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Post-2006 Prospect Review: Washington

by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

Washington's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects for 2007
Roster Filler and Long-Term Prospects
Team Overview and Organization Rankings

Washington's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects for 2007

1. Kory Casto, 25, 3B/OF-L
133/489 for .272/.379/.468 with 20 HR, 80 RBI, 84 R, 6/11 SB%,
and an 81:104 BB:K for AA Harrisburg(EL).

Completely blocked by Ryan Zimmerman at third base, Casto returned to the outfield without really missed a beat at the plate. Yes, he lost some power upon departing A-ball, but with outstanding patience and decent all-around skills, he ranks as the Nationals' position prospect most likely to contribute in the majors within the next couple of years, especially after posting a .302/.471/.434 AFL performance in 53 AB despite taking a mid-fall break to get married. Right now Casto seems set to enter camp in competition with Nook Logan, Ryan Church, Chris Snelling, and Alex Escobar for the two outfield spots next to Austin Kearns. I can't see him outplaying three members of that quartet at this time, so expect him to head to AAA Columbus, prepared to join the Nationals when injuries inevitably strike Snelling and Escobar. He really needs a trade to a franchise without a long-term solution at third base, and a swap of Casto to Philly for someone like Jon Lieber or even Ryan Madson seems a decent move for both clubs. Of course, I don't see either GM making that intradivision deal, leaving Casto effectively lodged behind Logan, Church, and Snelling for 2007.

2. Larry Broadway, 26, 1B-L
128/444 for .288/.353/.455 with 15 HR, 78 RBI, 60 R, 5/6 SB%,
and a 45:116 BB:K for AAA New Orleans(PCL).

With a reverse platoon split, decent power potential, and a fairly complete minor league statistical profile, Broadway ranks as the almost certain replacement whenever Nick Johnson encounters his inevitable injury issues next summer. He certainly looks like a tremendous downgrade from Johnson, but he also shouldn't embarrass himself if given the opportunity. The problem for Broadway is the Nationals simply don't seem to like him, a concern illustrated by the club's failure to give him a cup-of-coffee in any of the last three seasons despite numbers that merit that reward. Unless an outstanding spring leads to public praise from Washington management, only consider Broadway for a late-round or reserve-round pick due to his minimal short-term fantasy upside.

3. Matt Chico, 23, LH Starter
2-0 on a 13:8 K:BB in 22 IP over 4 GS
with 28 H, 3 HR, a 1.00 G-F, and a 3.27 ERA for AA Harrisburg(EL).
7-2 on a 63:21 K:BB in 62 IP over 13 GS
with 62 H, 6 HR, a .96 G-F, and a 2.22 ERA for AA Tennessee(SL).
3-4 on a 49:11 K:BB in 50.1 IP over 10 GS
with 48 H, 5 HR, a .84 G-F, and a 3.75 ERA for A+ Lancaster(Cal).

The August swap of Livan Hernandez for Garrett Mock and Chico addressed needs for both the Diamondbacks and Nationals by giving Arizona a veteran horse to join Brandon Webb while addressing the dearth of young pitching in Washington. New Nats' AGM Mike Rizzo pilfered two surplus prospects from his old team, and while both probably need more work, either could claim a rotation job with a strong camp. Chico, as one of the only southpaws in camp and a pitcher capable of succeeding even in the remarkably tough environment at Lancaster, appears particularly well-suited to making the jump from Double-A. Of course, he likely will struggle if pushed right into the majors out of spring training, so even gambling a couple of bucks in deeper NL leagues seems a little risky at the moment.

4. Beltran Perez, 25, RH Starter
2-1 on a 9:13 K:BB in 3 GS(8G)
with 16 H, 3 HR, a .72 G-F, and a 3.86 ERA.
8-6 on a 107:40 K:BB in 121.2 IP over 16 GS(31G)
with 127 H, 8 HR, a 1.15 G-F, and a 3.11 ERA for AA Harrisburg(EL).

Best known prior to this year as one of the Diamondbacks dealt for Shawn Green in 2005, Perez signed with the Nationals last winter, excelled as both a starter and a reliever at Harrisburg, and then spent September filling a similar role in Washington. Among pitchers on the club's current 40-man roster, only John Patterson and Shawn Hill face less competition for jobs in the spring, though Perez can't falter if he wants to remain in the majors. The good news is that after impressing as a swingman down the stretch, he probably holds the tiebreakers on most of the newbies, and if given the opportunity, he could emerge as a surprising bargain. Perez deserves at least a couple of bucks in NL leagues unless the Nationals obtain more veteran help by the end of camp.

