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July 4, 2006

Fantasy Focus

The RotoWire ROI 100

by Erik Siegrist

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The RotoWire ROI 100

The ROI (Return On Investment) 100 is a different sort of prospect list. Most lists, including RotoWire's own, attempt to measure the likely futures and ceilings of the next generation of stars in raw baseball terms. The ROI 100, on the other hand, focuses solely on fantasy league economic upside, attempting to measure the profit a player might return both in the short-term (next season) and long-term (over the length of a typical roto contract). As such, fantasy priorities such as stolen bases and saves, not to mention the simple opportunity for playing time, are given more weight than on some more traditional prospect lists. The over-riding principle here is a basic inflationary rule: a dollar earned in 2006 is worth more than a dollar earned down the road.

Part one covered American League prospects, including their overall rank. Part two will cover the National League. An update, discussing the largest movers and new entries, will follow in about a month, in time for late July-early August trade deadlines.

Disclaimer: Past performance does not guarantee future results. Prospect values and investment returns will fluctuate. This article is not intended to provide specific individual advice including, without reservation, investment, financial, legal, accounting, or rotisserie.

2. Dan Uggla, 2B, Flo: Just an overlooked, long-shot Rule 5 pick heading into the season, Uggla has done an uncanny Jeff Kent impression through 2006's first three months. Even if he can't keep it up, he's almost certainly too cheap to be anything but an incredible source of value. Uggla figures to be the foundation of a lot of 2007 championship keeper league teams.

3. Ryan Howard, 1B, Phi: Howard shows every indication of becoming one of the elite NL bats, at somewhat less than an elite price.

7. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Flo: He wasn't the most sabermetrically-friendly prospect in the world heading into the season, but Ramirez's steals (21-for-25 so far in 2006) make him a potential fantasy superstar. His rate stats (.266/.334/.395) are a near-perfect match for his numbers in Double-A last season aside from increased strikeouts, but that in itself is a triumph for a 22-year-old jumping two levels. He's still got some work to do, but Ramirez appears to have an excellent chance of turning his tools into value, and at a bargain price to boot.

9. Joshua Johnson, P, Flo: Yet another poster boy for the Marlins' remarkable turnaround, and the absolute keeper gold mine their roster contains. Johnson may not be challenging for an ERA title at the end of the season, but he's talented enough to make another run at it a couple of years down the road.

11. Anthony Reyes, SP, StL: No one has ever doubted his ability to pitch, just his ability to stay healthy, and his 2006 debut has offered up more than enough proof of his mound craft. Of course, nothing keeps a pitcher's price tag down like health concerns too. The Cardinals' World Series hopes could end up riding on Reyes' fragile shoulder.

14. Matt Kemp, OF, LAD: If it weren't for PECOTA, Kemp might not have been on anyone's fantasy radar coming into the season. 21-year-olds who hit .295/.343/.591 after just 199 at bats in the high minors get people's attention in a hurry, however. The spike in his strikeout rate indicates some struggles ahead, but Kemp's future seems very bright.

16. Matt Cain, SP, SF: You know he's special, because he's one of the few prospects Brian Sabean has elected not to trade. He's been erratic so far, and a probably inflated salary from preseason expectations keeps him from the top of this list, but his strikeout rate (7.41 K/9 and climbing) points clearly down a path of future stardom.

18. Lastings Milledge, OF, NYM: Milledge added plate discipline to his arsenal at Triple-A this year, and hasn't looked out of place when pressed into duty in the Mets outfield. On a team built around high-priced talent and winning now, his name has always circulated in trade rumors, but just as with David Wright expect GM Omar Minaya to make room for his latest golden boy just as soon as he's ready for a full-time gig.

19. Prince Fielder, 1B, Mil: As with a lot of the NL's top prospects, the Prince came into 2006 with just a little too much hype to keep his salary completely reasonable. If you're lucky, batting average concerns (which appear unfounded at the moment) shaved a couple of bucks off his auction price, and added to your 2007 profit margin.

21. Russell Martin, C, LAD: Dioner Navarro came into the season as the Dodgers' nominal catcher of the future, but Martin has so decisively claimed that title that the team exiled Navarro to the Devil Rays. At the plate he's already as good as Paul Lo Duca was at the end of his Dodger career, only he's almost a decade younger with his full power stroke ahead of him, not behind him.

27. Jeremy Hermida, OF, Flo: Hermida's early injury woes--the one worrisome thing on his minor league resume--have suppressed his first half production, and other young Marlins have passed him in the public eye. If his salary is reasonable, that makes this the perfect time to try and steal him away from his current owner.

