Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
The Cubs' Top 15 Fantasy Prospects for 2007
1. Felix Pie, 21, OF-L
Although I still see plenty of flaws in Pie's game, he remained healthy all year, registered surprisingly strong walk and contact rates, and continued demonstrating both power and speed upside. He played superb defense in Iowa, and despite concerns regarding his quick movement through the system, Pie spent a year at each of the Cubs four full-season affiliates, culminating in this summer's tour of the International League. Yes, he remains quite raw and only turns 22 in February, but if he impresses during spring training, Pie's progress to date demands a starting job in Chicago, preferably while batting in the low-pressure #7 hole between Michael Barrett and Cesar Izturis. Otherwise he belongs at the top of the list of in-season call-ups, and if he boosts his OPS over .900, he could provide a needed energy boost for the veteran club during the year. What the Cubs can't employ is any plan that involves a short leash for Pie. His place in the organization as the first homegrown hitting prospect developed since Corey Patterson and Hee Choi first debuted at the beginning of the decade requires the Cubs to advance Pie at the schedule his performance demands, regardless of the presence of any veterans unlikely to offer his combination of defensive acumen and offensive upside.
Signing Mark DeRosa with the intention of deploying the veteran as the everyday second baseman over Ryan Theriot, Ronny Cedeno, and Patterson leaves the Cubs' leadoff-man-of-the-future without a clear opening in the majors any time soon. Sure, the club could shift the veteran almost anywhere on the diamond, but between the youngster's overly aggressive ascent through the system and the organizational mandate to win now, I can't see Chicago giving another Patterson on-the-job training. Current rumors also indicate that Patterson will begin to play center in the minors, further diminishing his value to the club. While I want to recommend him due to his significant SB upside, Patterson just doesn't merit more than a mid-round pick in any reasonably deep NL league.
Nearly lost to the Cardinals as a Rule 5 pick last spring, Mateo instead returned to Chicago and wound up spending two months in the big league rotation after injuries decimated the intended starting staff. Of course, the youngster clearly needs another year of seasoning, and while close to succeeding in the majors, currently isn't prepared to help the Cubs or your fantasy team. Wait until you see Mateo consolidate his development at Triple-A next summer before targeting him at his next promotion.
Continued control problems could create difficulties for Gallagher, but he also handled Double-A batters quite adroitly despite not turning 21 until late this month. While I doubted his breakout campaign in 2005, I now see nothing to worry me here given his overall dominance and impressive groundball rate. Hopefully the Cubs will slow his sprint to the majors, returning him for another month or two of the Southern League to tweak his control before moving to AAA Iowa to audition for a 2008 rotation slot. Gallagher lacks the upside of Don Veal, but he appears a slightly safer bet than the overpowering lefty due to possessing historically superior command.
The key to the Kyle Farnsworth deal with Detroit two years ago, Moore excelled in his first experience in the upper minors this season, even receiving an unexpected cup-of-coffee down the stretch. Selected eighth overall in the 2002 draft, his progress since joining the Cubs boosts Moore back up prospect lists. Given his continued development in nearly all facets of his game, Moore should spend 2007 at AAA Iowa before competing for a bench job the following year. He unfortunately needs a change of scenery to receive regular playing time given that Chicago now possesses All-Star cornermen Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez under contract for the rest of the decade, neutering Moore's immediate fantasy value.
Osprey killer Ryu still lacks friends at the ASPCA, but a second solid season in the upper minors puts him on the cusp of earning regular work in the majors. Of course, his disastrous work out of the bullpen with the Cubs this summer concerns me, especially since his increasing walk rate portends a move to relief. He would benefit from a change of scenery somewhere with more rotation openings. I still see plenty of upside here, but I don't expect Ryu to develop into a quality major leaguer in Chicago.
Selected in the second round of the 2005 draft, Beal's overall dominance of A-ball hitters this summer appropriately obscures his control issues. Few young left-handers strike out more than a batter per inning and allow only three hits every five innings, so I don't mind that Veal's walk rate remains high. Pitchers with a 1.12 WHIP comprised of 47% walks and only 53% hits simply don't let opposing teams generate many rallies, accounting for Veal's superb 2.16 ERA on the season. I doubt he'll face any serious challenge until reaching the majors late next summer. Although I won't recommend any Cubs' rookie pitcher at this point, he'd dramatically increase in value if moved to another organization, and if you must own one of Chicago's minor league pitchers, draft Veal.
