Last April, Ramon Ortiz, Braden Looper and Matt Belisle combined to go 9-3 with a 2.63 ERA. They went 17-22 with an ERA of 5.92 the rest of the way. Let those three be a cautionary tale for falling in love with the likes of '08 hot starters Cliff Lee, Joe Saunders, Gavin Floyd, Todd Wellemeyer, to name a few. At this time of year, let track record and pedigree be your guide and be distrustful of those that lack historical indicators that validate their strong performances out of the gate. Take April with a grain of salt. The month of May always does a nice job of separating the pretenders from the real deals. Speaking of deals, let's start things off at the hot corner in Cincinnati:
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
• Edwin Encarnacion, Cin, 3B
I'm breaking the rules by placing Encarnacion in this spot – he's above the 50 percent ownership mark, just barely (57 percent). But the fact that more than 40 percent of Yahoo! public default leagues have avoided him is enough of an injustice that I'm making an exception. The 25-year-old Encarnacion is in the midst of a 10-game hitting streak (3 HR, 6 RBI, 7 R). He's holding steady with an incredibly encouraging K:BB rate (10:12). And, unlike last season, Encarnacion has the support of his manager (Dusty Baker) despite mental lapses – he's played regularly despite six errors and a 2-for-24 start to the season at the plate. He absolutely belongs in leagues of 10 teams or more – there's just too much upside to ignore.
• Ryan Doumit, Pit, C/OF
Doumit, 46 percent owned, hit two home runs on Sunday, his third and fourth of the season. He also boosted his average to .320 in the process. The 27-year-old has a top 15 bat from the catcher position and is currently rated No. 5 at the position in the Y! game. This past weekend's deep balls increased his total to 25 home runs in his past 608 at bats. But injuries (arm, wrist, hamstring) have forced those at bats to be spread out across three-plus seasons. Currently healthy, and playing regularly, Doumit is a recommended replacement for those suffering the production indignities from fringe 12-team league catchers (Ramon Hernandez, for example).
PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm
- Adam Lind (ETA – early May)
With one pain in the neck out of the picture (Frank Thomas), Toronto will look to replace him with another pain in the neck (Adam Lind). The difference here is that Lind's pain is literal and Thomas' pain (inflicted) was figurative. Thomas' release on Sunday has opened a spot for Lind, who is set to be called up from Triple-A once his currently sore neck feels better. Lind's bat has been scorching for the Syracuse Chiefs this season – .360, 3 HR, 13 RBI. Lind's track record suggests that he'll eventually churn out .300 seasons – he's hit .325, and 34 home runs, in 681 at bats combined between Double- and Triple-A. The lefty has 107 games of major league seasoning under his belt and has shown that his power translates (13 HR in 350 at bats). Now it's time for that sweet all-fields stroke to finally make a batting average impact.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Josh Willingham, Fla, OF (78%) – Josh Willingham, speed demon? Ok, maybe not. But the hulky Marlins outfielder did put together a "Best of" highlight reel of leg work this past week. For the first time in his career, he hit two triples in the same week. And for just the second time in his career, he stole two bases in a seven-day period. In addition, he went 9-for-22 (.409) with a home run and two doubles. Willingham typically does some of his best work out of the gate but can be a rollercoaster ride thereafter. In the end, he can be expected to net out as a very mediocre mixed league outfielder.
Skip Schumaker, StL, OF (8%) – What to make of this Schumaker guy? The 28-year-old leadoff hitter is batting .317 and ranks third in the league with 16 runs scored. An extreme contact hitter, Schumaker has fanned just 35 times and has compiled 24 walks in 350 career at bats. He has little power, but does have good speed although, until this season (3 SB), he hasn't flashed much of it on the base paths. Schumaker could continue to be a decent source of runs and steals, but his biggest fantasy impact may be his role in keeping Colby Rasmus in the minors for longer than initially expected.
Ryan Theriot, ChC, SS/2B (67%) – Theriot has multiple hits in six of his past seven games, hitting .484 with a home run, nine runs and a steal in that span.
Reed Johnson, ChC, OF (1%) – The Toronto castoff concluded a week in which he hit .450 (9-for-20). With Alfonso Soriano out, Johnson is starting to see at bats from the top of the order, making him at least a short-term consideration for help in batting average and runs.
