The first few weeks of the baseball season are the weirdest. We can likely blame the understandable euphoria associated with having our great game back after a long winter, but the urge to overreact based on a very limited amount of data is ever-present. We must resist it.
You can't win a fantasy baseball title in April, but you can certainly lose it if you panic. Just to name one example, Max Scherzer, Yovani Gallardo and Mat Latos all had ERAs of 5.97 or higher at the end of April last year. And look how that turned out.
While the ability to recognize early trends is important, patience and persistence are two of the best qualities in a fantasy owner. The baseball season is a six-month grind. And those who recognize that and keep things in perspective during these first few weeks have a better chance of standing at the end.
Kelvin Herrera RP, Royals (Yahoo: 48 percent owned)
We have some closer drama in Kansas City. After bailing out Greg Holland on Sunday afternoon, Herrera pitched a scoreless ninth in Wednesday's shutout win over the Twins. Royals manager Ned Yost didn't want to use Holland on back-to-back days after he threw 27 pitches in a shaky save on Tuesday, so this doesn't mean that the job has changed hands, but Herrera is a capable alternative if the struggles continue. The 23-year-old right-hander is one of the hardest throwers in the majors and owns a 2.23 ERA and 87/22 K/BB ratio in 88 2/3 innings dating back to the start of last season. He should be owned in all formats.
Starling Marte OF, Pirates (Yahoo: 40 percent owned)
Patience has paid off for those who stuck with Marte amid his early struggles, as he has notched four straight multi-hit games. The 24-year-old isn't the best fit as a leadoff man right now, as he had a 397/101 K/BB ratio in the minors and owns a .312 on-base percentage over his first 220 plate appearances in the majors, but I'll take all the at-bats I can get from a fantasy perspective. Ups and downs are to be expected during Marte's first full season, but his power-speed combo gives him a chance to be a top-50 outfielder in mixed leagues.
Evan Gattis C, Braves (Yahoo: 13 percent owned)
One of the coolest stories of the 2013 season continues to gain momentum, as Gattis has jumped over from our NL-only recommendations in the space of just one week. The former ski lift operator is hitting .391 (9-for-23) with three home runs, one double and six RBI over his first six games in the big leagues and has batted cleanup since Freddie Freeman went down with an oblique injury. Gattis has had his share of doubters since his big numbers in the minors were put up against much younger competition, but his power has translated against major league pitching so far. There might not be a spot for him once Brian McCann returns from shoulder surgery, but let's cross that bridge when we get to it. I wouldn't drop someone like Jesus Montero for him, but he's worth a look in deeper formats.
Cameron Maybin OF, Padres (Yahoo: 24 percent owned)
Maybin finished 0-for-4 on Wednesday night against the Dodgers and is now hitting just .083 (2-for-24) through his first seven games this season, but this is the perfect time to strike if an impatient owner has already ditched him. While Maybin appeared to take a step back last season, he had the highest contact rate of his career and was excellent after the start of July. Keep in mind that he just turned 26 years old last week, so there's still time for that long-awaited breakout. Even if it doesn't happen this year, he should still finish close to 10 homers and 30 steals.
Shelby Miller SP, Cardinals (Yahoo: 46 percent owned)
There's obvious risk associated with owning a rookie pitcher, but Miller is one of the better ones out there. Armed with a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a plus-curveball, the 22-year-old right-hander averaged 11.1 K/9 over 78 starts in the minor leagues. His 4.74 ERA with Triple-A Memphis last season was underwhelming on the surface, but he turned things around during the second half after making some mechanical tweaks and was very impressive in his first taste of the majors down the stretch. His season debut last Saturday showed that there will be some bumps along the way, but Miller's strikeout potential makes him an intriguing pickup in most formats.
