Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Arizona's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects for 2007
1. Chris Young, 23, OF-R
To illustrate the depth of the Diamondbacks' young talent, the biggest decision facing the organization in the next few years is whether to keep Chris Young or Justin Upton in center and whether the loser supplants Carlos Quentin or Carlos Gonzalez on the corners or heads elsewhere as trade bait for a second ace to join Brandon Webb. For now, Young will open 2007 as the starting centerfielder and enjoys at least a year to establish his credentials. Given his performance to date, we expect he'll excel in Arizona. Young nearly won the job this year before a fluke broken hand in February cost him all of spring training. He hit decently well in the first half but just exploded after the break, registering .286/.372/.579 averages before his inevitable promotion to the majors. Young's 3.86 #P/PA and 1.08 G-F with the Snakes demonstrates his broad skill set, made more impressive by the fact the spent all of 2004 in the Sally League for the White Sox before a double-promotion to the Southern League in 2005 dramatically boosted his profile. With excellent range, plate discipline, power, and playable speed, we could see him hit both 30-30 and $30, so prepare to spend into the $20s without hesitation in every league as only an unimpressive batting average should prevent him from emerging as a five-category force.
Last month's trade of Johnny Estrada clears the catching job for an expected platoon of Chris Snyder and Montero, who should receive the majority of at-bats. Montero nicely built on his 2005 breakout, demonstrating excellent plate discipline while registering a .85 G-F that should make him one of the best fantasy values in the game as a catcher capable of exceeding twenty homers. Right now I value him just under $10, and for anyone looking for long-term value, pushing $15 might make sense if he enjoys a solid spring.
Absolutely stolen from the Angels for Jason Bulger, Callaspo played above average defense at second, third, and shortstop for Tucson while finishing second in the PCL in batting average, seventh in OBP, and even twenty-first in slugging. A couple of promotions provided a taste of the majors, and although he could assume both second base and leadoff duties in Arizona, the club appears wisely more committed to Orlando Hudson, who provides necessary defense for groundball specialist Brandon Webb. Instead Callaspo should spend 2007 as the primary reserve infielder for the Diamondbacks, likely amassing about 400 at-bats with an excellent BA. He now owns a career minor league average of .319 in 2690 AB, along with a superb 222:140 BB:K. Target him anywhere around $5 and you might find yourself with a $15 asset who ranks among the best pieces of trade bait in your league.
As expected, Gonzalez too full advantage of the California League as he exceeded his previous career-high homer total in over a hundred fewer at-bats. His speed also reemerged, and although the significant dip in his plate discipline concerns me, I understand why he wanted to capitalize on his 1.08 G-F at Lancaster. Remember that Gonzalez didn't turn 21 until October and looks great in the Venezuelan Winter league this fall, so if necessary, Arizona can give him full seasons at both AA Mobile and AAA Tucson, a possibility of Scott Hairston supplants Eric Byrnes in 2007. Gonzalez's long-term offensive upside gives him as much fantasy upside as any prospect in the league outside of a few speedsters like Justin Upton and Chris Young, so plan to select him in the earliest round possible of any minor league draft where he remains available.
Spending the summer in one of baseball's toughest pitchers' parks provided a necessary apprenticeship for Arizona's top pitching prospect. While the spike in his hit rate concerns me, Nippert otherwise experienced welcome skill growth, giving him an excellent chance to win a permanent rotation spot with a strong spring. Of course, he still could stumble like most young Diamondbacks' pitchers, so don't risk more than a minimal bid in standard leagues.
Born three years and four days after brother Melvin, Justin failed to echo B.J.'s debut at an identical age and level. Yet despite rampant reports of a lackadaisical attitude, he posted an outstanding walk rate, decent power numbers, and only truly struggled against southpaws, where a .175 BA negated a stunning 25:19 BB:K in 103 AB. A respectable 1.24 G-F further illustrates his potential, especially as he follows Carlos Gonzalez from the Midwest League to Visalia in the Cal League. Nothing here causes me to sour on Upton in any meaningful way. Scouts still love his upside, he won't turn 20 until next August, and he heads into a great environment for hitters next spring. Expect Upton to finish 2007 at AA Mobile, if not Arizona, as he truly begins to convert promise into results. Now may be your last chance to acquire the future star unless you accidentally find yourself rebuilding next summer.
