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MLB Skinny: First impressions

Yesterday, the current leader of the Yahoo! Friends and Family League, Michael Gehlken, enjoyed a 11.5-point gain in the standings despite team hitting and pitching numbers from Sunday that were really not all that special. Let it serve as a reminder that it's still incredibly early and slow starts should not be considered an indictment of your team. If you are still struggling mightily a month from now, you might want to start thinking about a major overhaul. But for now, regular fine-tuning can still go a long way.

With that in mind, I give you my fine-tuned Skinny, with a slight changeup in format compared to last week. Here's what is grabbing my attention this week across the virtual diamond:

CORNER INFIELD

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Davis singled in his first big league at-bat.
(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The first base production (4-for-28) has been woeful for the Mets so it's no surprise that the team called up top hitting prospect Ike Davis(notes), who was scorching hot (1.136 OPS) for Triple-A Buffalo. He's the son of former MLB closer Ron Davis, and he's lauded for the kind of maturity and approach that is not uncommon among those players that have grown up around the major league game. He's got good power – 20 home runs in 114 games split between Double- and Triple-A and, although he strikeouts a lot, he also does a good job of working the count for free passes. He's expected to play everyday according to GM Omar Minaya which makes him a slam dunk for NL-only leagues, and a bit more than a mixed league curiosity. He'll be on waivers in a Yahoo! league near you starting bright and early Tuesday morning.

Lance Berkman(notes) (knee surgery) is back this week. He hit a home run and two doubles in six at bats for Triple-A Round Rock over the weekend.

Mark Teixeira's(notes) career .242 batting average in April is 35 points lower than his second-lowest career monthly average, so we sweat not his 5-for-44 start.

Don't count on the Rangers being as patient with Chris Davis(notes) this time around. He's whiffed 13 times in 36 ABs, has yet to a hit a HR (just 1 RBI), and his .222 BA is right about where it sat last year for the first three months of the season. This year, though, elite prospect Justin Smoak(notes) is residing just a step away at Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he's sitting on a 1.095 OPS after 38 ABs. It's only a matter of weeks before Smoak gets the call, you can count on that. The question is whether Texas will call him up before the end of May, moving up his arbitration timetable in the process. By my thinking, if the team slips to 5-6 games back (3.0 back at the moment), it probably can't afford to keep Smoak in Triple-A any longer.

I'm still liking Aubrey Huff(notes) as a corner sleeper. His one home run was, oddly, an inside-the-park job, but his power seems to finally be coming online – four extra-base hits in his past six games, and he's getting on base at a .404 clip – in fact, he has more walks (7) than strikeouts (6). In other words, he's done nothing to make the Giants think about moving him out of the cleanup role. He's 11 percent owned in Yahoo! leagues, and I like him more than more commonly owned 1B entities like Luke Scott(notes), Nick Johnson(notes) and Nick Swisher(notes), to name a few.

Garrett Jones(notes)' batting average is hovering at the Mendoza Line (.209), but there's been a reasonable amount of bad luck (.171 BABIP) built into that mark. Jones is actually sitting on a career-best Walk Rate (17%) and a career-low K Rate (14%), which is a trend that bodes well going forward. But he's hit an inordinate amount of groundballs (58%), roughly 18 percent more than last season. Once he gets some of the loft back in his swing, the home runs should start rolling again, although the batting average correction may not be as rapid. Perhaps the Pirates should consider moving him back into the No. 3 spot in the lineup. He owns a career .570 SLG% hitting third (284 ABs) compared to a .345 slugging mark at cleanup (55 ABs).

Here's a fact that you can bet is not a secret among major league pitchers: you do not have to throw a strike to get the bat off Adrian Beltre's(notes) shoulder. Among corner infielders, no player currently has a higher O-Swing% (percent of pitches outside the strike zone that a player swings at) than Beltre's 41.9% mark. Given his misguided plate approach and the fact that his power has been non-existent since his shoulder surgery last summer – he's hit just three home runs in 60 games since then – I'd pitch an offer to your leaguemates and see if any of the Beltre bulls from the preseason are still buying the hype, and that extremely hollow .300 batting average.

David Freese(notes) – five percent owned – is hitting .500 in his past five games (8-for-16). He's yet to hit a home run, but he was a 25-30 HR type at the upper levels of the minors. Not a bad flier for deep leaguers, especially if he can settle permanently into the No. 6 spot in the lineup, which would put him within a meaningful distance of Albert Pujols(notes) and Matt Holliday(notes).

MIDDLE INFIELD

I took the discount on Rafael Furcal(notes) on draft day because not all the stars have to align perfectly to have value as the leadoff hitter for what is currently the No. 4 offense in the league. Furcal is currently the only SS with at least 10 Runs, a .300-plus BA (.327) and multiple SBs (4). Furcal claimed his old man back was feeling good this spring, and his strong start supports that claim. Since I didn't have to pay much on draft day, I won't start thinking about selling high until I get a bit further down the road. Right now, this is all gravy.

