland to DFA Rouse, lose him on waivers to Cleveland, and eventually watch Mark Kiger make his major league debut during the ALCS. Now Rouse appears in line to compete with Hector Luna and Joe Inglett for one of no more than two reserve infield jobs on the Indians, and given his contact problems and relatively limited upside, I don't expect him to see many big league at-bats in 2007. Consider Rouse roster filler at best.
Even demonstrating surprisingly strong baserunning can't compensate for Snyder's continued contact problems and a sharp drop in his power output. The 2003 first round pick fortunately possesses plenty of patience and long-term upside, but if he doesn't progress upon ascending to AAA Buffalo next summer, his odds of emerging as an asset for the Indians will drop precipitously. While you shouldn't cut Snyder in deeper AL leagues, he also isn't worth more than a late-round gamble if not already owned in your league.
Standing a scant 5'9" and highly unlikely to develop much power, Constanza nevertheless possesses a combination of speed and plate discipline I find intriguing. Some team will give him a shot on their bench in a few years, and all he'll need is one lucky literal break to earn $20 for you one of these seasons. Of course, since Constanza doesn't look like a great fit for the Indians, drafting him at this time just doesn't make much sense.
Martin spent much of the year rehabbing from 2005 Tommy John surgery, and with his combined 2.03 ERA on a 40:5 K:BB in 44.1 IP over 13 GS(14G), he seems fully recovered. Expect him to split the upcoming year between AA Akron and AAA Buffalo before possibly seeing Cleveland by the fall. His future remains quite bright, and if you kept him in a deep league last spring, don't cut him now.
Bizarrely pushed to AAA by the Mariners despite only one previous year of full-season ball, Cabrera understandably struggled at the plate, with his walk rate at Tacoma the only positive sign here. Of course, Cabrera, swiped from the Mariners for Eduardo Perez, doesn't turn 21 for another month, so hopefully Cleveland will let him begin 2007 playing second base for AA Akron. He looks like the best long-term second base option in the system, and with another year or two of seasoning, should blossom into a viable big league starter. Just don't expect much next summer if you keep him in a deep minor league system.
With more than a hundred fewer at-bats over the last three years than the eminently breakable Chris Snelling, Aubrey's continued health issues largely eviscerate his prospect status. Victor Martinez increasingly looks like Cleveland's long-term first baseman while Aubrey hasn't batted 300 times at Akron despite heading toward his twenty-fifth birthday in April. I still expect Aubrey will enjoy a couple of solid seasons in the majors, but I see no reason to retain him next spring in any fantasy league, especially after soreness caused him to skip the AFL.
Bear Bay, 23, RH Starter
Stolen from the Cubs for Cliff Bartosh at the end of spring training in 2005, Bay nicely transitioned to the Eastern League this year and appears on track to challenge for a big league job by 2008. Moving to the bullpen should expedite his rise while hopefully helping his homer rate, which otherwise could retard his currently consistent progress up the minor league ladder. Merely keep an eye on his progress until he settles into a role in the majors.
Brown backtracked badly after he failed to win a big league job during spring training. Somehow he prevented a climbing walk rate from adversely affecting his qualitative stats, but he still appears one of the riskier youngsters with a chance to break camp on the Indians. I don't expect him to contribute to many successful roto teams sooner than 2008.
The 2005 fourth round pick enjoyed a nicely productive campaign in his first full season as a professional. Solid plate discipline insures that Brown should peak as no worse than a competent backup. Unfortunately, limited power and speed probably will prevent him from enjoying an everyday job, along with zeroing his current fantasy value.
Acquired from Toronto for Brian Tallet in January, Buzachero continued improving in his second tour of the Eastern League. The major problem he now faces, even if we ignore his relatively limited upside, is that the Indians possess a wealth of equally competent upper-level relievers with far more potential. Don't expect him to reach the majors in Cleveland, although he should join a big league bullpen some time relatively soon.
Failing to earn a promotion during a season where Cleveland shuffled relievers every few days indicates that Choi won't see much time in the majors. Anything more than a token appearance for the Korean journeyman would surprise me.
The Stanford product wasn't wowing anyone before he self-destructed this summer, allowing his contact problems to overwhelm his other skills. He can't hit left-handers, contributes little on defense, and needs rapid improvement at the plate to remain in any of Cleveland's plans. Cooper simply doesn't merit a roster spot in any fantasy league next spring.
Very little here suggests Dittler will recapture his impressive stuff from A-ball. He certainly appears able to enjoy a long career in the upper minors, but barring a surprisingly successful move to the bullpen, everything here screams "AAAA starter" to me. Don't expect to see him in the majors for more than an occasional spot start.
Another of Cleveland's seeming plethora of older yet intriguing right-handed corner prospects, Goleski nevertheless pales in comparison to the likes of Ryan Garko and Kevin Kouzmanoff. Only a trade of either his competition or Goleski himself will place him in the position necessary to see more than the briefest cup-of-coffee in the majors. He obviously won't possess more than minimal fantasy value until receiving a grander opportunity.
