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MLB Skinny: Tribe tribunal

As I dive into the '11 MLB Skinny campaign, I'll float out the caveat that everything discussed here this week is based upon a small sample size (10 games or less). Ideally, you want to see a bit more baseball than that before formulating strong opinions about hot or cold starts. But most owners don't have the luxury of slow playing things, so rash decisions come with the territory. With that, here's some players that have made an impression on me in the first week-plus of the season:

CORNER INFIELDERS
Rising from the ashes –> Travis Hafner(notes): Hafner has been dogged by a bum shoulder the past three seasons but came into '11 claiming to have put the issue behind him. It sure looked like that was the case from my vantage point last Friday night, when he hit a tee shot at Safeco Field (about 20 yards from where I sat) off the window of the Hit It Here Cafe in right field. At 33, Hafner is young enough to put together a strong rebound campaign assuming health. It wasn't that long ago that he ranked among the most feared hitters in the AL. If you've got a UTIL spot to spare, promptly pick up Pronk (31 percent owned).
Trying to get out of town –> Chris Davis(notes): After hitting .409 with four home runs in 17 spring games, Davis felt he should have made the Rangers roster out of camp. When he was sent back down to Round Rock, he voiced his frustration and suggested a new start with another team might be best. "At the end of the day, it's not about being in a Rangers uniform, but being in a big-league uniform," Davis said. "Maybe now it's time to turn the page and go somewhere else." Davis has hit four home runs in his first four games for OKC, and is still only 25. Expect something to shake loose for Davis fairly soon, especially if he keeps mashing at Triple-A. A Michael Young(notes) trade could open up DH opportunities, and Texas is motivated to make a move before Young earns his 10/5 rights in May. If they can't move him, though, Davis becomes the team's most viable trade commodity.
Cut the cord –> Ian Stewart(notes): Can't figure out why so many fantasy owners can't quit Stewart (owned in 56 percent of Y! leagues). He's 1-for-17 with nine strikeouts to open the season and he's stuck in a platoon with Ty Wigginton(notes). Stewart has never been more than a HR play in fantasy leagues. His speed and batting average are detriments, and he hits low in the order, hurting his run production. Now that he no longer has 2B eligibility, it's extremely hard to make a case for keeping a guy that doesn't have a career batting average above .248 in the months of April, May or June.
Point of interest –> Chris Johnson(notes): Through eight games, Johnson is leading MLB in LD% (38.1). Last season, among those with at least 300 plate appearances, Johnson also ranked among the leaders with a 24.0 LD%. He's hitting just .200 but, given his solid contact tendencies, a little luck will go a long ways, as we saw last year.
Deep (league) thoughts –> Alberto Callaspo(notes): When Callaspo swings, he makes contact. Only Victor Martinez(notes) has a higher contact percentage than Callaspo this season, and just barely (95.2% to 95.1%). Callaspo has been stinging the ball and is a player who I've always appreciated. But, while he's capable of maintaining a .300 average, he has very little power and is a non-factor on the bases. He's also in jeopardy of regular days off when Erick Aybar(notes) returns from the DL (oblique) in about a week. A lot have people have asked my opinion of Callaspo and, as much as I want to, I can't give him much of an endorsement. I'd rather have teammate Maicer Izturis(notes) given his SS-eligibility and 15-20 SB upside.
MIDDLE INFIELDERS
Arrowing up –> Asdrubal Cabrera(notes) You can still land Cabrera in 35 percent of Y! leagues. If you are one of those leagues, I suggest you do that now. I'll wait … Ok, I mentioned in our Sunday night Closing Time chat that Cabrera hit a very impressive homer to straight-away left field when I was at Safeco Field on Friday night. It was an impressive shot given the difficulties for right-handers to hit for power at Safeco, especially in the frigid conditions that existed. Cabrera has three home runs in his first nine games and it's fair to wonder if the power is legit. But you have to remember that, despite just 21 homers for his career, he's only 25 and delivered 42 doubles for the Tribe in 131 games as a 23-year old in '09. He had a great spring and has remained locked in to start the year. I think you are looking at a 12-HR floor and an 18-HR ceiling this year. And even the floor makes him ownable at SS in standard mixers given the likelihood of solid accompanying numbers.
Point of interest –> Howie Kendrick(notes): After nine games, Kendrick stands as the MLB leader in Total Bases (29). If you know me, you know I'm going to do everything I can to validate his hot start. And, while obviously I won't sit here and say that he can sustain his 44.4 HR/FB%, I will point out that he's walked as many times as he's whiffed (6:6). His improved eye also shows up in a career low O-Swing% rate (23.9), which calculates how often a hitter swings at a pitch out of the strike zone. Small sample size, yes, but these are the kind of signs that can revive the "Kendrick, future batting champ" talk that surrounded him when he broke into the league.
Nothing lasts forever –> Willie Bloomquist(notes): Sorry, I just can't get behind the Bloomquist movement. He's a career .266 hitter who has never hit above .279 when given 100-plus at-bats. He's ill-suited to a leadoff role because of a mediocre batting average and ho-hum walk rate. What you can get behind is the speed. He's capable of stealing 30-plus bases if he's playing regularly. Think .275 and 30 SB, but forget about any power and, if he falls out of the leadoff role (as I suspect he will), the runs could dry up a bit. Colleague Scott Pianowski recently did a nice job of putting Bloomquist into perspective in the Roto Arcade blog.
