Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Atlanta's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects for 2007
1. Gregor Blanco, 22, OF-L
Initially catching my eye as an 18-year-old in the Sally League in 2002, Blanco stagnated during two tours of the Carolina League and only experienced a slight uptick in performance upon reaching the Southern League in 2005. However, his return to Mississippi this season resulted in a higher contact rate that boosted his BA and OBP to fairly impressive levels, warranting a mid-season promotion to Richmond. Blanco truly reemerged as Triple-A, demonstrating a broad base of leadoff skills that suggest he could succeed on a big league bench right now. He even echoed these numbers in the Venezuelan Winter League this fall, so I see no reason why Blanco shouldn't receive every chance to break camp as the Braves' fifth outfielder in the spring. To put his development and current upside in perspective, right now Blanco offers a skill set remarkably similar to Juan Pierre's limited talents, and I see no reason why Blanco couldn't spend the next half-decade as a competent leadoff man while earning less than half of what Pierre will cost in 2007 alone. Strongly consider acquiring Blanco as soon as the Braves promote him
Focusing on his catching this year created massive problems at the plate for Saltalamacchia, who watched his OPS erode from a .764 mark in April all the way down to a .519 in June. However, minor wrist problems sent him to the DL at the beginning of August, and he looked like a different batter after his return. He posted a .357/.509/.810 in 42 July AB, a comparably respectable .313/.425/.438 in 32 August AB, and excelled for a week in the AFL before a couple of small muscle tweaks sidelined him for the year. With a negligible platoon split, excellent patience, and the repeated raves of scouts and coaches regarding his work ethic to improve behind the plate, Saltalamacchia remains on target to break into the Braves' lineup no later than 2009. He still could bump Brian McCann to first if the McCann's throwing doesn't improve, but Saltalamacchia appears far more likely to make a position switch, limiting his current fantasy value despite his obvious upside. Consider him a very good target for anyone looking to buy low on a future All-Star this winter.
Fully deserving of the Braves' backup job in 2007, Pena's outstanding contact rate superbly compensates for his lack of power and patience, allowing him to maintain a .300 career BA in nearly 1800 at-bats. However, without any defining tertiary tool beyond hitting for average and solid defense, Pena only ranks as a respectable Dollar Days option as your second catcher, not someone to target in any fantasy league.
Even pitching in relief during the AFL didn't result in positive results for Lerew, who suffered through an awful first half after entering the year as the brightest arm in the system. He appeared nearly ready to join the big league rotation after his dynamic 2005 performance, however he self-destructed at Richmond, eventually slipping down to the Southern League after missing two weeks with a minor back injury. Thankfully he rebounded at Double-A, regaining both confidence and effectiveness before returning to Richmond in August to compile a 30:7 K:BB in 23 IP with 22 H, 4 HR, and a 1.16 G-F. A good spring training just might push him to Atlanta, so although Lerew remains extremely risky, I see sufficient upside here to warrant a Dollar Days' gamble on the right-hander if his skills look solid during camp.
Defecting from Cuba in 2005, Escobar joined Atlanta as a second round pick, excelled in two months in the Sally League and comfortably transitioned to Double-A this summer. He demonstrated impressive plate discipline and decent defensive range, however he also saw extended action at both second and third, suggesting the Braves view him as a probably utilityman. I find that scenario compelling since he possesses little speed and posted an awful 2.94 G-F, harshly limiting any power projection. The good news is that Escobar dominated the AFL, compiling a .407/.463/.558 with a 9:7 BB:K in 86 AB, guaranteeing a promotion to Triple-A in 2007, but don't expect him to develop into more than a poor man's Wilson Betemit.
Neither Harrison's strikeout nor hit rates much interest me, but he possesses very good control and doesn't allow too many homers. He also only turned 21 just two weeks before season's end, making the fact he improved upon his 2005 breakout all the more impressive. Harrison ranks right behind Anthony Lerew as the best fantasy values among Braves' pitching prospects, so although I can't recommend selecting him right now, monitor his progress in the hopes of a FAABing him during the year.
