Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
1. Delmon Young, 21, OF-R
Baseball's consensus top prospect entering the year, Young remains one of the top rookies in the game after Tampa reduced his playing time during the last week to maintain his rookie status. Yet other in-season developments overwhelmed that late September news. In late April an overzealous International League replacement umpire ejected Young for arguing after the 20-year-old headed back to the dugout. He responded by haphazardly flipping his bat toward the plate, striking the unnecessarily provocative ump in the chest and arm in an incident that resulted in national headlines and a video that will follow Young for the rest of his career. While we don't defend the assault, we also hold the ump responsible for exacerbating the situation since virtually everyone attends minor league games to watch prospects, particularly future stars like Delmon Young. Ejecting him served no purpose other than potentially assuaging the umpire's ego right until the whirling timber clocked him, which earned Young an understandable fifty-game suspension without any accompanying penalty for an umpire clearly not understanding his job function.
The good news is that the umpire wasn't injured physically and Dmitri's little brother overcame this latest incident to regain his place as the brightest star in the Rays' constellation of under-25 mashers. However, for the many owners interested in Young, understand that steals and batting average remain his primary assets. He only saw 2.85 pitches per plate appearance in the majors, an awful number for anyone, and with respective major league and Triple-A ground-fly ratios of 1.75 and 2.31, Young lacks the level swing normally necessary for prolific power numbers. Don't expect him to exceed as a true fantasy superstar until the end of the decade, instead remaining in the $20-30 range expected of Rocco Baldelli and B.J. Upton.
Repeated problems with the Triple-A coaching staff resulted in a 15-game suspension for Dukes in June, a 30-game, season-ending suspension in August, and three other lesser suspensions throughout the year. Of course, the Rays dismissed Durham's coaching staff for overt incompetence in developing prospects, and Dukes also managed an excellent .313/.425/.625 performance in 32 AFL at-bats. Vast improvement in his walk rate similarly makes him as good a bet to succeed in the majors in 2007 as Delmon Young, so if the Rays don't deal Dukes, he'll spend spring training pushing Jonny Gomes for at-bats at DH. I realize that Dukes' history of discipline issues raises severe warning flags for fantasy owners, but I consider his success on the field in spite of those difficulties a significant badge of success for the prospect. Don't be surprised if he breaks camp in the majors and shoots to $20 if Joe Maddon and the Rays' big league coaches simply treat Dukes as a professional
While the acquisition of Dioner Navarro presents a tremendous roadblock for Riggans, Navarro's history of injury and inconsistency could create an unexpected opening in Tampa's lineup. With six years of minor league experience, good skills behind the plate, and successive seasons with an OPS around .800 in the upper minors, Riggans appears a perfect fit as Navarro's backup for now, and if the youngster falters, he'll emerge as a solid fantasy option capable of pushing double-digit value. Rank Riggans near the top of your list of endgame catchers due to both his immediate upside and long-term keeper potential.
Apparently the years of hype resonated with Guzman, who chafed at his limited playing time with the Dodgers when briefly recalled from Las Vegas. His funk continued following the deadine deal that sent Guzman and Sergio Pedroza to Tampa for Julio Lugo, a problem probably exacerbated by the Rays' extended number of prospects in the outfield and the left side of the infield. Guzman appears stuck at first base now, and despite only facing competition from journeymen Ty Wigginton and Greg Norton and displaced first-baseman-of-the-future Wes Bankston, Guzman needs to show more power soon to remain in the club's long-term plans. Expect an almost certain return to Durham to test Guzman, and if he responds positively with an OPS over .850, he'll reach the majors no later than August. Unfortunately, since we don't know if his patience, power, and overall discipline will recover from the last year of disappointment, we can't treat him as more than a decent mid-round pick.
