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Thread: Fantasy Baseball News 2018

  1. #1 Fantasy Baseball News 2018 
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    'Plant my flag' list for 2018
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSDER


    Some view Houston Astros infielder Alex Bregman as already having broken out as a fantastic baseball player. After all, Bregman, the No. 2 pick from the 2015 amateur draft, hit .284 with 19 home runs and 17 stolen bases in his first full MLB season, doing so at 23. He played a key role for a World Series winner. Then again, I see more growth possible and when asked which players I view as possibly crashing the top-10 overall party, Bregman is one of the names I think of first. He made huge strides in the second half of 2017, slugging .536 while attempting more stolen bases and is entrenched near the top of a loaded lineup. Plus, he boasts multieligibility.


    Bregman is a fifth-round choice in ESPN ADP but I have him closing in on Round 3, and with no second-guessing at all. To me, Bregman is likely to continue making strides and I have confidently picked him in the late third round of several drafts already -- and those are for 2018 alone. In a dynasty format, he makes my top 20. Bregman can and will continue to fill each of the five hitting categories for a fantasy manager and can effectively play both shortstop and third base. He just missed joining the rare 20-homer, 20-steal club at a young age, but he is ultimately on track for 30-plus home runs at some point soon, and he hit .315 after the 2017 All-Star break. This is a budding superstar.


    Fantasy managers ask me about players I continue to get in our many drafts, whether they are mock drafts or ones I will be playing out, and Bregman -- due to the differences in standard ADP and how he ranks for me -- is near the top of the list this season. There are others in the early rounds I like more than most, of course, and the focus of this annual article is on players I am proverbially "Planting my Flag" on, as I want them on my many teams and think they will do well for yours, too.

    For further example, I do not see anyone else with Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts listed as their No. 3 overall option, but I will not forget how he was the top fantasy option for the 2016 season and surely capable of a repeat. I tend to favor, as one might have noticed, five-category hitters. I have Washington Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer as the top pitcher, yes, even over the great Clayton Kershaw. I do not see anyone else with Cleveland Indians infielder Jose Ramirez as a borderline top-20 choice, but he is worth it and who cares what other people think? Do you want your stamp on your fantasy teams or mine? They are your teams!

    For this exercise, we shall break up the categories because everything is about context. I like Bregman but I cannot make the case to select him over Paul Goldschmidt or Corey Kluber, at least not yet! That day is coming, though! Remember, just because I covet these players does not mean you should. However, do not be afraid to reach a bit for options you know are going to be more valuable than what others believe.

    Ten other top-100 ADP choices I reach for:

    Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox: It's a really good feeling when you know the same numbers are coming every year. This is an annual top-20 hitter on the Player Rater who is never drafted like one.

    Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals: He's similar to Abreu in that we see safe, reliable numbers. No, he is not likely to hit 40 blasts. We can live with that.

    Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston Red Sox: Like Bregman, he is going to get a lot better after being the 12th player to produce a 20-20 season as a rookie.

    Nelson Cruz, DH, Seattle Mariners: People overlook him due to age and being ineligible for outfield duty. Stop it! He has hit 39-plus home runs in four consecutive seasons!

    Rhys Hoskins, 1B/OF, Philadelphia Phillies: It is all legitimate and what I do not understand is why people think he cannot hit at least .275. I think he will, with big power.

    Robbie Ray, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks: He's the biggest beneficiary of the new humidor and already was top 10 in both ERA and strikeouts.

    Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Baltimore Orioles: With Schoop, you get safe power and apparently, despite his approach, batting average. Annually underrated, he's still slipping too far in drafts.

    Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota Twins: There is risk here, but it's still too early to call him brittle. He is certainly capable of being the next fellow to hit 40 home runs.

    Whit Merrifield, 2B, Kansas City Royals: He was more valuable, on the Player Rater, than Betts, J.D. Martinez, Francisco Lindor and all but 12 hitters. Dock him a few homers, but everything else was legit.

    Nicholas Castellanos, 3B/OF, Detroit Tigers: He's on the verge of a true breakout and capable of hitting close to .300 with bigger power.

    Ten middle-round picks to reach for:

    Ian Desmond, 1B/OF, Colorado Rockies: This consistent 20-20 option is healthy and playing half the time at Coors Field. He was not so awful when healthy last year, either.