Falling to the seventeenth round of the 2004 draft proved a blessing for Carter, who quickly marched through the minors on the strength of solid power and great plate discipline while clearly benefiting from favorable hitters' parks. Of course, I'd like him a lot more on one of the dozen teams without a recently-promoted long-term first baseman like Conor Jackson. Carter's 1.77 G-F this summer also worries me, so although he looks like a great fit as Tony Clark's eventual replacement on Arizona's bench, he won't possess any fantasy value until he actually reaches the majors.
Rather than rest on his burnished laurels after another solid AAA campaign, augmented by the best demonstrated plate discipline in Barden's career, he headed to the Mexican Winter League, where he currently owns .287/.379/.506 averages and a 24:38 BB:K in 178 AB. While Alberto Callaspo should spend 2007 as Arizona's primary utilityman, Barden also spent time at three infield positions at Tucson, focusing primarily on third base, and similarly stands ready to replace Damion Easley next year. Few teams keep two or three rookies as reserves, but with Callaspo, Chris Carter, and Barden, the Diamondbacks' potential bench possesses more talent and upside than the starting infield on several clubs. Gambling a buck on Barden in your draft might net you a surprisingly productive asset at minimal cost
Unexpectedly acquired from Milwaukee last month with Doug Davis and Dana Eveland in the Johnny Estrada deal, Krynzel doesn't appear a good fit for an organization with as many talented young outfielders as any franchise in the game. However, Krynzel still owns decent patience, intriguing baserunning skills, plenty of range in the outfield. He might make a great replacement for Jeff DaVanon if Arizona experiences the same success in improving Krynzel's plate discipline that a few other upper-level Diamondbacks prospects managed this summer. Don't be afraid to risk a buck if he sneaks onto the Opening Day roster.
The former Georgia Tech and Tulane product joined Arizona as a third round pick in 2005, and while he looked good that summer, he only tallied twenty-two innings of relief work after the long college season. This season Owings debuted at Double-A, comfortably dominating most opposition before receiving a mid-season promotion to the far tougher environment in Tucson. While his hit, walk, and strikeout rates all suffered, he held a negligible platoon rate and simply pitched smart, winning all his decisions and emerging as a strong candidate for a rotation spot in 2007. Perhaps he's benefit from a little more seasoning, but Owings soon will join the Diamondbacks, likely emerging as an intriguing mid-season pickup.
Pena continues to distance himself from his days as a five-years-younger Adriano Rosario. His move to the bullpen this year resulted in a superb four months in the minors, followed by several weeks of decent big league work only marred by an unfortunately elevated homer rate. He enters 2007 in perfect position to steal the closer's job from Jose Valverde and Jorge Julio by year's end, so though I won't generally recommend Pena until he demonstrates more effectiveness in the majors, he looks like an excellent late-round targets in NL leagues with deep reserve rosters.
Reynolds possibly enjoyed the most meteoric rise of any prospect in the game this summer. Last year he registered an unimpressive .253/.319/.454 performance with a 37:107 BB:K in 434 AB for A South Bend(Mid). Moving to the Cal League somehow resulted in more than a three-hundred-point OPS boost, accompanied by massively improved patience. While he understandably regressed at Double-A, he still held an OPS near .300 while spending time at third, second, and left field in addition to his previous work at shortstop for Lancaster. This fall Reynolds destroyed the AFL, posting a .327/.389/.564 performance with a 9:26 BB:K in 101 AB. Although his lack of a position and mediocre plate discipline could cause problems, Reynolds should maintain solid numbers at AAA Tucson in 2007, potentially pushing onto the Diamondbacks' bench by mid-season. Gambling owners can consider rostering him in a late reserve round despite the lack of previous statistical support for this shocking breakout campaign.
Second in the minors in runs scored and among the top ten basestealers this summer, Bonifacio shouldn't suffer upon departing the Cal League for Double-A in the spring. Yes, his plate discipline needs to improve, and he also lacks a clear path to the majors with Orlando Hudson, Alberto Callaspo, and Mark Reynolds all in line at second base. However, Bonifacio offers Arizona a potential true leadoff man at an important position, an intriguing opportunity for a club building around plate discipline, power, and defense. Spending an end-round pick on Bonifacio in very deep leagues isn't an awful idea, although waiting on more year to see how the Diamondbacks' infield situation evolves makes much more sense.
Seemingly owning the tools of a baseball chameleon, Richar spent the last three years in the Cal League annually tweaking his skill set, first posting an unsupported .304 BA, then adding speed at the cost of average in 2004, and finally shooting from 6 to 20 homers in 2005. This season he graduated to the Southern League and traded power for both extra steals and career-best plate discipline. Anyone with such sporadic skill development seems destined for a bench job, so wait until Richar reaches the majors before rostering him anywhere.
