And just like that, Memorial Day weekend is upon us. I generally view this time of year as the first major milepost for the baseball season. Each team is more than a quarter of the way into their respective schedules, so we have a lot more data to work with in most cases. Goodbye and good riddance, small sample sizes. This makes it easier to take stock of where you are with your fantasy team and what you need to improve in to make a run or maintain a lead in your league. Or, if you're like me and drafted Cliff Lee in a handful of leagues because of his consistency and durability, you're taking deep breaths into a paper bag right now. Is nobody safe? Will all human pitchers soon be replaced by cats? Something to ponder over the holiday weekend. In the meantime, let's get to this week's recommendations.
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Phil Hughes SP, Twins (Yahoo: 30 percent owned)
That whole change of scenery thing is working out pretty well, huh? After failing to complete six innings in his first three starts with the Twins, Hughes has gone on an incredible run since, posting a 1.60 ERA and a 30/1 K/BB ratio (!) in 39 1/3 innings over six starts. The 27-year-old right-hander has allowed two earned runs or fewer in each of his last five starts and hasn't issued a single walk in any of them. In fact, he has faced 147 batters without issuing a walk, the longest streak in the majors since Carlos Silva in 2005. While home runs were a killer for him with the Yankees, he has only allowed four of them in 54 1/3 innings this year. Welcome back to mixed league relevancy, Mr. Hughes.
Dexter Fowler OF, Astros (Yahoo: 43 percent owned)
Fowler got off to a red-hot start with the Astros before cooling down considerably for the rest of April, but he has bounced back this month by hitting .314 (22-for-70) with four extra-base hits, six RBI, two stolen bases, and 12 runs scored over 19 games. He's tied for third in the majors with 16 walks this month and his .372 on-base percentage is good enough for 17th in the American League. Sure, it would be nice if he was in Coors Field or in a better lineup than the Astros, but his ability to get on base plays everywhere. Interestingly, Fowler has been hitting third in recent days, so there could be more RBI opportunities in his future.
Zach Britton RP, Orioles (Yahoo: 30 percent owned)
I went with Darren O'Day last week when trying to nail down a possible alternative to Tommy Hunter for the Orioles' closer role, but it appears that Britton might have the edge here. The 26-year-old left-hander has the last save chance in this bullpen and hasn't allowed a run since April 24. While Britton doesn't have the big strikeout rate you'd prefer from a closer, he's among the game's best at inducing ground balls. After putting up a 58 percent ground ball rate last year, it's all the way up to 81.8 percent (!) this year. This remains a fluid situation, but Britton should be owned in most leagues until there's some clarity.
Trevor Bauer SP, Indians (Yahoo: 37 percent owned)
I recommended stashing Bauer about a month ago while Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco were struggling, so it's worth mentioning him again now that he's finally going to get a long look in the Indians' starting rotation. The 23-year-old pitched well in a tough matchup on Tuesday, allowing a pair of solo homers over six innings in a victory over the Tigers. He struck out five batters and averaged 97.2 mph on his fastball, per Brooks Baseball. Wowza. The heat was nice to see, but he finished batters off with a wide array of pitches, including his slider, cutter, and curveball. Command will be the big key here, but Bauer has tremendous upside and should be owned pretty much everywhere.
Sean Doolittle RP, Athletics (Yahoo: 46 percent owned)
After weeks of uncertainty, Athletics manager Bob Melvin said on Tuesday that Doolittle is now his closer. There's a good chance he runs away with the job. The 27-year-old southpaw has locked down saves in back-to-back nights and now owns an impressive 3.13 ERA and 32/1 (!) K/BB ratio over 23 innings this season. He hasn't allowed a run since way back on April 26. Now that the A's have him locked up for five years, they don't have to worry about save chances making him expensive in arbitration down the line. Yes, he's left-handed -- which is rare for a ninth-inning man -- but don't be surprised if he quickly emerges as one of the game's top closers.
David Murphy OF, Indians (Yahoo: 19 percent owned)
Murphy had a down year last season with the Rangers, but so far this season, he has resumed doing what he does best: Putting a hurting on right-handed pitchers. After signing a two-year, $12 million deal with the Indians over the winter, the 32-year-old outfielder is batting .324/.403/.529 with four home runs, nine doubles, 20 RBI, and a 14/15 K/BB ratio in 119 plate appearances against righties this season. He's looking like an excellent bargain for Cleveland. You'll have to watch Terry Francona's lineup to know when to play him, but he makes for a solid option in daily leagues.
Danny Duffy SP, Royals (Yahoo: 16 percent owned)
Duffy's emergence has taken a little longer than originally expected, but he could finally be ready to make an impact in mixed leagues. Getting a shot in the Royals' starting rotation after Bruce Chen's back injury, the 25-year-old left-hander flirted with history against the Orioles last Saturday by retiring the first 20 batters he faced. He ended up allowing two hits and no walks over seven scoreless innings. While Duffy only struck out two batters, a transition from "thrower" to "pitcher" might not be a bad thing. The big velocity is nice and will get plenty of "oohs" and "ahhs," but he'll need to throw strikes to be successful. Here's hoping he's on his way.
Chris Owings SS, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 11 percent owned)
I mentioned Owings way back in our first Waiver Wired of the season and the rookie shortstop has held his own by hitting .275 with 13 extra-base hits (including two home runs), seven RBI, six stolen bases, and 15 runs scored over 43 games. While the 22-year-old began the year in the lower-third of the batting order, he has hit second in each of the last four games. I'm not sure he belongs there quite yet, as his plate discipline is a work in progress, but I'm not complaining from a fantasy perspective. Owings plays half of his games in a great hitter's park and needs to be owned in more leagues.
