Could we have yet another closer situation to worry about? And no, I'm not talking about Jim Johnson here. But I promise we'll get to him later.
Tigers closer Joe Nathan said during an appearance on Sirius XM yesterday that he was dealing some "dead arm" symptoms and several hours later he imploded in epic fashion to blow a save against the Dodgers. The Tigers won in 10 innings and the 39-year-old actually walked away with the victory, which tells you how silly that statistic can be sometimes, but that was the only positive to take away for fantasy owners. It was ugly.
Through his first four appearances this season, Nathan has allowed six hits and four walks over just 3 2/3 innings. Meanwhile, his velocity is a couple of ticks under what we saw last year with the Rangers. It's a concern, but with his long history of success, he should get the benefit of the doubt here. The Tigers also gave him a two-year, $20 million deal over the winter, so he will receive every opportunity to get over the hump physically. However, if you are truly desperate for saves and want to get out in front in case there's something more to the dead arm situation, it wouldn't be a bad idea to grab Al Alburquerque or Joba Chamberlain. Alburquerque would be my choice and I assure you that he does exist, contrary to popular belief.
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Shawn Kelley RP, Yankees (Yahoo: 45 percent owned)
Probably one of the most obvious adds of the week, Kelley is expected to get the bulk of the save chances for the Yankees while David Robertson is on the disabled list with a Grade 1 strain of his left groin. The 29-year-old right-hander had a mediocre 4.39 ERA in 57 appearances last season, but his secondary numbers were solid and he gets plenty of swings and misses with his fastball/slider mix. In fact, only 12 relievers with at least 50 innings pitched last season had a higher strikeout percentage. Robertson hopes to return as soon as he's eligible, but Kelley is a must-own in all formats until that happens. By the way, I'm not too worried about his shaky appearance Wednesday against the Orioles. There were some bloops in there. Kelley might get the day off Thursday, but I'd stick with him in fantasy leagues.
Eric Young, Jr. OF, Mets (Yahoo: 19 percent owned)
Much was made out of the Mets' outfield situation during spring training, namely whether Eric Young, Jr.'s speed should justify his place in the starting lineup over what Juan Lagares can bring with his defense. Well, Chris Young rendered the whole debate moot by straining his right quad on Opening Day and going on the disabled list. Lagares is now the everyday center fielder while last year's NL stolen base leader has received most of the at-bats out of the leadoff spot. Granted, Young hasn't done much so far this season, but he's a threat to run every time he gets on base. He's worth rolling with in deeper mixed leagues at least until the other Young returns. It's certainly possible that he'll continue to have value even after that.
Michael Morse OF/1B, Giants (Yahoo: 33 percent owned)
Another year, another hot start for Morse. It didn't last for the 32-year-old last year, as he clubbed six home runs over his first nine games before hitting just seven the rest of the way, but injuries had a lot to do with the decline in production. The Giants gave him a one-year, $6 million deal over the winter and have used him as their starting left fielder and No. 5 or 6 hitter in the early going. Morse will be a liability defensively and AT&T Park isn't the best hitting environment, but we're talking about someone who has hit 30 home runs before. With the multi-position eligibility, he's worth considering if you need some power in your lineup.
Tyler Skaggs SP, Angels (Yahoo: 32 percent owned)
Acquired from the Diamondbacks in the Mark Trumbo trade over the winter, Skaggs was mighty impressive in his season debut against the Astros over the weekend, allowing an unearned run on four hits and one walk over eight innings while notching five strikeouts. The 22-year-old left-hander saw his stock take a hit last year due to diminished velocity, but he showed an uptick during spring training and averaged 92.1 mph on his fastball on Saturday. I have some concerns about his control and you shouldn't base your decision off one start against the Astros, but there's reason to be encouraged here. Add in the fact that he'll make half of his starts in one of the most pitcher-friendly stadiums in the American League. His start against the light-hitting Mets this weekend isn't a bad time to give him a shot.
