Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Kansas City's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects for 2007
1. Alex Gordon, 22, 3B-L
A special player destined to spend at least the next decade as the face of the Royals, Gordon will receive every possible chance in spring training to force Mark Teahen off the hot corner due to superior defense. Of course, Kansas City won't object to sending him to Omaha for a month or two to give the Nebraska product a true homecoming before setting down roots in Kansas. Gordon possesses plenty of power, speed, and patience, posting stunningly impressive numbers for a player in his first professional season. His .267/.347/.470 MLE averages give him the potential to outhit anyone on the Royals in 2007 as the prohibitive favorite for AL Rookie of the Year. Regardless of your league's format, only an outrageous contract could keep Gordon from ranking as the most valuable fantasy prospect heading into next year, easily worthy of $20 bids in single-season leagues and the two keeper leagues where owners somehow forgot him last spring.
The ideal complement to left-handers Alex Gordon and Mark Teahen, Butler will join fellow righty Ryan Shealy to give the Royals perhaps the best young heart of the lineup in the game by the end of 2007. While I suspect Butler needs a little more seasoning due to his youth, he should require a promotion around his twenty-first birthday next June. His MLE averages of .273/.316/.396 portend plenty of upside, though you still should expect far less immediate value than Alex Gordon. Look to Butler more for what he'll offer in a year or two, or in 2007 trade value, than for someone likely to push double-digit value in his rookie campaign.
Bizarrely kept on the bench by Buddy Bell in favor of Doug Mientkiewicz during his auditions in Kansas City, Huber shifted to left field upon his midsummer return to Omaha, quickly established solid credentials as an outfield prospect. He still faces an uphill slog for playing time with David DeJesus owning a secure starting job and Reggie Sanders, Emil Brown, Joey Gathright, Shane Costa, and possibly Mark Teahen all ahead of Huber on the depth chart. Realistically, the acquisition of Ryan Shealy probably prevents Huber from emerging as a long-term solution for the Royals, especially since he lacks any single outstanding skill. Solid offense and defensive flexibility should keep him in the majors for a long time, and he should enjoy a few seasons of double-digit value, possibly even beginning in 2007, but Huber simply is not a centerpiece prospect on any fantasy roster.
Although Lubanski unsurprisingly saw his slugging percentage dive upon departing A+ High Desert and even lost twenty points of batting average, his OBP rose twenty points courtesy of a massive improvement in his patience. His walk rate nearly doubled from .07 to just shy of .14, significantly elevating his future prospects and securing his future on a Royals' squad loaded with potential corner options. Since he won't turn 22 until March and should reach Kansas City sometime next summer, consider Lubanski a solid fantasy prospect, meriting a relatively high draft pick on most standard leagues.
Exposed to the Rule 5 draft last winter, Maier responded to that challenge with continued offensive development in his first season in the upper minors. Unfortunately, questionable plate discipline and baserunning instincts, coupled with his marginally slow overall development, still suggest he'll peak as no more than a platoon starter. He offers the most upside to fantasy teams either as a Dollar Days pick if he breaks camp in the majors or an inexpensive mid-season pick-up if he doesn't join the Royals until summer.
A possible successor to the hugely disappointing Angel Berroa, Sanchez at least possesses a little plate discipline, as well as a defensive asset. Of course, he demonstrates little power, can't manage an acceptable stolen base success rate, and adds little to a lineup even out of the #9 hole he'd likely occupy. Sanchez might not belong on many fantasy teams even if he snags a starting job with the Royals.
Sneaking past several middle infielders on the organization's depth chart, Aviles could snag a utility job during spring training if he manages a decent BA during spring training. If not, he may wind up in a similar role back at Omaha with the Royals likely looking to see Angel Sanchez play shortstop everyday there. Regardless of his club in 2007, Aviles simply won't accrue much fantasy value, and his limited upside leaves you no reason to target him.
Pushed to the majors a good year ahead of schedule in 2005, the acquisition of Mark Grudzielanek forced Murphy back to Wichita with Ruben Gotay and then Jeff Keppinger manning second base for AAA Omaha. With no personnel changes expected in the Royals' middle infield this winter, Murphy easily could remain at Wichita for a third campaign, and if his plate discipline doesn't improve, he may never see more than the occasional cup-of-coffee in the big leagues. I see no reason to roster him in any league at this time.
A very impressive performance at High Desert significantly elevates Christensen's prospect profile, especially considering he roughly maintained a strong strikeout rate while nicely cutting his walk rate from 4.4 to 3.3 BB/9 despite the promotion from the Midwest League. We could see him in Kansas City as soon as next summer, though unless he shoots through the upper minors, wait until Christensen begins succeeding with the Royals before rostering him anywhere.