30. Brian McCann, C, Atl: His 2005 major league debut just teased at his potential, but hype and a guaranteed starting job pushed up McCann's auction price. The .350+ batting average won't last, but the big surprise has been a gradually increasing walk rate that's atypical for a Braves prospect. Don't expect a Francouer-like swoon here.

32. Conor Jackson, 1B, Ari: Folks might have been expecting a little more in his first full tour of duty in the majors, but Jackson's numbers so far in 2006 (.277/.369/.423) are pretty comparable to his 2004 Double-A campaign (.301/.367/.456)--arguably better, as he traded a handful of singles and strikeouts for walks. A duplication of his 2005 Triple-A numbers (.354/.457/.553) may not be too far down the road, and by 2008 he could be batting in the heart of the best young offense on the planet.

34. Stephen Drew, SS, Ari: He isn't quite tearing it up at Triple-A, but his bat still appears to be as major league ready as advertised, and he could end up producing at a vintage Garciaparra level. Defense will likely keep him in the minors until 2007, but Drew's glove isn't bad enough to stall his progress. Expect a Silver Slugger long before a Gold Glove.

35. Joel Guzman, OF, LAD: A shift out of the infield cuts into his value, and he still hasn't managed to duplicate the tremendous power numbers he put up as a 19-year-old in 2004, but Guzman still figures to be an integral part of the Dodgers offense in the years to come. Hopefully the hype hasn't driven up his price too much, however.

44. Andre Ethier, OF, LAD: His power stroke (or lack thereof) has returned to its expected level after his explosive debut, but Ethier is still making the A's look more than a little silly for using him to 'upgrade' to Milton Bradley. His major league numbers are right in line with his break-out 2005 at Double-A, so he may not see a big drop-off in the second half, and none at all in 2007.

45. Scott Olsen, SP, Flo: An elbow injury marred an otherwise very solid 2005 debut, while the influx of pitching talent the Marlins received in their offseason purge made him even more anonymous within his own organization. His strikeouts, gradually improving control and homeritis profile him much like Cliff Lee, only Olsen is doing at 22 what Lee did at 25-26.

46. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Was: Zimmerman tore through pro ball in 2005 like he thought he was still in college, but he's come back to earth a bit this season. He's still teasing a 20 HR, 100 RBI season as a 21-year-old, however--he could spend most of his career overshadowed by the likes of David Wright and Miguel Cabrera, but Zimmerman looks like he's got some All-Star games of his own in his future.

47. Takashi Saito, LAD: Saito has wriggled into the opportunity left open by Eric Gagne's health woes and Jonathan Broxton's control issues. As with any closer, upside and talent aren't as important as being the guy actually doing the job, although Saito has certainly pitched more than well enough (11.71 K/9) to earn his place. For the moment at least, Saito is the pitcher you want in the Dodgers bullpen.

49. Josh Willingham, OF, Flo: As it looks less and less likely that he'll qualify at catcher next season in most keeper leagues, Willingham goes from being incredibly valuable to being just another decent outfield stick. It might take a Miguel Olivo injury, or a bargain-basement price tag, to make him a keeper at all in fact.

53. Chad Billingsley, P, LAD: He's still got monster upside, posting a 9.93 K/9 rate in Triple-A so far this season, but he won't be ready for regular duty on the Dodgers' staff until he refines his control (4.08 BB/9 at Triple-A). At 21 he's still got all the time in the world to do so, however. The difficulty with Billingsley, as with most pitching prospects, is predicting when he'll hit that fantasy sweet spot of minimal price and maximum production.

54. Josh Barfield, 2B, SD: Barfield's plate discipline and power have taken a tumble in the big leagues, but he's still stealing enough bases to have some short-term value. A sub-.300 OBP has him on a short leash though, and if his defense eventually forces a move to the outfield his keeper value could become very suspect.

56. Anibal Sanchez, SP, Flo: His numbers in his repeat season at Double-A have been much like 2005, and he didn't look out of place in stifling the Yankees during a double-header last weekend. The Marlins seem inclined to keep him around and try to find a spot for him; it's hard to imagine the likes of Brian Moehler keeping Sanchez out of the rotation, if he's ready.

57. Carlos Quentin, OF, Ari: His 2006 production has been a shade below his 2005 pace so far, but Quentin could just be bored with smacking around PCL pitching. With Arizona still in the playoff hunt, the best thing for all parties involved--Quentin, his fantasy owners and the D'backs--is a Luis Gonzalez injury.

