And just like that, one month of the 2014 MLB season is in the can. That sure went by in a flash. Almost too quickly for my liking, actually. Hopefully you are already in good position in your league(s), but if not, don't worry yet. We still have five months of regular season baseball remaining. It's a long year, with lots of twists and turns. Some are cruel and others are kind. Keep your head up.
Usually around this time I pick my biggest surprises and disappointments for the first month of the season, so we'll keep the tradition going this year. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu has obviously taken the fantasy baseball world by storm, but he was highly regarded for his power production out of Cuba, so his early-season success didn't exactly come out of nowhere. For that reason, my biggest surprise will go to Jesse Chavez of the Athletics. Asked to step in for an injury-riddled rotation, the 30-year-old has a 1.89 ERA and 41/8 K/BB ratio in 38 innings across six starts. Not bad for a guy who had a middling career before joining the A's last year. Sure, there will be questions about his ability to hold up over a full season as a starter, but he has reinvented himself with his cutter and induces a ton of ground balls. I like what I see with him.
OK, now it's disappointment time. There are plenty of options here, but I'm going to go with Prince Fielder. Many selected him in the first round this spring in hopes that he would rebound following the offseason trade to the Rangers, a reasonable enough assumption, but he's hitting .206 with two home runs and a .644 OPS through 28 games. A month is no reason to panic here, but if you include last year, the soon-to-be 30-year-old is hitting .269 with 27 home runs and a .794 OPS over 190 games. Still useful numbers, but hardly worthy of his big money contract or first-round value in fantasy leagues. I still think Fielder will get his fair share of home runs as the weather heats up in Texas, but he's hitting a ton of balls on the ground right now. Hopefully that isn't a sign of things to come.
Have specific questions about your team? Ask @djshort on Twitter.
Josh Reddick OF, Athletics (Yahoo: 32 percent owned)
Reddick was a little slow to get started this season, but he's hitting a cool .381 (16-for-42) with one home run, two doubles, one triple, eight RBI, and one stolen base over his last 13 games. The 27-year-old outfielder was bothered by a wrist injury for most of last season before undergoing surgery in October, so I targeted him as a sleeper this spring in hopes that improved health would result in a rebound. We're seeing some early signs of that. Reddick is going to strike out a lot, so don't expect him to be much of an asset in the batting average department, but he could be a sneaky source of power this year. He might even give you double-digit stolen bases.
Matt Joyce OF, Rays (Yahoo: 28 percent owned)
Another year, another hot start for Joyce. Through 26 games, the 29-year-old is hitting .328/.438/.522 with two home runs, seven doubles, and 15 RBI in 89 plate appearances. He has already walked 16 times this season, with five of them coming in the very same game. While Joyce's production has typically fallen off during the second half, he has averaged 18 home runs and eight stolen bases over the past three seasons. That's excellent value for someone who likely went undrafted in most leagues. He's someone I'm confident putting out there whenever the Rays face a right-handed starter.
Jason Hammel SP, Cubs (Yahoo: 49 percent owned)
Hammel was the Orioles' best starter two years ago, but he fell off in a big way last year by posting a 4.97 ERA over 139 1/3 innings while dealing with a strained forearm. The Cubs bought low this winter by signing him to a one-year, $6 million deal and so far it has worked out swimmingly, as the 31-year-old has a 2.08 ERA and 27/7 K/BB ratio in 34 2/3 innings across five starts. While he's throwing strikes and inducing grounders again, there are some warning signs here. His velocity isn't what it once was and he's been extremely fortunate with his BABIP and stand rates. Still, the move to the National League should be good for him. He's worth a look in most mixed leagues at this point and could be a decent play against a struggling St. Louis offense on Sunday.
Wilson Ramos C, Nationals (Yahoo: 41 percent owned)
If you have followed my work at all, you know how much I liked Ramos coming into this season, so it was pretty devastating to see him go down on Opening Day with a fractured hamate bone. The good news is that he hasn't had any issues during his rehab process and could rejoin the Nationals as soon as next week. It takes time for a player to regain strength after hamate bone surgery, so I'm a bit concerned about the impact on his power production for the next couple of months, but I still think he could provide top-12 fantasy catcher value the rest of the way. Go ahead and stash him in a DL spot for now.