Spending another summer in the Southern League proved wise for D'Antona, who nicely rebounded from a terrible 2005. Yes, he watched former Cal League teammates Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin impact the majors, but D'Antona's reemergence as a prospect at least keeps him on track for the majors. If no one selects him in the Rule 5 draft, he should spend next season at AAA Tucson, further establishing his credentials for the other organizations that almost certainly will seek him at the trade deadline while the Diamondbacks look to add veteran pitching.
Phil Avlas, 23, C-R
A perfectly decent catcher in his own right, Avlas watched teammates Miguel Montero surge from Tennessee all the way to the Diamondbacks' starting job in barely a half season. Avlas also possesses pretty good plate discipline and even a little power, so we could see him push Chris Snyder for the right to reunite with Montero by 2008.
Little went right for Bajenaru after he joined Arizona from the White Sox during spring training in a trade for Alex Cintron. His control regressed at Tucson, he imploded during his only game in the majors, and then he lost his 40-man spot after the season. Now the minor league free agent needs to find an organization with a park more forgiving to inconsistent flyball pitchers, a worrisome proposition given the evolving obsession with fireballing young relievers after the success of Bobby Jenks, Joel Zumaya, and Adam Wainwright in the playoffs over the last two years.
With a falling strikeout rate and clear difficulty pitching in hitters' parks based on his problems in Tucson and A+ Lancaster, Bass seems a prime candidate to convert to relief, particularly if liberated in Thursday's Rule 5 draft. He'll need to experience extended success in the majors before warranting any fantasy consideration.
Gonzalez surprisingly skipped right past High-A after two summers in the Midwest League. Yet his plate discipline vastly improved while his batting and slugging averages only slightly declined. Outstanding defense will push him to the majors within the next year or two, but play close attention to any regression in his plate discipline. If you roster him, slippage in his BA could drag his value below zero extremely fast.
Remaining at Tennessee for a second season proved profitable for Goocher, who spent most of the year as a reliever and managed a 3.16 ERA in that capacity. Of course, he didn't pitch too badly during his starts, but I strongly suspect he'll struggle at Tucson regardless of his role, so don't expect to see him in the majors for at least another year.
A tenth round pick out of Clemson in 2004, Jackson posted an ugly 5.33 ERA in 28 starts for South Bend last year yet emerged as a remarkably promising prospect this summer after jumping right past A+ Lancaster. While his AFL struggles mildly concern me, pitchers with his excellent groundball rate remain great fits for Arizona, and if Jackson echoes this performance for AAA Tucson, we should see him receive some starts for the Diamondbacks by year's end.
Obtained from the Mets as the sole compensation for Shawn Green, MacLane appears almost certain to shift to relief in 2007, possibly even breaking camp in Arizona's bullpen. With a 1.69 G-F and an OOPS nearly .250 points lower against left-handed hitters, he looks like a welcome addition for a club with a history of limited southpaw support from their relief corps.
With limited patience, unimpressive power, and inconsistent defense, Milons appears primed to collapse upon leaving the Cal League. Scouts may like his offensive upside, however nothing here warrants much attention from fantasy owners at this time.
Another ugly season pushed Murphy back to Double-A, essentially neutering his value as a prospect. He needs either a change of scenery or a permanent move to the bullpen to reemerge as a viable candidate for the majors.
Everything in Nicolas' profiles screams AAAA bat, but after consecutive .400 OBPs in the Midwest and Cal Leagues, the 2004 Vanderbilt product merits monitoring as he heads to Double-A. Yet his failure to break a .900 OPS at Lancaster worries me given his otherwise solid offensive numbers, so Nicolas must find a way improve his power if he wants to remain a decent prospect.
Ohlendorf joined fellow 2004 draftee Steven Jackson by skipping from the Midwest League straight to Tennessee this year, and like Jackson, Ohlendorf also posted the best numbers of his career. However, Ohlendorf also managed dramatic improvement in his control, which augers well for further success given his respectable groundball rate. While his general lack of dominance suggests Ohlendorf fits best for the Diamondbacks as trade bait, he just might surprise in 2007, possibly even emerging as a fantasy asset by September.
The 2005 fifth round product of William & Mary excelled in his first full professional season. Unfortunately, Rahl's limited patience, coupled with his unimpressive performance in the Hawaiian Winter League, leaves him ripe for problems at Double-A in 2007. Expect him to need no less than a few years additional seasoning in the upper minors before seriously challenging for a big league bench spot.