    Matt Olson, 1B, Oakland Athletics: His batting average is problematic, but this is another 40-homer option who is oddly not being treated at all like Hoskins. He should.

    Yoan Moncada, 2B, Chicago White Sox: Moncada really is capable of 20 home runs and 35 stolen bases. Do not overreact to his age-22 season!

    Paul DeJong, 2B/SS, St. Louis Cardinals: Those 25 home runs of his came in a mere 108 games. Knock 20-plus points off batting average if you must, but this is a 30-homer middle infielder.

    Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers: No, he is not too old. Why do we have to point this out literally every season? He should be a top-100 pick.

    Manuel Margot, OF, San Diego Padres: Margot is on the verge of breaking out to upper-teens power with at least 30 stolen bases.

    Delino DeShields, OF, Texas Rangers: Some will panic in the middle rounds when the stolen bases appear to be gone. DeShields is surely capable of 30-plus thefts.

    Luis Castillo, SP, Cincinnati Reds: He gets a strikeout per inning and also many ground balls. His rookie season was just the beginning.

    Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto, SP, San Francisco Giants: The former is a staple of my teams because he has fanned 200-plus hitters three times and can do so again. His FIP was a solid 3.65 in 2017. The latter was supposed to be a top-20 hurler after years of success but was injured. He should bounce back. Bargains both!

    Brad Hand, RP, San Diego Padres: Who cares which hand he throws with? (It is his left hand). Brad will miss bats and feels like a safe option --even for a first closer -- and that's what I look for in the middle rounds.

    Ten late-round picks to reach for:

    Logan Morrison, 1B, Minnesota Twins: Even if you knock off 10 homers from last season -- which you should not -- LoMo makes for a solid utility option.

    Jonathan Villar, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers: It would not surprise me if his offseason adjustments resulted in a return to relevance. For him, that could mean 40-plus steals.

    Mitch Haniger, OF, Seattle Mariners: It's too early to call him brittle. It's not too early to expect 25-plus home runs.

    Carlos Gomez, OF, Tampa Bay Rays: It's not too early to call him brittle, but even with his averaging just 113 games over three seasons, he has also averaged 14 homers and 16 steals. Not everyone on your team needs to play all six months.

    Mallex Smith, OF, Tampa Bay Rays: If they played him regularly, he would steal 40 bases.

    Aaron Sanchez, SP, Toronto Blue Jays: Look at his 2016 campaign. He was great and now he is healthy again. He's so underrated in drafts.

    Mike Clevinger, SP, Cleveland Indians: Here's another Indians strikeout option who should make 30 starts.

    Tyler Chatwood, SP, Chicago Cubs: Now that he has escaped from Denver, get ready for him to post a 3.50 ERA with his best K-rate yet.

    Blake Snell, SP, Tampa Bay Rays: Here it is all about the strikeouts and a much-improved walk rate over the final two months of 2017.

    Archie Bradley, RP, Arizona Diamondbacks: He is the one relief pitcher not secure in the closer role who I could see ending up a top-10 fantasy reliever. They just have to let him do it!

    Ten prospects to reach for:

    Ronald Acuna, OF, Atlanta Braves: He will be in the majors before May and he will be spectacular. I have him ranked in Round 15 and feel he will likely end up a top-100 option.

    Jesse Winker, OF, Cincinnati Reds: With Winker you get excellent plate discipline. He's capable of hitting at least 20 home runs and worth great investment in OBP formats.

    Scott Kingery, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies: He very nearly reached 30-30 in the minors and also should be up by May and playing regularly.

    Victor Robles, OF, Washington Nationals: Do not worry about playing time. Someone is always hurt in this outfield. Robles could steal 25-plus bases this year.

    Dustin Fowler, OF, Oakland Athletics: He has the potential for power and speed -- and a starting job, though perhaps not right away.

    Lewis Brinson, OF, Miami Marlins: Same as Fowler, but with more power and a lower batting average.

    Nick Senzel, 3B, Cincinnati Reds: Probably not at shortstop, but the Reds will find room around midseason for him.

    Willy Adames, SS, Tampa Bay Rays: He has yet to show big minor league power, but here's another name who should be up by midseason. Guys like Adeiny Hechavarria do not block top prospects like Adames.