5. Josh Wilson, 25, SS-R
103/335 for .307/.376/.475 with 10 HR, 45 RBI, 61 R, 15/19 SB%,
and a 37:41 BB:K for AAA Colorado Springs(PCL).

Sold to the Rockies in January by the Marlins, Wilson never left the minors after breaking his left big toe with a foul ball during spring training. However, he landed a 40-man slot with Washington as a minor league free agent last month and at least will receive a long look during spring training for a bench job. Given the Nats' limited upper level depth, he appears almost assured of seeing the majors at some point, and if Cristian Guzman fails to rebound, Wilson even could claim regular at-bats. I expect him to emerge as no worse than respectable roster filler sometime in 2007.

6. Jesus Flores, 22, C-R
114/429 for .266/.335/.487 with 21 HR, 70 RBI, 66 R, 2/2 SB%,
and a 28:127 BB:K for A+ St. Lucie(FSL).

Selected in the Rule 5 draft two weeks ago from the Mets, Flores almost certainly will spend all of 2007 in the majors with Washington unless injury allows the Nats to DL him for a couple of months. He possesses excellent raw power and instantly becomes Washington's best long-term solution behind the plate. However, he also clearly lacks acceptable plate discipline, so while Flores will spend next summer on your league's free agent list, only teams with no concern about their batting average should consider rostering him due his extreme BA downside. Flores really belong in Double-A next year, and though a year on the big league bench hopefully won't keep him from reaching his considerable potential in the future, he unfortunately ranks among the worst fantasy targets in 2007 leagues.

7. Joel Hanrahan, 25, RH Starter
4-3 on a 46:39 K:BB in 74.1 IP over 14 GS
with 70 H, 7 HR, a 1.01 G-F, and a 4.48 ERA for AAA Las Vegas(PCL).
7-2 on a 67:38 K:BB in 66.1 IP over 12 GS
with 49 H, 4 HR, a 1.11 G-F, and a 2.58 ERA for AA Jacksonville(SL).

Anyone who can hold an ERA below 4.50 at Las Vegas for any reason merits some attention, especially a former top prospect finally freed of his first organization. Hanrahan headlined the Nationals' initial class of minor league free agents last month, even earning a spot on the club's 40-man roster, and just might rank as a favorite to win a starting slot in the spring. Yes, his questionable command concerns me, but he also will enjoy a rare opportunity to claim a big league job with just a month of solid work. He still possesses plenty of upside if healthy, so assuming he doesn't flop during camp, Hanrahan probably deserves a few bucks in most NL leagues.

8. Melvin Dorta, 24, 3B/SS-R
4/19 for .211/.250/.263 with 0 HR, 0 RBI, 3 R, 0/2 SB%,
and a 1:2 BB:K.
13/30 for .433/.438/.567 with 1 HR, 3 RBI, 6 R, 3/5 SB%,
and a 1:2 BB:K for AAA New Orleans(PCL).
104/404 for .257/.307/.347 with 5 HR, 30 RBI, 54 R, 33/43 SB%,
and a 30:34 BB:K for AA Harrisburg(EL).

The Nationals' lack of infield depth resulted in a brief mid-season promotion for Dorta, who never even played at Triple-A until after leaving Washington. While his respectable plate discipline and speed skills suggest fairly promising roto upside, his unimpressive performance in the upper minors to date leaves him little chance of spending much time in the majors in the near future. Definitely wait until he claims a more secure big league role before rostering him anywhere.

9. Garrett Mock, 23, RH Starter
0-4 on a 9:5 K:BB in 16.2 IP over 4 GS
with 29 H, 5 HR, a 1.53 G-F, and a 10.26 ERA for AA Harrisburg(EL).
4-8 on a 117:50 K:BB in 131 IP over 23 GS
with 144 H, 14 HR, a 1.58 G-F, and a 4.95 ERA for AA Tennessee(SL).

Acquired with Matt Chico from Arizona for Livan Hernandez in August, Mock now enjoys a fairly clear path to the majors if he can continue improving in the upper minors. Unfortunately, a year after posting very impressive numbers in the Cal League, Mock rather struggled at Double-A, completely melting down after joining the Nationals. He needs to cut both his walk and hit rates without losing many strikeouts, a fairly steep challenge for someone who allowed too many hits even in A-ball. I see no reason he can't shoot to the majors, but due to Mock's increasingly questionable skill set, he probably won't merit much fantasy consideration until he actually snags that starting job in Washington.

