Last year, it was Matt Harvey. This year, it's Jose Fernandez. Oh baseball gods, why must you be so cruel to us? Do you hate joy?
While Fernandez hasn't made a final decision on surgery, he was diagnosed with a "significant" tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow. It's just a matter of time before he'll become the 34th (!) pitcher between the majors and minors to have Tommy John surgery since mid-February. Astros reliever Jose Cisnero is scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery next week while Rangers left-hander Martin Perez has a partially-torn ulnar collateral ligament, so the list will only grow in the coming days. Even two potential top-10 picks in next month's First-Year Player Draft (Jeff Hoffman and Erick Fedde) have fallen victim to it. This has been the dominant storyline of the first quarter of the season. And there's no end in sight.
For all the pitch counts and innings limits, we have yet to find a formula to keep pitchers healthy. Everyone seems to have a theory, from the demands of youth baseball to increased velocity and the use of sliders, among other things. Pitching is a risky profession by default, but we're likely looking at a combination of factors, of which we've only begun to scratch the surface. It's hard to find any silver lining from this situation, but it underscores the fact that position players are the far safer investment in both real life and fantasy terms. This year's ace could become next week's victim. I honestly wonder if the increase in pitcher injuries will cause teams to not worry as much about the service time implications in promoting them to the majors. Might as well get as much value out of them as you can. Something to keep an eye on, anyway.
Dallas Keuchel SP, Astros (Yahoo: 15 percent owned)
I have my fair share of misses every year. That's part of the gig with a job like this. But I feel pretty good about this one. During our first Rotoworld Mailbag segment last month, one reader asked me to name one pitcher to take a chance on who was owned in under five percent of leagues. My reply? Dallas Keuchel. So far, so good. The 26-year-old southpaw threw his first career shutout Tuesday against the Rangers and now owns an impressive 3.06 ERA and 47/11 K/BB ratio in 53 innings across eight starts. He also has a 65.1 percent (!) ground ball rate, which is the highest in the majors. The win potential is a bit limited with the Astros, but has arrived as a mixed league property.
Jenrry Mejia SP/RP, Mets (Yahoo: 11 percent owned)
It might look a little funny to see Mejia here considering that he was just booted from the Mets' rotation, but hang with me for a second. Remember, this is a bullpen that is in complete disarray, with the release of Kyle Farnsworth only adding to the uncertainty. Daisuke Matsuzaka has one save under his belt and Jeurys Familia has shown signs of progress, but my money is on Mejia emerging as the team's closer before long. This is a bit of an assumption on my part since we still need to see that he can handle pitching on back-to-back days, but I'd rather have him stashed than Familia.
Kole Calhoun OF, Angels (Yahoo: 47 percent owned)
A popular fantasy sleeper coming into the season, Calhoun appeared in just 14 games prior to suffering a ligament sprain in his right ankle on April 15. Now one month removed from the injury, he has begun running the bases as well as throwing and hitting. At this rate, a minor league rehab assignment shouldn't be far off, setting up a potential return later this month. Calhoun was the Angels' primary leadoff hitter before the injury and has the ability to contribute in all categories, so he's well worth stashing if you have an open DL spot.
Bryan Shaw RP, Indians (Yahoo: 35 percent owned)
Indians manager Terry Francona pulled the struggling John Axford from the closer role over the weekend and will use a committee at the end of games in the meantime. All things being equal, Cody Allen should be the man for the job, but it looks like the Indians could prefer to keep him cheap. Given what Axford is being paid, I think he'll get another chance before long, but Shaw is likely the best stopgap option for fantasy purposes. The 27-year-old isn't going to blow batters away, but he has a solid 2.85 ERA and 90/31 K/BB ratio in 94 2/3 innings dating back to the start of last season. He also has the most recent save in this bullpen. That's good enough for me.
A.J. Pollock OF, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 16 percent owned)
Pollock got off to a slow start this season, but he has turned things around over the past month by hitting .333 (24-for-72) with 11 extra-base hits (including four home runs), eight RBI, five stolen bases, 11 runs scored in his last 24 games. That's some nice five-category production. I'd like him a lot more if he wasn't hitting in the bottom-third of Arizona's batting order, but he's at least getting regular playing time while Mark Trumbo works his way back from a stress fracture in his left foot. Trumbo's return could throw his playing time into question, but Pollock is a solid option in deeper leagues right now.