Signed in 2004 as a 24th round draft-and-follow from the previous year, Jones posted a decent .297/.366/.416 in the Appy League before watching his progress ground to halt when he suffered a broken hand in April of 2005. Returning from that injury after two months, Jones shot through the system, briefly playing for the four lowest-level affiliates in the system but posting very nice averages in over two-hundred at-bats in A-ball. Atlanta again assigned him to the Carolina League to begin this season, where he enjoyed two strong months before finishing the season at Double-A, where he watched his power surge despite a merely mediocre 1.54 G-F. Perhaps the best news is that Jones ranks as an above-average outfielder, and if he lacks the power for either corner and Andruw Jones departs, the Braves always could slot him between Jeff Francouer and Ryan Langerhans given the plus range of the current starters. At worst, Jones should hit the majors in 2008 as a capable fourth outfielder, so while you shouldn't draft him now in most leagues, he offers more immediate fantasy potential than almost any other Braves' position player.
The Venezuelan product didn't turn 18 until a week before the end of the season, making his performance far more impressive than his stats indicate. Andrus spent the year as one of the youngest participants in full-season ball, demonstrating plenty of upside in every facet of the game, yet despite the projection involved in evaluating him, I don't see much fantasy value here right now. He'll need at least two more years in the minors and possibly three or more, and he also lacks any particularly impressive tool that speaks to his roto potential. Even his defense registered as below average statistically, so while Andrus absolutely merits monitoring next year in the Carolina League, don't bother drafting him at this time.
While Devine impresses scouts with his ability to rebound from difficulty, his career effectively stalled the minute the Braves recalled him in August of 2005, only two months after he signed as the 27th player selected in that June's draft. He allowed grand slams in his first two outings, returned to the minors, suffered a torn hip flexor, and yet still spent October on the playoff roster, allowing the NLDS-ending homer to Chris Burke in Houston. This spring he joined the Braves only a couple of games into the season and promptly allowed seven runs in his first full inning of work before heading into extended spring training with a degenerative disc in his back. He eventually rebounded in the Carolina and Southern Leagues, pitched decently in September, and remained effective in the AFL. Now, I still don't trust Devine at all, and with Bob Wickman signed, he enters the year with minimal roto value. However, if you find yourself with no choice but rebuilding at your draft, grabbing Devine during Dollar Days gives you a decent chance to own the Braves' closer in 2008.
The younger brother of the Royals' Kila, Kala simply devoured Sally League pitching, and although his batting dropped over a hundred points upon his mid-season promotion to the Carolina League, he kept his OPS over .800 on the strength of good plate discipline and a 1.09 G-F. In a system largely bereft of power prospects, Kaaihue looks like the only realistic option if the Braves opt against retaining Adam LaRoche indefinitely. Of course, I still see no reason to roster the Hawaiian slugger right now. Wait to see if he echoes these numbers before Double-A before considering him anywhere.
Brian Jordan barely edged out Jurries for the last spot on the Opening Day roster, and the aging prospect appeared to carry that disappointment with him all year. He posted mediocre numbers in April, broke his knee courtesy of a teammates' BP line drive, and then struggled the rest of the year. While he remained with Atlanta despite losing his 40-man slot in August, nothing here suggests he'll receive much consideration in 2007, especially after Matt Diaz's emergence as the primary right-handed threat on the Braves' bench. Despite his minor league success prior to this season, don't expect Jurries to post positive fantasy value until receiving a change of scenery.
Prado simply offers no upgrade from current big league reserves Willy Aybar and Pete Orr, and with Yunel Escobar ready for Triple-A, Atlanta should turn to Aybar or Escobar if injuries create any starting jobs. However, Prado certainly could see time as bench filler, and since he normally posts a decent average and could steal a couple bases, he won't hurt you if needed as a short-term injury replacement.