Joaquin Benoit RP, Tigers (Yahoo: 36 percent owned)
The Tigers entered the season with a closer-by-committee approach, but manager Jim Leyland appeared to favor Phil Coke for the early chances, similar to how he approached the ninth inning during the postseason. However, after the southpaw quickly showed that he couldn't handle getting right-handed hitters out, Leyland has acknowledged that Benoit is likely his best option for the job. It's hard to disagree, as the 35-year-old right-hander has shown an ability to shut down both righty and lefty hitters in the past. The home run ball really hurt him last year and Leyland is going to try to stay away from using him on three straight days, but he's the pitcher to own in this bullpen right now.
Jean Segura SS, Brewers (Yahoo: 37 percent owned)
Segura is off to a fantastic start as the Brewers' everyday shortstop, hitting .458 (11-for-24) with one homer, two doubles, one triple and three RBI through seven games. Acquired in the Zack Greinke deal last July, the 23-year-old was a .313/.367/.439 hitter in the minors and swiped 139 bases in 399 games. While he hit .258/.315/.325 in his first taste of the big leagues last season, he stole seven bases in 45 games and showed signs of improvement in September. It may take him a little while to show power, but his speed should be an asset right away and his contact skills give him a good chance to be useful in the batting average department. Give him a look in deeper mixed leagues.
Trevor Rosenthal RP, Cardinals (Yahoo: 16 percent owned)
There's no closer controversy in St. Louis at the moment, but there could be one soon. Actually, I'm expecting it. While Mitchell Boggs was a fine choice as a stop-gap option for the ninth inning, Rosenthal looms as the obvious alternative if Jason Motte requires season-ending Tommy John surgery. There are questions about Rosenthal's inexperience, as he's just 22 years old and has one save to his name in pro ball, but he brings 100 mph heat and has fanned batters at a prodigious rate at every level. Meanwhile, Boggs has never averaged more than 7.1 K/9 in a season. I'll go with the guy who misses bats, thank you very much. It might take a little while for a change to come about, but stashing Rosenthal could pay off big down the road.
Jhoulys Chacin SP, Rockies (Yahoo: 19 percent owned)
After being limited to just 14 starts with the Rockies last season due to a nerve issue in his pectoral muscle, Chacin has begun this season on an encouraging note, allowing just two runs over his first 13 1/3 innings while posting a ground ball rate of 54.1 percent. The 25-year-old right-hander limited the Padres to just one run in 6 2/3 innings last Sunday in Colorado and is scheduled to face them again on Saturday at PETCO Park, making him a fine streaming option in most formats. Our own Eno Sarris recently pointed out that Chacin's strikeout rate has decreased as he has backed away from throwing his curveball -- a byproduct of pitching in Colorado -- but that's a compromise I could be willing to live with if he continues to limit walks and gets grounders.
Alex Avila C, Tigers (Yahoo: 35 percent owned)
Some regression was to be expected after Avila's breakthrough 2011 campaign, but he really dropped off the map last year, hitting just .243 with nine home runs and a .736 OPS. Lingering knee problems were a big reason for his struggles, but the hope is that offseason platelet-rich plasma injections will make a difference for him this season. I'm not sure he'll get much rest with Brayan Pena as his backup, but if the 26-year-old can find a middle ground between 2011 and 2012, I'm convinced that he can be a top-12 catcher in mixed leagues. He's especially useful in leagues which use on-base percentage as a category.
Jeff Keppinger 1B/2B/3B, White Sox (Yahoo: 19 percent)
Yes, Keppinger is hitting .133 (4-for-30) through his first seven games this season, but we have plenty of evidence to suggest that better days are ahead. Known for his elite contact rate, the 32-year-old is a .286 career hitter. While he was brought aboard this winter to be Chicago's starting third baseman, he qualifies at three different positions. There isn't much in the way of pop or speed, so the upside is limited, but Keppinger is a handy player who can stick on a roster all season in deeper formats.
