Hey, you! Baseball’s back!! Only one week in the books, and the waiver wire’s busier than a crowd of fans urgently heading home from an afternoon Mets game at Citi Field. Seriously, that was quite an afternoon. One second, I’m joking with one of my friends about how I’m going to combine my two Subway gift cards to get a free five-dollar footlong, the next Ike Davis goes Pepsi Porch (not really, but he was somewhat close) off of J.J. Hoover with the bases loaded. Granted, I won’t be bleeding blue and orange any time soon, and Hoover’s not escaping my judgement of him in this article, but I can honestly say I’ve never been so thrilled to see a ballgame end that I saw in person. Too bad I originally came for the Fan Fest, especially since I literally missed half the contest trying to get the manager to let me play MLB 14 The Show in the game room. Honestly, if I wasn’t also too busy trying to dunk the jerk in the Reds sweater, I probably would’ve broke the bank for those meatball garlic knots and risked a series of unfortunate events involving harsh debts and bad credit following a brief craving for some decent food.
Please, someone help me! I’ve seemed to have left my focus wavering and my mind back in section 5 with my Mets calendar. This is supposed to be an article about fantasy baseball, not concession stands and downin’ clowns. This is what happens when you’re in Queens for too long, and everyone you sit next to on the 7 train looks like they’re wearing the wrong jerseys until you realized you’ve actually spent your entire afternoon watching a baseball game in Queens. I may have to start investing in that thing all the cool kids are talking about nowadays. You know, coffee? We’ll see.
Okay, no more games. Seriously, there are no more games from this past week, thank goodness. I was only leading by like, five or six categories in half of my league matchups. Week 2 is the dawn of a new batch of ballgames, presenting plenty of risk/reward for two-starters on the wire, and potential for batters most owners are worried to take a flier on. That’s where I come in! I’ll be placing alternate key symbols next to the player names, which I have defined below, to give you an idea of how valuable each player is at the moment. I will not be doing this for players on the decline, unless I really, really like them, which will never happen. All this is just a way of helping you through any of your pivotal free agent moves as the season moves along. Check it out! *Jake Peralta voice*
!!! – Must Add
$ – Worth a Look
# – Position/Category need
? – Speculative/Stash
“Hitters on the rise”
# Adam LaRoche, 1B, Washington Nationals #
Don’t look now, but LaRoche is off to a red-hot start, batting .250 with 2 homers and 8 RBIs to kick off the year. I wish I was being sarcastic about his production, but he’s starting to look like a product of a lot of protection from a healthy Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper. Washington has too many sluggers in their lineup for a pitcher to focus on putting one away, and that seems to already be playing to LaRoche’s advantage, as he’s getting plenty of meaty pitches to hit. He’ll fall off eventually because the rule of averages says so, but anything can happen in April (just look at Emilio Bonifacio’s numbers from his first two games!) even despite his putrid .213 career average during the month. He’s batting cleanup against righties, so in deep daily leagues I think he’s worth a look in the short term since you can literally slide him in your lineup when the matchup’s in his favor and end up with a couple extra homers by week’s end. Still, don’t hold on to him when it all starts to fall apart, unless you have absolutely no other first basemen on your team.
$ Dustin Ackley, 2B/0F, Seattle Mariners $
Ackley’s been demanding my attention all week long, and he’s finally caught it. I figure he’s on some sort of resurgance, considering he batted .304 throughout the second half of last season. So far this year he’s just picking up where he left off. Ackley’s already got himself a longball with a half a dozen ribbi steaks and five scores. He’s multi-position eligible, and carrying more confidence and swag than a nerd at prom, so the least you can do is give him a 7-day contract on your fantasy team and see where it leads.
$ Casey McGehee, 1B, Miami Marlins $
Chances are, Casey McGehee will end up becoming another John Buck at the end of the year, so take what I’m going to say from here on in with a grain of salt. His last two seasons in the Bigs saw a serious dip in contact rates and Isolated Power, and spikes in his K rate. But if you’ve dug as deep into his return to the Majors as I have, you may be thinking otherwise about his jump start. In 144 games with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan last year, Mcgehee slashed .292/.376/515 with 28 homers and 93 RBI. Compare those peripherals with his career year in Milwakuee and they’re actually better. Even his walk rate this season is starting to catch up with his K rate a bit, all well enough evidence to suggest that he may be in the midst of a comeback season. It’s also worth noting that he’s batted 4th and 5th in all 7 of the Marlins’ games this past week, wrapping things up with a .375/.467/.625 slash line and 10 runs batted in. There’s definitely no way he sustains this, and it IS still very early in the season, but Miami’s offense is clicking right now, and you’d owe it to yourself to at least see where it, and his bat, goes.
!!! Brad Miller, SS, Seattle Mariners !!!