Conquering Triple-A places Hammel atop the Rays' rotation options after Scott Kazmir, James Shields, and Jae Seo. Hammel's biggest obstacle looks like his lack of dominance since he never managed a particularly impressive hit rate at any level, a deficiency that proved his primary problem in the majors this summer. Weakened command also hurt him, but with nothing left to prove in the minors and plenty of openings in Tampa, Hammel deserves plenty of considering as an endgame pick in any league where you can reserve him until he begins succeeding.
Taking full advantage of the California League propelled Brignac's prospect stock, elevating him among the game's top infield prospects as a left-handed power hitter capable of playing shortstop in the majors. Tampa moved both B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria to third base to clear short for Brignac, who will spend one more summer in the upper minors before likely supplanting Ben Zobrist in the majors. Although his unimpressive plate discipline still concerns me, his five-tool upside and relative youth present a tremendously promising future for Brignac. Select him with a high pick in any league where he remains unowned.
Our choice for the top pick in this June's draft despite less upside than Andrew Miller and a couple of other pitchers, Longoria slipped to the Rays with the third selection and quickly signed for a $3M bonus. A product of Long Beach State, the same shortstop factory that recently produced Bobby Crosby and Troy Tulowitzki, Longoria blew through the New York-Penn League in barely a week. He then continued mashing in the California League despite switching to third base due to Tampa's decision to cede shortstop to Reid Brignac. Longoria even snagged a promotion to Double-A for the last month of the year, and despite deteriorating patience, his .99 G-F helped him smack eighteen highly unexpected homers in only a half season as a professional. Only Alex Gordon clearly offers more fantasy potential among AL infield prospects, so feel free to roster Longoria in the first round of any minor league draft. Despite the theoretical obstacle presented by B.J. Upton, I suspect the Rays either will deal Upton or move him to center following a Rocco Baldelli or Carl Crawford trade due the club's obvious preference to keep Longoria alongside Brignac on the left side of the infield for no less than the next half-dozen seasons.
One of baseball's perennially underrated prospects, Sonnanstine reached 413 innings as a professional this summer while only allowing a total of 63 walks for a meager 1.4 BB/9. Although his strikeout rate dropped from a 9.4 K/9 to a 7.4 mark as expected in Double-A, comparable improvement in Sonnanstine's hit rate suggests he won't find a higher level of competition particularly challenging. I consider him the safest of Tampa's pitching prospects and one of the best fantasy targets in deep AL leagues. Expect to see him begin 2007 at Triple-A Durham before filling one of the expected openings in the Rays' rotation no later than the All-Star break.
Swiped from Houston with Ben Zobrist for Aubrey Huff, Talbot's impressive skills in the first half translated to impressive dominance of Southern League batters down the stretch. His overall AA numbers rank with the best pitchers at that level, and considering his pedigree as a second round pick in 2002, I see no reason he can't emerge as a viable rotation option for Tampa. Talbot should merit fantasy consideration as soon as the Rays promote him to the majors.
Set to shift to third base at the end of spring training, Bankston suffered an oblique strain in April the cost him six weeks of action. By the time he returned, both B.J. Upton and the newly-drafted Evan Longoria supplanted Bankston atop the club's long-term third base depth chart. At least Bankston hit his way to Triple-A in July, but with mediocre plate discipline, unimpressive power, and a growing injury history, he doesn't look like a solution for the Rays at any position. Despite the good possibility of Bannkston enjoying an extended big league career, he doesn't deserve a fantasy roster spot in any save the deepest of leagues in 2007.
Spending a full season at Montgomery in a year when many of the Rays' best prospects received mid-year promotions suggests the club believes the consensus scouting profile of Johnson as a future utilityman. Limited power, declining plate discipline, and terrible baserunning stats all reinforce that belief, so although I still see plenty of fantasy upside for Johnson, he probably won't be much of an asset in the majors. Don't roster him until he emerges as a viable option on Tampa's bench.
