Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
1. Rajai Davis, 26, OF-R
Essentially the best internal option in the Pirates' quest for a right-handed reserve outfielder, Davis appears a solid candidate for a position primary used as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement. He unfortunately lacks the power to develop into a more significant asset, but if he lands a job on the big league bench, he could hit double-digit steals without difficulty. While I don't like his odds, he owns a 40-man roster slot, spent over a month in Pittsburgh this year, and seems to enjoy the organization's support. Feel free to FAAB Davis early in the year if he breaks camp with the Pirates and you want to increase your team's SB upside.
Stealing fifty-five bases in the Sally League two years ago first caught my attention, but Morgan backslid hard at Lynchburg last summer. The good news is that he completely rebound in 2006, surpassing both his previous A-ball averages at Lynchburg before hitting the ground running upon his mid-season promotion to Altoona. Posting a .294/.368/.429 performance with 20/25 SB% and an 8:23 BB:K in 119 AB in Hawaii this fall further supports this breakouts, so while I expect Morgan will receive a full season in the upper minors, he appears right in line if Chris Duffy, Nate McLouth, or Rajai Davis stumbles. You probably shouldn't hesitate to FAAB Morgan as soon as he reaches the majors since anyone with his speed skills will rank as an immediate roto asset.
Just selected in the fourth round of the 2004 draft, Lillibridge crushed opposition pitching at both the Pirates' A-ball affiliates. Displaying excellent hitting skills, solid power, plenty of plate discipline, and unexpectedly excellent stolen base proficiency, Lillibridge emerged as perhaps the best fantasy prospect in the organization. Jack Wilson isn't going to present any obstacle for this guy if he echoes this performance in the upper minors, and after the way Lillibridge tore through A-ball, I don't foresee more than a mild downturn next summer. Definitely consider gambling a late-round pick on Lillibridge, who could earn a starting job in the Pirates' infield by 2008 and just might possess the skills to approach $30 by decade's end.
The Pirates' insistence to promoted Stansberry during the season presents the only real obstacle to his continued development as he sporadically struggled at Altoona in 2005 and watched his stats similarly suffer after a push to Triple-A this summer. However, Stansberry also owns solid power, speed, and plate discipline, so if he adjusts to International League pitching in 2007 as I expect, he should hit positive fantasy value for the first time the following season. While his struggled in the AFL and doesn't possess great defensive skills, his increasing offensive upside could result in him succeeding Jose Castillo when Pittsburgh's current second baseman approaches free agency. Don't draft him in the spring, but keep an eye on Stansberry with the intent to roster him once he reaches the majors.
Despite posting a trio of solid starts with the Pirates, Youman's future role appears quite uncertain given his limited experience as a starter prior to 2006. He appears most likely to settle into consistent work in long relief, but I don't discount the possibility of him shifting toward the late innings or even sneaking into the rotation for a while. Due to the significant uncertainty regarding his place with the Pirates, Youman won't belong on any fantasy roster until he at least begins succeeding in the majors in some capacity.
Not really touted at all despite his pedigree as a second round pick in 2004, Bixler significantly improved for the second straight season, breezing through the Carolina League and remaining quite successful at Double-A despite the halving of his walk rate. He shouldn't prevent Brent Lillibridge from winning the Pirates' long-term shortstop job, but Bixler at least looks like a definite asset as no less than a bench option by 2008. However, considering his future role appears in doubt, don't bother rostering him anywhere until he actually reaches Pittsburgh.
The only player acquired from Detroit for Sean Casey, Rogers nevertheless posted his second consecutive dominant season since moving to the bullpen in 2005. He now owns a combined 154:40 K:BB in 151 IP since converting to the bullpen, along with a sparkling 2.44 ERA. Even his struggles with the Pirates don't worry me since Rogers' minor league stats suggest plenty of long-term upside. I see no reason he shouldn't break camp in the majors, and if given the opportunity, he could emerge as Pittsburgh's primary set-up man to Mike Gonzalez very quickly.