An unbelievably hot Spring forced the hand of Lloyd McClendon and granted Miller the full-time shortstop gig for the reinvigorated Mariners ballclub. So far, the plan seems to be working. Dating back to his call up last season, Miller already has four multi-homerun games, and one of them was this past week against the Angels. His minor league numbers preach consistency and improvement, and his relatively early promotion to the Bigs only helped sport the notion that he was getting the full-time gig at short regardless of who came to camp this Spring. Hitting in front of Robinson Cano is a staple any hitter can run with from a fantast perspective, and luckily for those searching for a shortstop to save your life, Miller’s getting the pleasure of enjoying said advantage all year long.
!!! Angel Pagan, OF, San Francisco Giants !!!
See, I knew I left someone out of my “Who to Look for come Fantasy Draft Day 2014” series. Angel Pagan last season (when healthy) was the type of guy you can expect to get on the cheap, only to relish in all the rewards and extra thump he brought to your fantasy team when all was said and done. This guy absolutely loves the brown and beige, especially in 2012 when he scored 95 runs, drove in 56, and had 61 extra base-hits with 29 stolen bases. However, the problem with picking him up is very, very health related. He faced a slightly fluky hamstring injury last season attempting an inside-the-park homerun, and was experiencing back pain throughout Spring Training. Still, after watching him hit and field last night on Sunday Night Baseball, Pagan looks exactly like the same Pagan who was healthy a couple seasons ago and showed it by playing full throttle, all the time. The only thing you truly can’t rely on is homers, obviously, but he provides everything else in spades, and the fact that very few leagues had him drafted to begin with should mean that no one cares to pick him up in your league. So, pick him up in your league.
!!! Anthony Rendon, 2B, Washington Nationals !!!
With three extra base hits and a .391/.391/.609 slash line through six games, Rendon’s making his best case to remain atop the Nationals lineup until proven otherwise. His stock rises because of that. Like LaRoche, he has his own squabbles at the plate that need (but probably won’t get any) addressing, like a lack of consistent power, and little to no semblance of speed on the basepaths. But also like LaRoche, his spot in the order makes him more advantageous at the dish, as he’s been hitting 2nd in front of Jayson Werth and friends practically all season long. He’ll probably aim to eliminate some walks in an attempt to maintain a feasable slugging percentage, and even though his minor league numbers tell a different tale, he can definitely hit for a decent average in the Majors (.265 BA, 31 extra base-hits in 394 at-bats in 2013.) This lineup is perfect for him, and the run scoring ability he posses with the guys hitting behind him is hard to ignore.
# Chris Colabello, 1B, Minnesota Twins #
Pay attention to Colabello this week, as he’s coming off a red-hot start to the season including a homer, 11 ribbies, and a .391 average. He’ll have to fight for his right to stay as the Twins’s everyday first baseman, with Joe Mauer cutting down his time behind the plate. Still, the recent track record leaves a world of promise for fantasy owners looking to fill a void at first base. In just 338 AAA at-bats last year, Colabello amassed an incredible .352/.437/.609/1.066 slash line with 24 homeruns and 76 RBIs. You don’t have to rush to the waiver wire just yet, as his breakout performance last week came against the porous White Sox pitching staff and the bottomfeeding end of the Indians rotation. I’d like to see what he could do when some of the best both leagues have to offer are on the mound, specifically because of his situation at first. He still has a chance of slipping up and ending up in a platoon, so be mindful of that. I’m rooting for him, and his power is totally legit, so take a flier if you’d like, but don’t risk dropping someone important who’s started off cold.
“Hitters on the Decline”
-Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Boston Red Sox
Yay! He’s hurt again! Now I can go drop him for Trevor Plouffe and pretend I never drafted him. We’ve all went through this same song and dance plenty of times already, so you’d hope that we had gone through enough pain and suffering at this point. Middlebrooks only struck out three times during Spring Training, and hit over .350 with four homers. What a shame that none of this matters during the regular season, with Middlebrooks managing just 3 hits in 13 at-bats with 4 Ks before his calf exploded onto the field. It’s only a Grade 1, but any injury with a grade on it should raise a ton of concern when the guy with the injury has been hurt many times in the past. You can hold on to him if you’ve got multiple DL spots and a gut feeling that no one other third baseman in the waiver wire can produce like he can, which would be kind of foolish. Fantasy owners, understand that he’ll probably never be 100% healthy this year seeing as how he can’t survive the first week of the season without a trip to a doctor or an MRI. It’s okay to cut ties with him.
