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Tuesday, July 27, 2004
Updated: January 25, 12:51 PM ET
FLB Prospect Watch

By Graham Hays
Fantasy Games Associate Editor

The future is now for a handful of the game's top prospects.

Justin Morneau
First Base
Minnesota Twins
18 5 14 10 0 .278

Whether called up in anticipation of better days (Dave Bush) or to spark a pennant drive (Justin Morneau), prospects add variety and excitement to the waiver wire for owners tired of debating the relative merits of Kazuhisa Ishii and Paul Byrd. But are they anything more than fool's gold?

For every Miguel Cabrera or Brandon Webb, there are countless more players who contribute little more than empty at-bats or innings. So who are some of the players in the mix for rookie relevancy this season?

Dave Bush, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
Rated as Toronto's seventh-best prospect by Baseball America, Bush made it to Toronto ahead of the more heralded Dustin McGowan. Pat Hentgen's retirement and the possibility of deals involving either Ted Lilly or Miguel Batista should ensure a need for pitchers in Toronto's rotation, and Bush is staking a claim to one of the spots with a strong run. The bad news is he was just 6-6 with a 4.06 ERA for Triple-A Syracuse, and while he showed good command, he gave up a lot of hits. Only a moderate strikeout threat in the minors, Bush needs to do better than 4.7 strikeouts per nine innings to maintain his current fantasy value.

Brandon Claussen, SP, Cincinnati Reds
Fantasy Outlook: Just ask fantasy owners about Ryan Wagner when it comes to highly-touted Cincinnati pitching prospects. Claussen is a legitimate top prospect, but he may have been over-hyped when it comes to immediate fantasy potential. The lefty did fan 111 in 100.1 innings for Triple-A Louisville, but he also walked 47 and posted a 4.66 ERA. Those kind of control issues will run up his pitch counts and cause him trouble against major league hitters, as seen in his last start against Pittsburgh. He'll have his moments with a good power game, but there may be too many rough spots for fantasy owners.

Ben Hendrickson, SP, Milwaukee Brewers
Fantasy Outlook: Another good prospect in Milwaukee's surprising well-stocked cupboard, Hendrickson hasn't enjoyed his brief stint in the majors. After posting eight wins and a 2.27 ERA in 15 starts for Triple-A Indianapolis, he's allowed 13 runs in 12 innings with the Brewers. And while the Brewers aren't in contention for anything, they also don't have a lot of room in the rotation behind Ben Sheets, Doug Davis, Chris Capuano and Victor Santos. Between competition from other pitchers, including the demoted Wes Obermueller, and the fact that he isn't a dominant strikeout pitcher, Hendrickson has limited fantasy value.

Edwin Jackson, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Fantasy Outlook: It took him long enough, but Jackson finally started to live up to some of the preseason hype before recently landing on the disabled list with a strained right forearm. Proving that minor league totals aren't everything, Jackson succeeded in Los Angeles after posting a 5.29 ERA and a lousy strikeout-to-walk ratio in 15 starts for Triple-A Las Vegas in the hitter-friendly PCL. But there is cause for concern beyond the arm injury for Jackson, who allowed three home runs and five walks in 11.2 innings with the Dodgers. His 3.86 ERA and .209 average-against will inspire some owners to give him a chance when he's healthy, but Jackson still has some rough edges.

John Maine, SP, Baltimore Orioles
Fantasy Outlook: Some players make a big splash in their first appearance, attracting all sorts of fantasy attention. Others just go for the belly flop. Maine fell in with the latter group after allowing seven hits, three walks and four earned runs in 3.2 innings against the Twins in his first start. But Maine, who posted a 4.26 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 76 innings for Triple-A Ottawa, is better than that effort suggests. With Baltimore's rotation in constant disarray, he should get a few more chances to prove himself.

Justin Morneau, 1B, Minnesota Twins
Fantasy Outlook: Morneau is really a partial qualifier for this list after playing 40 games for the Twins last season and making a strong showing in a six-game stint in May, but it's our list and he's worth mentioning in just about any context right now. With rumors circulating that Doug Mientkiewicz could be on his way out of Minnesota for Kris Benson, Morneau may finally have a position to call home in Minnesota's crowded lineup. Even if Mientkiewicz sticks around, it's going to be tough to sit Morneau. He has 13 hits, three home runs and 10 RBI in the last 10 games and hit .306 with 22 home runs and 63 RBI in 72 games for Triple-A Rochester.

Grady Sizemore
Center Field
Cleveland Indians
7 1 4 1 0 .313

Grady Sizemore, OF, Cleveland Indians
Fantasy Outlook: Still legitimately in the thick of the AL Central race, Cleveland's willingness to call up Sizemore and essentially hand him a starting job says plenty about his fantasy potential -- although it also says something about Coco Crisp's .305 OBP. And while three of Sizemore's first six hits went for extra bases, there is still some concern about how his immense talent translates to fantasy statistics at this early stage. He hit just seven home runs in 95 games for Triple-A Buffalo and was thrown out on nine of 21 stolen-base attempts. He need to proves he'll be a consistent threat in at least one of those categories to really make a fantasy impact this season.

Kazuhito Tadano, SP, Cleveland Indians
Fantasy Outlook: Finally generating stories for what he's doing on the field, Tadano is another rookie chipping in as the Indians fight to stay in the AL Central race. He posted just a 4.55 ERA in 27.2 innings for Triple-A Buffalo, but that was enough to get him to Cleveland. So far, so good. Tadano has 35 strikeouts in 40 innings for the Indians and has been at his best since joining the starting rotation. In three starts, he has a 2.46 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 18.1 innings. It's worth paying attention any time a top prospect starts posting strikeouts, and Tadano has a chance to stick in Cleveland's rotation.