An excellent 2005 campaign helped Boeve progress to Double-A without difficulty, but he posted the worst averages of his career after reaching Indy. His patience notably declined, and although he hit a career-high stolen base total, he doesn't appear ready to contribute in the majors. Perhaps a great camp could propel him onto the Pirates' bench, but I suspect instead he'll return to the minors for one more summer before contending for a big league job the following spring.
Teenagers generally don't excel at any level if full-season ball and certainly aren't supposed to jump to Double-A without difficulty. Yet the Pirates' 2005 first rounder quickly emerged as one of baseball's best prospects, finally giving the club a real future star in the minors. With respectable plate discipline, speed, and power skills, McCutcheon looks like the long-term centerfielder sought by the club since the departure of Andy Van Slyke. While I still believe McCutcheon will receive at least a half-season at both Altoona and AAA Indianapolis, he could challenge for a job in Pittsburgh as soon as spring training in 2008. Consider him a solid high-round reserve pick in any NL keeper league both for his future promise and the accompanying value he possesses as mid-season trade bait.
Essentially the 2006 version of the 2005 Matt Capps, Sharpless spent a couple months dominating AA batters, a couple more months remaining nearly as effective at Triple-A, and then joined Pittsburgh for the last few weeks of the season as bullpen filler. Despite command that gradually eroded over the summer, Sharpless stayed successful in the majors, and if he can echo these stats in 2007, he'll provide the Pirates yet another solid homegrown relief option. Sharpless could warrant consideration as roster filler as soon as May if he impresses during spring training and demonstrates solid skills in April.
Wrist surgery last fall largely eviscerated Walker's power this year, though he handled the move to High-A without overt difficulty. Double-A proved a more significant challenge, and after that disappointing stint, Walker then only managed a mediocre .290/.306/.391 in 69 AFL at-bats. However, the real problem for Walker is that Ronny Paulino emerged as the Pirates' long-term solution behind the plate, easily handling the catching duties while also demonstrating obvious offensive potential. Walker appears headed to third base, and while that fills a hole in Pittsburgh's future infield, the switch limits his short-term value to fantasy teams. I expect Walker will need at least another year and possibly even two more seasons adjusting to the upper minors at the plate at the same time he learns a new position. Cutting him outright doesn't make much sense, but don't target him if he isn't on your team and feel free to shop Walker to see if you can exchange his promise for more immediate help.
The first player selected in the 2002 draft, Bullington pitched just a single game in the majors in 2005 before a sore shoulder sidelined him in September. He required labrum surgery the following month and unsurprisingly missed the entire 2006 season. While he appears on track to return to the mound in the spring, Bullington looks like an inning eater at best if he stays a starter. He won't merit any fantasy consideration until he both begins pitching effectively and secures a regular role in the majors.
Pittsburgh's top draft pick in 2001, Van Benschoten immediately moved to the mound despite the scouting consensus that he possessed perhaps the best power potential of his entire draft class. While he reached the majors in 2004, injuries sidelined him for all of 2005 as he required surgery to both his shoulders. Continue discomfort cost him most of this summer, and although he seemingly still could emerge as a decent big leaguer, the Pirates' decision to convert him from an outfielder and part-time reliever to a professional pitcher ranks among their dumbest moves of the decade. After essentially missing the last two seasons, I just don't see him contributing in Pittsburgh as anything more than a middle reliever in the near future.
Pittsburgh successfully slid Peterson through waivers last fall, and after his third straight seemingly mediocre AA campaign, he attracted no Rule 5 attention this year. However, although he remained ineffective as a starter in the first half, he switched to the bullpen after the break and managed a 1.93 ERA on a 26:7 K:BB in 23.1 IP over 14 G. That sudden return to dominance portends a bright future for Peterson in relief, so don't be surprised if he emerges as decent roster filler next summer shortly after appearing on fantasy free agent lists.
The journeyman joined his fifth organization and finally received a decent shot in the majors. Of course, McLeary certainly helped his case by excelling as both a starter and reliever at Indy. He compiled a 2.58 ERA on a 76:22 K:BB in 69.2 IP over 13 GS, as well as a 2.88 ERA on a 39:11 K:BB in 34.1 IP over 22G. Apparently recognizing the value offered by McLeary, the Pirates kept him on the 40-man roster and will give him every chance to win a job in spring training. Feel free to employ him when needed as roster filler if he manages to echo these stats in Pittsburgh.