Guthrie completely failed to take advantage of a surprisingly extended trial with the Indians, posting an awful WHIP that wrecked his overall stats. He'll remain no more than a AAAA starter until returning to the bullpen, though given his age and big league performance to date, even his Stanford pedigree and the upside of a former first rounder won't provide many more chances. I currently consider him useless in all fantasy leagues, an opinion I expect to hold until he experiences an extended run of success in the majors.
Pitching a few relief outings definitely helped Laffey's confidence, enabling him to post one of the best skill sets of his career upon reaching the Eastern League. His development impresses me given his age and previous inconsistency, so while he likely needs a couple more years of seasoning, during which a permanent shift to the bullpen seems inevitable, an echo of his Akron stats could boost his value as a prospect quite considerably.
A capable albeit unimpressive southpaw, Lara's lesser upside than Aeros' teammates like Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp provide him only a very narrow window to gain big league experience before the Indians shift to superior youngsters. While Lara could enjoy a lengthy career, he needs to continue taking advantage of any opportunities to prove that his inconsistent skills still can translate into success in the majors.
The minor league ERA leader by more than a third of a run, only a mediocre groundball rate and general healthy concerns should keep Lewis from shooting to the majors. While he lacks the upside of teammate Chuck Lofgren, Lewis seems the safer bet to contribute in the near future and therefore probably deserves the higher draft pick in most leagues. Of course, like any Indians' pitcher, select him late or not at all due to the difficulty in securing a starting job in Cleveland.
Perhaps more than any rookie discussed today, Mujica should not have to compete for a job in camp. Yes, I recognize that his mildly high hit rate could cause problems, but with outstanding control and consistent sub-3.00 ERAs since hitting the upper minors, he appears a perfect complement to the Indians' somewhat eclectic assortment of veteran relievers. Mujica easily could emerge as worthwhile roster filler by late April.
With the Indians in need of another left-handed power hitter in the lineup, and right-handers Ryan Garko and Kevin Kouzmanoff relatively established in the majors, the right-handed Mulhern may never see much time in Cleveland. He plateaued hard in his second season at Akron, and if Michael Aubrey ever stays healthy for a year, Mulhern barely will deserve a job in the upper minors. Don't bother drafting him in any league at this time.
An oblique strain cost Supp much of the season and allowed Rafael Perez to leap over Sipp into the Indians' bullpen. Yet when healthy, Sipp demonstrates as much upside as any lefty reliever in the minors, making him a superb candidate for a mid-season promotion next summer. He shouldn't hurt you as roster filler as long as he echoes these skills at higher levels.
Equally effective regardless of his role in the minors, Slocum's slightly superior dominance as a reliever suggests he should focus on taking the easier path to the majors. However, his second-half success as a starter probably leaves Indians' management conflicted over his future role, so I suspect they'll slot Slocum wherever they fell they possess less depth at Buffalo. Expect another year on the shuttle between Buffalo and Cleveland unless Slocum takes full advantage of his opportunities in the spring.
One of the only effective pitchers for Akron whose stats don't automatically demand a shot in the majors next year, Smith nevertheless possesses somewhat intriguing upside, especially if he uses his second-half downturn as rationale for switching to the bullpen. I see hints of a quality pitcher in these skills, but due to an extended history of questionable control, Smith probably needs a role change to challenge for a big league job in the near future.
Any young infielder with the speed of Torres merits attention from fantasy owners. Unfortunately, his failure to transition to Buffalo this year drops him from a potential starting second baseman in 2007 to all the way out of the organization as a minor league free agent. Whichever team signs him just might snag a surprisingly decent prospect, but given his lack of power, Torres needs to maintain both a high BA and OBP to produce sufficient offensive numbers. We simply can't consider him a viable roto prospect at this time.
7:05: St. Louis@New York Mets
With home field advantage, a vastly superior lineup, and a largely rested bullpen, the Mets could pull Oliver Perez after an inning if necessary and still neutralize the Cardinals' bats with Darren Oliver, Aaron Heilman, Pedro Feliciano, Chad Bradford, and Billy Wagner. Expect New York to head to Detroit on Saturday for a World Series involving the thirteenth and fourteenth different teams in the past seven years and a match-up between two clubs that haven't won it all in two decades.
Graduating Jeremy Sowers, Fausto Carmona, Ryan Garko, Franklin Gutierrez, and Fernando Cabrera to Cleveland this summer eviscerated the top rank of the Indians' prospects. Thankfully another wave of talent, led by Kevin Kouzmanoff, Adam Miller, and Trevor Crowe, appears no more than a year from contributing. A variety of intriguing upper-level and high-risk/high-upside lower-level prospects again provides Cleveland plenty of depth, and with only a few players firmly entrenched on the Indians, I see plenty of opportunity for the top dozen or so prospects here to emerge as big leaguers for the Tribe in some capacity. Both the club's history of promoting quality youngsters and the organizational need to leaven expensive veterans with regular infusions of virtually free rookies insures that Cleveland remains an excellent source of fantasy prospects.
Current ranking of potentially helpful fantasy depth for teams discussed thus far in 2006, based on both the quality and quantity of players ready to contribute in the majors, as well as consideration of the trade value of low-level minor leaguers from each system:
1. Cleveland Indians(K.Kouzmanoff, T.Crowe, B.Barton)
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