Shopping at the five-and-dime
(Players owned in less than 10 percent of Yahoo! leagues)
Juan Francisco 3B, Braves (Yahoo: 7 percent owned)
Francisco struck out in 34.1 percent of the time last season, fourth-highest among players with at least 200 plate appearances, but his 459-foot bomb off Marlins' right-hander Alex Sanabia on Wednesday night was a striking reminder of his ridiculous raw power. The 25-year-old is already on the strong side of a platoon at third base, but he should play pretty much every day while Chris Johnson fills in for Freddie Freeman at first base. The batting average isn't going to be there, but he has a real chance at 15-20 homers this season. There's value here as a corner infielder (CI) in deeper formats.
Lucas Duda OF, Mets (Yahoo: 5 percent owned)
Many bought in on Duda last season as a potential breakthrough candidate (your humble host included), but he struggled both offensively and defensively and even found himself in the minors for a stretch. However, with little in the way of quality alternatives, the Mets are giving him a shot as their starting left fielder this season. The 25-year-old had a two-homer game against the Phillies on Wednesday and has shown flashes of power potential in the past, so there are worse gambles in deeper formats. Just be prepared for Mets manager Terry Collins to remove him for defensive purposes here and there.
Carlos Villanueva SP, Cubs (Yahoo: 6 percent owned)
The Cubs signed Villanueva this winter with the idea of using him in a swingman role, but he has been forced into the rotation due to the injuries to Matt Garza and Scott Baker. While things haven't gone according to plan, Villanueva is an intriguing target, as he had an impressive 86/26 K/BB ratio in 92 innings over 16 starts with the Blue Jays last season. Not bad for someone who doesn't even average 90 mph on his fastball. The home run ball is an issue at times and there are questions about his ability to hold up as a starter, but he has a chance to deliver some nice short-term value in deeper leagues.
Alexi Casilla 2B, Orioles (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
It was a shame to see Brian Roberts go down last week with a ruptured tendon in his right knee, but the early word is that he may only have to miss 2-4 weeks. Of course, given his injury history, any timetable should be taken with a grain of salt. Casilla and Ryan Flaherty will share playing time at second base during his absence, which isn't the most inspiring combo. However, Casilla swiped 21 bases in 106 games last season and owns the second-best stolen base percentage of all-time behind Chase Utley. Thanks for that tidbit, Aaron Gleeman. Speed doesn't come much cheaper than this.
Jason Bay OF, Mariners (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
Michael Saunders is likely headed for the disabled list after he sprained his right shoulder Wednesday by crashing into the right field fence, so we should see more of Bay in the days ahead. Of course, that hasn't been a good thing lately, as the 34-year-old owns a miserable .689 OPS since the start of 2009 and batted just .165/.237/.299 in 215 plate appearances last season. I still think the Mariners would have been better off keeping Casper Wells over Bay, but the at-bats should be there, so a few homers and stolen bases wouldn't surprise me.
Alfredo Figaro RP, Brewers (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
John Axford is struggling and Jim Henderson figures to benefit in the short-term, but what if he also fizzles out? That's where Figaro could figure in. After spending the past two seasons with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan's Pacific League, the former Tigers' farmhand made the Brewers' bullpen out of spring training and owns a 1.50 ERA and 6/1 K/BB ratio over his first six innings. While the 28-year-old has pitched almost exclusively as a starting pitcher during his pro career, he's averaging 94.7 mph on his fastball out of the bullpen. Stash if you have room to speculate.
Nick Hundley C, Padres (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Hundley has fallen off the map following a nightmare 2012 season, but this might be time to give him another look. The 29-year-old backstop went 4-for-4 on Wednesday night against the Dodgers and is now hitting .318 (7-for-22) with a homer and two doubles over his first six games this season. While injuries have been an issue for him during his career, he hit at least eight home runs every season from 2009-2011. Hundley should continue to see the bulk of the playing time until Yasmani Grandal returns from his 50-game PED suspension in late May, so there's no reason he shouldn't be owned in all NL-only leagues at the moment.