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Callaspo would benefit from more at-bats.
(Lenny Ignelzi/AP)

I hopped on the Alberto Callaspo(notes) bandwagon after manager Trey Hillman announced in late spring that he wanted to role with his second baseman in the No. 3 spot in the lineup. But, after Callaspo returned from an oblique injury just after the start of the season, he saw just a half-dozen games in the No. 3 catbird seat before being demoted (following a Jose Guillen(notes) hot streak) down to No. 6 in the lineup. That's the spot from where Callaspo ripped two home runs and drove in six on Sunday against the Twins. Considering that he's not a great bet for more than 10-12 dingers the rest of the way, and that he doesn't run much, it sure would be nice if he were accruing the extra ABs and run production opportunities that the top half of the order affords, especially in the Royals lineup. He makes good contact consistently, which makes him worth mixed league consideration, but I'd like him much more higher up in the order.

As fantasy players, you can draw parallels between what Orlando Hudson(notes) and Callaspo have to offer. Neither bring much power or speed to the table, but they are good contact hitters. And here's where I think the batting order factor comes into play. Hudson (20%) is owned in six percent fewer Yahoo! leagues than Callaspo, but I'd prefer to roster Hudson given the fact that he hits second in the order in front of Joe Mauer(notes) and Justin Morneau(notes). Now that Hudson is shaking out of an early season slump, we are starting to see the fruits of his situation – seven runs in his past seven games. If he stays healthy, 100 Runs is not out of the question for Hudson.

Sure would have been nice if Baltimore played Ty Wigginton(notes) (11-percent owned) at SS one more time in '09, since he ended up falling one game shy of the 10-game minimum requirement for position eligibility. But, as it stands, Wiggy holds first base, third base and second base rights, which means he's both corner- and middle-infield eligible. The power plays nicely in the 2B spot for fantasy owners – he has four home runs out of the gate and recorded three consecutive seasons of 20-plus home runs prior to '09. And given his hot bat, the O's may just decide to leave him up in the No. 2 spot in the order where – with Miguel Tejada(notes) out with a sore quad – he produced a double, home run and 4 RBIs from on Sunday.

My deep-league speculative play would be Reid Brignac(notes), owned in just one percent of Y! leagues. The 24-year-old is begging for more playing time as he's opened the season 7-for-18 (.389) after hitting .350 this spring. The way I see it, a few things could break Brignac's way soon. He could see a bit more time at shortstop with Jason Bartlett(notes) struggling (.208) or, the more likely scenario, at second base with Sean Rodriguez(notes) flailing even more (.160, 0-for-4 with four strikeouts on Sunday). In fact, a demotion could be coming soon for Rodriguez if he doesn't snap out of his funk. That would be ideal for Brignac, so long as Tampa didn't call up OF prospect Desmond Jennings(notes) in the process, in which case Ben Zobrist(notes) would likely become the regular second baseman. It probably still makes the most sense for the Rays to deal Brignac, but I at least like his short-term prospects at second base, as he's likely to be the regular against righties like he was on Monday with John Lackey(notes) on the hill for Boston.

One more deep leaguer for 'ya. Houston's Jeff Keppinger(notes) is hitting .371 and getting regular ABs from the top of the order. He's playing a lot at second base right now in favor of the struggling Kazuo Matsui(notes), but he's capable of playing any position on the diamond outside the catch-pitcher battery. And considering Houston is the worst offense in the league, you can bet on continued regular playing time for Keppinger, who is my favorite of the five-percent owned or less crowd at middle infield.

OUTFIELD

Sunday's two-home run effort by Jay Bruce(notes) was notable given Bruce's early-season struggles, a carry-over from last season. But even more encouraging was that one of Bruce's deep shots came against Pirates lefty Paul Maholm(notes), who otherwise pitched well in beating the Reds. Bruce had just two home runs against southpaws last season.

Rookie Austin Jackson(notes) has gotten off to a nice start to his major league career, but his 26 percent ownership in Y! leagues suggests there's still a fair amount of skepticism among fantasy owners. That's probably fair if you consider he has the third-highest BABIP (.486) in the league and the seventh-most strikeouts (15 – at least one K in every game this season). Atlanta mega-prospect Jason Heyward(notes) has similar splits, but at least he's got plenty of power and an excellent eye (9 BBs). Don't be surprised if Jackson's bubble bursts sometime soon.

Brett Gardner(notes) has played in 10 of 12 games for the Yankees and only Scott Podsednik(notes) and emerging star Shin-Soo Choo(notes) are ranked higher in the Y! game among outfielders with at least three steals. Gardner, in fact, is tied for the league lead with seven steals and he's got 9 Runs and a .333 batting average to go with that speed. He's now stole 46 bases in 160 career games as a Yankee and his superb defense and ability to hang in against both lefties and righties should result in continued regular playing time for one of the top offensive lineups in the league. Those 10 percent of you in Y! leagues still holding on to Randy Winn(notes) (0-for-6 this season), it's time to let go – and if you can add the 22-percent owned Gardner, even better.