Looking to squeeze every last dollar from Los Angeles led Hochevar to reenter the draft in June. Foregoing the Dodgers' money surprisingly proved fortuitous as solid work in the independent leagues led to Kansas City selecting him first overall, allowing the Royals to obtain a potential ace at a discount from Andrew Miller's price and securing Hochevar the four-year deal Scott Boras desired for him. He struck out Justin Upton, the first overall pick in 2005, in his first professional inning, looking very strong in four starts. Unfortunately, continued action in the AFL resulted in shoulder soreness, and given the Royals' recent luck with pitchers, we can't expect much from Hochevar in 2007 even if current concerns prove unfounded. Spending more than a end-round pick on him seems an aggressive gamble given Hochevar's limited statistical history.
Spending an additional half-season at High Desert didn't retard his development, but Buckner's growing control problems represent a significant obstacle on his path to the Royals' rotation. The club's focus on adding arms this winter only will create more competition for Buckner, who finds himself rapidly slipping down Kansas City's roster of pitching prospects following the acquisitions of Luke Hochevar and Tyler Lumsden. Thankfully anyone with Buckner's combination of a solid strikeout rate and high groundball rate will find success in the bullpen, but with his current future in doubt due to his increasing mediocrity as a starter, don't roster him at this time.
Even a full year at High Desert couldn't push Falu's slugging percentage to .400, but with perfectly respectable plate discipline and a contact rate that takes advantage of his speed, he could push toward a bench job in a year or two. His stolen base upside also might allow Falu to sneak onto the roto radar, if and if given a chance in the majors next September, his three steals will win somebody their league title.
Acquired with Daniel Cortes from the White Sox in July when the Royals leveraged a rare period of both health and effectiveness from Mike MacDougal into a couple of solid pitching prospects, Lumsden enters 2007 behind only Luke Hochevar among Kansas City pitching prospects. Yet his skills still collapsed in Wichita, and considering surgery to remove a bone spur cost Lumsden all of 2005, we've only seen four month of relatively impressive pitching from Lumsden since the Sox spent a first round pick on him in 2004. The Clemson product likely needs another full year in the minors, and if rushed, could collapse given his small margin for error. Don't invest in Lumsden until you see him echoing this performance over a few starts in the majors.
Swiped from the Dodgers at the end of camp for minor league free agent signee Wilson Valdez, Plummer simply dominated California League hitters once moved to the bullpen. His strikeout rate ranked among the highest in the minors, and given his current trajectory, he'll hit Kansas City no later than next September. Expect him to peak as a solid middle reliever, but Allard Baird may have left Dayton Moore a really swell parting gift in Plummer.
After three summers spent pitching a couple miles away from Rotohelp Central for Schaumburg of the Northern League, DeHoyos joined the Royals in 2004 and hasn't posted a full-season ERA above 2.28 since Kansas City purchased his contact. Control problems could derail him before he makes the majors, but with high strikeout and groundball rates fueling his success, he should see Kauffman Stadium in the very near future. Unfortunately, he'll need to demonstrate superior command before winning our endorsement for any fantasy team.
Justin Barnes, 24, RH Reliever
Acquired from the Brewers last winter for Chris Demaria, Barnes continued demonstrating solid all-around skills despite a tough pitching environment. If he echoes this performance at AA Wichita as expected, he should see Kansas City by next fall. While not a future star, he could enjoy a lengthy career in middle relief.
Forced to repeat both the Midwest and Texas Leagues due to doubters in the previous regime, his Royals' career completely imploded this year as Bass first lost his 40-man spot in May, missed almost the entire second half due to injury, and finally departed the organization as a minor league free agent this fall. I still see some upside in these skills, particularly if he shifts to the bullpen, but he needs to pitch effectively over an extended period at Triple-A before returning to our fantasy radar.
Not the Brewer's first round pick, this Ryan Braun instead enjoyed the best year of his career, dominating hitters in his first extended look at the upper minors and reaching the majors in his fourth big league season. The 2003 sixth round pick will compete for a big league bullpen slot during camp, and if he slightly improves his control, could emerge as the Royals' top rookie pitcher in 2007, possibly worthy of midseason fantasy consideration.
Acquired from the Devil Rays with Joey Gathright for J.P. Howell, Cortez badly regressed in his first full AAA campaign. His formerly decent patience vanished, his basestealing effectiveness declined, and he continued to show no power at all. Despite a chance to see some time on a big league bench, Cortez possesses scant foreseeable fantasy upside.
I review very few pitchers with ERAs above 6.00, forget about 7.00, except Cota entered the year as the Royals' top pitching prospect and demonstrated decent skills despite pitching in perhaps the worst pitchers' park in professional baseball. Additional homers and hits accounted for the qualitative problems here despite little change in his strikeout or walk rates. Assuming he didn't lose every shred of his confidence, a promotion to AA Wichita appears warranted for Cota, who should develop into no less than a solid reliever, albeit not one deserving any fantasy consideration right now.