Yet another mildly interesting lower-level Cubs' speedster likely to struggle near the majors, this 2002 sixth round pick likely doesn't possess the plate discipline necessary to remain effective offensively for Chicago. Even an outstanding Triple-A campaign only will leave him competing with Freddie Bynum, Angel Pagan, and other journeymen benchwarmers for the fifth outfielder's job. Perhaps Walker will duck prevailing trends by developing into a solid reserve for the Cubs, but he won't possess any fantasy value until he actually begins cracking the lineup.
A capable AAA option, Coats lacks the offensive upside to warrant even a regular bench job in the majors. He certainly could emerge as a viable reserve outfielder, but I see no reason to target him at this time due to his comparatively mediocre speed and inherent BA downside.
Drafted in the 16th round in 2004 out of Western Michigan, Mathes somehow improved every facet of his game upon his promotion to Double-A this summer. Although he still lacks the dominance to emerge as a regular big league starter, I suspect a move to relief could net very pleasant results. Don't be surprised if a comparable performance for AAA Iowa next year earns him a cup-of-coffee in the fall.
Taking full advantage of Brandon Sing's struggles to reclaim the AAA starting job, Hoffpauir continues to develop at the plate into an intriguing offensive threat. His .62 G-F gives him plenty of power upside, so if he can improve his contact rate, Hoffpauir soon could contend for a bench job in the majors.
Wells spent all season in the rotation for the first time in his career this summer, and although he clearly excelled at Double-A, his problematic AAA results, coupled with his general lack of dominance, portend an eventual return to the bullpen. How he handles a return to Iowa in 2007 will determine both his future role and upside.
Henry Blanco's ridiculous new contract completely blocks Soto, who merely posted another perfectly respectable season for Iowa. With good plate discipline and a little pop, he offers at least as much upside as Blanco at a tenth of the price. Expect him to head elsewhere on waivers within the next year.
The other left-handed infielder and former first rounder acquired by the Cubs two winters ago, Fontenot hasn't matched Scott Moore's development since joining Chicago as the primary prospect in the Sammy Sosa deal. However, Fontenot remains a reasonably disciplined hitter possessing a little power and decent defensive chops, so while I don't see much immediate fantasy upside here, he just might sneak onto the big league bench with a good spring.
Unexpectedly promoted for a spot start in August, O'Malley shut out the Astros for eight innings in Houston. He strained his forearm in his second start and missed the rest of the year, an unfortunate development following his stunning major league debut. The undrafted free agent spent the last five summers working his way up the Cubs' minor league ladder, and since he doesn't dominate batters, he needed to take advantage of this unique opportunity. Now O'Malley will enter camp merely hoping to earn consideration if needed as an injury replacement during the year, so don't expect him to post positive fantasy value any time soon.
Bobby Brownlie, 26, RH Reliever
Another in a long line of first round disappointments for the Cubs, Brownlie dramatically regressed from even his mediocre 2005 performance at Iowa. He quickly slipped down to Double-A and yet failed to match his 2004 numbers at that level despite a vastly less stressful role in long relief. Nothing provides any hope of an extended big league career for the former top prospect, so don't expect any rebound of note unless he finds a higher comfortable in another organization.
Finally remaining healthy for a full season resulted in a mid-season double-promotion for Campusano, who emerged as an intriguing southpaw prospect this summer. He probably needs another tour of the upper minors for seasoning, but he offers far more upside than at least some pitchers that will sign multi-million-dollar deals this winter.
Re-signed during the summer, Chavez returns to his initial organization for the first team since the Cubs dealt him to the Expos for Jose Macias three years ago. While he remains a decent AAA option and his move to the bullpen shows some promise, I don't expect to see him in the majors any time soon.
Yet another decent offensive player who failed to develop under the Cubs' clearly inept minor league coaches, Dopirak missed most of the year with a broken right foot. Of course, even when healthy he struggled against right-handers and posted an awful 2.13 G-F that sapped his power numbers. Considering Derrek Lee's new deal also will block Dopirak through the 2010 season, he almost certainly needs a change of scenery to regain any prospect status. He possesses no current fantasy value in any format unless you play in a league with multiple rabid Cub fans always eager to deal for any half-decent Chicago minor leaguer
Completing his conversion to the bullpen resulted in the best AAA campaign of this former second round pick's nine-year career. While Emanuel never will dominate batters, he appears comfortably prepared to serve in middle relief as needed, though he'll need a significant break as a minor league free agent to receive that opportunity in 2007.
Potentially the top catching prospect in the system, Fox crushed the ball in his second season at Daytona before stumbling somewhat at Double-A. The 2003 third round pick also didn't rebound in the AFL, so although his long-term future looks bright, I don't envision him emerging as a viable option before Michael Barrett's extension expires next fall.