Andruw Jones, LAD, OF (84%) – Jones has been on such a terrible run over the past season-plus that a week in which he raised his batting average from .100 to .169 is worth mentioning. Jones offered hopes of a turnaround with a .316 week that included two doubles, a triple and a home run. He'd hit just one extra-base hit coming into the week. He changed his batting stance earlier in the week and perhaps that will be the impetus for better things going forward.
Ervin Santana, LAA, SP (84%) – As it stands, after a 2-0, 2.40 ERA week, Ervin is the best Santana in the Y! game, edging Johan in overall rank (No. 38 to No. 42). The best part about Ervin, this season, is his 2-0 mark and 3.46 ERA on the road. He was 1-10 with an 8.38 ERA on the road last season, pretty much killing the substantial buzz he'd built up as one of the brighter young pitching prospects in the league – coming off a 16-8 season in '06. Once considered one of the top rising arms in the game, Santana is still only 25. Take the gamble if you still have the opportunity.
Randy Wolf, SD, SP (57%) – Wolf struck out seven hitters on Sunday, giving the oft-injured lefty 16 Ks in his past 13.1 IP. Arm injuries have limited Wolf to just 43 combined starts over the previous three seasons, which means he's very unlikely to hold up the entire way in '08. But until the grim reaper strikes again, don't be shy in adding Wolf. He'll provide close to a K per inning, and he benefits from a home pitcher's park in Petco, where he's yielded just five hits and one run in 13 innings this season.
John Danks, ChW, SP (2%) – After a seven-run, 2.1-inning trouncing at the hands of the Twins on April 9, Danks has reeled off 14.2 consecutive scoreless innings, picking up two wins in the process. Brad Evans thinks Danks, along with Jair Jurrjens and Scott Baker, need to be rostered in 12-team mixed leagues, but I'm little less adamant in that regard.
Gerald Laird, Tex, C (6%) – In his past eight games, Laird is just 5-for-33 (.152). And, obviously, this concerns those that still own Jarrod Saltalamacchia, or go to sleep every night with their finger on the "Add Saltalamacchia" button. With Ben Broussard hitting .173 at first base for the Rangers, you'd think that Salty's return from the minors would be imminent. His OPS currently sits at a solid .873 for Triple-A Oklahoma City. C'mon Texas, you traded Mark Teixeira for this guy. You're 7-13. You really can't afford to give him regular at bats between catcher and first base? Laird and Broussard are really what's holding things up?
Carlos Delgado, NYM, 1B (88%) – Delgado is in the midst of a nasty slump (one hit in his past 25 at bats). This after his OPS fell to .781 last season, the first time it's been below .900 since '97. Delgado is 35 years old and is coming off wrist and hip injuries. At this point, 88 percent ownership is probably a higher number than is justified.
Orlando Hudson, Ari, 2B (88%) – Hudson is just 5-for-31 (.161) in his past eight games, with just one extra-base hit. He's typically been a slow starter, so patience is a virtue here. But in shallow leagues, he's never offered enough fantasy upside to warrant riding out a tough spell.
Ian Kennedy, NYY, SP (22%) – Kennedy has been pretty miserable in each of his four outings. On Saturday, he allowed four runs in 2.2 innings at Baltimore, raising his ERA to 9.64. Still, he remains owned in one of every five Y! leagues. And there's at least still some reason to believe in a turnaround. His biggest issue has been the 13 walks he's issued in 14 innings pitched. But, he carried a reputation as a control pitcher coming into the season. Also, Kennedy doesn't issue many home runs – he's allowed just eight home runs in 182 professional innings, just one this season. And he has a rotation spot for the New York Yankees, a position that Hank Steinbrenner recently said he wasn't concerned about. "I think once (Phil) Hughes and Kennedy get plenty of starts … we will be fine," Steinbrenner told The New York Times. I own him in an AL-only league, and I'm not going to give up on him yet.
Edwin Jackson, TB, SP (41%) – Two starts into the season, Jackson had conjured talks of a breakout season (1 ER in 14 IP). Two starts later (11 ER in 9.1 IP), his theme song is once again Aerosmith's "Same Old Song and Dance." There's still talent here, and there's still control issues (13 BB).