58. Cole Hamels, SP, Phi: After battling through health problems seemingly since the day he was drafted, Hamels suddenly reminded everyone of his existence with an utterly dominating performance at Triple-A that included a 36/1 K/BB ratio in 23 innings. He hasn't duplicated those numbers in the majors--nobody could--but so long as he makes it through the year in one piece it'll be progress.

59. Scott Hairston, OF, Ari: His third stint at Triple-A produced his best numbers yet, and Hairston seemed about to carve out a major league job for himself when he hurt his shoulder in his first game after being recalled. The Arizona system is crawling with hitting prospects, so Hairston may not have a lot of time to prove he belongs--he can't afford to sit out long.

60. Chuck James, SP, Atl: James zoomed through three levels last season, and other than a nagging hamstring injury hasn't missed a beat on the mound in 2006. The Braves already have some building blocks on offense as they try to regain their division-winning form, but James might be the only pitcher in the system's upper minors who could be a legitimate heir to the team's glory day rotations of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz.

61. Cesar Carrillo, P, SD: Carrillo was cruising through the Padres system before a recent elbow injury cut short his progress and jeopardized a potential 2006 major league debut. Carrillo's stuff and poise on the mound tab him as a future #2 starter behind Jake Peavy, but first he's got to get healthy.

66. Ricky Nolasco, P, Flo: He doesn't have the showy arsenal that some of the Marlins' other young pitchers possess, but Nolasco is quietly doing in the majors what he's done at Double-A the last two season--get results. He doesn't profile as more than a #3-#4 starter in Florida, but those other 'better' prospects have some catching up to do to push him aside.

67. Jonathan Broxton, P, LAD: Eric Gagne's ongoing health issues make Broxton look more and more like the Dodgers' closer of the future, and the kid certainly has the stuff (12.67 K/9 through his first 43 2/3 big league innings) to be a worthy heir. He's also walked 25 batters in those innings though, and until he finds a bit more control he could find himself watching the likes of Takashi Saito get the saves and the glory.

68. Gio Gonzalez, SP, Phi: The big prize for the Phillies in the Jim Thome trade, Gonzalez has seen a spike in his home runs allowed at Double-A, but otherwise continues to post a strikeout rate (10.24 K/9) that marks him as an elite pitching prospect. Those home runs are worrisome- he's probably at least a year away from the majors though.

69. Yusmeiro Petit, SP, Flo: The strikeouts have evaporated somewhat at Albuquerque, a tough pitching environment; he also got hit hard in a brief major league trial, so the questions about whether his deceptive delivery will continue to baffle hitters as he moves up the ladder have resurfaced. He's just one mound prospect among many with the Marlins, so he'll get plenty of time in the minors to work out the kinks--maybe too much for his fantasy owners' liking.

71. Chris Young, OF, Ari: When he was traded to the Diamondbacks, Young looked like Arizona's center fielder of the future, a potential 30/30 slugger in the middle of a truly scary lineup. Three months later the picture looks much murkier, as injuries and Justin Upton's shift to center field behind him in the system make it hard to see where he fits down the road. Upton's a couple of years away though, and in fantasy terms the future is always now, so Young still figures to have value.

73. Paul Maholm, SP, Pit: He hasn't had anywhere near the success in 2006 that he enjoyed in his major league debut last season, with his control (4.58 BB/9) and sudden tendency to surrender the long ball (10 HR in 92 1/3 IP) both becoming issues. Chalk it up to an early sophomore slump, as neither was a problem for Maholm in the minors.

74. Brian Bannister, SP, NYM: Bannister put up some good numbers in his first five major league starts, but a 14/17 K/BB ratio indicates exactly how much work he's got to do before he'll be reliable at the major league level. A hamstring injury also set him back; he might not hold down a regular rotation spot for the Mets until 2007.

75. Andy LaRoche, 3B, LAD: LaRoche seemed well on his way to a 2006 major league debut when he was felled by a slight labrum tear earlier this month. The injury isn't to his throwing shoulder, so this should be just a bump in the road and not a pothole; 2007 looks like a more reasonable ETA, a timetable that gives him more time find the monster power stroke that he seems to have misplaced in the high minors.

76. Mike Jacobs, 1B, Flo: He doesn't have the upside of Ryan Howard or Prince Fielder, but Jacobs' 2005 debut made him tough to ignore at first base. Being overshadowed by two better prospects probably helped keep his price tag down, but his performance so far this season has him lagging behind both in value and potential profit.

80. Corey Hart, OF, Mil: Hart's got nothing left to prove in the minors, but is stuck on the Brewers bench while the team waits for the right offer on Carlos Lee, or any offer on Geoff Jenkins. With regular playing time he's a potential 20/20 player or better, but those at bats may not come until 2007.

