Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
The Dodgers' Top 15 Fantasy Prospects for 2007
1. James Loney, 22, 1B-L
While injuries and gradual power growth soured many analysts on Loney since his marvelous debut as an eighteen-year-old in full-season ball in 2002, his 2006 campaign should end most doubts regarding Loney's future major league success. He led the minors in hitting, demonstrated strong plate discipline, and generally excelled at the plate with the Dodgers, most impressively by driving home nine runs on a single, double, and two homers the last weekend of the season. Unfortunately, Nomar Garciaparra's new deal seemingly leaves Loney without a starting job, but given Nomar's injury history and the Dodgers' general lack of depth at most other positions, I fully expect Loney to spend at least half the season as the club's starter at first base. He appears perfectly ready to contribute in a significant role, so consider him a solid investment anywhere shy of $10 since he should accumulate that much value in 2007 before emerging as an excellent keeper in future seasons.
La Roche suffered a slight tear to his right shoulder labrum in June, though he rehabbed the injury without surgery until after the completion of the season and clearly suffered no ill-effects from the injury. His return to Double-A allowed him to add impressive plate discipline to his already-impressive list of offensive talents, allowing him to experience no downturn in performance upon his promotion to Las Vegas. While Wilson Betemit's acquisition seemingly sends him back to Vegas, the Dodgers need La Roche's power and won't hesitate to install him at third base during the season. You shouldn't expect a significant fantasy contribution from La Roche in 2007, especially given his limited speed and uncertain role, but his long-term future appears as bright as any rookie in the organization. He warrants a first-round reserve pick in all NL leagues as one of the few rookies likely to post $5 of value next summer and merit retaining at $10-15 in future seasons due to his quantitative potential.
Not the Del. Young you want to own in 2007, Delwyn shifted to the outfield this year while watching his production at the plate decrease despite his promotion to the hitters' paradise at Las Vegas. The Dodgers also should begin fielding an outfield alignment of Matt Kemp-Juan Pierre-Andre Ethier no later than 2008, leaving Young no place to play unless he can adjust to a bench role in the majors. Perhaps his power will rebound, but right now I see no reason to view him as anything more than a potential mid-season FAAB addition in relatively deep NL leagues.
The 2004 first rounder continues to struggle with his control, though given his dominance despite his frequent inability to find the plate, Elbert still seems certain to reach the majors in the near future. However, his role appears highly in question, especially with the Dodgers seeking a significant left-handed presence in the bullpen. Clearly Los Angeles prefers Elbert in the rotation, but with at least eight starters preceding him on the club's depth chart right now, he should spend most of 2007 either in the minors or the bullpen. Considering him as more than an end-round gamble in deep leagues doesn't make much sense since Elbert easily could follow Jonathan Broxton right into the Dodgers' relief corps.
Somehow Stults overcome his 2005 struggles to rebound with this impressive performance at Las Vegas. The Dodgers rewarded him with a September spent in Los Angeles, and although he won't enter camp likely to win a roster spot, he at least remains on the 40-man roster. Despite the potential suggested by this performance, wait until he secures some sort of regular role in the majors before considering him for your team since I just don't see a big league slot available for Stults at the moment.
As DeWitt didn't impress me prior to this season, his fairly unimpressive Florida State League campaign, coupled with his disastrous month at Double-A, merely reinforce all my doubts regarding his prospect status. Andy La Roche's development already leaves DeWitt without a future at third base, and I see several superior options available at second base, a group led by incumbent third baseman Wilson Betemit. Yes, DeWitt possesses decent power and patience, but despite definite long-term upside, his questionable current prospects make him a bad fantasy pick in spring drafts.
Watching a player's patience dramatically improve upon his promotion to Double-A always impresses me, but Abreu still lacks acceptable plate discipline, as well as any notable power or speed skills. Perhaps he could develop into more than a decent backup. However, right now nothing here allows me to endorse him for roto teams in any way. Wait to see if he takes full advantage of Las Vegas before considering him for your team.
Meloan's current trajectory should push him onto the Dodgers by June. His cumulative 2006 stat line of a 1.90 ERA on a 91:19 K:BB in 52 IP with 27 H and 5 HR allowed suggests as much upside for Meloan as any minor league reliever. The 2005 fifth-round choice from the University of Arizona continued adding to his credentials this fall with a 1.96 ERA on a 21:8 K:BB in 18.1 IP with 12 H and 1 HR in the Arizona Fall League. Considering his MLE numbers for the year translate to an 89:27 K:BB in 50 innings, along with a sparkling .196 ERA, I really see no reason for Los Angeles to keep him in the minors much longer. Of course, Meloan doesn't deserve much fantasy consideration at this time, but if he echoes this performance in AAA Las Vegas, you should target him for a couple bucks of FAAB as soon as he appears on free agent lists since he could claim the closer's role far sooner than expected.