Josh Willingham, C, Florida Marlins
Fantasy Outlook: Rather than catch a rising star, the Marlins would simply like to confirm that their catch is a rising star. Beset by injuries, the team has upped the timetable on Willingham's progression. Not that he didn't do his part, hitting .282 (.428 OBP) with 17 home runs and 55 RBI for Double-A Carolina. Fantasy owners are familiar with Marlins making the jump from Carolina, having seen Cabrera do it last season. Willingham isn't in that class, and just five hits in his first 24 at-bats with the big club, but he's a legitimate offensive prospect at a position that produces few of those. Mike Redmond and Matt Treanor won't be enough to keep him on the bench if he gets hot.

David Wright, 3B, New York Mets
Fantasy Outlook: Even if Wright had arrived at Shea with his best Miguel Cabrera impersonation in tow, playing time was going to be an issue. Recent talk has centered on keeping Ty Wigginton at first base and Mike Piazza, when healthy, behind the plate, but Wright isn't doing much to force Art Howe's hand, picking up just three hits in his first 16 at-bats. But Howe and the Mets have every reason to be patient with Wright after watching him cruise through the minors, hitting .298 with eight home runs and 17 RBI in 31 games for Triple-A Norfolk and .363 with 10 home runs and 40 RBI in 60 games for Double-A Norfolk. If Wright shows anything in the next week or two, expect him to stick around.

Coming Soon?
Clint Barmes, SS, Colorado Rockies
Fantasy Outlook: It's Coors Field, so anyone with power is worth watching, but Barmes is a shortstop who is hitting .333 with 13 home runs and 16 steals for Triple-A Colorado Springs. No matter how well he's played this season, Royce Clayton isn't much of a roadblock and Barmes could be a sleeper among higher profile prospects.

Taylor Buchholz, SP, Houston Astros
Fantasy Outlook: Houston's playoff hopes are on life support and the team could soon decide to move salaries and call up some of its prospects. The problem for Buchholz, highly regarded after coming over from Philadelphia in the Billy Wagner deal, is that he hasn't pitched all that well for Triple-A New Orleans. He's never been a strikeout-an-inning guy in the minors and has allowed 105 hits in 93 innings.

Chris Burke, 2B, Houston Astros
Fantasy Outlook: Another player who needs some moves on the depth chart ahead of him, namely moving Jeff Kent somewhere else. But with a .326 average, 12 home runs and 26 steals in 86 games for Triple-A New Orleans, Burke has the skills to keep fantasy owners checking the transaction wire.

Jeff Francis, SP, Colorado Rockies
Fantasy Outlook: How good is Francis? Good enough to merit fantasy consideration as a starting pitcher for Colorado. The Canadian lefty has cruised through Colorado's system, including a 0.69 ERA and 18 strikeouts in his first 13 innings with Triple-A Colorado Springs. In 17 starts for Double-A Tulsa, Francis went 13-1 with a 1.98 ERA and 147 strikeouts in 113.2 innings. In any other system, fantasy owners would be waiting with Prior-like anticipation. In Colorado's system, he's still worth a gamble.

Dan Johnson, 1B, Oakland Athletics
Fantasy Outlook: Johnson has been a monster for Triple-A Sacramento, hitting .312 with a .411 OBP and 20 home runs in 102 games. The problem is that his path to Oakland is blocked by Scott Hatteberg and Erubiel Durazo, two guys who are the least of Oakland's offensive concerns. But should an injury open up playing time, Johnson could contribute.

Scott Kazmir, SP, New York Mets
Fantasy Outlook: The other half of the New York's dynamic duo, Kazmir might not be as far behind David Wright at it appears. The Mets have been commendably cautious with Kazmir, who is 2-1 with a 1.73 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 26 innings for Double-A Binghamton. But Kazmir has the talent to put together a fantasy run if he hits Shea in September.

Antonio Perez, 2B-SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Fantasy Outlook: Perez has been a prospect for a few years and a few organizations. And while that's not a good thing, he's still just 24 and appears to have found something with the Dodgers. Having shown only flashes of power prior to this season, Perez is hitting .294 with 17 home runs in 92 games for Triple-A Las Vegas. Not to mention he's stolen 20 bases. Jose Hernandez and Alex Cora may want to watch their backs.

Nick Swisher, OF, Oakland Athletics
Fantasy Outlook: Mark Kotsay, Eric Byrnes and Jermaine Dye are playing well enough for the Athletics, but Billy Beane still needs to add a bat for the stretch drive. If he can't find one in trade, Swisher might get a shot to be that spark. He's hitting just .264 for Triple-A Sacramento but has 81 walks against 74 strikeouts and 19 home runs in 90 games.

B.J. Upton, SS, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Fantasy Outlook: The guy everyone wants to see in Tampa Bay, except Julio Lugo. Upton appeared on the verge of making the jump early this summer, but the Devil Rays opted to keep him at Triple-A Durham with Lugo still playing well for Lou Piniella. All Upton, rated as the game's best prospect by a host of services, has done is hit .313 with 12 home runs and 17 steals in 64 games. And he hasn't even turned 20. He's the one player in the minors most capable of matching Cabrera's fantasy impact, but the Rays have to find a spot for him.

John Van Benschoten, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Fantasy Outlook: Kris Benson is going somewhere, and when he finally moves, the Pirates may opt to take a look at arguably their best pitching prospect since Benson came through the system. Van Benschoten is just 3-8 with a 4.68 ERA for Triple-A Nashville, but he's probably performed better than the numbers suggest. He's allowed 106 hits in 106.2 innings, striking out 85 in the process.