In the toilet, again –> Aaron Hill(notes): Hill is right back into the Mendoza territory where he resided all of last season. And, once again, a faulty BABIP is the obvious culprit. On the bright side, he's hitting line drives at twice the rate of last season and he's laying off pitches out of the zone at his best rate since '07. I'd say that he's a nice buy-low candidate, but with Brett Lawrie(notes) hot out of the gate for Triple-A Las Vegas, you could see the Jays looking to ditch Hill before the trade deadline. That fear of the unknown tempers things a bit.
Nothing wrong with an open book –> Jhonny Peralta(notes)/Miguel Tejada: Peralta and Tejada no longer elicit much excitement on draft day. But both have proven to be durable 15-HR, 80-RBI types at a position where such power numbers are few and far between. Both are off to solid starts and are owned in less than half of Yahoo! leagues. If I'm a Juan Uribe(notes) owner (which I'm not), I wouldn't be riding out his slump while a Tejada or Peralta sat on the wire.
OUTFIELDERS
Arrowing down –> Vernon Wells(notes): Wells has opened his Angels career on a 4-for-40 slide. He's swinging wildly and striking out at career-high rates. But owners are sticking with him as his ownership rate remains over 80 percent. He's surely not going to be this bad for long, but I think that you have to consider cutting Wells loose soon if you don't see signs of obvious improvement. This isn't the first time we've seen an erratic Wells. Sometimes you get 30-HR power, sometimes you get mid-teens power. Sometimes you get 17 steals, sometimes you get six (like last season). He's had an all-over-the-place career and I'd be leery of a quick fix. If I could get Logan Morrison(notes) off the wire or in a swap, I'd make that move just to leave the scene of the accident.
Deep (league) thoughts –> Sam Fuld(notes): I was lucky enough to slide Fuld into my Friends and Family League active roster spot just before he went 4-for-6 with two doubles, a triple, and home run on Monday. The talk after Manny Ramirez(notes) retired was that it would usher in the Desmond Jennings(notes) era. And that may be true, but Fuld is likely to keep himself in the regular rotation, and keep the steals coming, so long as he can continue to be his gritty self, working counts, getting on base and generally providing a spark on offense and defense.
PITCHERS
Hit the add button –> Alexi Ogando(notes): I tried to avoid gushing too much about Ogando after his solid '11 debut against Seattle (6 IP, 2 H, 0 R) because, after all, it was the Mariners. But after Ogando was equally impressive against Detroit on Monday, I can't contain my enthusiasm anymore. He's only fanned eight hitters in 13 innings but given his mid-90's fastball and track record, the K's should be a little more lucrative going forward. This is an exciting young, live arm backed by one of the best offenses in the league. And he's widely available. Go get him.
Mining the middle innings –> Tyler Clippard(notes): Last season, Clippard finished second to Matt Belisle(notes) in relief innings (91) and second to Carlos Marmol(notes) in relief Ks. This season, he was the leader in relief IP (8.2) through the first nine games of the season, and he produced a healthy 10 Ks to go with. Clippard may have a few arms to usurp to be in a closing position but, in Yahoo! default setups, where the IP cap is 1,250 innings, Clippard's heavy workload and high K rate from middle relief plays just fine.
Sleeper question mark –> Justin Masterson(notes): I've long been smitten with Masterson's makeup. He's got impressive size, induces a huge amount of ground balls with his sinker and returns respectable K numbers. Luck wasn't on his side last year when he produced a 4.70 ERA, as his FIP clocked in at 3.93. This year, he's been more fortunate , especially getting to face Seattle in his second start – the M's are hitting just .215. We saw Masterson shine in his first two starts last season before things started drifting out of control. Will he be able to keep it together longer this time around? It's not a bad time to buy on the hopes that he can. Available in more than 75 percent of Y! leagues, Masterson has a nice upcoming schedule, as Andy Behrens pointed out in a recent RA blog post.
Snake in the grass –> Daniel Hudson(notes): Hudson has started the season 0-2, but be ready for him to strike at any time. Hudson was outstanding in his 79.2-inning stint with Arizona last season (1.69 ERA, 0.84 WHIP). And this season, he's clocking in with the fifth-best average fastball velocity among starters (93.7 mph), 1.2 mph faster than last season. Hudson's also ranks among the leaders among starters in percent of changeups thrown, and it's been his most effective weapons against the opposition. He's returning a K per IP (13:13) and both his loses were quality starts (one in Colorado and one against the top offense in the NL, Cincy). If you can buy at a perceived low, definitely do so.
CATCHERS
Shopping at the dish –> Alex Avila(notes): Avila took the bullet train to Detroit, landing with the Tigers after just 151 games at the minor league level, none above Double-A. The former Alabama product has a good eye and more than serviceable power. He's only 24 years old, so there's no reason to begrudge his struggles last season. Given his pedigree and strong start, he could wind up being one of the most pleasant surprises from the catcher position in '11.
Point of interest –> Russell Martin(notes): Martin's rebirth in New York has included just one base on balls, but he's seeing 4.41 pitches per plate appearance, tops among regular catchers, and the best clip of his career. He's also played every inning of the Yanks' first nine games. And he's producing a .300 batting average despite the eighth-lowest BABIP (.273), thanks to three home runs. Truth be told, his burnout in LA made him feel like he was heading to New York as a 32-33 year old, but he's actually in the prime of his career (28).
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