After entering the year with an excellent chance to stake his claim on a job in the Dodgers' rotation-of-the-future, the 2004 first rounder only managed two good months before developing arm problems that eventually necessitated season-ending shoulder surgery in August. While he should recover by spring training, Orenduff's injury dropped him down the club's prospect depth chart, leaving him little chance to contribute in the majors in 2007. I still see a lot to like here for the long-term, but he isn't someone worth rostering at this time.
Touted as one of baseball's top pitching prospects only three short years ago, Miller missed all of 2004 with shoulder problems before slowly reemerging as a solid relief prospect. Rumors of a pending return to the rotation may pose the biggest obstacle to his continued success as right now his combination of high strikeout and groundball rates gives him plenty of potential to claim a significant role in the Dodgers' pen relatively soon. However, given his past injury problems, pitching longer outings certainly could lead to a recurrence of his shoulder issues, and he already faces plenty of competition for a spot in Los Angeles with his option clock ticking away. You simply can't consider Miller for your team until he actually claims a job in the majors.
Seemingly stolen by the Dodgers with the seventh pick of the June draft, Kershaw posted one of the best debuts of any draftee by completely dominating the Gulf Coast League. I won't be surprised if he vaults to High-A very soon, and despite his age, he probably possesses the repertoire necessary to handle the advanced competition. Of course, the biggest problem with considering Kershaw for your team is the obvious threat of injury as he ascends the minor league ladder. Yet in deeper leagues with plenty of active owners and general respect for prospects, a late-round investment in Kershaw appears warranted since he at least should help you as mid-season trade bait despite his minimal chance of seeing the majors before 2009.
I highly doubt that the current Dodgers' regime will give Alexander a long look despite the fact he owns a 213:54 K:BB in 160 professional inning while allowing just 131 H and 12 homers. His complete domination of the Southern League also should quell any fears regarding his limited ceiling, but with a height listed at 5'10", Alexander likely needs a trade to a club like the Astros to fulfill his big league destiny. Wait until he secures a job in the majors before rostering him anywhere.
Currently suffering from the lowest profile of the four players acquired by the Dodgers for Shawn Green, Muegge at least handled Double-A decently, though his declining dominance leaves him ripe for significant problems at AAA Las Vegas. While I certainly see some upside here, especially if he somehow manages to echo these stats in the PCL, Muegge simply doesn't compare favorably to most of the true pitching prospects in the system. Even a move to the bullpen likely won't result in an extended look in the majors.
Providing yet more evidence of Mike Easler's prowess as a hitting coach, Hu made welcome gains in plate discipline this summer, though his nearly sixty-point BA drop more clearly illustrates his limited ceiling. Of course, possesses superb defensive skills alone insures he'll reach the majors in the near future, but even if Hu snags a starting job down the line, he might not contribute more than a few bucks of fantasy value. With an uncertain batting average and limited quantitative upside, Hu doesn't belong on any fantasy roster at this time.
Good plate discipline alone won't help Ragliani advance if he doesn't learn to hit Double-A pitching. His struggles at Jacksonville definitely worry me considering he already lacks much quantitative upside. Posting a low batting average for another summer will push him off prospect lists completely, and even if he rebounds in a return to Jacksonville, Ragliani won't deserve any fantasy consideration until he actually reaches Los Angeles.
Brian Akin, 25, RH Reliever
Two unimpressive seasons in the low minors didn't offer any hint of this breakout. Akin slammed through the Florida State League and only suffered slightly reduced control in Double-A, suggesting his future appears far brighter than his age and level otherwise indicate. Spending next summer in AAA Las Vegas will offer him a true test to see if he consolidate this improvement against tougher competition.
Standing even shorter than Suns' 2006 closer Mark Alexander, this southpaw similarly should head to AAA Las Vegas next spring, where he'll likely join a bullpen already featuring former top prospect Greg Miller. The 6'5 Miller may possess far more prospect plaudits than this guy, but don't be surprised to see Alvarez outperform Miller. Alvarez's impressive control and high strikeout rates both suggest plenty of upside, especially when coupled with his relative youth. Expect him in the mix to replace Joe Beimel when the veteran lefty wears out his welcome in Los Angeles.
Few pitchers seem less suited to a park than Eckert in Las Vegas, where he now owns an ERA approaching 7.00 in nearly 450 Triple-A innings. He either needs a new organization or a chance to pitch in relief back at Double-A since right now Eckert's career appears completely stalled. Considering he ranked as a decent prospect right until he reached Vegas in 2004, he at least deserves a shot somewhere else to see if he can recapture his success from the lower minors.
Shifted between Las Vegas and Jacksonville as the development schedule of preferred prospects demanded, Garcia's performance at Triple-A really merited more consideration for a cup-of-coffee than he received. Based on his AAA numbers alone, he ranks as the best young second baseman in the organization, though considering his difficulties at every lower level in the system, I think we can assume that park effects account for the vast majority of his seeming improvement. Garcia will need a strong echo of these marks to remain in any of the club's future plans.