    Michael Chavis, 3B, Boston Red Sox: He is definitely going to hit and I think he could end at first base, but obviously he needs a veteran or two to struggle or get hurt before he lands. It has happened before.

    Michael Kopech, SP, Chicago White Sox: I generally do not invest in prospect pitchers right as they debut, because it is risky. That said, this fellow throws 100 MPH and seems eminently ready.
     

  2. #2  
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    Lower ADP players who could return first-round value
    Ron Shandler
    ESPN INSIDER


    Most first-round picks are not going to return first-round value. I wrote about that two weeks ago. If our goal is to roster the safest foundation players at the top of the draft, these are the only players currently ranked in the top 15 whom I would trust nearly 100 percent with my first pick:

    1. Mike Trout

    2. Jose Altuve

    4. Nolan Arenado

    8. Charlie Blackmon

    11. Max Scherzer

    14. Carlos Correa

    15. Kris Bryant


    I'd add Paul Goldschmidt, Clayton Kershaw and Mookie Betts as players I'd trust at maybe 80 percent. The humidor, a gimpy back and inconsistency, respectively, make this trio slightly more risky.

    Assuming that I'd be willing to take one of the 10 players I previously mentioned in the first round, what if I'm seeded 11th and they are all gone? Well, odds are they won't be. Given that riskier players who are ranked higher, such as Trea Turner, Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper, are going to get snapped up, one of those 10 could drop.

    But, point taken: What if I'm seeded 15th?

    As it turns out, there are a number of players currently going in the second round (or later) who either have first-round pedigree or could rise to that level. Some of these players can be drafted closer to their ADP. However, depending upon your roster construction, it might be prudent to reach a bit and draft them earlier. Risk-mitigation is worthy of that critical first pick.

    Here are four players I would not hesitate to push to the end of the first round if I missed out on the 10 listed above. In order of their current NFBC ADP (in parentheses):

    Joey Votto (18) is about the safest 30-HR, 100-RBI, .320 hitter you can find. He has averaged more than 550 at-bats over the past three years. How is this guy not a clear first-rounder? It's because the sheen is off when a veteran hits his mid-30s, and we get entranced by shiny new players. Plus, there is the false sense that it is tougher to amass runs and RBIs on a poor offensive team such as the Reds. Compare Votto's stats over the past three seasons to those of Bryce Harper (10), and ask yourself who is the safer pick.

    Freddie Freeman (22) is a bit riskier than Votto because of the time he has lost to injury in two of the past three years. Last year, an errant pitch broke his wrist, which is not a chronic ailment, and his performance was nearly vintage upon his return. These days, you have to consider batting average as a scarce category, so any .300 hitters who can provide a solid foundation have to be elevated.

    Anthony Rizzo (25) held a first-round ADP in each of 2015, 2016 and 2017, and though he didn't quite earn back enough to return par value, he certainly doesn't belong at the tail end of the second round. He has been the model of consistency, which is what you want with a first-round pick. I can ink in 30 HRs, 100 runs, 100 RBIs and a .280 average, and I have no hesitation in grabbing that to anchor my offense.

    Dee Gordon (28) is not a prototypical first-rounder, but despite his later ADP, you will be hard-pressed to purchase him for less than $30 in an auction league. He gives you two scarce categories -- steals and batting average -- and the steals impact alone can completely reshape a roster. Some folks look at the zeroes in the home runs and RBI categories, but I see that as just a one-category loss, with a player such as Arenado leaving you just as big a hole in steals. Given that power is so plentiful these days, the shortfall can be made up throughout the rest of your roster.

    Beyond this group, there are several other players who could earn first-round value in 2018. I would not draft them that high, but I'd be very happy to roster them at their current ADP and pocket the potential profit.

    Josh Donaldson (29) was the eighth-best player in baseball in 2015 and had a first-round ADP in 2016 and 2017. He sustained a calf injury in spring training last year, which lingered for the entire first half and suppressed his overall numbers. But there was no erosion of skill, as he hit 22 home runs with a .302 average from Aug. 1 on. There is an argument that if I'm buying into Donaldson's second-half surge, I should do likewise with Manny Machado. But I'm more willing to take the risk at pick 29 than I am at 16.

    Jose Abreu (39) is getting drafted near the end of the third round, but his numbers are almost indistinguishable from Rizzo's. Over the past three years, Rizzo has averaged 32-105-.281; Abreu has averaged 29-101-.295. How are they being drafted nearly a round apart, especially with batting average being a scarcer category?