Ronald Belisario RP, White Sox (Yahoo: 15 percent owned)
Matt Lindstrom injured his left ankle on Monday night and is expected to miss three months after surgery to repair a tendon sheath, which leaves Belisario as the new closer for the White Sox. The 31-year-old notched his fifth career save Tuesday night against the Royals and owns a 4.15 ERA and 19/5 K/BB ratio in 26 innings this season. The strikeout rate isn't great, but the control is improved from what we've seen in the past and he's still inducing a bunch of grounders. The White Sox are unlikely to contend this season, so it might not make sense to put someone like Daniel Webb in the closer role and make him more expensive down the line. It probably won't be a smooth ride, but Belisario might keep this job for a little while.
Garrett Jones 1B/OF, Marlins (Yahoo: 15 percent owned)
Jones has thrived as Miami's starting first baseman this season, batting .280/.346/.482 with six home runs and 23 RBI through 44 games. His .357 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) has obviously helped matters and he's actually striking out more often than ever before, but his power has value. The 32-year-old has averaged 20 home runs over the last five seasons and is just two years removed from a 27-homer year. I'd sit him against left-handers, but he's a decent stopgap as a CI (corner infielder) if you are trying to make do without Prince Fielder, Joey Votto, or Brandon Belt.
Chad Qualls RP, Astros (Yahoo: 27 percent owned)
It's tough to drum up much enthusiasm here, but Astros manager Bo Porter said last Friday that he plans to roll with Qualls as his closer. It makes sense, as the veteran right-hander has previous experience in the role and owns a 2.74 ERA dating back to the start of last season. He's been suffering from a .436 BABIP this season, which can be blamed in part on batters making solid contact, but weird things can happen when you induce a ton of ground balls too. The newly-signed Kyle Farnsworth lingers as an alternative and there might not be many save chances with the Astros, but Qualls should be owned in most leagues right now.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Nick Franklin 2B, Mariners (Yahoo: 2 percent owned)
Franklin had a brief stint in the majors last month, but he should stick around longer this time now that Corey Hart is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a Grade 2 strain of his left hamstring. The 23-year-old was hitting .376/.481/.633 with seven home runs and six stolen bases over 30 games in Triple-A, so it would be nice to see the Mariners make room for him in their lineup. Replacing Brad Miller at shortstop is one option, but there are lingering questions about his ability to play the position. As of now, the plan calls for him to play all over the place, even in the outfield. We saw last year that there's mixed league upside here, so pick him up if you need him in a MI (middle infielder) spot in deeper formats.
Stephen Drew SS, Red Sox (Yahoo: 8 percent owned)
Most assumed that Drew would wait until after next month's First-Year Player Draft to sign with a team, but that timeline was rendered irrelevant after the Red Sox came calling this week. Will Middlebrooks is currently on the disabled list with a fractured finger and has struggled even when healthy this year, so Drew will slot in at shortstop and Xander Bogaerts will slide over to third base. The plan calls for Drew to get around 25 at-bats in the minors to shake the rust, but he should be in Boston's lineup within about a week or so. The 31-year-old thrived at Fenway Park last season, putting up an .858 OPS, so he's in a good situation to showcase himself for another run at free agency this winter. It might be a good idea for fantasy owners to plug someone else in against left-handed starters, but Drew should be a useful middle infielder option.
James Jones OF, Mariners (Yahoo: 2 percent owned)
Promoted earlier this month to take Abraham Almonte's spot on the Mariners' roster, Jones is hitting .314 (16-for-51) with six extra-base hits, one RBI, two stolen bases, and 11 runs scored over his first 17 games in the majors. He's riding an 11-game hitting streak and has batted leadoff in each of his last 10 games. The 25-year-old Brooklyn native has some pop in his bat, but the major reason to pay attention to him in fantasy leagues is his plus-speed. He had 99 stolen bases over 511 games in the minors. Give him a try in deeper leagues if you lack speed.
Allen Webster RP, Red Sox (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Now that Felix Doubront is on the disabled list after whacking his shoulder into a car door, the Red Sox are expected to go with either Webster or Brandon Workman to replace him in the starting rotation. Workman would be worth a look in AL-only leagues if he gets the call, but I'm hoping to see Webster get a shot. The 24-year-old owns a 2.47 ERA through his first 10 starts this season with Triple-A Pawtucket. While he was a bit shaky in April, he has a 2.01 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings over four starts this month. Webster struggled in his first taste of the majors last year, but still has some long-term upside.
Danny Valencia 3B, Royals (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
The Royals demoted the disappointing Mike Moustakas to Triple-A Omaha on Thursday and plan to go with Valencia as their primary third baseman for now. The 29-year-old is best suited for a platoon role, as he owns an underwhelming .631 OPS against right-handers in his career compared to an .875 OPS against southpaws, but there's some pop in his bat. He should be scooped up in all AL-only leagues at this point and makes for a prime target in daily mixed leagues depending on the matchup.
Eric Campbell 1B, Mets (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Campbell has begun his major league career on a roll, hitting .438 (7-for-16) with one home run, two doubles, and five RBI through seven games. After replacing the struggling Josh Satin on the roster, the 27-year-old has received starts at first base against left-handed pitching. Mets manager Terry Collins said after Wednesday's game that he's even considering playing him in the outfield as he tries to get his offense jumpstarted. Give him a look if he's out there.
Yusmeiro Petit SP/RP, Giants (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
Matt Cain just came off the disabled list 12 days ago following a sandwich-related injury, but he could be headed right back there after straining his right hamstring during Wednesday's start against the Rockies. Petit, who tossed three scoreless innings in relief, would be the mostly likely option to replace him in the starting rotation. The 29-year-old owns a 4.06 ERA and 80/19 K/BB ratio in 82 innings dating back to the start of last season. He has been better out of the bullpen this season, but could make for a useful short-term option.