10. Josh Whitesell, 24, 1B-L
106/402 for .264/.354/.433 with 19 HR, 56 RBI, 47 R, 2/8 SB%,
and a 53:125 BB:K for AA Harrisburg(EL).

While Whitesell appears firmly stuck behind both Nick Johnson and Larry Broadway, the 2003 sixth rounder still looks like a decent long-term prospect, especially if he can boost these averages nearer his .293/.416/.524 performance in the Carolina League in 2005. However, despite the upside suggested by his stats to date, he appears fairly unlikely to receive even a cup-of-coffee with Washington prior to 2008.

11. Felix Diaz, 26, RH Starter
3-5 on a 22:16 K:BB in 44 IP over 8 GS
with 47 H, 5 HR, and a 4.91 ERA for I Hokkaido Nippon(JAP).

On the edge of the majors prior to 2006, Diaz spent this summer in Japan before signing a minor league deal with the Nationals in the fall. He enters camp as one of perhaps two-dozen pitchers contending for a rotation slot, though given his increasingly inconsistent work in the upper minors, a move to relief probably offers the most upside for youngster.

12. Brett Campbell, 25, RH Reliever
0-0 on a 4:2 K:BB in 4.1 IP over 4 G
with 4 H, 1 HR, a 2-8 G-F, and a 10.39 ERA.
0-1 on a 19:11 K:BB in 20.2 IP over 15 G
with 14 H, 1 HR, a 1.15 G-F, and a 3.92 ERA for AAA New Orleans(PCL).
0-3 and 8 Saves on a 20:11 K:BB in 14.1 IP over 13 G
with 16 H, 0 HR, a 1.09 G-F, and a 3.13 ERA for AA Harrisburg(EL).
3-1 and 8 Saves on a 27:2 K:BB in 22.2 IP over 19 G
with 22 H, 3 HR, a .67 G-F, and a 2.38 ERA for A+ Potomac(Car).

While Campbell excelled in the Sally League in 2005, the 2004 thirty-fourth rounder still appeared fairly stuck in the low minors. His rise through the entire upper half of the Nationals' system surprised a lot of people, though given his increasingly questionable control, his struggles in September seemed inevitable. Campbell now enters camp with no more than a decent shot at winning job, however after his excellent campaign this summer, he at least should spend most of 2007 on the Columbus-Washington shuttle.

13. Josh Hall, 26, RH Starter
1-3 on a 22:14 K:BB in 35 IP over 7 GS
with 34 H, 3 HR, a 1.93 G-F, and a 4.11 ERA for AAA Louisville(IL).
9-6 on a 69:34 K:BB in 116.2 IP over 19 GS
with 130 H, 11 HR, a 1.94 G-F, and a 3.39 ERA for AA Chattanooga(SL).

Considered a very promising prospect until injured felled Hall in 2004, he reemerged as a decent upper-level starter over the past two years and quickly signed with Washington upon hitting minor league free agency. While his unimpressive command suggests a future bullpen role, the wide open competition for jobs in Nationals' camp could clear a path for Hall to claim a rotation slot. Since he still possesses the skills to succeed if given the opportunity, feel free to gamble an endgame pick if Hall wins a spot before your draft.

14. Brandon Harper, 30, C-R
12/41 for .293/.362/.512 with 2 HR, 6 RBI, 6 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 4:4 BB:K.
35/120 for .292/.394/.425 with 2 HR, 11 RBI, 18 R, 3/4 SB%,
and a 15:21 BB:K for AAA New Orleans(PCL).

Finally given a shot in the majors after a decade in the minors, Harper took full advantage of his opportunity to post an .874 OPS while spending the last two months of the year with the Nationals. He remained on the 40-man roster until yesterday's trade for Chris Snelling and Emiliano Fruto, but Harper still should head to camp with an excellent chance to win a job alongside Jesus Flores as one of the club's two backup catchers. Despite limited upside, his solid offensive profile makes Harper an excellent option as roster filler whenever needed and available.

15. Joe Thurston, 27, 2B-L
4/18 for .222/.300/.278 with 0 HR, 0 RBI, 3 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 1:2 BB:K for Philadelphia.
135/479 for .282/.349/.436 with 9 HR, 55 RBI, 74 R, 20/30 SB%,
and a 43:65 BB:K for AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre(IL).