    Starling Marte (48) was suspended for 80 games last season, and the marketplace won't let him forget it. But he's one of baseball's prime stolen base sources in a speed-starved game, and he is on a team that will have to work harder to construct runs in 2018, which plays to his advantage. Although it took a little while to get his sea legs after his return last summer, he batted .322 from Sept. 1 on, with no loss of speed. National League owners could have their Gordon comp, with some power too.

    Christian Yelich (52) is more of a speculation, but when you consider context more than statistics, he is just the type of player who could explode. Through his five-year career, he has shown both 20-HR power and 20-SB speed -- but not at the same time. In the more favorable offensive environment of Miller Park, the excitement is already deafening. He is being drafted anywhere from pick 25 to 102, but at his market value, I'd take the over.
     

  3. #3  
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    How to deal with the DL

    Ron Shandler
    ESPN INSIDER

    On average, fantasy managers had about five players on the disabled list at any one time during the 2017 season. For some particularly snake-bitten clubs, it was not unusual to have as many as 10 on the shelf. Thanks to the new 10-day DL, the turnover is often so frequent that there isn't enough time to assess the performance of your replacement before the incumbent returns.

    These days, you can expect that half of your roster will turn over during the course of a season. This churn puts incredible stress on our ability to manage our teams. As positive as we may be when we come out of our drafts, it has become inevitable that injuries will provide the greatest challenge to success.

    Is there anything we can do about it? Maybe.


    Injuries are a fact of life and always have been. As much as you might try to draft healthy players, it takes just one errant pitch or dirt bike accident to set your season off on the wrong path.


    To some extent, each player's ability to stay healthy is a skill, no more or less than hitting home runs or stealing bases. Attention to conditioning and dedication to training are both vital and vary by player. Without that skill, there are no home runs or stolen bases. Still, injuries are somewhat random (like wins and saves, perhaps). However, players who have demonstrated some propensity to get hurt are identifiable, and history shows some correlation with future DL stays.

    If we believe that past injuries are predictive of future injuries, here are four things you can do:

    Avoid players who spent 50-plus days on the DL last year.

    Avoid players who spent 30-plus days on the DL in each of the past two seasons.

    Avoid players who had off-season surgery, unless they have looked vintage in camp this month.

    Avoid players who are nursing injuries this month, even if the noise out of camp has a positive spin.

    Admittedly, this casts a wide net and captures many players who are highly ranked. This also does not discriminate among types of injuries, so Madison Bumgarner's dirt bike accident is being treated no differently from Clayton Kershaw's persistent back problems.

    Yet approaching the problem in this way has merit. If you had avoided all of these types of players a year ago, you would have improved your odds of rostering a healthy player by 20 percent.

    Twenty percent is significant, but the context is important. About 65 percent of the players you would have avoided ultimately ended up going on the DL at some point last year. By comparison, those not included in this "avoid" bucket still ended up getting placed on the DL at a rate of 45 percent. So there is an edge, but it's no panacea.

    All in all, that's a lot of bad news.

    However, there is a way to flip your perspective and view this problem as a potential opportunity. Yes, injuries can be good news!

    What if we go into the season fully expecting players to get hurt? For every player who goes on the DL, that opens up some playing time for another player. Trips to the DL create opportunities for bench players, prospects and previously unrostered players to grab jobs.

    In fact, we might consider the phrase "no path to playing time" as obsolete. Given the abundance of DL stays, it seems that there is almost always a path somewhere.

    Consider a year ago, when Michael Conforto was going for less than $5 in mixed-league auctions because there was "no path to playing time" in the Mets outfield. Think about how many fantasy managers avoided Cody Bellinger because he was blocked by Adrian Gonzalez and the Dodgers' stable outfield corps.

    So we should use this reality as an opportunity to speculate more on players who don't fit neatly into MLB's depth charts this spring but who clearly are worthy of playing time.

    For instance, when the Rockies re-signed Carlos Gonzalez, that created a logjam in the outfield and potentially at first base. Rookie Ryan McMahon is now going to be pushed for playing time by Ian Desmond, and the only outfielder who could be counted on for 550 AB is Charlie Blackmon. It looks like David Dahl, Gerardo Parra, Raimel Tapia and Gonzalez will all now have to battle for at-bats.