Corey Hart 1B/OF, Mariners (Yahoo: 31 percent owned)
After missing all of last season following microfracture surgery on both of his knees, Hart landed with the Mariners over the winter on an incentive-laden one-year, $5 million contract. He has been used exclusively out of the DH spot in the early going, though the Mariners hope to work him into the mix in right field eventually. The 32-year-old had a two-homer game on Tuesday night against the Angels, which functions as a reminder that he can be a very useful power bat when he's right. Granted, Safeco Field is no Miller Park, but Hart is a viable option if you are scrambling for a replacement for the injured Josh Hamilton.
Will Venable OF, Padres (Yahoo: 38 percent owned)
Venable was drafted in most mixed leagues this spring, but he has already been dropped by some owners, presumably because of his slow start. I think those folks could regret it. Remember, this is a guy who had 22 home runs and 22 stolen bases last season. Just to put things in perspective here, only seven other players surpassed the 20/20 plateau in 2013. That kind of power-speed potential is valuable in all leagues. Venable still has a clear path to playing time in the Padres' outfield right now, so I like his chances for another 20/20 year or something close to it.
Luke Gregerson RP, Athletics (Yahoo: 15 percent owned)
Jim Johnson has been terrible in three out of his five appearances this season, including an implosion against the Twins on Wednesday, so Athletics manager Bob Melvin has decided to remove him from the role and use a committee approach while they try to get him straightened out. With the money they are paying him (and the money they could save in the long-term if they limit Sean Doolittle's save chances), I bet he gets another chance soon. Ryan Cook is just coming back from the disabled list and Sean Doolittle throws from the left side, so I'd probably take a chance on Gregerson if I had to grab just one of them in fantasy leagues. But it could go any number of ways. Take what you can get here.
Neil Walker 2B, Pirates (Yahoo: 40 percent owned)
Walker doesn't get a lot of love in mixed leagues, but I'm a fan of his consistency. Since taking over the starting second base job in Pittsburgh in 2010, the 28-year-old has averaged 14 home runs and 68 RBI per season. I'm not really concerned about the drop in batting average last season, as it was the product of a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) below the league average and his career norm. I also think it's fair to expect him to steal a few more bases this year. I'm not saying Walker is a top-12 second baseman, but he's certainly on the fringe. And he's a no doubt option if you need a middle infielder.
Drew Smyly SP, Tigers (Yahoo: 33 percent owned)
A popular sleeper this spring, Smyly has yet to make his first start of the season, as the Tigers decided to skip him following a rainout last week. He'll be used out of the bullpen at least through the team's five-game road trip in California this week, but look for him to get his first chance after that. The Tigers have high hopes for the 24-year-old left-hander, as they traded Doug Fister to the Nationals over the winter in order to make room for him in the starting rotation. With a 3.18 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 181/51 K/BB ratio over his first 181 1/3 innings in the majors, there's reason to believe that he will not disappoint. He's someone who could be owned in most leagues before long.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in under 10 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Yasmani Grandal C, Padres (Yahoo: 2 percent owned)
Grandal is coming off a nightmare campaign in which he served a 50-game PED suspension and hit .216 with one home run and a .693 OPS in 28 games before undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee. The good news is that he's back to 100 percent now and has played more than anticipated in the early part of the season. Perhaps Grandal will never be the breakout player he looked like as a rookie in 2012, but the switch-hitting backstop has a good approach at the plate and is capable of delivering double-digit home runs. He should at least be owned in two-catcher leagues, but I could see more upside here if he can stay healthy.
Jon Niese SP, Mets (Yahoo: 7 percent owned)
Niese was forced to begin the year on the disabled list after minor shoulder and elbow issues during spring training, but he pitched well in his season debut Sunday against the Reds, yielding two runs on six hits and a walk over 5 2/3 innings. Most importantly, his velocity was right in line with what we have seen in previous seasons. Assuming his health issues are behind him, the 27-year-old southpaw should be a useful backend starter in most mixed leagues. Niese has good control, keeps the ball on the ground, and won't hurt you in the strikeout department. There's no reason why his ownership percentage isn't higher.