While Thurston reached the majors for the first time since leaving Las Vegas, he appears clearly behind new 40-man addition Josh Wilson in the race for a job on the Nationals' bench. Yes, Thurston possesses superior speed skills and offers more roto upside, but Wilson remains the better all-around option for Washington. Barring a superb camp, Thurston again looks like no more than Quadruple-A filler, unlikely to see sufficient at-bats to help any fantasy team.

Roster Filler and Long-Term Prospects

Collin Balester, 20, RH Starter
1-0 on a 10:6 K:BB in 19.2 IP over 3 GS
with 15 H, 0 HR, a 1.04 G-F, and a 1.83 ERA for AA Harrisburg(EL).
4-5 on an 87:53 K:BB in 117.2 IP over 22 GS(23G)
with 126 H, 12 HR, a .89 G-F, and a 5.20 ERA for A+ Potomac(Car).

Moving to High-A led to skill drops across-the-board for Balester, who only keeps his place among the Nats' better pitching prospects due to the continuing lack of high-upside youngsters anywhere in the system. He neither dominated nor demonstrated particularly good control at Potomac, so even an echo of this performance at Double-A will qualify as an impressive step forward. Realistically Balester should return to the Carolina League in the spring, and until he improves upon these stats in the upper minors, he won't belong on anyone's fantasy roster.

Rogearvin Bernandina, 22, OF-L
117/434 for .270/.355/.369 with 6 HR, 42 RBI, 60 R, 28/39 SB%,
and a 56:98 BB:K for A+ Potomac(Car).

Finally breaking into High-A after three tours of the Sally League, Bernandina responded to the promotion with the best year of his career. He maintained both solid plate discipline and strong baserunning skills, though due to his lack of power, Bernandina's ceiling appears no higher than a big league bench spot. Hopefully he at least will receive a shot at Double-A in 2007 to see if he can maintain this newfound offensive promise.

Chris Booker, 30, RH Reliever
0-0 on a 7:4 K:BB in 8.1 IP over 11 G
with 10 H, 4 HR, a 6-16 G-F, and a 9.72 ERA
between Kansas City and Washington.
0-0 on a 7:3 K:BB in 7 IP over 6 G
with 4 H, 1 HR, a .56 G-F, and a 1.29 ERA for AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre(IL).
2-2 on a 35:16 K:BB in 20.2 IP over 19 G
with 20 H, 2 HR, a .50 G-F, and a 4.79 ERA
between AAA Omaha(PCL) and AAA New Orleans(PCL).
0-0 on a 5:0 K:BB in 4.1 IP over 4 G
with 6 H, 0 HR, a .60 G-F, and a 4.15 ERA for AA Wichita(TL).
0-0 on a 20:2 K:BB in 10 IP over 6 G
with 7 H, 2 HR, a .83 G-F, and a 5.40 ERA for A+ Clearwater(FSL).

Perhaps the most traveled player in the game over the past two seasons, Booker began his recent odyssey after spending seven seasons with the Cubs and five more campaigns with Cincinnati. Of course, he just broke into the majors in 2005 right before departing the Reds to sign with Washington as a minor league free agent. Last December Detroit took him in the Rule 5 draft and then sold him to Philadelphia, which then led to an initial DL trip to open 2006, a move to Kansas City on waivers in May, almost immediately followed by a second DL trip, and finally a return to the Nationals at the beginning of the second half. He remains with the Nationals, and despite his difficulties this summer, he certainly could contribute in Washington under the right circumstances. Don't be surprised if the fireballing right-hander emerges as a decent option as roster filler sometime in 2007.

Ian Desmond, 21, SS-R
22/121 for .182/.214/.231 with 0 HR, 3 RBI, 8 R, 4/5 SB%,
and a 5:35 BB:K for AA Harrisburg(EL).
89/365 for .244/.313/.384 with 9 HR, 45 RBI, 50 R, 14/22 SB%,
and a 29:79 BB:K for A+ Potomac(Car).

A 2004 third rounder and one of the few respectable middle infield prospects in the system, Desmond nevertheless hasn't demonstrated acceptable hitting proficiency in either of his years in full-season ball. Yes, he possesses a little power and speed, along with impressive defensive skills, but the combination of a low batting average and very questionable plate discipline give him little chance of further promotion in the near future. Treating him as someone with any inherent fantasy value makes no sense for now.

Clint Everts, 22, RH Starter
5-10 on a 92:53 K:BB in 90 IP over 19 GS(20G)
with 96 H, 11 HR, a 1.17 G-F, and a 6.00 ERA for A+ Potomac(Car).