Tanner Roark SP, Nationals (Yahoo: 25 percent owned)
Roark impressed in his first taste of the majors last year and he has kept it going by posting a 3.65 ERA and 36/10 K/BB ratio in 44 1/3 innings over his first seven starts this season. The 27-year-old right-hander isn't a particularly hard-thrower, but he has a varied arsenal and throws strikes. Right-handed batters have yet to hit a home run against him in 198 plate appearances. I'm a fan of him as a streaming option. His matchup against the Mets this weekend is pretty appealing.
Darren O'Day RP, Orioles (Yahoo: 12 percent owned)
Tommy Hunter's tenure as Orioles' closer is off to a pretty ugly start. The 27-year-old has blown three saves to go along with a 6.60 ERA and 1.87 WHIP over 17 appearances. His strikeout rate is actually up this season, but his walk rate has doubled and he has yet to have one appearance without a walk or a hit. The .414 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) hasn't helped, but he is giving up line drives 32 percent of the time. So this isn't just a matter of bad luck. He's getting hammered. If Orioles manager Buck Showalter decides to go in another direction, the most likely alternatives are Darren O'Day and Zach Britton, possibly as part of a tandem. O'Day doesn't have the big velocity and traditionally struggles against left-handed batters, but I'd rather speculate on him since he's the right-hander. Still, I don't think there's a perfect answer here.
C.J. Cron 1B, Angels (Yahoo: 15 percent owned)
Last week I speculated that Grant Green could end up being more useful than Cron in fantasy leagues this season. I still think there's a good chance of that happening, but Cron has held his own in the early going by collecting two home runs and three doubles in his first 30 plate appearances. My initial hesitation was that the 24-year-old would be a victim of the numbers game when Josh Hamilton and Kole Calhoun come back from the disabled list. That might still happen. But the soon-to-be 42-year-old Raul Ibanez is really struggling and Albert Pujols is looking a bit hobbled. Cron could very well stick around, especially if he continues to produce like this. At the very least, I'd plug him in this weekend with a pair of left-handers going for the Rays.
Drew Pomeranz SP/RP, Athletics (Yahoo: 27 percent owned)
A first-round pick of the Indians in 2010, Pomeranz was shipped to the Rockies in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal, but he posted a disappointing 5.20 ERA in 30 starts and four relief appearances prior to being traded to the A's over the winter for Brett Anderson. The change of scenery is agreeing with him so far. The 25-year-old left-hander owns a 1.14 ERA and 24/8 K/BB ratio over 23 2/3 innings this season and has spun 10 scoreless innings since being moved into the rotation last week. Interestingly, he's pitching exclusively from the stretch these days. So, are we witnessing a post-hype breakout? Maybe. Pomeranz is still basically a two-pitch pitcher, so refining his changeup will likely be the key to him finding that next step. Still, Oakland is a great environment to pitch in and I'd take a chance on him in deeper leagues.
Kendrys Morales 1B, Free agent (Yahoo: 16 percent owned)
It's May 15 and both Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew are still free agents. That shouldn't be a surprise at this point, but look for that to change after the First-Year Player Draft on June 5, as both players will be able to sign with new teams without draft pick compensation attached. In other words, now is the time to stash. Drew is obviously worth tucking away too depending on the depth of your league, but I have Morales a bit higher in my rankings because of the power potential. I don't think there's a perfect landing spot for him right now, but here's hoping he ends up in a hitter-friendly ballpark.