Colby Rasmus(notes) is the bizarro-Beltre. In terms of O-Swing%, only Daric Barton(notes) (10.2%) swings at a lower percentage of balls outside the strike zone than Rasmus (10.5%). But, unfortunately for Rasmus, he has managed just a .167 average on the balls he has put in play. Subsequently, his ownership rate in Y! leagues has dwindled to near 50 percent levels. St. Louis has remained committed to Rasmus, however, and he snapped an 0-for-18 slump on Sunday with a home run, his third of the year. And, in that game, he was moved back up to No. 5 in the order, just after Pujols and Holliday.

I'm a Chris Young skeptic, so his 0-for-10 weekend with six strikeouts was validation. I don't hate just for the sake of hating. It's just that he's going to be 27 later this year and he has nearly 500 major league games under his belt in which he's hit at a .237 clip and whiffed at nearly a K per game – the statute of limitations for his upside has expired in my book. You want 20/20 upside, go get Franklin Gutierrez(notes). He's owned in 18 percent fewer leagues than Chris Young (75% to 57%). If you can make that swap in your league right now, I'd recommend you do it.

CATCHER

Carlos Santana(notes) is just 3 percent owned in Y! leagues, but he's long gone in my two Y! leagues, a 13-teamer and a 14-teamer. If he's available in your league, then you and your fellow owners haven't been paying attention to how Indians catcher Lou Marson(notes) has been doing (2-for-22), nor have you been following how Santana is faring at Triple-A (International League-leading 1.333 OPS). The rub here is that Santana seems very likely to be a late-May or early-June arrival because Cleveland will be motivated to avoid moving up his arbitration clock by calling him up any earlier. So it comes down to a waiting game where you have to decide how bad your catching situation is and how long you can afford to roster a minor league player.

Jake Fox(notes) sputtered out of the gates for Oakland, but he has landed two starts at catcher and he becomes very interesting if he can pick up the five starts needed to reach C-eligibility in Y! leagues. He's 4-for-12 in his past four games with a HR and 4 RBI. Once he gains another start or two behind the dish, owners with catcher issues may want to make a play for the upside of Fox's bat in hopes he'll quickly attain that fifth start.

I mentioned Jeff Clement(notes) as one to watch last week after he homered off Dan Haren(notes). Well, if you've been watching, he hasn't got a hit since (0-for-17). The way Steve Pearce(notes) is tearing up Triple-A, Clement may not be able to hold down first base for the Pirates much longer.

For what it's worth (and it's not worth much), both Miguel Montero(notes) and Kelly Shoppach(notes) are out for several weeks with knee injuries. That means regular playing time for Dioner Navarro(notes) and Chris Snyder(notes)

STARTING PITCHER

Jaime Garcia(notes) is ranked 54th in the Y! game and the former top 5 Cards prospect offers plenty of intrigue. Let's start with a ground-ball rate of 69.7 percent, which is second-highest among starters behind Jorge de la Rosa(notes). He also rates 47th among starters with a respectable 6.92 K/9 rate. According to FanGraphs, he's thrown a heavy mix of fastballs, cutters, curves and changeups, all with positive results. Command can be an issue for the lefty who is coming back from Tommy John surgery in September of '08, but you have to be heartened by the fact that he's cutting his teeth under the guidance of one of the best in the business in pitching coach Dave Duncan. If you missed out on the waiver wire when Ricky Romero(notes) went nationwide last week with his 12-K performance, Garcia (16-percent owned) is similar by nature and he's not looking like a bad consolation prize.

Ted Lilly(notes) was the 14th-most valuable starter in Y! leagues last season and was a 17-game winner with 184 Ks in '08. And now he's sitting at 54 percent ownership in Y! leagues while he makes a rehab start for Single-A Peoria on Monday. He's coming back from minor shoulder surgery and, while shoulder injuries can be a scary thing, his was relatively minor and his road to recovery has been encouraging. Assuming he escapes Monday night without any big problems, he should be back in Chicago by the weekend.

I'll close with a few fun facts from FanGraphs. Based upon runs above average, David Price(notes) and Mark Buehrle(notes) have had more success with their fastballs (5.2 wFB) than any other starter. Francisco Liriano(notes) wins the slider competition. Felix Hernandez(notes) takes the top changeup prize. And Adam Wainwright(notes) wins for his curveball. Ricky Romero gets a higher percentage of batters to swing at his out-of-the-strike-zone offerings (43.2%) than any other starter. While Clayton Kershaw(notes) only gets hitters to bite on the wild stuff 15.2% of the time, lowest among starters.

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