While the 2002 first rounder partially regained his former potential in his second season after Tommy John surgery, Everts' poor ERA and unimpressive overall skills radically diminishes his likely upside. The Nationals will promote him as soon as possible, but unless his effectiveness improves, he could remain stuck in the middle rungs of their minor league system indefinitely. Of course, Everts also seems more unlucky than outright bad at the moment, so although I see no reason to roster him at this time, I also won't be surprised if he unexpectedly surges to the majors by next fall.

Tyrell Godwin, 27, OF-L
102/411 for .248/.307/.387 with 7 HR, 45 RBI, 59 R, 19/25 SB%,
and a 32:68 BB:K for AAA New Orleans(PCL).

An impressive 2005 campaign should have earned Godwin a bench job in Washington, but the Nats instead turned to a host of lower-upside veterans, allowing this former top prospect to languish in the minors for another summer. Hopefully he'll take advantage of minor league free agency to find a club with outfield openings, though unless Godwin excels during the spring, he'll need an injury to clear a spot for him during the year. Wait until he begins contributing in the majors before rostering him anywhere.

Mike Hinckley, 24, LH Starter
6-8 on a 79:63 K:BB in 148.1 IP over 28 GS
with 178 H, 18 HR, a 1.20 G-F, and a 5.52 ERA for A+ Potomac(Car).

At least Hinckley remained healthy all year, but his second straight tour of the Carolina League resulted in a wholly unimpressive stat line for the southpaw. His skill levels ranked below league average across-the-board, and with no indication of any developing dominance, he might not merit much more time as a starter at any level. Like several other relatively recent top picks on the Nationals, Hinckley possesses no more than minimal fantasy value for 2007.

Travis Hughes, 28, RH Reliever
0-0 on a 4:6 K:BB in 11.1 IP over 8 G
with 13 H, 2 HR, a 17-17 G-F, and a 6.35 ERA.
2-6 and 4 Saves on an 87:41 K:BB in 73.2 IP over 51 G
with 50 H, 3 HR, a 1.32 G-F, and a 2.32 ERA for AAA New Orleans(PCL).

Hughes once again excelled at Triple-A last summer, but his failure to fill one of the many gaping holes in the Nationals' bullpen resulted in his departure from the organization in the fall. He landed with Boston, and unless he remains equally effective while improving his walk rate, Hughes probably won't see the majors in 2007.

Chris Marrero, 18, OF-R
25/81 for .309/.374/.420 with 0 HR, 16 RBI, 10 R, 0/0 SB%,
and an 8:19 BB:K for R Nationals(GCL).

Selected fifteenth overall in June as a third baseman, Marrero immediately moved to the outfield at Rookie-ball, acquitting himself respectably on both sides of the ball. Of course, while he possesses plenty of long-term potential, Marrero appears unlikely to reach Washington before 2009 at the earliest, leaving you little reason to draft him even in very deep NL leagues. Wait to see how he handles full-season ball before investing in him anywhere.

Anastacio Martinez, 28, RH Starter
5-11 on a 115:58 K:BB in 128.2 IP over 24 GS
with 121 H, 13 HR, a 1.17 G-F, and a 4.48 ERA for AAA New Orleans(PCL).
2-0 on an 11:3 K:BB in 12.1 IP over 2 GS
with 10 H, 1 HR, a 1.55 G-F, and a 3.65 ERA for AA Harrisburg(EL).

The former Boston prospect performed surprisingly well upon his return to the rotation this summer. His inconsistent control suggests he should find more success back in the bullpen, but considering he also failed to earn a call-up when the Nationals were shuffling through almost every decent starter in the system in the fall, Martinez looks like no more than organization filler in Washington. Don't expect him to receive a real opportunity in the majors before switching franchises once again.

Shairon Martis, 19, RH Starter
0-1 on a 1:3 K:BB in 5 IP over 1 GS
with 8 H, 4 HR, a .17 G-F, and a 12.60 ERA for AA Harrisburg(EL).
0-2 on a 7:3 K:BB in 12 IP over 2 GS
with 9 H, 0 HR, a .59 G-F, and a 3.00 ERA for A+ Potomac(Car).
7-5 on an 80:25 K:BB in 98 IP over 19 GS
with 99 H, 5 HR, a .54 G-F, and a 3.67 ERA
between A Augusta(SAL) and A Savannah(SAL).