Oscar Taveres OF, Cardinals (Yahoo: 23 percent owned)
Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. That's the sound ringing through the ears of Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak as Taveras continues to tear the cover off the ball in the minors. The most important thing is that he's finally healthy after his ankle issues last year, but he's also riding a 13-game hitting streak with Triple-A and owns an impressive .322/.378/.544 batting line through 24 games. The 21-year-old has played three out of his last seven games in center field, which is an indication of where the Cardinals could use him when he comes up from the minors. They'd surely likely to wait until after the Super 2 deadline passes (roughly late this month) to bring him up, but plans could change if they continue to struggle for offense. Randall Grichuk was called up this week, but I see him as a bandaid for the situation. Taveras might not hit for power right away and he doesn't steal many bases, so don't look for him to be a savior for your fantasy team, but many consider him the best pure hitter in the minors. He's someone to be excited about.
Brad Miller SS/2B, Mariners (Yahoo: 44 percent owned)
Another preseason favorite of mine, Miller impressed in a small sample last season before staking his claim on the starting shortstop job this spring with an excellent showing during Cactus League play. However, that success has failed to translate to the regular season so far this year, as the 24-year-old has an ugly .174/.211/.326 batting line through 90 plate appearances. It's gotten so bad that Willie Bloomquist has begun to take playing time away from him. This isn't just about hitting in bad luck, as he has a disturbing 26/2 K/BB ratio. It's quite surprising given that he was highly regarded in the minors for his plate discipline and ability to make contact. It looks like pitchers have figured out how to attack him, so the hope is that he'll be able to make the proper adjustments. If he continues to struggle, I wouldn't rule out the possibility that the Mariners will send him down to the minors to figure things out, but he's not a bad player to stash on your bench at this point. He could still pay off in the long run. Hey, I'm stubborn.
Chase Headley 3B, Padres (Yahoo: 44 percent owned)
Headley is currently on the disabled list with a calf strain, the same injury which limited him during spring training. The 29-year-old was off to a terrible start prior to going down, hitting just .186/.250/.314 with two home runs through 76 plate appearances, but we know he's capable of much better. Sure, maybe 2012 will turn out to be an outlier for him, but reaching double-digits in both home runs and stolen bases is a reasonable expectation and there's always the chance for more. As of now, he's hoping to be back when he's first eligible on May 10 or close to it. I'd stash him in leagues where he was dropped.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Brandon McCarthy SP, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 3 percent owned)
What a weird month for every baseball fan's favorite Twitter follow. Despite increased velocity and an uptick in strikeouts, McCarthy will enter May at 0-5 with a 5.54 ERA over six starts. The big issue has been the home run ball, as he has allowed seven of them in 37 1/3 innings after giving up just 13 all of last season. The good news is that McCarthy is coming off his best outing of the season, allowing two runs over seven innings while striking out 12 batters. Despite the early issues with the home run ball, he's still inducing plenty of grounders along with his usual excellent control. Better days are ahead. He's a solid play this weekend against the Padres, who can't hit anyone right now.
Nate McLouth OF, Nationals (Yahoo: 4 percent owned)
McLouth signed a two-year, $10.75 million deal with the Nationals during the offseason to function as the club's fourth outfielder, but he should get a chance at regular playing time now that Bryce Harper will likely be sidelined until early July after thumb surgery. The 32-year-old is hitting just .108 (4-for-37) through 22 games this year, but don't forget that he hit .258 with 12 home runs, 30 stolen bases, and 76 runs scored in 146 games last year with the Orioles. That was enough for him to be a top-40 outfielder in mixed leagues. He's a fine pickup if you need some speed.
Cameron Maybin OF, Padres (Yahoo: 2 percent owned)
After being limited to just 14 games last season due to wrist and knee injuries, Maybin had another bad break on the health front when he ruptured his left biceps tendon in early March. While the early timetable had him missing 2-3 months, he managed to rejoin the Padres over the weekend. Maybin hit just .243/.306/.349 during his last full season in 2012, so he's still a long way from reaching the lofty expectations placed on him as a prospect, but he plays excellent defense and should get regular playing time in center field. The 27-year-old is a good bet for 20-plus stolen bases if he can stay healthy, so he's relevant in deeper leagues.
Mike Aviles 2B/3B/SS, Indians (Yahoo: 7 percent owned)
Jason Kipnis left Tuesday's game with a right abdominal strain and it's unclear whether a trip to the disabled list will be needed. We'll likely have more clarity on the situation on Friday, but it might make sense to tuck Aviles away in deeper formats. The 33-year-old has averaged eight home runs and 10 stolen bases per season during his career, so he could make for a sneaky and productive fill-in option. The multi-position eligibility is very handy.