81. Felix Pie, OF, ChC: Pie's production continues to lag behind his prospect status, and his .250/.314/.401 line at Triple-A should have the Cubs considering a demotion, not a Juan Pierre trade to make room for him in the big leagues. He's very young and very toolsy, but so was Corey Patterson, and the same erratic beginning to his career could be in the cards.

82. Enrique Gonzalez, SP, Ari: Gonzalez's strikeout rate swooned at Triple-A this season after a 2005 breakout at Double-A, but a hole in the Diamondbacks rotation (and Dustin Nippert's struggles) brought him up to the big leagues anyway, where he's responded.

83. Ian Stewart, 3B, Col: Stewart's mediocre 2006 to date coincides with Garrett Atkins' emergence, making Stewart's status as the third baseman of the future a little iffier than it seemed coming into the season. He's still a 21-year-old holding his own at Double-A, however--if his current owner seems ready to throw him out with the bathwater, be ready to catch him.

84. James Loney, 1B, LAD: Superficially his .507 SLG at Triple-A looks like a step forward, but it's batting average fueled - his ISO of .141 is about the same as it was at Double-A in 2005, and wholly inadequate for a major league first baseman. Loney's still only 22, and still has that sweet swing, but right now he looks more like Hal Morris than John Olerud.

85. Tom Gorzelanny, SP, Pit: Gorzelanny is the latest top Pirate pitching prospect, so if the usual pattern holds expect an explosive debut after he gets called up, followed by a major struggle. His numbers in the high minors have been outstanding across the board, however, so he might be the one who escapes the fate of Maholm and Oliver Perez.

89. Alay Soler, SP, NYM: It's hard to get a read on Soler's upside, as with any Cuban defector without much of a minor league track record. The scouting reports say he has impressive stuff, and he badly outclassed the opposition in his brief stint in Double-A this season, but it could take him some time to find his footing in the majors. He probably comes very cheap, though, and could very well be worth the wait.

90. Dustin Nippert, SP, Ari: Nippert made an impressive return from Tommy John surgery in 2005, but his numbers at Triple-A this season have been less than stellar. His true level of performance probably lies somewhere in between, but it'll need to be closer to those Double-A numbers for him to regain his top prospect status, and already he seems to have been passed by Enrique Gonzalez on the Arizona depth chart.

92. Jose Bautista, 3B, Pit: After being a Rule 5 pinball in 2004, Bautista got back on the prospect track with a very good 2005 at Double-A. He's nominally a third baseman, but the Pirates seem inclined to use him in somewhat the same fashion that the Giants used Pedro Feliz when he first got to the majors, as a slugging super-utility player. If the uncertainty doesn't mess with his head, he'll be a fantasy steal.

93. Angel Guzman, SP, ChC: Guzman bounced back from a series of arm injuries to strike out better than a batter an inning in seven Triple-A starts this year. His control in his brief major league stint so far has left something to be desired (20 walks in 25 1/3 IP) but Guzman's stuff is still electric, and his K rate exceptional at 10.30 K/ 9. He's got a lot of question marks over his head, but a huge ceiling if he can answer them.

94. Rich Hill, P, ChC: Hill's minor league numbers the last two seasons have been through the roof, including a 11.70 K/9 rate at Triple-A in 2006, but as yet he hasn't managed to come close to duplicating them in the majors, where his control both in and out of the strike zone has been ugly. At this point, he's as likely to be John Wasdin as anything close to Bert Blyleven.

97. Jose Capellan, P, Mil: The results still aren't matching the upside, but the Brewers seem committed to the idea of Capellan as their closer of the future. He hasn't struck out better than a batter an inning since a Double-A stint in 2004, and Derrick Turnbow doesn't seem inclined to give up the job any time soon, so Capellan's keeper status is based purely on talent alone.

98. Ronny Cedeno, SS, ChC: After a great half-season at Triple-A as a 22-year-old in 2005, Cedeno has looked somewhat overmatched in the majors so far this season, losing both the plate discipline and power he'd previously displayed. Dusty Baker has shown a surprising amount of patience with him so far, but that could be because of the uncanny resemblance his numbers have shown to Neifi Perez's usual. With only that Triple-A half-season to indicate he could be anything more, it's probably best to keep the expectations low despite his youth.

100. Ryan Shealy, 1B, Col: He continues to display very good power numbers in the high minors, but defensively he's stuck at first, and behind Todd Helton on the depth chart. Unlike other buried hitting prospects, a trade wouldn't necessarily boost his potential, keyed as it is to hitting at altitude. He's still got too much potential to ignore, but at this point he's nothing more than a lottery ticket, or insurance against Helton's back going out again.

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