Although Mike Stanton emerged as a shockingly reliable closer in San Francisco down the stretch, Martis, obtained for Stanton at the trade deadline, now ranks among the best long-term pitching prospects in the system. He won't even turn twenty until the end of March yet posted pretty impressive numbers in the Sally League. Yes, he probably needs a few more years of seasoning, but adding Martis for two months of Stanton qualifies as a steal for Washington. Don't be surprised if he moves faster than expected given the limited pitching depth in the organization.

T.J. Nall, 26, RH Starter
0-0 on a 1:1 K:BB in 3 IP over 2 G
with 8 H, 0 HR, a 1.67 G-F, and a 9.00 ERA for AAA Las Vegas(PCL).
10-7 on a 155:30 K:BB in 140.2 IP over 19 GS(29G)
with 116 H, 10 HR, a 1.62 G-F, and a 2.82 ERA for AA Jacksonville(SL).

While Nall didn't actually receive an NRI with his minor league deal last month, his impressive work as a starter this year, including a 10-5 record and a 2.46 ERA on a 129:26 K:BB in 120.2 IP, suggests he could find a place in Washington next summer. However, given his problems at Triple-A, don't risk rostering him anywhere until he begins succeeding in the majors.

Santiago Ramirez, 28, RH Reliever
0-0 on a 1:2 K:BB in 3.1 IP over 4 G
with 6 H, 1 HR, a 7-6 G-F, and an 8.10 ERA.
2-1 and 7 Saves on a 28:4 K:BB in 27.1 IP over 19 G
with 16 H, 1 HR, a 1.95 G-F, and a 0.99 ERA for AAA New Orleans(PCL).

Promoted in May after an outstanding initial six weeks in the minors, Ramirez only appeared a few times before elbow problems sidelined him. Rather than moving him to the 60-day DL, Washington cut him outright in July, and since he still hasn't found a team for 2007 at the moment, Ramirez will need another great spring to earn much promotional consideration.

Danny Rueckel, 27, RH Reliever
3-1 on a 21:11 K:BB in 21.1 IP over 15 G
with 16 H, 2 HR, a .50 G-F, and a 3.38 ERA for AAA New Orleans(PCL).
4-4 and 1 Save on a 35:12 K:BB in 45 IP over 2 GS(26G)
with 50 H, 4 HR, a .79 G-F, and a 4.20 ERA for AA Harrisburg(EL).

At least Rueckel finally progressed to Triple-A after three tours of the Eastern League, but given his general lack of dominance, he doesn't look likely to receive more than a brief shot in Washington. He'll need to take advantage of any opportunity if he wants to move beyond the minors in the foreseeable future.

Chris Schroder, 28, RH Reliever
0-2 on a 39:15 K:BB in 28.1 IP over 21 G
with 23 H, 7 HR, a .51 G-F, and a 6.35 ERA.
2-1 and 1 Save on a 60:16 K:BB in 47.1 IP over 28 G
with 25 H, 2 HR, a .73 G-F, and a 1.52 ERA for AAA New Orleans(PCL).
2-0 and 1 Save on a 13:6 K:BB in 14.1 IP over 9 G
with 18 H, 2 HR, a 1.13 G-F, and a 5.02 ERA for AA Harrisburg(EL).

Schroder's third look at Triple-A produced fairly wondrous results as he posted his best skill set since Rookie-ball and earned a spot in the Nationals' bullpen for the last two months of the season. While he lost most of his effectiveness in the majors, Schroder's impressive strikeout rate suggests plenty of upside if he can control the longball. He only needs to impress during camp to remain in Washington, though even if he slides into the minors once again, Schroder still should receive a couple of chance during the season, albeit not in a capacity where he should earn positive roto value.

Levale Speigner, 26, RH Reliever
1-1 and 1 Save on a 8:5 K:BB in 12.2 IP over 9 G
with 16 H, 1 HR, a 1.14 G-F, and a 4.97 ERA for AAA Rochester(IL).
3-2 and 13 Saves on a 37:14 K:BB in 58 IP over 40 G
with 61 H, 5 HR, a 2.18 G-F, and a 3.26 ERA for AA New Britain(EL).

One of the few upper-level Twins' relievers who didn't earn a review from us with Minnesota's prospects, Speigner clearly attracted someone's attention on the Nationals, who selected him in this month's Rule 5 draft. Of course, grabbing a starting pitcher seemed a far preferable gamble, though given Speigner's excellent walk and groundball rates, as well as the fact that he posted a 4.13 ERA on a 94:28 K:BB in 143.2 IP over 23 GS for New Britain in 2005, he seems a solid investment for Washington. Speigner just isn't likely to emerge as more than decent roster filler in fantasy leagues.