Traded from Minnesota this summer for Phil Nevin, expect Harben to spend one more year as a starter, and if his command doesn't improve, he profiles as a perfectly capable middle reliever. Without any overwhelming skill other than his strong groundball rate, he simply doesn't warrant much fantasy attention until you see some club commit to employing him in the majors.
With scant plate discipline and an OBP that's declined every season of his four-year career, Harvey appears at severe risk of finishing his career as the biggest Cubs' draft bust in the last decade, an impressive accomplishment in an organization that wasted first round picks on Beanball Ben Christensen and Todd Noel while failing to develop Luis Montanez and Bobby Brownlie into so much as big league reserves. Owning decent power means nothing for Harvey as long as he holds a sub-.300 OBP and equally unimpressive batting and slugging marks. Cut Harvey now if you accidentally retained him last spring since even unexpected development won't boost his value for a club this committed to players capable of succeeding in 2007 and 2008.
Chicago's third round pick in 2005, the Mississippi product debuted professionally this summer in thoroughly unspectacular fashion. Nothing in these stats impresses me at all, and Holliman will need a dramatic uptick in his performance to gain much notice in a Cubs' system finally rebuilding after a few poor drafts earlier this decade.
On the cusp of the majors but lacking the one significant tool to warrant that last promotion, McGehee needs more than a respectable winter league campaign to boost his value. Finding a way to cut his 1.76 G-F at least would help his power production, and without a slugging percentage for closer to .500, he could slip into the AAAA wasteland for good.
Although Adrian Gonzalez finally emerged as a budding star this summer in San Diego, Montanez, selected only two picks after Gonzalez at the top of the 2000 draft, may not even reach the majors in the near future. The former shortstop no longer even plays the infield and isn't an asset on the outfield corners. His failure to echo his AA numbers for Iowa left the Cubs no reason to retain Montanez, and he departed in minor league free agency, following former Cubs' scouting director John Stockstill to Baltimore, where he at least faces less competition for advancement if his bat ever improves.
The 18th overall pick of the 2000 draft and the first of Toronto's top draft picks from 1986 through 2003 who hasn't played in the majors, Negron finally departed the Jays this summer when the Cubs claimed him off waivers. His connection with Chicago rests with Scouting Director Tim Wilken, who selected Negron back when Wilken ran the Jays' drafts for the last half of the nineties. The change of scenery proved quite beneficial for Negron, who posted the second-best OPS of his career with the Jaxx and finally appears capable of reaching the majors within a couple of seasons. While not currently a viable roto option, he could merit a job at the end of your bench when he enters his prime.
Adding a solid AFL campaign to Pignatiello's third straight season at West Tenn boosts his value a surprising amount, especially after the Cubs finally followed our advice and shifted him to the bullpen. He largely blossomed in relief, particularly excelling against left-handed hitters, and hopefully someone will liberate him in the Rule 5 draft. Otherwise Pignatiello stands behind no less than three established southpaw relievers in Chicago, leaving him quite likely to spend all of 2007 at Iowa.
Registering a 3.07 ERA on a 17:3 K:BB in 14.2 IP during the AFL earned Rapada a 40-man roster slot last month despite his walk rate spike at Iowa. Of course, given his very effective work over the past four seasons since he joined the Cubs as a nondrafted free agent in 2002, Rapada's continued success in the upper minors doesn't surprise me. He'll receive a long look during spring training, especially if Chicago deals one of the veteran left-handers currently slated for a bullpen spot.
Only promoted in September following Michael Barrett's season-ending injury, Reyes somehow still holds a 40-man roster slot that belonged to someone with upside, such as Les Walrond, Luis Montanez, or a potential Rule 5 loss like Carmen Pignatiello. Instead Reyes remains, alongside the overpaid Henry Blanco and the vastly superior Geovany Soto. You have no reason to roster this Jose Reyes in any league, but be careful in any online drafts. If health issues result in the Cubs unexpectedly keeping Reyes in the majors, make sure you don't accidentally draft this Jose A. Reyes when you mean to draft Mets' superstar shortstop Jose B. Reyes, a mistake that can ruin your entire season. We saw one fellow owner blow his entire FAAB budget this summer on White Sox catcher Carlos H. Lee while meaning to acquire the new Astros' outfielder, so please don't make the same mistake.
Merely transitioning to Double-A without difficulty doesn't insure Shaver's continued progress toward the majors. Despite his fourth round pedigree, he lacks the upside of many of his teammates, and even if he moves to the bullpen, he faces similarly significant competition for innings in Chicago.