Nearly kept by the Mariners as a Rule 5 pick only to lose his roster spot the last weekend of spring training, Gonzalez instead returned to the Dodgers and lost almost all semblance of his former prospect shine. His struggles at Las Vegas in 2005 clearly weren't a mirage, and though his strikeout and groundball rates suggest some upside, Gonzalez appears a long way from contributing to any successful fantasy team.
Returning to full-time relief duties helped Hull succeed at Las Vegas, and trading his formerly strong walk rate for a lower hit rate similarly seems a wise move. Of course, he still needs a great run of luck to receive a shot in the majors, but after registering these stats, I see no reason Hull couldn't succeed in the majors. Just don't add him in any fantasy league until he actually receives that chance.
Swiped from the White Sox for Sandy Alomar this summer, the 2002 fifth rounder helped replace some of the depth lost in deals with the Rays and Royals. Unfortunately, Lamura's questionable control leaves him little margin for error. Coupled with his heavy flyball tendency, his command issues seemingly elevate his pending promotion to AAA Las Vegas a virtually insurmountable challenge. Don't expect to see him in the majors any time soon.
The perennial minor league free agent excelled upon his return to starting duty for Jacksonville, but his struggles in Vegas provide a better picture of his major league prospects. Lundberg ranks as a AAAA option at best, so although he deserves at least a brief shot in The Show, I don't expect him to post positive fantasy value in any season.
Reid departed Pittsburgh for Los Angeles after seven years with the Pirates, a highly questionable move given the Dodgers' pitching depth and his assignment to Las Vegas. Hopefully he'll land in a more favorable scenario this winter since he still could salvage a decent big league career, especially if he finds an organization willing to let him continue developing in relief without leaving him stuck as a swingman.
A one-year sojourn with the Astros didn't prevent Riggs from returning to the Dodgers this year, serving his old role as organization filler and providing a buffer to allow the club's better middle infield prospects more seasoning in the lower minors. He probably wouldn't embarrass anyone if needed in the majors, but he simply offers little upside and now stands scant chance of receiving even a cup-of-coffee in 2007 after joining the Rockies, a franchise teeming with young position players possessing far more upside than this aspiring journeyman.
Selected in the fifth round of the 2000 draft by the Dodgers, Totten suffered through two really poor seasons at Las Vegas over the past two years before returning to Double-A with this performance. However, he hasn't attracted much notice as a minor league free agent thus far, so despite some upside in the right situation, he appears a long way from contributing in the majors.
White signed with the Dodgers two weeks ago as a minor league free agent after spending an unimpressive summer with the Phillies. His failure to receive a chance with a Philadelphia club searching for relief solutions surprised me, but his move to Los Angeles simply makes little sense given the left-handed depth of the organization. Right now Hong-chih Kuo, Mark Hendrickson, and Joe Beimel seem set in the bullpen while Tim Hamulack, Eric Stults, and Greg Miller remain in the mix for any available opening. While White could thrive if ever promoted to Los Angeles, he may have landed with the one club virtually certain to keep him in the minors all year. Don't expect him to emerge as a fantasy asset without another change of scenery.
No system took a bigger hit over the last year than the Dodgers, who dealt a half-dozen prospects during the season and promoted a similar number to the majors, including Chad Billingsley, Russ Martin, Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Kemp, and Hong-chih Kuo. While that quintet could comprise the core of the perennial contender, the decrease in overall depth could create future problems for the organization. Yes, Logan White remains an amazingly astute talent evaluator, again proving his mettle by stealing Clay Kershaw with the #7 pick, but the Dodgers seemingly lack the impact middle infield prospects necessary to balance the lineup. Rafael Furcal returns to free agency after 2008, and despite the upside of a lineup featuring Martin, Ethier, Kemp, James Loney, and Andy La Roche, the Juan Pierre deal leaves Los Angeles saddled with a surprising lack of power. With the Diamondbacks and Rockies on the verge of fielding dynamic homegrown lineups, supplemented with pitching budgets at least comparable to the Los Angeles outlay, the Dodgers stand at risk of slipping into the pack in a division they appeared poised to dominate only a year ago. Dumping Paul DePodesta seems as big a mistake as ever regardless of the club's 2006 success, so although I won't completely discount Ned Colletti's contributions, I focus on the fact that he gave away several solid prospects with only the Willy Aybar-Wilson Betemit swap and a three-game swap in the NLDS to show for all his moves. This winter, the Pierre, Nomar, and Luis Gonzalez signings seemingly leave only a single lineup slot available for Ethier, Kemp, and Loney, shifting the Dodgers ever further from DePodesta's vision of a youthful and homegrown perennial contender in the Oakland mold to an uninspiring, veteran-drenched assemblage destined to resemble the Giants, albeit without a superstar slugger to carry the club through the inevitable rough patches.
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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