With above-average defense, excellent plate discipline, and respectable speed, this undrafted outfielder could reach the majors within the next couple of years. Of course, Loadenthal's margin of error for further setbacks like his Double-A disaster remains near zero, so he'll need to rebound from his slow start in 2006 to remain in any of the Braves' long-term plans.
The 2005 Cuban refugee signed with the Braves last winter despite struggling in the Venezuelan Winter League, yet he opened the year at Double-A and pitched great for Mississippi. Bueno should progress to Triple-A in the spring, remaining on track to join Atlanta in 2008, though his eventual role in the majors remains undetermined.
Timmons owns some of the best plate discipline of anyone in the minors, as evidenced by his career marks of a .14 walk rate and .91 contact rate. Unfortunately, he doesn't possess much power or speed, so he appears highly unlikely to develop into more than AAAA in-season roster filler. The good news is that if you see him available as a free agent, his skill set virtually insures that he won't hurt you if needed as a short-term injury replacement.
Manny Acosta, 25, RH Reliever
Unexpectedly added to the 40-man roster this fall, Acosta actually will enter his tenth year of professional baseball next year, so despite his obvious control problems, this isn't a bad gamble for the Braves. He comparatively excelled in his first upper-level action, so although Acosta probably needs another year of seasoning, he could sneak onto the end of Atlanta's roster with a good camp.
Hopefully Atlanta added sufficient bullpen during the 2006 season to avoid rushing Ascanio, who appears promising but very raw. He missed almost all of 2005 due to lower back fracture, and with low groundball rate, he could fair worse than Joey Devine's initial big league outings if not given sufficient seasoning. Atlanta fans will want to see him receive at least another full year in the upper minors before even sniffing spring training.
Barry posted his least impressive stats in a couple of years but finally reached the majors during his fourth season in the upper minors. Three separate stints in Atlanta unfortunately didn't impress anyone, and he lost his 40-man slot after the season. He'll need another solid camp and continued success at Triple-A to remain a AAAA option for the Braves.
Bush continued his slow climb up the Braves' minor league ladder, finally reaching Richmond in his fifth season after Atlanta selected him in the 24th round of the 2002 draft. Given his past dominance and current success, he appears a very promising middle or long reliever, so don't be surprised if the Braves recall him to fill almost any bullpen vacancy during the year.
After previously re-signing with the Braves as a minor league free agent in each of the last two years, Curtis appears quite likely to remain with the club yet again given his obvious comfort in the system. He possesses sufficient control to warrant a look in the majors at some point, but he simply doesn't dominate batters at a level that merits a regular big league job.
Once again McCarthy failed to hit Triple-A pitching, completely squandering his pre-2005 progress as a sixth round pick. He probably belongs back at Double-A at this point, a move that would leave him only minimal chance to reach the majors at any point.
The Australian journeyman landed with Atlanta thanks to an eagle-eyed scout that last winter, leading the Braves to sign Moylan even though he hadn't pitched in affiliated ball since the Twins cut him after two years of Rookie-ball a decade ago. Of course, he didn't exactly excel this summer, allowing far too many baserunners for Richmond, but somehow Moylan also managed to remain on the 40-man roster this winter after pitching better in Atlanta than the minors. Wait to see if he builds on his limited success before risking him on your team.
Returning to the Braves in minor league free agency for a third year with the club makes a lot of sense after he progressed from AA Mississippi to Triple-A this year. Of course, considering O'Connor's perennially poor command leaves him very little upside, Atlanta doesn't really need him as anything more than mostly irrelevant organization filler.
Only Parr's age makes him more than organization filler right now since decent control alone never elevates pitchers near the majors. Fortunately for Parr, he doesn't turn 21 until spring training, so despite his completely lack of dominance, he still could develop into a decent inning eater, albeit not one worthy of any fantasy consideration at this time.
Atlanta's second round pick in 2002, Reyes rebounded in his second season back from 2004 Tommy John surgery, leading Braves' prospects in strikeouts in his first full professional year. Yet his drop in dominance in the Carolina League concerns me, and given the problems experienced by most of the club's recent highly-touted arms, exercise caution with Reyes. He doesn't deserve space on your roster in any spring draft.