Acquired from Boston in July of 2004 for Jimmy Anderson, Shipman's previous success stalled at Triple-A as all his skills declined from established levels. He also owns an unfortunate reverse platoon split, so I don't envision him advancing to the majors any time soon.
Tabbed for the Rule 5 draft last year after a highly impressive .276/.404/.538 performance in 409 AB for West Tenn, no team wanted Sing, and the disappointed first baseman dropped completely out of the Cubs' picture this year. Thankfully minor league free agency provides him a chance for a fresh start elsewhere, and after joining 2006 teammate Luis Montanez by signing with the Orioles with former Chicago scouting director John Stockstill, don't be surprised if you see him push into the majors late next year as the right-handed component of a potential 1B or DH platoon in Baltimore.
Dealt with Dave Aardsma to the White Sox last month for Neal Cotts, Vasquez likely needs at least another full year in the upper minors before assuming a significant role in the majors. He missed all of 2005 after testing positive for steroids, and although his dominance this summer certainly impresses me, he desperately needs to reduce that high walk rate. Sox fans should not expect a contribution from Vasquez before 2008.
Foolishly outrighted by the Cubs in October, this fall Walrond owns a 5-2 record and 3.38 ERA on a 40:19 K:BB in 45.1 IP over 8 GS in the Mexican Winter League, unsurprising results from one of the top AAAA arms of the decade. Ignoring his two starts for Chicago, Walrond also registered a 3.86 ERA on a 14:4 K:BB in 12.2 IP with 9 H and 2 HR in relief, numbers that nicely gibe with his minor league stats and indicate of plenty of potential if some team simply keeps him in the majors. He remains one solid month in a big league bullpen away from belonging on everyone's list of trustworthy roster filler.
Originally selected by the Cubs in the nineteenth round of the 1999 draft, Webb briefly surfaced as a respectable prospect before plateauing in the upper minors. He spent 2004 and 2005 with Tampa then headed to the Cardinals for this season. Re-signed with Chicago as a minor league free agent merely keeps Webb on call if the rotation implodes once again and the Cubs don't want to rush more young starters.
Removing Andy MacPhail and Dusty Baker from the franchise solves a couple of problems, though Jim Hendry remains due to the organization's quixotic quest to win that elusive title by the hundred-year anniversary of the last championship in 2008. Unfortunately, the demand to win now resulted in a slew of questionable deals, led by the Alfonso Soriano and Henry Blanco signings but including Lou Piniella, Mark DeRosa, and even Aramis Ramirez. Of the Cubs' moves this winter, only the Neal Cotts trade and Kerry Wood and Wade Miller re-signings appear justified. Nothing else addresses the fundamental problem of the franchise: an unwillingness to trust unproven yet talented youngsters in significant roles while building with players that add value on both sides of the ball. For example, Ryan Theriot deserves a chance to start and Mark DeRosa looks like a valuable platoon partner for Jacque Jones. Instead Theriot will head to the bench, if not the minors, DeRosa will play second base, and Jones remains solidly on the trading block. Also, the failure to lock down Carlos Zambrano in September to the $75M/5 terms of the Roy Oswalt extension will cost the Cubs no less than an extra $30/2 and possibly result in Zambrano finding an even better deal if he waits until free agency next summer.
We want the Cubs to win our loyalty back, but every move we see further distances us from our favorite sports franchise for over two decades. Winning a World Series will mean nothing if secured by a team of mercenaries playing in the laundry worn by single-team stalwarts like Ernie Banks and Ryne Sandberg. Now, with only Zambrano, Wood, and Mark Prior remaining from the Opening Day roster in 2003, not to mention more major moves promised in the near future by Hendry, everything about the organization appears designed to offend the franchise's most dedicated fans. Perhaps opening up the checkbook now is a decent idea, but rather than embrace the cynical viewpoint espoused by most reporters, believing that the Tribune just wants to win before selling the team, a more logical argument occurs to us. Yes, the media conglomerate wants to make a quick buck off a title, however with the team on pace to add well over a quarter billion dollars in debt this winter, remember that the five-year amortization of those contracts will count as a gigantic tax write-off for any reasonably profitable company that acquires the team. With a sale almost certainly forthcoming, Jim Hendry probably has permission to boost the payroll near the luxury tax threshold of $148M. For fantasy owners, this scenario translates into an environment with no patience to develop any youngster, making everyone discussed here today, even highly touted prospects like Felix Pie, Eric Patterson, and Donald Veal, subject to any trade or demotion that provides more certain improvement to the current big league roster. Yet I still can't force myself to rank the Cubs too low here since the relative lack of impact bats doesn't detract from a system that retains surprising depth in young pitchers.
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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