Seemingly slated for the bullpen, continued success as a starter at Durham prompted a late-season promotion, and Stokes pitched better than the vast majority of Tampa's rotation filler. He enters camp with an excellent chance for a role in the majors, and although guys like Jason Hammel and Andy Sonnanstine could supplant him by mid-season, Stokes' history of command warrants at least some consideration from fantasy owners looking for endgame innings.
Sent from the Dodgers as the PTBN that completed the exchange of Dioner Navarro and Jae Seo for Mark Hendrickson and Toby Hall, Ruggiano deserved a shot at Triple-A after entering the year with career averages of .324/.414/.527 in 558 at-bats split between R+ Ogden(155 AB), A+ Vero Beach(242 AB), and Jacksonville(161 AB). Although he doesn't possess much power, further improvement in his contract could propel Ruggiano onto the Rays' bench as an inexpensive replacement for Damon Hollins, who should reach arbitration next winter. Of course, a likely future as a reserve outfielder on a club as loaded with future All-Stars as Tampa merits no fantasy consideration as more than possible in-season roster filler if continued production earns him a mid-season promotion.
Although Niemann returned from minor shoulder surgery in June and looked great during his three months of action, additional shoulder discomfort likely will keep him from significant AFL action. With barely a hundred professional innings under his belt in the three seasons since Tampa drafted him, Niemann's future rests on his uncertain health. We certainly like his posted stats. His 6'9" frame also portends future dominance, especially on a club with as many rotation openings as the Rays. However, until he accumulates a couple hundred innings of experience and finishes his minor league apprenticeship, don't spend more than a late draft pick on someone with his injury history.
Salas didn't allow an earned run until August 10th as he completely dominated both the Southern and International Leagues. While his hit rate spiked in the majors, Salas only needs a decent spring to steal any open spot in Tampa's bullpen. However, unless Seth McClung struggles and Joe Maddon anoints Salas as an alternative as closer, he won't deserve a spot on any fantasy roster until he experiences a bit more success on the Rays.
Jason Childers, 31, RH Reliever
Although Childers finally reached the majors for a little while, his limited upside failed to earn him an extended audition. Expect the minor league free agent to remain the AAAA fringe for the rest of the decade.
Simply staying healthy all year gives Davis an edge over several of the Rays' top pitching prospects. He posted solid strikeout, hit, and homer rates, however a combination of control problems and difficulties with left-handed hitters could create problems for Davis. I can't view him as a viable fantasy pick given his age and level until we see more consistency from the right-hander.
Snagged off waivers from the Angels at the end of camp, Dunn spent most of April with Tampa until Tyler Walker's acquisition bumped him off the roster. While Dunn continued to pitch effectively at Durham, his inconsistent control likely kept the Rays from giving him another shot. He'll need to cut his walk rate before succeeding in the majors assuming he takes advantage of the expected NRI.
Discussing Hellickson now appears premature, however he doesn't turn 20 until April and appears poised to shoot through the lower minors. He demonstrated no obvious weakness in any facet of his game, and although you shouldn't bother spending a draft pick on a pitcher unlikely to see the majors sooner than 2009, Hellickson's upside merits at least a modicum of attention at this time.
Selected in the second round in 2003, Houser lost most of 2004 to shoulder problems and remained in Low-A for all of 2005. His promotion to the California League surprisingly didn't adversely affect his skill set, nicely positioning Houser to reach Tampa as soon as next September. Although he lacks the upside of some of the Rays' other pitchers, he seems certain to reach the majors as no worse than a solid middle reliever.
With Dioner Navarro and Shawn Riggans likely secure as the Rays' catchers through the end of the decade, Jaso's mild decline from his 2005 breakout shouldn't concern the organization. Yes, he struggles against lefties and rarely walks, but with a career BA near .295, decent power, and an impressive contact rate, he still should develop into a quality big league option. Jaso simply needs the same seasoning that Riggans received by spending a full year at both Double-A and Triple-A.
