Matt Harvey: He impressed during his debut, allowing just three baserunners with a 4:0 K:BB ratio over 6.2 innings. Harvey was touched up for two solo homers to Matt Kemp, but it was a highly encouraging outing for someone making his first start since the Fourth of July coming off serious offseason surgery. Most encouragingly, Harvey was consistently working in the 94-95 mph range with his fastball after his velocity was way down at times during spring training. His K rate (and K%) has decreased every year Harvey’s been in the league, but it’s pretty clear he was never right physically last season. It’s just one start (and against a weak Braves lineup), but a fully healthy Harvey back working in the mid-90s should go down as an absolute steal based on where he went in most drafts.
Travis Shaw: He’s coming off a poor second half last year in Boston, but don’t forget just how solid he was before the All-Star break, and Shaw once beat out a healthy (and a much higher paid) Pablo Sandoval for the Red Sox’s third base job. Now in Milwaukee, he’s locked in the cleanup spot in the Brewers’ lineup, hitting behind Ryan Braun. Shaw has 30 homers in 215 career games and is entering his prime at age 27. Moreover, Miller Park has increased home runs for left-handed batters by 49 percent over the last three seasons, which is the most in major league baseball over that span.
Chris Owings: Fewer than 30 players reached 20 steals last season. Owings was one of them, and he did it in fewer than 120 games played (while being caught just twice). He’s been batting second in Arizona’s lineup against lefties and benefits from one of the best hitter’s parks in baseball. Owings has the potential to go something like 10/30 at the shortstop position, yet he’s barely owned in 25 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Brandon McCarthy: Few pitchers carry a bigger injury risk, but McCarthy has a secured spot in the Dodgers rotation right now (especially with Rich Hill back on the DL), and he sure looked fully healthy during an impressive first start of the season. McCarthy is in a terrific situation pitching in Los Angeles, as he gets a pitcher’s park in the NL West and should benefit from run support and a strong bullpen. He’s available in more than 90 percent of Yahoo leagues, but that number will start shrinking fast after another strong showing or two.
Nomar Mazara: It’s obviously important not to overreact to small samples at the beginning of the year, but Mazara is batting .588 with a couple of homers early on. He’s struck out just one time over his first 17 at bats, and the 21-year-old looks primed for a big season, especially since he’s already established himself as the Rangers’ No. 3 hitter. It’s a terrific situation to be in, and Mazara looks fully ready to take advantage of it.
Byron Buxton: He’s still just 23 years old, so there’s plenty of time for Buxton to reach his potential, and his terrific defense should give him a long leash in Minnesota. But the first week of the season hasn’t been kind to the top prospect, as Buxton has hit .056/.105/.056. He’s coming off an encouraging second half of last season, but he now owns a .268 OBP over the first 445 at bats of his career. Most alarmingly, Buxton has struck out a whopping 11 times over 18 at bats this year, so there’s no poor luck excuse to the painfully sluggish start. Moreover, one game after manager Paul Molitor said he’d stick with Buxton batting third, he moved him down to No. 7 on Saturday. Buxton couldn’t have gotten off to much of a worse start to the year.
Sam Dyson: He’s allowed eight earned runs over 1.0 inning, taking a loss during each of his two appearances this season. Dyson has shown decreased velocity, so it’s already time for owners to panic. He posted a 2.43 ERA last year, but that came with an extremely mediocre 55:23 K:BB ratio over 70.1 innings. Not only has he put his owners in an early hole in ERA, but even more worrisome, Dyson’s job as closer is perilous as a result. Jeremy Jeffress and Matt Bush both need to be owned in all leagues right now.
Greg Bird: After a hot spring, Bird started the year as the Yankees’ No. 3 hitter. But he’s responded with a .063/.167/.125 line, striking out in nearly half of his at bats. Bird didn’t even play last year and is without a long track record, and New York has an alternative at first base in Chris Carter, who led the National League in home runs last season. Bird owners sure would feel better if he started hitting soon.
Jarrod Dyson: He has the upside to lead the league in stolen bases even with a middling on-base percentage, but Dyson’s early returns as a full time starter haven’t been smooth. He’s batting .150 and has yet to take a walk on the year, and if Dyson doesn’t show improvement soon, he might find himself back in a platoon situation. The same goes for fellow speedster Rajai Davis, who’s disappointing early on during his opportunity to be a full time player. At minimum Davis should soon lose his role as Oakland’s leadoff hitter if he doesn’t start showing signs of life at the plate.
Francisco Liriano: Despite coming off a very poor 2016, Liriano climbed up draft boards late in March, thanks partly to him looking dominant in spring (2.00 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 29 strikeouts over 18.0 innings). He also finished strong last season after joining Toronto, showing renewed success throwing to Russell Martin. But Liriano was absolutely destroyed during his debut, when he allowed five earned runs while recording just one out (in pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field). It’s just one start, and he shouldn’t be dropped, but the brutal outing was a reminder of how inconsistent Liriano can be.