Seth Smith OF, Padres (Yahoo: 19 percent owned)
Acquired from the Athletics over the winter in the Luke Gregerson deal, Smith has been one of the game's hottest hitters of late, hitting .528 (19-for-36) with 12 extra-base hits (including one home run) and seven RBI over his last nine games. The Padres' outfield is pretty crowded after the return of Carlos Quentin, but there's no way they can sit him right now. I'm a big fan of plugging Smith in this weekend in his return to Coors Field, especially with right-handers on the mound on Saturday and Sunday. He owns a .937 OPS in that place.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Jaime Garcia SP, Cardinals (Yahoo: 4 percent owned)
The Cardinals lost Joe Kelly to a hamstring strain last month and fill-in starter Tyler Lyons due to a shoulder strain, so now Garcia will be activated from the disabled list to make his season debut Sunday against the Braves. The 27-year-old southpaw hasn't appeared in a major league game since last May 17, but he's fully recovered from shoulder surgery and pitched well in his most recent rehab start on Monday. There's some risk here, but there's also quite a bit of upside, as Garcia owns a 3.45 ERA over 551 innings in the majors. A start at home (where he owns a 2.66 ERA) is a good place to break him in, especially against a team which has struggled to score runs.
Rougned Odor 2B, Rangers (Yahoo: 2 percent owned)
The Rangers surprised many last week by shaking up their infield and calling up Odor, their top position player prospect. It was an aggressive move for a 20-year-old who has only played 62 games above High-A. Not surprisingly, Odor has struggled a bit in the early going, hitting just .182 (4-for-22) with four strikeouts, but he has some pop and speed. I wouldn't drop someone super important for him, especially since he'll go back down to the minors once Jurickson Profar returns from his torn teres major muscle, but he's a decent option in deeper formats if you need middle infield help.
Jason Motte RP, Cardinals (Yahoo: 4 percent owned)
Mark me down for one of those people who thought that Trevor Rosenthal would emerge as one of the game's top closers this season. It might still work out that way, but he's looking pretty shaky at the moment. While the 23-year-old is still getting his fair share of strikeouts, he owns an ugly 5.19 ERA in 15 appearances and has walked 11 batters in just 17 1/3 innings. He walked just 20 batters all of last season. Rosenthal's velocity is down a tick from where it was last year, but it's still plenty good. He just needs to find his fastball command again. And I fully expect the Cardinals to give him that chance. For all his struggles, Rosenthal has only blown one save. However, Motte is worth watching if the struggles continue. Fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, the 31-year-old made his first rehab appearance with Triple-A Memphis on Tuesday and could be days away from rejoining the Cardinals. He's not a bad stash in deeper formats if you are in the mood to speculate.
Kyle Blanks 1B/OF, Athletics (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
A last-minute addition to this week's edition of Waiver Wired, Blanks was traded to the Athletics on Thursday afternoon for a pair of minor leaguers. Now 27, Blanks has hit just .222/.298/.372 in sporadic playing time at the major league level since his promising rookie season in 2009. Some of that is because of injury, at other times because of a lack of opportunity on the major league roster. Oakland isn't the best situation for him, as he'll be a role player in another pitcher-friendly ballpark, but his power potential is worth a flier.
Logan Forsythe 2B/3B/SS/OF, Rays (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Ben Zobrist left Wednesday's game with a dislocated left thumb and appears headed to the disabled list, leaving Sean Rodriguez and Forsythe as the likely options to fill in at second base. Acquired from the Padres over the winter, Forsythe has struggled in a utility role this season, but he has shown some power-speed potential in the past. With his multi-position eligibility, he could be a useful player in the short-term.
Anthony Recker C, Mets (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Travis d'Arnaud was hit in the head by a backswing during Tuesday's game and appears likely to land on the 7-day disabled list with a concussion, so Recker is worth a look until he's back to 100 percent. The 30-year-old has struck out 33 percent of the time dating back to the start of last season, but he also has eight home runs, 25 RBI, and a .400 slugging percentage in 201 plate appearances. Not bad for a fill-in option.
Anthony DeSclafani SP, Marlins (Yahoo: N/A)
Called up to replace the injured Jose Fernandez in the Marlins' starting rotation, DeSclafani struck out seven batters and allowed two runs in six innings Wednesday night against the Dodgers to win in his major league debut. Part of the big 12-player trade with the Blue Jays two offseasons ago, the 24-year-old New Jersey native posted a 3.17 ERA over parts of three seasons in the minors, averaging 7.5 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9. He throws in the mid-90s with his fastball and also has a slider, curveball, and a changeup. For what it's worth, he got eight swings and misses on his curve on Wednesday. Some wonder whether he'll ultimately end up in the bullpen, but he's a fine stopgap while we all wait for Andrew Heaney's arrival.