Roughly a week into the season, residents of Philadelphia are oddly squeamish. Considering the Phillies' home dominance of Houston opening weekend, the perplexing city-wide feeling is hard to fathom. Roy Halladay(notes), Cliff Lee(notes) and Roy Oswalt(notes) — the trio comprising arguably the best staff since the Braves teams of the mid-90s — paid instant dividends, turning in consecutive gems (Cole Hamels(notes), however, swallowed a stick of dynamite). Equally effective, the offense, sans crippled Chase Utley(notes), totaled 21 runs over the three-game stretch.
Still, it was the offensively inept 'Stros, baseball's version of the Butler Bulldogs. A sweep, most locals would say, was no major feat.
As good as the Phills' aces are, some fans are concerned the offense won't consistently manufacture the support needed for a World Series berth. Tuesday's scoring outage against rival New York is exactly what worrywarts fear. The middle-of-the-order voids left by the departed Jayson Werth(notes) and Utley, who looks like a long-shot to play by the All-Star break, if at all, are enormous. Few would label their replacements Wilson Valdez(notes) and Ben Francisco(notes) "dangerous."
Though the former is indeed beluga-harmless, the latter has taken on the appearance of a tiger shark. Through four games, the Indians castoff has collected six hits (1 HR, 1 2B) and four RBIs in 18 at-bats.
It's evident, based on his premium early output, Francisco smells blood in the water. With ballyhooed prospect Dominic Brown mending from a wrist injury, this is, as Charlie Manuel remarked earlier this week, the outfielder's opportunity to seize the moment. From the News-Herald:
"Francisco's going to get a chance to play," said Phillies manager and former Indians manager Charlie Manuel. "In our organization, people think he can hit. I think he can hit, too. He's going to get a chance to play.
"I've heard people say he got to play in Cleveland. He didn't get no 350, 450 at-bats or something like that. He's never done that. So this is a chance for him to get to play. Starting off, he's going to get a good chance to play, what you call a bona fide chance."
Francisco's three-year tenure in Cleveland raised few eyebrows. His modest production was only appreciated by owners in leagues with scant resources. However, 2009, the year he was acquired by Philly in the Cliff Lee deal, shed light on his true potential. In just 405 at-bats, he compiled an appealing .257-16-46-58-14. Following up with a .268-6-28-24-8 effort in limited action last year (179 at-bats), and it's plain to see, Francisco is a legitimate 20-20 candidate. Extrapolate last summer's total over 550 at-bats (.268-19-86-73-24) and his numbers are nearly identical to what wire sensation Andres Torres(notes), the 30th-best OF in Y! leagues a season ago, accomplished.
It's likely the prime-aged right-fielder (28) will make a similar impact, even when Brown returns. Keep in mind prior to shattering his hamate bone, the salivated-over rookie resembled a mutant version of Chris Davis(notes), fanning nine times in 16 spring at-bats. His learning curve is long. Assuming Francisco continues to hit, he'll be a fixture in the 5-6 spots, right behind Ryan Howard(notes) and Raul Ibanez(notes). If he doesn't budge, new career bests in homers and RBI are a certainty. The righty's propensity for fly-balls (career 0.81 GB/FB) could do wonders in the confined space of Citizen Bank Park.
Owned in just 19-percent of Yahoo! leagues, Francisco might be April's ultimate waiver wire treat.
Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 523 at-bats, .271 BA, 17 HR, 80 RBI, 74 R, 19 SB
Quality commodities owned in less than 20-percent of Yahoo! leagues
Aaron Crow(notes), KC, RP (three-percent) One of the most overlooked keys to fantasy success is middle relief. These little medics apply ERA/WHIP tourniquets while providing useful numbers in strikeouts and, in some rare cases, wins. In terms of Ws, Crow may not be this year's Tyler Clippard(notes), but he could be KC's version of Daniel Bard(notes). The former No. 1 pick from '09 has the necessary tools — blazing mid-90s fastball, plus slider, baffling knuckle-curve. With seven punch-outs through his first five innings, he easily could eclipse 80 Ks with 70-plus innings. If Crow has already flown the coup, take a gander at fellow Royal Tim Collins(notes) (two-percent owned), a pint-sized lefty with kingly stuff. The Billy Wagner(notes) clone fanned 13.04 per nine over 222.3 minor league innings. In his last outing, he whiffed five Angels over three shutout innings.
Willie Bloomquist(notes), 3B/OF, Ari (seven-percent) With Stephen Drew(notes) logging time on the trainer's table, Arizona's Swiss Army knife has carved up the competition with his bat and legs. Slotted in at lead-off, he's delivered a buffet of numbers going 6-for-18 with a homer, three RBI and four steals. The 33-year-old has never earned a full-time role in his career, topping out at 434 at-bats in 2009. Still, he's a serviceable speed source — recall he stole 25 bags in KC two years ago — who will eventually qualify at three positions (3B, OF and SS). With Drew's future uncertain, he could stick around for a few more games. The versatile infielder may eventually slide over to third on a semi-permanent basis. Melvin Mora(notes), who has witnessed Haley's Comet multiple times, isn't exactly an ironman. If Bloomquist can stay in the lineup long-term, a final line around .270-6-40-75-30 is possible. Search out the Snake in deeper mixed leagues.
Mike Minor(notes), Atl, SP (seven-percent) Owners looking for a quick K fix should serve this Minor. Giving the fantasy community a glimpse of his All-Star upside last year against the Cubs — he set a Braves rookie record with 12 strikeouts — the lefty is a deceptive pitcher equipped with three biting offerings: plus-change, low-90s fastball and curve. He suffered from a bit of gopheritis during his brief sting in the bigs last year, surrendering 1.33 homers per nine. But because of his impeccable command and ability to miss bats, he has excellent odds of netting a quality start Wednesday against Milwaukee filling in for the disabled Jair Jurrjens(notes). The Brewers haven't exactly crushed cans to start the season, averaging a lowly 2.6 runs per game. Even with a stellar outing, Minor will likely head back to the farm, but he's clearly the fall back option if another injury arises.
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Images courtesy of Getty, AP