    However, Dahl is coming off of an injury that kept him sidelined for all of 2017. Desmond spent 72 days on the DL last year. Parra has spent 83 days on the DL over the past two years. And while Gonzalez's shoulder injury only shelved him for 11 days in 2017, his performance sure looked like it was affected for much longer.

    In other words, when bidding stalls on McMahon and Tapia, go an extra buck. If it's late in drafts and both are still available, jump in. Take the discount. Odds are good that a path to playing time will open up, at least big enough to justify the discounted cost they'll have on draft day.

    Similar situations exist all through the player pool. Here are a few examples:

    The prices for Milwaukee's Eric Thames and Domingo Santana have been sliding, and Keon Broxton and Jesus Aguilar have become ADP bricks in a pond. Something's gotta give.

    The "never fully healthy" Dodgers rotation is blocking hot prospect Walker Buehler, whose ADP is currently 351.

    The acquisition of Neil Walker has effectively blocked the path to Yankee Stadium for Gleyber Torres. Walker has missed 71 games over the past two years.

    Brad Peacock may have fallen down the Houston rotation depth chart, but Lance McCullers Jr. (152 games lost to injury over the last two years) and Collin McHugh (114 games lost last year) are the ones blocking him from a rotation spot.

    When I first started compiling this list last week, I also included the following: Jason Vargas' presence could push either Zack Wheeler or Steven Matz to the Mets' bullpen. Vargas is not necessarily an injury risk, though he did miss 297 days in 2015-16. His 6.66 ERA in the second half last year might be warning enough.

    On Saturday, Vargas tried to catch a line drive in a minor league game. He will now have surgery on his non-pitching hand and may miss a few starts at the beginning of the season.

    So the next time you hear an analyst say "but he's got no path to playing time," that's your cue to jump in.
     

  4. #4  
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    It's time to start worrying about innings pitched in fantasy

    Ron Shandler
    ESPN INSIDER


    Back in 2010, there were 45 starting pitchers who threw at least 200 innings, led by Roy Halladay with 250.2. At the end of that list were journeymen like Jon Garland and Rodrigo Lopez. Even they managed to throw 200 innings.
    By 2015, the number of 200-inning hurlers had dropped to 28. One year later, it plummeted further, to 15. In 2017, there were just 15 pitchers once again who eclipsed 200 innings, led by Chris Sale with 214.1.
    Injuries, relief specialization and the increasing practice of removing pitchers before they face the opposing batting order for the third time are all feeding into this trend. The latter factor is likely to become more widespread, which could further cut into pitcher innings.

    This has a huge impact on our fantasy teams.

    For one, pitchers are getting fewer wins. In 2017, Corey Kluber led all of baseball with just 18 victories. Aside from strike-shortened seasons, no other year in baseball history failed to produce even one 19-game winner.
    But the lack of wins affects all fantasy teams equally. A falling tide lowers all boats, as it were.
    The bigger impact is on teams reaching their minimum innings requirement.
    Back in the early days when rotisserie baseball didn't include the strikeouts category, it was a successful strategy to load up your pitching staff with relievers only. You could win the saves, ERA and WHIP categories, which would be enough to claim a title with even an average offense. That is what spurred the implementation of a minimum innings requirement.
    These days, the 5x5 game's inclusion of strikeouts blunts the need for a minimum, but most leagues still require at least 900-1,000 innings from a pitching staff.
    When there were 45 deep inning starters to choose from, meeting the minimum was pretty easy. You could do something like this:
    There were plenty of 200-inning arms to go around. Now with only 15 in the entire player pool, and possibly dropping, teams are faced with going without any anchor arms.
    Consider: the average starting pitcher went only 5.5 innings in 2017, the lowest level in history. If that average starter manages to stay healthy all year and get his normal 34 starts, that equates to only 187 innings.
    Add in the fact that there are more relief pitchers than ever, and they are easier to fit onto our rosters. The 7/2 starter-to-reliever ratio has already evolved to 6/3 and could easily slide to 5/4, particularly in AL/NL-only and deeper leagues. If I had the choice between a Chad Green or Chris Devenski and any starter on the Miami Marlins, I'd easily opt for the middle reliever.
    So, let's assume that our starters' innings decline down the line and we supplant the bottom-feeders with relievers, we could be facing something like this:
    At this point, we are treading perilously close to that 1,000-inning minimum.
    You might think you can easily overcome this. I thought so too. Then I looked at my Mixed League Tout Wars team, and I'm a little more worried about a 1,000-inning minimum:
    The roster spots occupied by Buehler and Flaherty have innings upside but are risky and depend on the success of both young arms. I fully intend to backfill those roster spots as necessary, but what reserve pick do I put in their place: the innings of a No. 4 starter like Andrew Triggs or a reliever like Ryan Madson? It makes a big difference.
    For those who have not yet drafted, you need to keep the innings question on your radar. The 200-IP workhorses will be pricey but are worth the investment this year.
    For those who have already drafted, you need to keep a pulse on this as well. Given the massive roster churn that teams will navigate over the next six months, you need to be cognizant of how many innings your staff is accumulating each week.