Edward Valdez, 26, RH Starter
7-10 on an 111:38 K:BB in 136.2 IP over 23 GS(29G)
with 134 H, 9 HR, a 1.29 G-F, and a 3.89 ERA for AA Chattanooga(SL).

Initially signed by Nats' GM Jim Bowden during in his days with the Reds, Valdez headed to Bowden's new organization this fall as a minor league free agent. While he doesn't look like a particularly impressive prospect, he adds needed depth to the system and certainly could earn a shot in Washington in 2007 with a solid spring. Of course, wait until Valdez actually begins succeeding in the majors before you risk rostering him anywhere.

Mike Vento, 28, OF-R
5/18 for .278/.409/.333 with 0 HR, 1 RBI, 3 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 4:5 BB:K.
74/217 for .341/.396/.502 with 7 HR, 33 RBI, 34 R, 3/7 SB%,
and a 20:35 BB:K for AAA New Orleans(PCL).
5/20 for .250/.375/.400 with 1 HR, 4 RBI, 3 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 4:1 BB:K for R Nationals(GCL).

The minor league free agent truly deserved a much longer look than he received given his decent numbers with the Nationals and fairly outstanding performance for New Orleans. Vento certainly deserved this shot after spending the last sight years stuck in the Yankees' system, though given his fairly limited skill set, he needs to keep impressing whenever given a shot in the majors.

Zechry Zinicola, 21, RH Reliever
1-1 and 5 Saves on an 8:11 K:BB in 10 IP over 10 G
with 11 H, 0 HR, a 1.20 G-F, and a 2.70 ERA for AA Harrisburg(EL).
3-0 and 3 Saves on a 13:3 K:BB in 13.2 IP over 9 G
with 11 H, 0 HR, a 3.00 G-F, and a 1.98 ERA for A+ Potomac(Car).
0-0 and 4 Saves on a 10:1 K:BB in 9 IP over 8 G
with 6 H, 0 HR, a .89 G-F, and a 0.00 ERA for A- Vermont(NYP).

A promotional catastrophe waiting to happen, Zinicola just joined the Nats as a sixth round pick out of Arizona State in June but ended the season on the cusp of a big league promotion. Considering Washington employs Chad Cordero at closer and Jim Bowden pushed new National Ryan Wagner virtually straight to the majors with the Reds, Zinicola even could break camp in the majors with a solid spring. Hopefully he instead will receive sufficient seasoning to insure that his inevitable promotion better resembles Cordero's success rather than Wagner's far more difficult transition. Despite Zinicola's long-term promise and his growing press clippings, he won't belong on any fantasy roster until he claims a significant role in Washington's big league bullpen.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Despite a mystifying lack of pitching depth that Jim Bowden appears unwilling to correct by spring training, the good news for fantasy owners is that several rookies could emerge as decent fantasy bargains, a pack led by Perez, Matt Chico, and Garrett Mock. While none of them merit more than end-round consideration in your draft, we could see a couple of these guys reach $5 in positive value over the course of the season. Kory Casto and Larry Broadway appear the safest investments, but the best chance for profit rests with the cadre of relatively unknown young arms invited to camp.

Team Overview and Organization Rankings

Last July Jim Bowden missed a golden opportunity to reload the franchise for the next decade by moronically failing to deal Alfonso Soriano despite a wealth of offers reportedly headlined by proposals from the Angels and Twins that would have netted the Nationals no less than a big league starting pitcher and decent bench player. Instead Washington receives only the 31st and something like the 65th pick next June following his signing with the Cubs, costing the club both around $1.5M in extra draft bonuses and depriving the current roster of a desperately-needed talent infusion.

However, Bowden also made the best deal of the year, stealing Wayne Krivsky blind in mid-July in a deal with his old club. Bowden landed Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez, and Ryan Wagner, all originally acquired under Bowden's watch in Cincy, for Gary Majewski, Bill Bray, Royce Clayton, Brendan Harris, and Daryl Thompson. Majewski almost immediately hit the DL, so he appeared comparable to Wagner before the deal. Bowden essentially landed long-term solutions in the outfield and infield for a couple of pitching prospects, a has-been shortstop, and an aspiring utilityman already dumped by the Cincinnati. Grabbing Shairon Martis for Mike Stanton two weeks late also impressed us, and Bowden capped that sequence with a trade involving new AGM Mike Rizzo's old franchise, sending Livan Hernandez to Arizona for Matt Chico and Garrett Mock. If we add last week's swap of Jose Vidro for Chris Snelling and Emiliano Fruto to the mix, Bowden nearly compensated for misreading the Soriano market so badly.