Kip Bouknight, 28, RH Starter
Shockingly never given a shot in either of the last two years by a Nationals' club desperate for starting pitchers, Bouknight quickly signed with the Pirates as a minor league free agent and now at least might receive some consideration for a big league job. He probably won't emerge as a particularly useful pitcher, but he at least shouldn't hurt anyone if needed in middle or long relief.
Yet another Pirates' outfielder with decent plate discipline, interesting speed skills, and only a little pop, Buttler finally spent a full season in the upper minors and earned himself another shot with Pittsburgh as he ignored the call of minor league free agency. While I don't expect him to overtake any of the younger speedsters in the system, another solid performance at least might result in a cup-of-coffee before his inevitable departure from the organization in a year or two.
Acquired at the trade deadline as the only return for Kip Wells, Chavez actually fared pretty well in his second tour of the Texas League. He also registered an impressive 0.64 ERA on an 11:3 K:BB in 14 IP over 12 AFL appearances, but due to his continuing control issues, he doesn't seem likely to develop into more than a decent middle reliever. Don't expect Chavez to post more than minimal positive fantasy value any time soon.
Cut by the Pirates in June of 2005, Chiavacci returned to Pittsburgh this year to post fairly solid performances at both Altoona and Indianapolis. He departed for a club with slightly less upper-level pitching depth in Detroit, though I just don't see him breaking onto the Tigers' pitching staff after spending the last few years struggling at Triple-A.
Seemingly a solid prospect in his A-ball days, Connolly ran into trouble as anticipated by most scouts upon hitting the upper minors. He spent most of the past four seasons at Altoona, and given his sporadic success against Eastern League hitters, perhaps a move to the bullpen would reinvigorate his career. Conversely, I at least hope he takes advantage of minor league free agency to find a better pitching environment if continues to start.
Seemingly poised to reach the majors after a solid 2005 at Triple-A and an excellent winter ball campaign, DeCaster bombed in his brief spring training appearance and then never received more than a brief cup-of-coffee during the season. The Pirates unexpectedly released him outright last week, though given how far his stock dropped over the past year, the move doesn't shock me. He possesses less upside than at least a half-dozen other middle infielders scattered throughout the system, so I see no reason for DeCaster to develop into more than a decent bench player within the next few years.
Dealt by the Padres for David Ross in 2005, Furmaniak continued to regress in his third AAA campaign. He probably should begin 2007 at Double-A after this disaster, but the Athletics saw something they liked I this minor league free agent and invited him to spring training. Although his declining offensive skills limit his immediate roto value, hopefully Furmaniak at least will provide needed upper-level middle infield depth for Oakland.
Guzman didn't exactly justify the Pirates' decision to add him to the 40-man roster last winter with this mediocre performance. He didn't impress on either side of the board, and given the club's increasing infield depth, his window to win a job in Pittsburgh appears surprisingly narrow. Without any one overwhelming tool or a particularly broad base of offensive skills, Guzman shouldn't see more than a cup-of-coffee in the near future.
While not a terrible choice as the fourth player selected in this June's draft, the University of Houston product definitely offers far less immediate promise than Tim Lincecum or Andrew Miller. Lincoln also upheld the Pirates' long-standing injury tradition by straining an oblique muscle less than two months after the draft. Hopefully he'll return to full health by spring, but considering the dubious path trod by Bryan Bullington, John Van Benschoten, and Sean Burnett, Lincoln appears a poor gamble at the moment. Wait to see how he handles his first full professional season in 2007 before considering him for your team.
Somehow Maldonado echoed Ronny Paulino's development from 2005 by posting some of the best stats of his career in his first extended look at Triple-A. However, he apparently failed to impress the Pirates, and despite joining Pittsburgh to provide depth in September, the club released him outright last month. Maldonado appears unlikely to emerge as more than a decent backup even if he receives another shot in the majors.