The erstwhile Joselo Diaz signed with Texas last fall, pitched decently for four months, moved to Kansas City at the end of July for Matt Stairs, and after watching his walk rate skyrocket with the Royals, again headed into minor league free agency this fall. Scouts obviously love his live arm yet teams tire of him very quickly, as evidenced by his inclusion in trades for Jeromy Burnitz in 2003, Victor Zambrano - with Scott Kazmir - in 2004, and now Stairs this year. Cleveland even grabbed him off waivers last June, so regardless of where Diaz signs this winter, expect to see him switch teams yet again in June or July. Massive control problems render him unlikely to enjoy any extended success and effectively torpedo his already minimal fantasy value.
Donachie not only struggled terribly in the Texas League but saw his offensive output decline in a second summer at High Desert. The good news is he once again held a decent walk rate, giving hope that he'll develop into a big league asset at some point. He just won't merit much fantasy consideration for a few more years.
An ideal example of the Royals' organizational schizophrenia, Keppel pitched three strong outings immediately upon his May promotion, started struggling, and returned to the minors by the end of June. Yes, his poor strikeout rate indicates little upside, but Kansas City cut bait far too quickly on several pitchers this summer. Now a free agent after Dayton Moore outrighted him last week, Keppel may not receive many more shots in the majors unless a potential move to the bullpen improves his dominance.
Selected in the 49th round back in 1999, the seven-year organizational soldier only reached AAA at the end of this season, clearly failed to impress anyone, and then entered minor league free agency this fall. I still like Middleton's control and believe he could succeed at a higher level in a more limited role, however he just missed his best chance for further advancement. Don't expect to see him discussed here many more times barring a sudden increase in effectiveness.
We traded for Song in a keeper league something like five years ago, and while we no longer even play in that league, we'll continue expecting him to justify our faith as long as Song continues echoing some facet of the skills he used to own. That string of moderately successful campaigns effectively ended this summer, so although I'd love to see if he can regain his lost potential as a reliever, we no longer anticipate him enjoying any extended big league career.
Stemle earned the last spot in the Royals' bullpen at the end of spring training and appeared prepared to take advantage of his first real big league opportunity after years of quietly effective work in the upper minors. Instead he hit the DL in less than three weeks and missed the rest of the year with elbow troubles. While he may receive one more chance in Kansas City next summer, you can't risk rostering Stemle until you see if he can echo his minor league success in the majors.
Selected fourth overall in 2000, Stodolka stumbled his way through six mediocre campaigns, eventually plateauing in the Texas League in 2005. Rather than continue chasing his windmills, he moved about sixty-four feet to the right of the mound, demonstrating shockingly little rust in his first extended trial at the plate since high school. His patience in particularly shocks me, but rather than reinvest in his prospect credentials as a hitter, leaven any optimism with the realization that he plays first base on a team loaded with corner prospects and couldn't managed a .450 SLG at age 25 in an outstanding hitters' park. Don't even think about considering Stodolka for your team until he manages to echo these stats in a full year in the upper minors.
The most advanced prospect in a system largely bereft of young catchers, outstanding plate discipline suggests Tupman should emerge as a very solid backup by 2008. Of course, he only offers a little more offensive upside than Paul Phillips, so even if Tupman sticks in Kansas City, he'll never earn more than a couple bucks of fantasy value. Merely keep him in mind as potential roster filler over the next few years.
7:05: St. Louis@Detroit
With the Cardinals still resetting their rotation and the Tigers loaded for bear with likely AL Rookie of the Year Justin Verlander facing the untested Anthony Reyes, Detroit looks prepared to romp ahead to a two-game lead by the time the clubs depart for St. Louis.
Replacing Allard Baird with Dayton Moore provides Royals' fans with their highest level of hope for the future in many years. Although Moore didn't dump Mark Grudzielanek, Mark Redman, and other veterans as fast as desired, dealing for Ryan Shealy alone represents a successful trading season for the rookie GM. The resurgence of Mark Teahen, development of David DeJesus, and the imminent arrival of Alex Gordon, Billut Butler, Justin Huber, and Chris Lubanski all give Kansas City as many promising young hitters as almost any team in baseball. Of course, Grudzielanek, Angel Berroa, Joey Gathright, and John Buck still enter 2007 as everyday players, only Buck appears likely to play for the next winning Royals' team. Mid-season acquisitions Odalis Perez and Jorge de la Rosa also failed to impress, and while I like both pitchers' upsides, a prospect rotation of Luke Hudson, Perez, Runelvys Hernandez, de la Rosa, and maybe Zach Greinke will impress no one. Despite the potential of their position players, where Gordon alone provides more fantasy value right now than the entire minor league systems of clubs like Baltimore and Detroit, Kansas City remains at least a few seasons away from respectability barring a fantastic campaign by Moore to address the lack of quality pitching on the Royals.
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. Kansas City Royals(A.Gordon, B.Butler, Ju.Huber, Lubanski)
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