Shifting to the bullpen last year in the California League provided the foundation for this summer's breakout. Machi still suffers from control problems, but with his solid strikeout and groundball rates, he could enjoy a long career as a reliever. If the minor league free agent impresses in the spring, don't be surprised if he earns a mid-season promotion once his new club begins their inevitable bullpen shuffling.
The Rays' second round pick in 2005, Mason looked great out of the bullpen in his professional debut. Returning to the rotation resulted in expected decreases in most of his skill this year, but a solid groundball rate and good control enabled Mason to post very impressive first-half numbers before tiring badly in July and August. He should open 2007 at Double-A with a good chance to push toward the majors by year's end.
The twenty-sixth player selected in the 1997 draft hasn't managed more than thirty-two at-bats in the majors despite well over two thousand AAA at-bats. He continues to post decent averages, albeit not any performance that demands a promotion. However, with his speed, decent patience, and overall ability, McDonald really belongs on a big league bench, and Washington gives him that shot in the spring, an endgame pick spent here could net you double-digit steals in return.
With one of the highest strikeout totals in the minors this summer, McGee emerged as a potentially dominant addition to the Rays' rotation. However, his development track to date suggests he'll need at least two more years of seasoning, and thankfully for McGee, Tampa left the California League for Vero Beach in the Florida State League, a far friendlier pitching environment. Don't draft McGee quite yet, but certainly monitor his development given his continued progress every season.
Acquired from the Padres at the waiver deadline for Russ Branyan, the former Twins' prospect returned to the rotation this year after a couple years in the bullpen and catapulted up the club's prospect list, nearly receiving a spot start from San Diego mere days before his trade to Tampa. Now Meek faces much more difficult competition to reach the majors, but even if his control doesn't improve, his strikeout and groundball rates indicate a strong likelihood of him succeeding in a return to the bullpen. We could see him on the Rays by year's end.
Tapped as a possible closer after signing a two-year deal with the Rays last winter, Mori instead missed the entire season with a torn labrum. He opted against surgery and therefore represents a considerable risk for a club with several respectable relief options ranging from likely closer Seth McClung through veterans Dan Miceli, Shawn Camp, and Travis Harper to Ruddy Lugo, Juan Salas, and Chad Orvella. Although Mori's major league deal insures he'll receive a shot in Tampa if healthy, gambling more than a Dollar Day's pick on him seems unwise.
Possessing excellent best plate discipline and an intriguing doubles' power merely makes Nowak solid depth in an organization this loaded with position prospects. However, with his minimal home/road split and a clear shot at a starting job in Double-A, Nowak at least will rank as great trade bait by next fall. Consider him someone to monitor as he approaches the majors over the next year.
Ironically Pedroza might return to Vero Beach to begin the 2007 season after the Rays added the Dodgers' old affiliate. However, given his overall development at the plate this summer and his pedigree as a Cal State Fullerton product and third round pick, advancing Pedroza to Double-A appears perfectly justified. His .998 OPS ranked behind only Jack Cust and Alex Gordon among minor league regulars and his 101 walks demonstrate superb patience. The biggest problem here is that Pedroza ranks below a half-dozen players in the Rays' long-term outfield plans, all of whom play at a higher level in the system and receive more plaudits from scouts. I won't fault for you gambling a late round pick here in deep leagues, but please realize that Pedroza's odds of contributing in the majors with Tampa appear surprisingly long considering the potential of his bat.
Perfectly decent as a starter, Peguero possesses even more upside if he completes a move to the bullpen to take advantage of the likely improvement in his strikeout rate. Departing Tampa as a minor league free agent significantly improves his prospect profile as long as he lands somewhere with less young pitching depth. He just might earn a couple of bucks as a mid-season call-up.
The new Joey Gathright in the organization, albeit without the car-jumping speed, the Columbia University product owns a superb combination of basestealing ability, plate patience, and defensive range. He profiles as no less than an excellent fourth outfielder and could develop into one of the game's few true leadoff man. Of course, he never should spent time on the Rays' as more than a backup, so spending more than a late-round pick on this A-ball outfielder seems overly optimistic, especially considering his minimal power and unimpressive AFL campaign.