-Evan Gattis, C/OF, Atlanta Braves
After a scorching hot start to his Major League career last season, Evan Gattis has fallen completely off the table and has dragged his hitting woes onto an even worse sample size to begin the 2014 season. With just two hits, no walks and six strikeouts last week, his quad issues from March must be a far cry from being a thing of the past. If he didn’t have 25-homer power, his fantasy value would be non existent, but since he did knock one out this season you can probably sell him high in a 16-teamer or something. He’s apparently dealing with an illness now, so you can just pile that onto the list of problems surrounding his ownership in fantasy. The bottom line here is that he has no contact rate, strikes out more in one game than he walks in a month, and has been moved all over the lineup to no avail. So long as you have no more than 10 teams in your league, or no more than 26-27 players on your roster, drop him now and see if Yann Gomes is available. At least he’ll be on the field AND produce. However, if you’re a die-hard Braves fan, you can drop him for Gerald Laird and cross your fingers for the rest of your life.
-Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City Royals
Looks like the Moose has duped us yet again. After batting over .400 in a few dozen Spring at-bats, Moustakas has hit an astonishing 0-for-15 with one RBI to begin the regular season. Something has to be done about his approach at the plate, particularly his batting stance, but I feel as though we’re going to have to wait another year or two before he finally figures it out. I can’t believe I wasted a third round pick on him in my 10-teamer, instead of going straight for David Wright. Just kidding, I’d never do that even if I was high on bathroom cleaning products and bleach. David Freese, where art thou?
“Pitchers on the rise”
!!! Yordano Ventura, SP, Kansas City Royals !!!
Due to the rained out Royals-Tigers game this past Thursday, Yordano Ventura was dropped in about 18 percent of all ESPN fantasy baseball leagues. That means you can scoop him up and give him a whirl for two starts this week, with one of them being a Sunday matinee in Minnesota. Now, it hasn’t been officially announced that he’ll be starting that game, but worst case scenario is he’ll at least get a crack at Tamba Bay tomorrow, which is favorable enough for a young fireballer. Anyway, if he’s a free agent in any of your leagues, it’s your job and your responsibility to make sure that he’s not as soon as you’re finished reading this.
!!! Scott Kazmir, SP, Oakland Athletics !!!
Over the course of about a year, the Oakland Athletics and their rising young talents have grown quite a bit on me from a fantasy perspective, but luckily for us Billy Bean wasn’t sitting on his high horse when veterans like Kazmir found themselves in the free agent market this past winter. His signing with the green and gold is a dream come true, and a fantasy baseball story few owners will tell their kids about when they mention how he helped them win a championship. Despite the fact that he’s a two-starter this week going up against the Twins and the Mariners, he’s also a veteran with a hard-throwing fastball and a reinvigorated approach to opposing hitters. In the last three months of the 2013 season, Kazmir walked 23 batters in 99 innings pitched, with 96 Ks. Control has been a fright he’s had trouble shaking off his entire career, but with only 4 of those 23 walks coming in September — along with 43 of his strikeouts — Kazmir may have become someone he’s never been before. With a fastball hovering around the 93 mph range on average, and a significantly increased strikeout-to-walk ratio, Kazmir can produce at an elite level if his sub-3.4 xFIP from last season is here to stay, and he continues to pound the strikeout at the same rate as that of guys like Cliff Lee and David Price. He serves up quite a few fly balls, but expect most of those to get swallowed up in the Colisseum as he now calls it home. I project a huge year from Kazmir, and after watching him deal last week against Cleveland, there’s a chance that those who found him in the waiver wire will be rewarded beyond their wildest dreams.
!!! James Paxton, SP, Seattle Mariners !!!
I look at the slim body of work Paxton has laid in the Majors, and I constantly ask myself, “Why is he so good in the Bigs, but so meh down in AAA?” I’m going to put this in perspective, in case some of you are wondering the same thing. in AAA Tacoma, Paxton pitched 145.2 innings, with 131 Ks, 10 homers allowed, and 58 walks. That was good for a 4.45 ERA and 1.49 whip, which looks pretty bland on the surface. But that’s why you gotta do your research before you kick a guy to the curb. He had an ERA close to 4 and a half and he only allowed 10 homers. His FIP was a mere 3.55, and the WHIP issue involved an even worse bit of luck with 158 hits allowed an a .347 opposing BABIP. When he got promoted in September of last year, he managed a 1.50 ERA and 0.92 WHIP across 24.1 innings with a 21/7 K/BB ratio. So, if you think about it, the law of averages was well in his favor after finding his way in the Show. Paxton now has a chance to prove he belongs as Hishashi Iwakuma is currently on the DL and rehabbing, and made yet another excellent start last week against the Angels — 7 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 Ks. He’s got great stuff, from a deceptive sweeping curve to an in-and-out cutter which he utilized all night in LA. He’ll be quite the hot commodity if he puts up a big two-start week this week, and owners would have certainly cashed in. Hopefully you’re one of them.