Schultz somehow managed significant improvement in his walk rate while even cutting his walk rate in his first extended action above Double-A. His success this summer warrants a long look during camp during Arizona's annual audition for bullpen fodder.
Possessing excellent control without much dominance almost certainly will push Shappi into the bullpen. Of course, he'll likely spend half of 2007 in the Double-A rotation before the Diamondbacks surrender to the inevitable.
Returning to Tennessee this summer resulted in unexpected dominance from Slaten, who befuddled most Southern League hitters, completely stunned AAA opponents by allowing less than a baserunner an innings, and finally emerged as a reliable left-handed reliever for the Diamondbacks in September. Slaten should enter camp with a bullpen job virtually guaranteed, and considering his past success and fantastic 2006, I see no reason he can't remain relatively effective. He could emerge as viable fantasy roster filler as soon as May.
Smith simply devoured Cal League hitters, progressing to Double-A scarcely a year after Arizona selected him out of LSU in the sixth round of the 2005 draft. My concern here revolves around his skill implosion at Tennessee, as well as his inconsistent control at Lancaster. A troublesome left/right split also portends a potential move to the bullpen, so don't count on Smith anywhere until he actually reaches the majors.
Released by the Dodgers in July, Weber enjoyed a nice run with Tucson before returning to minor league free agency this fall. With a decent year of Triple-A under his belt, Weber should begin receiving annual spring training NRIs and hopefully break onto a big league bench within the next few years.
Losing Scouting Director Supreme Mike Rizzo to an AGM job in Washington thankfully won't cripple the organization considering the multitude of promising moves made by Josh Byrnes in the year since he assumed GM duties. Building upon Rizzo's prospects from his first day, almost all of Byrnes' significant moves look wise in retrospect. Brandon Webb received a three-year extension and then won the NL Cy Young award. Under-the-radar pickups of Eric Byrnes and Jeff DaVanon provided needed outfield depth in the transition from veteran to youth. Most vitally, last winter Byrnes dealt Javier Vazquez, Troy Glaus, Sergio Santos, Oscar Villarreal, Lance Cormier, Jason Bulger, Alex Cintron, and Brad Halsey for Chris Young, Orlando Hernandez, Luis Vizcaino, Orlando Hudson, Miguel Batista, Johnny Estrada, Alberto Callaspo, Jeff Bajenaru, and Juan Cruz shaving plenty of payroll and filling key holes in the organization. Only the signing of Jason Grimsley truly backfired, but in-season swaps of Hernandez for Jorge Julio, Garrett Mock and Matt Chico for Livan Hernandez, and especially Shawn Green for Evan MacLane continued the necessary roster churning. Burns even cut Russ Ortiz, wisely deciding that paying the control-challenged veteran over $20M not to pitch for the Diamondbacks would cause less damage than retaining him through 2008. Two trades in the last six weeks further impressed me as organization cipher Jerry Gil headed to Cincinnati for Abe Woody a month before Byrnes leveraged Estrada, underachieving Claudio Vargas, and Greg Aquino into new #3 starter Doug Davis, southpaw swingman Dana Eveland, and prospects DaVanon replacement Dave Krynzel.
Through all these moves, Byrnes has not added any salary of note other than Livan's reasonable extension, he vastly improved the defense, and he removed the last big league impediment to any youngster's development by cutting ties with Luis Gonzalez. Refusing to sign any veteran position players to major league deals this winter will serve to demonstrate Byrnes' seriousness in building with youth. For example, if every member of the starting lineup falters, the backup lineup of Chris Snyder, Tony Clark, Mark Reynolds, Brian Barden, Alberto Callaspo, Chris Carter, Jeff DaVanon, and Scott Hairston appeals more to me than the expected starting nine of the Royals while ranking comparably with a few other teams. On the other side of the ball, although Chase Field still presents a significant obstacle for many pitchers, the Diamondbacks otherwise possess a stunningly impressive cadre of young talent even after graduating Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin, and Stephen Drew to big league starting jobs. The top three prospects here probably could any NL team's prospect list since unlike most clubs, the Diamondbacks actually want to play their rookies rather than overpay for lesser veterans. I highly recommend Young, Montero, Callaspo, Gonzalez, and Upton in any league while also recognizing the potential value of lesser knowns like Owings and Reynolds. Arizona remains an excellent source of young fantasy talent, particularly for owners in long-term keeper leagues.
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. Arizona Diamondbacks(C.Young, M.Montero, Callaspo, C.Gonzalez, J.Upton)
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