The former Boston prospect lost his 40-man spot with the Mets in August when the club acquired Guillermo Mota, allowing the Pirates to grab him off waivers. Promoted to Pittsburgh in September, Perez didn't exactly wow anyone as an extra lefty reliever. He probably lacks the necessary control to claim any significant role in a big league bullpen, but Perez at least appears first in line if the Pirates opt to deal one of their trio of veteran southpaws.
An outstanding full-season debut for this 2004 draft-and-follow elevates him among the Pirates' best pitching prospects. Yes, he'll need a couple more years of seasoning at higher rungs of the minor league ladder, but Redmond at least should develop into a decent reliever. Despite the fact that he just might reach Pittsburgh next fall if he shifts to relief, his success this summer should keep the Pirates from even considering such a move for a few more seasons.
Although I see some promise in these skills, Roach's relative stagnation over the past few years leaves him little hope of enjoying any extended big league career. Even receiving another cup-of-coffee or two will qualify as an achievement for someone who unfortunately currently even falls short of the ranks of AAAA pitchers.
Perhaps the success Starling enjoyed out of the bullpen during the Hawaiian Winter League will prompt a role change since he doesn't appear to possess the upside to make the majors as more than an inning eater as a starter. Other than solid, control Starling doesn't own any particularly impressive skills, leaving him a surprisingly long way from contributing to the Pirates at the moment. Don't expect to see him in Pittsburgh prior to 2008 barring a move to relief.
Thompson remains stuck in the minors despite his impressive on-base skills due to his lack of power. While I sufficient upside here for him to merit fantasy consideration if he ever reaches the majors, he'll need to find a club especially bereft of upper-level outfield depth to find that heretofore elusive opportunity.
While Vasquez didn't reach the majors for the first time in three seasons, his failure to reach Triple-A cause me far greater concern. Yes, he owns an outstanding strikeout rate supported by a solid groundball rate, but his persistent control issues suggest he may never merit more than an occasional cup-of-coffee. Vasquez also shouldn't post positive fantasy value any time soon due to the high WHIP these skill suggest he'd sport.
The 2007 Pirates should feature four homegrown starters and probably five everyday starters graduated from the Pittsburgh system. Both corner outfielders joined the club as the direct result of a sequence of moves that began with the signing, development, and subsequent trade of Ricardo Rincon to Cleveland for Brian Giles, and if the rumored swap of Mike Gonzalez for Adam LaRoche never happens, recent Pirates' prospects Brad Eldred and Ryan Doumit should man first base. Right now as many as twenty members of Pittsburgh's probable 25-man roster will have received their first extended big league stays with the Pirates, leaving only Xavier Nady, Shawn Chacon, Salomon Torres, Damaso Marte, and the inevitable journeyman reliever as players not essentially developed by Pittsburgh. Of course, Dave Littlefield hasn't exactly assembled a team with an abundance of current or future stars, an omission particularly glaring in a rotation comprised almost entirely of #3 starters. Yet now that veteran retreads no longer crowd out the youngsters, Pirates' fans actually can envision a future in which the club finishes over .500. Just imagine if, in addition to selecting Andrew McCutcheon and Paul Maholm this decade, the club had drafted Tim Lincecum over Brad Lincoln, Jered Weaver or Phil Hughes over Neil Walker, Jeremy Bonderman over John Van Benschoten, Boof Bonser or Adam Wainwright over Sean Burnett, and absolutely anyone instead of Bryan Bullington from a draft that featured B.J. Upton, Adam Loewen, Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder, Jeff Francis, Jeremy Hermida, Joe Saunders, Khalil Greene, Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, Cole Hamels, Jamey Loney, Jeff Francoeur, Joe Blanton, and Matt Cain in the first round alone.
Adding impact players to this core looks like Pittsburgh's primary goal over the next couple of years, and if Lillibridge, McCutcheon, Lincoln, and Neil Walker develop as hoped, the Pirates just might make a playoff push in the near future. However, none of these guys should reach the majors next summer, so the best 2007 fantasy prospects in Pittsburgh should emerge from their current cadre of speedy outfielders, future reserve infielders, and mildly intriguing relievers. I neither much immediate opportunity for any of the higher-upside rookies nor anyone particularly prepared to burst onto the fantasy season unless Davis manages to take full advantage of a bench job to steal a whole slew of bases.
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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