Marcell Ozuna OF, Marlins (Yahoo: 9 percent owned)
Ozuna held his own in a small sample as a rookie last season before breaking his thumb and he's off to a hot start so this season. The 23-year-old outfielder has a hacktastic approach at the plate, so you'd like to see that change as he matures, but the tools are obvious and enticing. It's probably just a matter of time before his power potential translates against major league pitching. As is, I'd take him over more popular waiver wire targets like Charlie Blackmon and Chris Colabello.
Lorenzo Cain OF, Royals (Yahoo: 6 percent owned)
Health has always been the issue for Cain. While the 27-year-old outfielder played a career-high 115 games last season, he still missed time with oblique and groin injuries. Still, it's easy to squint and see the upside if he can finally make it through a full season, possibly something like double-digit homers and 20 stolen bases. I wouldn't bet the house on it happening given his injury history, but it won't cost much to find out. His excellent glove in center field should give him a legitimate chance to stick in the lineup most days.
Marcus Semien 2B/3B, White Sox (Yahoo: 2 percent owned)
I was ready to put Semien on the backburner as an option in deeper mixed leagues this time last week, but things have changed now that Gordon Beckham's return from an oblique injury has come to a halt. The 23-year-old is hitting second in Chicago's lineup at the moment and has shown an ability to provide pop and speed in the minors. He's mighty intriguing. And I wouldn't rule out him having a role even after Beckham returns. Give him a try as a middle infielder option for now.
J.B. Shuck OF, Angels (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
Josh Hamilton decided it was a good idea to make a head-first dive into first base, so now he's headed for thumb surgery and is expected to miss 6-8 weeks. Shuck has been called up to replace him on the active roster and should be on the strong side of a platoon with Collin Cowgill in right field for now. The 26-year-old batted .293/.331/.366 with 25 extra-base hits (two home runs) 39 RBI, eight stolen bases, and 60 runs scored in 129 games with the Angels last season. His speed might be his most interesting attribute, but he can do a little bit of everything. He could even have some appeal in deeper mixed leagues.
Erik Bedard SP, Rays (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
The Rays already put Jake Odorizzi into the starting rotation after Jeremy Hellickson's elbow surgery this spring, but now they need to fill another spot with Matt Moore likely headed for Tommy John surgery. Rays manager Joe Maddon said a decision hasn't been made on his replacement yet, but they'll either move Cesar Ramos from the bullpen to the rotation or call up Bedard from Triple-A. My guess is that the veteran Bedard will get the spot, but Ramos will be worth adding if he get the call. By the way, be sure to monitor Nate Karns' progress in the minors. He might be the most interesting name out of this trio for fantasy purposes.
Josh Collmenter SP, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
With his team off to a slow start, Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson indicated Wednesday that he's preparing to move Collmenter to the starting rotation. In turn, both Randall Delgado and Trevor Cahill are candidates to get the boot to the bullpen. Collmenter thrived as a long reliever last season and isn't likely to have the same success with another chance as a starter, but he should be worth owning in NL-only leagues on a short-term basis. I'm guessing it might not be long before we see top prospect Archie Bradley make his major league debut.
Danny Espinosa 2B, Nationals (Yahoo: 0 percent owned)
Ryan Zimmerman returned to action Wednesday night after resting his degenerative right shoulder, but he did so with a modified throwing motion in the field. Now using a three-quarters arm slot on all plays, the hope is that the change will take the stress off his shoulder. While the Nationals still intend for Zimmerman to be their starting third baseman, there's no way to know for sure if this plan will work. That's why I think it's worth stashing Espinosa. He appears to finally be healthy after his wrist and shoulder issues from last season and we know he's capable of providing pop and speed. The batting average won't be there, but he's interesting.