$ Rick Porcello, SP, Detroit Tigers $
Porcello continues to cut down on his walks, bolster his strikeout totals, and induce more groundballs than ever before. An improved Tigers defense could play a gazillion dividends for his production, particularly in shaving his ERA and boosting his strand rate. He’s already shown great promise out of the gates for Detroit, with 6.2 innings of shutdown ball against Baltimore last Saturday. Now if the Tigers can just sign a steady shortstop instead of relying on Alex Gonzalez most nights, he shouldn’t ever worry about his defense letting him down the way they did a year ago. I like Porcello and his progression, and since he’s not 100% owned in all ESPN leagues you can probably find him in yours. Why not take a chance?
# Tim Hudson, SP, San Francisco Giants #
I was talking to one of my league mates the other day and he believes in a system where his fantasy team relies squarely on hard-throwing strikeout guys who don’t heavily rely on inducing groundball outs. Adding Tim Hudson to his team would destroy the very nature of his pitching staff, and maybe potentially put him at a disadvantage in certain categories. However, Hudson is the kind of guy others can afford to own at the back half of their rotation, if one needs someone who can simply cut down their team’s overall WHIP and give them a win here or there at the expense of a few extra K’s. For those in deep leagues, Hudson is a fantasy maven with one of the biggest parks in the game to call his home. In shallower leagues where you’d be lucky to have 4 or 5 solid starters, he’s a great streaming option who offers very little risk and plenty of potential reward. If San Francisco’s offense is for real and they can continue to score runs on a daily basis, you should probably pick him up ASAP. However, he was approaching a 4 ERA before that awful ankle injury that took him out of action for the year last season, and he’s developing a little bit of an injury history if you include his month of action lost to a herniated disk in 2012. I wouldn’t be too worried about him not reaching the 175-200 inning plateau, so if he fits into your long term plans he’s definitely worth a look.
# Shawn Kelly, RP, New York Yankees #
As of today, Joe Girardi has announced that David Robertson will be on the 15-day disabled list for the next couple of weeks due to a groin strain. This leaves Shawn Kelly as the interim closer for the time being, which raises concern over Robertson’s health for the remainder of the year, while also shooting Kelly’s temporary fantasy value through the heavens. Although he sports a career 3.72 ERA out of the bullpen with only one save — that save coming today in the home opener — Kelly may not have instant success in the new role, but you can say that about pretty much every other fill-in closer in the league right now. Fantasy owners (of which there should be many of at this point)should let him loose and see if they get lucky, especially since the Yankees are notorious for being involved in close games. Hey, it’s better than just dropping Robertson for Matt Lindstrom or something.
“Pitchers on the decline”
-Bobby Parnell, RP, New York Mets
He’s done for the year after getting the news that he’ll be undergoing Tommy John Surgery. Good Riddance. His fastball was terribly slow compared to what we’re used to seeing, and his arm appeared to be more dead than a walker on a freeway. It was for the best. At least Jose Valverde’s stock returns to where it once was when he was Detroit’s ninth inning guy, but I’m sure you all knew that already.
-Jose Veras, RP, Chicago Cubs
It’s only been one week and Veras has found a way to force himself into a closer-by-committee with Pedro Strop and friends. With a sparkling 16.20 ERA and a dazzling 4.20 WHIP, the answer for the Cubbies in the ninth is one that remains anything but certain. I don’t know if this is just a slow start since everyone and their mothers are blowing saves right now, but this is the last thing one wants to do to keep a job in the Majors. Veras was pretty solid with Houston last year, so all is not lost and patience should be exhibited. However, we haven’t witnessed a steady Chicago Cubs closer in quite some time, and Pedro Strop shutting down the Pirates for the save on Thursday doesn’t bode well for Jose at all. You can go ahead and handcuff them if you want, but only in a really deep league should you make such a committed investment. Everyone else: sorry, but you’re going to have to deal with him unless you can find another available closer on the waiver wire.
-J.J. Hoover, RP, Cincinatti Reds
Thanks to Hoover, the Mets game this past Saturday ended on a high note, with Ike Davis launching a walkoff grand slam sending thousands of Mets fans back to the 7 train home happy. It was so bad, Joey Votto fielded as if he was in on the secret mission to take a win away from Johnny Cueto. I hear that has something to do with Cueto asking him in the clubhouse why he never drives anyone in for run support, or something about his hair being too long or having too many dreads. Whatever the case may be, Hoover should never grace the mound in the final inning of any game, ever again. If I were a Reds fan and I hauled my backside all the way over to Citi Field from the outskirts of Ohio to watch my team’s lead implode without a single recorded out, I’d never make it back home. Bryan Price must be sighing with great relief (no pun intended,) as Jonathan Broxton is currently with the ballclub out in St. Louis. So, upon activation from the 15-day DL — which could happen any day now — Broxton will take over as the interim closer, and Hoover will go back to swallowing too many sunflower seeds in the bullpen dugout.
I’ll be doing some news and notes articles this week to help keep you on top of the baseball world, so stay tuned!