Marcus Stroman SP, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 6 percent owned)
I told you to stash Trevor Bauer last week and now it's Stroman's turn. The Blue Jays lined up his start with Triple-A Buffalo on Tuesday to coincide with Dustin McGowan's at the major league level and he responded by striking out 10 batters over six no-hit innings. Now that's a statement. Checking in at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, some have ticketed Stroman for the bullpen, but he owns a 2.99 ERA and 165/34 K/BB ratio over 138 1/3 innings as a starter in pro ball. The 23-year-old throws a low-to-mid 90s fastball to go along with a cutter, curveball, and changeup. Some worry about whether his height will leave him vulnerable to home runs, so he's no sure thing to have success right away, but he's someone to monitor in deeper leagues. Even if he does pitch well, he'll be facing an innings limit.
Derek Norris C, Athletics (Yahoo: 4 percent owned)
Norris is off to a monster start this season, hitting .386 (22-for-57) with two home runs, five doubles, 12 RBI, and six walks through 20 games. He's currently riding a seven-game hitting streak, including five straight multi-hit games. Norris is on the weak side of a platoon with John Jaso and owns a .601 OPS against right-handed pitchers in the majors, so his upside in standard leagues is obviously very limited, but he's a must-play in two-catcher formats whenever the A's face a southpaw. I'm a big fan of him in daily leagues.
Randal Grichuk OF, Cardinals (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
With Peter Bourjos struggling, the Cardinals called up Grichuk this week to see if he can provide a jolt for their surprisingly sagging offense. Acquired from the Angels in the David Freese deal, the 22-year-old dealt with all sorts of injuries early on in his pro career, but he has managed to stay on the field since 2012 for the most part and had 22 home runs and nine stolen bases last season in Double-A. With his plate discipline, I wouldn't expect a high batting average, but he could be a decent stopgap option until the Cardinals decide Oscar Taveras is ready.
Ed Lucas 1B/2B/3B, Marlins (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
A career minor leaguer, Lucas finally got the call to the majors last May and hit .256/.311/.336 with four home runs and 28 RBI in 94 games while playing all over the infield. The 31-year-old entered spring training with a roster spot to lose this year, but he suffered a broken hand in late March and finally made his season debut earlier this week. With one setback after another for Rafael Furcal, Lucas should see a lot of time at second base in the coming days. For what it's worth, he has hit second in each of his first two games. He's not someone I would rely on as starter in NL-only leagues, but the ability to plug him in at multiple positions can be useful on days when your regulars have an off-day.
Jace Peterson SS, Padres (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Despite being used almost exclusively at shortstop in the minors, Peterson has seen the majority of the time at third base since his call-up from Double-A last week as he fills in for the injured Chase Headley. As far as the fantasy impact goes, the big thing to know about the 23-year-old is his speed, as he has swiped 136 bases over 321 games in the minors. There's not much pop here, but he makes contact and knows how to draw a walk. Keep in mind that he has only played 18 games above High-A, so don't count on things clicking for him right way. Headley could be back right around when he's eligible on May 10, but Peterson is relevant in the short-term and is a name to watch for the future.
Chris Getz 2B, Blue Jays (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
The Ryan Goins experiment came to an end this week, as the 26-year-old was demoted to Triple-A Buffalo after hitting a paltry .150/.203/.217 through 24 games. Getz took his spot on the roster and should see significant playing time at second base in the short-term. While the 30-year-old owns an underwhelming .252/.311/.310 batting line in the majors, he has stolen at least 15 bases in each of the last four seasons and owns an 83 percent career success rate. He's a no-brainer pickup in AL-only leagues right now.
Robbie Ray SP, Tigers (Yahoo: N/A)
The centerpiece for the Tigers in the Doug Fister trade during the offseason, Ray will be called up to make his major league debut next Tuesday against the Astros. Coincidentally, Fister will come off the disabled list to make his season debut one day later. Ray earned his call-up with a 1.59 ERA and 21/5 K/BB ratio in 28 innings across his first five starts in Triple-A this season, but this is mostly a move of necessity with Anibal Sanchez on the disabled list with a blister on his right middle finger. The 22-year-old left-hander profiles as a potential mid-rotation starter down the line, but he isn't a finished product yet and will likely head back down to the minors after one or two starts. Still, he isn't a bad streaming option in AL-only formats.
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