Dumped by the Red Sox in the spring of 2005, Santos landed in Atlanta and immediately emerged as a decent relief prospect. His fantastic campaign this summer elevates him to the ranks of the Braves' most intriguing young pitchers, but the club bizarrely allowed him to enter minor league free agency while retaining far less impressive arms like Manny Acosta and Peter Moylan on the 40-man roster. Santos only should need a good camp to merit serious consideration for a big league job in 2007.
Acquired from the Cardinals at the trade deadline for Jorge Sosa, Scalamandre isn't a particularly interesting pitcher but still appears perfectly capable of succeeding in the majors. Control issues remains his biggest bugaboo, and he won't merit any fantasy consideration unless he can keep his walk rate near 3.0 BB/9.
Another product of Atlanta's extensive southern scouting, this University of Georgia product shot to the upper minors after only two-dozen games in the Sally League last year following his selection in the fifth round of the 2005 draft. Unfortunately, Startup imploded in the AFL, suggesting he probably needs a few more months of seasoning. He still looks like a fantastic future addition to the Braves' bullpen but shouldn't begin seeing more than scattered innings until 2007.
The former Diamondbacks' prospect, who enjoyed a very solid season as a starter as recently as 2003, simply didn't take to the bullpen with Arizona. His move to Atlanta this year produced far different results. Stockman plowed through the Braves' upper minors, earning a chance in the majors in June and pitching decently in a few games before hamstring problems developed, which eventually shelved him for the year. Yet he remains on the 40-man roster and will receive a long look in the spring as the club sifts through a multitude of decent relief options to fill the bullpen.
Never a clear favorite of the Mariners, Strong's positive test for steroids in April of 2005 certainly contributed to Seattle non-tendering the speedster last winter. He landed with the Cubs and completely flopped in two weeks at Iowa. Fortunately for Strong, a subsequent move to Atlanta partially reinvigorated his career, and although he heads into minor league free agency this fall, he possesses the overall skills to enjoy an extended stint on a big league bench if he takes advantage of his next opportunity. Feel free to roster him anywhere you need steals if you see him available as a free agent on a team willing to employ him as a pinch-runner.
A great groundball rate remains White's primary asset, so hopefully the Braves will try to boost his dominance by bumping him to the bullpen for good. He shouldn't reach the majors in his current role.
Wright required a consolidation season following his last couple of promotions, so I anticipate significant improvement from him at Triple-A in 2007. Unfortunately, he headed into minor league free agency this fall, and even after signing with the Royals, I strongly suspect he will end up toiling in the upper minors for the next few seasons unless he improve his consistency in the very near future.
Every primary Braves' prospect experienced at least some significant disappointment this summer, creating further difficulties for a franchise that missed the playoffs for the first time since the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. Franchise cornerstones Chipper and Andruw Jones respectively suffer from increasingly worrisome health issues and financial restlessness, and the pitching staff appears quite unsettled after the aging John Smoltz and underachieving Tim Hudson. The best news is that Brian McCann, Jeff Francouer, and Adam LaRoche all enjoyed very promising seasons, and trades for Edgar Renteria and Bob Wickman provided needed stability at problematic positions. If the Braves find a way to re-sign Andruw, they appear able to remain competitive through the inevitable transition from Hall of Famers John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox to a new management team likely headed by Frank Wren, the top GM candidate following Dayton Moore's departure to Kansas City. Developing Chuck James, Kyle Davies, and at least one more young arm into top-of-the-rotation candidates remains the determining factor between seeming mediocrity or true contention with a loaded Mets team just beginning to explore their payroll oats. Unfortunately, with few clear jobs available in the lineup and no Braves' pitching prospect guaranteed to earn a role in the majors, only Jarrod Saltalamacchia and possibly Gregor Blanco possess any real roto value at this time.
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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