In past weeks, I've approached this space as if it were an empty canvas. Unconfined by boundaries, I have had free reign over the fantasy world – offering my opinions on the U.S. Open one week and middle relievers the next. For a guy who likes to ramble and enjoys the challenge of trying to sneak the occasional high school basketball story past my editors, it has been bliss.
For the reader, however, it can be hit-or-miss. The bottom line is this: I want to supply information that our fantasy players are looking for. In an effort to crawl above the Mendoza line in that department, I'm rolling out a new format this week.
I'll start each column with the top three fantasy stories from the weekend that was. Consider it a refresher for those of you who give the StatTracker a rest on your days off. Since steals and saves are always at a premium, the latest news from the bullpens and basepaths will be here each week. I'll also do the dirty work and dig through the free agent pool to find your bargains of the week. Finally, I'll keep tabs on the next Dontrelle Willis or Miguel Cabrera in a weekly prospect watch.
Give it a test drive this week and let me know what you think. I'll use your comments and suggestions to fine tune this format as the season continues.
WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days
- There was a lot to like about Saturday's major league debut of Zack Greinke. There was his command – he walked only one while allowing five hits in five innings. There was his composure – a 20-year-old shouldn't be as cool as he was while retiring Eric Chavez with the bases loaded in the fifth inning. Kansas City's defense and bullpen were another story – but that we can't hold him accountable for.
I'm going to pass on Greinke for three reasons. First, a strict pitch count plus a less-than-explosive offense will add up to a lot of no-decisions. In seven combined starts between Triple-A and the big club, he hasn't been allowed beyond six innings or 84 pitches. He has only one win to show for it. Second, Kansas City is a Mike Sweeney injury or Carlos Beltran trade away from being the laughing stock of the American League. Finally, I simply don't trust their bullpen with a lead.
- The big story in Arlington last weekend was the return of A-Rod, but it was another comeback that deserved fantasy attention. Yes, Jose Contreras was back on the hill for the Yankees after a 2-0 stint at Triple-A Columbus. Rebounding from a sketchy first inning, Contreras retired 13 of the last 15 batters he faced while shutting down baseball's most prolific offense. A season-high seven strikeouts was a welcome sign for owners who drafted Contreras on the strength of his dominating spring.
- Chase Utley sure knows how to make a splash. Last year it was a grand slam for his first major league hit. While you were gone last weekend, he homered in back-to-back-to-back games to lift the Phillies into first place. In 39 combined games between Philadelphia and Triple-A, Utley has eight home runs and 37 RBIs. Even with Placido Polanco (1 RBI in 112 at-bats) ready to return from the DL, Utley is worth a shot for owners growing tired of waiting for Orlando Hudson or Jose Vidro to come alive.
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
- Mark Bellhorn, Bos, 2B (36 percent owned) – It's hard to find a downside to Bellhorn unless you're in a custom league that penalizes strikeouts. No major league second baseman can top his 18 runs scored in the month of May and only Jeff Kent has surpassed his 18 RBIs. He strikes out a ton, yes, but he also has an on-base percentage near .400 (.013 better than leadoff hitter Johnny Damon).
- Nate Robertson, Det, SP (32 percent owned) – Four of his last five starts have come against Texas or Anaheim, two stacked offenses sitting 1-2 in the majors in runs scored. He has more than held it together, going 2-1 with 20 strikeouts in 20.1 innings over his last three starts. He'll catch a breather Wednesday with a scheduled matchup against struggling Darrell May and Kansas City.
SPEED-O-METER: Checking the latest movements on the basepaths
- Luis Castillo, Fla (New leadoff man as of 5/20) – He's 8-for-16 since with one steal in two tries since moving to the top of the Florida order. Should continue to see green lights.
- Juan Pierre, Fla (1 steal/last 10 games) – Move to second spot in batting order is bad news for fantasy owners who already endured his 11-game stolen base draught to start the season.
- Jimmy Rollins, Phi (10 steals in May) – Had his four-game stolen base streak snapped Sunday, but you have to love 10 steals, 21 runs and a .291 average for the month.
- Brian Roberts, Bal (0 steals/last 9 games) – Stall on the basepaths coincides with 3-for-32 slump that landed him on the bench for Sunday's game. It was a nice run while it lasted.
- Alex Sanchez, Det (On the go again) - After attempting only six steals in April, Sanchez has been on the move 13 times in May. Now if he can just improve his success ratio.
- Chone Figgins, Ana (0 steals/last 11 games) – Must fancy himself a hitter now, as he's batting .340 in the 11 games since his last successful swipe.
- Eric Byrnes, Oak (7-for-7 on steal attempts) – Byrnes is batting .375 with two steals in 10 games as Oakland's leadoff hitter.
- Kazuo Matsui, NYM (5 stolen base attempts this season) – This was a 30/30 guy in Japan?
PROSPECT WATCH: Intriguing names down on the farm
- Joe Borchard, CWS, OF (Triple A) – ETA: Early July
Borchard hit two homers Monday, including a grand slam. He was just getting started. He capped the week with three homers (two in one inning) and six RBIs on Sunday. For the week: 5 home runs, 18 RBIs and a .452 average. Timo Perez is the center fielder for now in Chicago, but with nobody stepping up in a crowded platoon, a promotion for Borchard or teammate Jeremy Reed may not be far off.
- Brad Thompson, StL, SP (Double A) – ETA: 2005
There are pitching prospects closer to the majors, but it's hard to ignore a 57.2-inning scoreless streak. That's exactly what Thompson had going before he was lit up for one run in 6.2 innings by the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx Wednesday. The Cardinals prospect is now 7-0 with a 0.18 ERA on the season.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Eyebrow-raising numbers
1.47 – Thinking of signing a free agent for a spot start against the struggling Indians? Think again. Over the past 21 games, Cleveland is averaging 1.47 runs in the first inning alone. Over that span, opposing starters are 4-8 with a 6.42 ERA.