Of course, while these trades added needed depth, the Nationals remain in a fairly precarious situation despite the fact they should move into a new stadium in only fifteen months. Yes, between the long-term deals awarded Nick Johnson and Brian Schneider, the acquisition of Kearns and Lopez, and the emergence of Ryan Zimmerman, Washington owns five decent building blocks, but since Johnson still can't stay healthy, only Zimmerman looks like a possible star. Cristian Guzman returns to man shortstop and add outs to the lineup in the spring, and though Ryan Church, Nook Logan, Alex Escobar, Kory Casto, and Snelling all possess some intriguing skills, none of them looks like above-average options in center or left field. Unless club President Stan Kasten opens the coffers soon, losing Soriano punches a big hole in an already-unimpressive offense.

Yet the pitching staff pales in comparison to the lineup with only John Patterson prepared to return to the rotation, and thanks to Luis Ayala's injury, just Chad Cordero and Jon Rauch set to reclaim bullpen spots. Signing or trading for at least one veteran already appeared necessary after Frank Robinson spent the summer sorting through twelve different starters, but instead Bowden let well over a hundred starts depart the organization in Livan, Ramon Ortiz, Tony Armas, and Pedro Astacio alone, simply leaving the club bereft of any semblance of pitching depth. Even replacing Robinson with Manny Acta in the dugout doesn't support a youth movement to the level where the team needs Shawn Hill, Mike O'Connor, and Beltran Perez to stay healthy and claim starting jobs. Tim Redding, Joel Hanrahan, and even Jason Simontacchi qualify as the best options for the last job in the pen, indicating a potential disaster if another round of injuries strike the quartet of returning starters. Several rookies therefore should receive shots in Washington at different times, but unless someone impresses immediately upon reaching the majors, don't be surprised if Bowden instead resumes shuffling pitchers on too frequent a basis for anyone to attain much fantasy value at all.

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)
2. Tampa Bay Devil Rays(Delm.Young, Dukes, Riggans, Brignac, Longoria)
3. Colorado Rockies(Iannetta, Tulowitzki, J.Baker, I.Stewart, D.Fowler)
4. Kansas City Royals(A.Gordon, B.Butler, Ju.Huber, Lubanski)
5. Cleveland Indians(K.Kouzmanoff, T.Crowe, B.Barton)
6. Los Angeles Angels(Willits, B.Wood, J.Mathis)
7. Chicago White Sox(Fields, R.Sweeney, J.Owens)
8. Chicago Cubs(F.Pie, Er.Patterson, D.Veal)
9. Los Angeles Dodgers(J.Loney, An.La Roche, Delw.Young)
10. Houston Astros(J.Hirsh, B.Conrad, M.Albers)
11. Cincinnati Reds(J.Votto, H.Bailey, J.Bruce)
12. Philadelphia Phillies(M.Bourn, C.Ruiz, J.Happ)
13. Texas Rangers(Fr.Guzman, Botts, Ed.Volquez)
14. Pittsburgh Pirates(Raj.Davis, B.Lillibridge, A.McCutcheon)
15. Boston Red Sox(Pedroia, Ellsbury, Kottaras)
16. Minnesota Twins(Garza, G.Perkins, A.Casilla)
17. New York Yankees(P.Hughes, K.Thompson, J.Tabata)
18. New York Mets(M.Pelfrey, C.Gomez, P.Humber)
19. Toronto Blue Jays(A.Lind, T.Snider)
20. San Francisco Giants(F.Lewis, Lincecum)
21. Seattle Mariners(Ad.Jones, LaHair)
22. Milwaukee Brewers(R.Braun, Y.Gallardo)
23. Washington Nationals(K.Casto, L.Broadway)
24. Oakland Athletics(Barton, Windsor)
25. San Diego Padres(P.McAnulty, Se.Thompson)
26. Detroit Tigers(Maybin, An.Miller)
27. Atlanta Braves(Gr.Blanco, J.Saltalamacchia)
28. Florida Marlins(He.Owens, J.Stokes)
29. Baltimore Orioles(Fiorentino)
30. St. Louis Cardinals(C.Rasmus)

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