Adding a successful AFL stint atop of this impressive work in his first experience above A-ball should give Ridgway an excellent shot to break camp in the majors. Tampa wisely added him to the 40-man roster earlier this month, and right now only Chris Seddon stands in Ridgway's path to joining Jon Switzer in the big league bullpen. If he wins the job and remains effective, he'll merit plenty of consideration when you look for roster filler over the summer.
Six seasons in the lower minors finally resulted in a successful Double-A campaign with the Mets in 2005, nicely followed by this tour of Durham. While Rodriguez returned to minor league free agency, his effective work in the upper minors should earn him an NRI, which again should lead to a look during the season if he impresses in the spring. Realistically, he'll probably spend another year or two as AAAA fodder before receiving that first cup-of-coffee, but any improvement in his skills should warrant a big league audition based on his performance alone.
One of the few Bulls' pitchers to spend all season in Durham, Seddon only improved marginally in his second tour of the International League. Right-handers continue to pound him, so I anticipate Tampa will give him a long look in the spring with the hope that he'll join fellow southpaw Jon Swizter in the big league bullpen. Of course, Seddon's general lack of dominance and obvious upside likely will minimize his fantasy potentially indefinitely.
Dealt to Tampa in January with Edwin Jackson for Danys Baez and Lance Carter, Tiffany's season concluded in May when a bout of shoulder tendonitis eventually required rotator cuff surgery in July. Despite his previous success in A-ball, he likely needs at least a full year in the upper minors before deserving a shot in the majors.
Selected above several superior prospects in a dramatically short-sighted money-saving draft pick in 2005, he required Tommy John surgery after tearing an elbow ligament during last year's AFL. However, he returned to action in the instructional league and could reach the majors as soon as next fall. Keep an eye on his progress, particularly if you see him dominating at a lower-level in the minors early in the year.
7:05: Detroit@St. Louis
We expected Detroit to cruise past St. Louis, but after Kenny Rogers' debacle and the last couple of games, the Tigers need a miracle from Justin Verlander to overcome the Cardinals' momentum. While Anthony Reyes earned this start, the resurgent Jeff Weaver appears equally capable of ending the Series, and the 2006 season, this evening at Busch II.
Delmon Young alone gives Tampa the most intriguing fantasy rookie in the game, however to put this system's depth in perspective, the Devil Rays would top this ranking even if Young lost his rookie eligibility. The organization also features Wes Bankston, Reid Brignac, Elijah Dukes, Joel Guzman, Jason Hammel, Elliot Johnson, Evan Longoria, Shinji Mori, Jeff Neimann, Shawn Riggans, Juan Salas, Chris Seddon, Andy Sonnanstine, and Brian Stokes, all of whom should see time with the Rays next summer. If the club wisely retains the shockingly inexpensive Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli, as well as potential stars like Scott Kazmir, B.J. Upton, Jorge Cantu, Dioner Navarro, James Shields, Jonny Gomes, and likely closer Seth McClung, Tampa will field a roster with even more young talent than the cross-state Marlins by next winter. Even failing to sign Andrew Miller and Thomas Diamond in past drafts doesn't detract from the incredible upside of the organization's top two-dozen players. Adding perhaps one veteran starter and reliever this winter should provide sufficient buffer for manager Joe Maddon to continue developing this prospect cadre into a true contender. We won't object if Andrew Freidman swaps one outfielder and infielder in exchange for no less than a couple of future top-of-the-rotation assets, but otherwise the Rays only need to let their youngsters gain experience while selectively signing a few additional players to deals similarly to those received by Crawford and Baldelli over the last year.
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. Tampa Bay Devil Rays(Delm.Young, Dukes, Riggans, Brignac, Longoria)
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