    In leagues with 1,000-inning minimums, your pitchers should be tossing at least 40 IP per week. Six-inning outings from five of your starters only get you to 30. You need another 10 innings from the rest of your staff.
    And that only gets you to 1,040. You need to build a bigger buffer. Can you do 45 innings per week? That gets you to 1,170. You might need to maintain an even better pace to be safe. You never know when your 200-inning guy will hit the disabled list.
    The last thing you want to be doing is agonizing during September. You don't want to be pumping innings into your staff to reach your minimum, and likely putting your ratios at risk with Marlins starters. Plan ahead.



     

  5. #5  
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    Last-minute free agent pickups

    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER

    Hey, at least Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo announced his intentions for saves early in the week. He could have waited until the Diamondbacks had their first actual save situation to deploy right-hander Brad Boxberger in the role, thus breaking the collective hearts of so many Archie Bradley devotees that had made him a top-200 option in ESPN average live drafts. Lovullo did not have to bring clarity to the situation when he spoke to reporters on Tuesday, but he did. Honestly, we should thank him.

    After all, there are myriad situations around the baseball world that have yet to be clarified -- from roster spots to batting orders and a few other ninth-inning roles. With the Diamondbacks, we know! Then again, while recommending Boxberger makes sense for any fantasy manager looking for saves, it is kind of a shame that Bradley is likely to end up as the most popular drop in many leagues come the weekend. That seems like a mistake. Bradley can still be one of the top setup men in the sport -- a strikeout option who should outperform Boxberger in most every metric except, well, saves. By the way, Bradley can still get many saves. Lovullo made no promises after this week.

    Regardless, spring training's finish line has arrived and fantasy managers are ready to set their long Week 1 lineups. About that, here is some more clarity: Week 1 covers 11 days in ESPN leagues (and, by the way, on most other sites as well). Those are the facts. You cannot make roster adjustments on the morning of Monday, April 2 unless your league is utilizing a daily format.
    Yes, in normal parlance a week is seven days except, with the baseball season opening on a Thursday, it is actually 11 days long out of the gate. While Boxberger is an obvious addition for fantasy managers to make, here are some others that can help for either short-term replacement of injured players or for stashing away for later dates:
    Starting pitcher
    Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox: The hard-throwing right-hander is scheduled to start the second game of the season on Saturday in Kansas City against a Royals lineup that does not figure to score a ton of runs. Giolito also offers long-term potential for greatness. Frankly, with his next two outings scheduled to be against the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays, Giolito really should shine. Madison Bumgarner managers should look his way.

    Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays: The erratic lefty certainly seemed to figure things out in the second half of last season, posting a 3.28 ERA over 15 starts, and he carried that success to this spring, fanning 27 hitters against five walks in 17 1/3 innings. Snell boasts 200-strikeout upside and that's why we scrutinize his walk rate. He is on the schedule to face the Boston Red Sox in his two outings, but remember they were not exactly a slugging powerhouse last season.
    Kenta Maeda, Los Angeles Dodgers: This soon-to-be 30-year-old right-hander does not possess great upside, but represents a more cautious approach by fantasy managers looking for relative safety. He is on a terrific team that figures to handle his workload properly and his two-year WHIP for the Dodgers is 1.15, so he can supply nice statistics. Draft and/or add prospect Walker Buehler if you must, but Maeda is on the schedule to face the Giants twice this first week.
    Others to watch: Marco Gonzales, Seattle Mariners; Chris Stratton, San Francisco Giants; Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals
    Relief pitcher
    Dominic Leone, St. Louis Cardinals: Perhaps right-hander Luke Gregerson recovers quickly from his hamstring injury and ends up usurping the closing role from Leone by mid-April. However, I think if Leone pitches well -- and why wouldn't he? -- he can keep the job. Gregerson is surely not Craig Kimbrel, and has hardly been bestowed some high degree of loyalty by his new club. In addition, Leone was a much better pitcher last season.
    Brad Ziegler, Miami Marlins: Ziegler was awful in 2017, but he is the closer for this sad-sack team. Even if that means many losses, it also means the chance for 25 saves. No, I do not think the submariner keeps the role for long with Drew Steckenrider looming, but he has the job today -- and that could mean several saves over the next fortnight. Not every closer has to possess upside, either.
    Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox: On the other hand, Jones has upside. He throws hard and gets strikeouts. For now, he is in a so-called time-share with Joakim Soria, who is obviously more proven in the closer role. If you have roster space for one White Sox reliever I'd go with Jones.
    Others to watch: Blake Parker, Los Angeles Angels; Brad Brach, Baltimore Orioles; A.J. Minter, Atlanta Braves

    Corner infielder
    Dan Vogelbach, 1B, Seattle Mariners: This slugging lefty seems like he has been on our radar forever, but he is only 25. He takes walks -- he had more free passes than strikeouts this spring -- and crushed it this month with seven home runs. Ryon Healy is the most added corner infielder in ESPN leagues, but Vogelbach figures to play more since he is on the left side of the platoon and, frankly, boasts more upside.
    Jose Martinez, 1B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals: There is little question this late-blooming 29-year-old can hit, but it remains problematic as to how manager Mike Matheny can get him enough at-bats. Of course, as Matt Carpenter might not be 100 percent healthy and Tommy Pham is having a rough spring, there may actually be a way. Add Martinez for the first week or two and see what develops.
    Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Detroit Tigers: Bad teams do score runs and, for now, it appears the Tigers could place their rookie third baseman in the coveted No. 2 lineup spot, just ahead of Miguel Cabrera and the emerging Nicholas Castellanos. Candelario, 24, is a switch-hitter with strong plate discipline and modest power. That could work for fantasy managers.
    Others to watch: Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies; Ryan McMahon, 1B, Colorado Rockies; Lucas Duda, 1B, Kansas City Royals
    Middle infielder
    Scott Kingery, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies: Look, I have made it quite clear I think this rookie could be fantastic -- sort of like a Dustin Pedroia clone from 2008 -- but I cannot tell you for certain that he starts every game over the first week or so. I also can't be sure as to where he bats in the crowded Phillies lineup. I absolutely think you should try to make room on your roster to find out.
    Jonathan Villar, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers: I find it hard to believe how quickly fantasy managers have forgotten what Villar achieved in 2016. It wasn't that long ago! He stole 62 bases and hit for power and average. Maybe nobody expects those numbers again, but he should be rostered in a lot more leagues in case he starts out well. He has to play over Eric Sogard.
    Marcus Semien, SS, Oakland Athletics: Semien is being overlooked because the Athletics have several other intriguing options at his position awaiting an opportunity. That said, none of them hit 27 home runs in 2016. Semien was not bad last season. He achieved double-digit homers and steals in 85 games. He is kind of the shortstop version of Maeda in that few are seeking him out, but his value works.
    Others to watch: Starlin Castro, 2B, Miami Marlins; Tim Beckham, SS, Baltimore Orioles; Ketel Marte, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks
    Outfielder:
    Jesse Winker, Cincinnati Reds: An on-base machine in the minors who can hit for more power than expected, do not be surprised if this is the team's leadoff hitter for a game or two this week instead of speedy Billy Hamilton. That in itself is interesting because the Reds have power and if Winker leads off, he would score runs. Move him way up lists in OBP formats, too.

    Jarrod Dyson, Arizona Diamondbacks: He was mentioned as an inexpensive source of stolen bases but I really cannot stress that enough, since he is likely to be the starting right fielder with Steven Souza Jr. on the shelf. Against left-handed pitchers, Chris Owings will likely play in his place. Dyson can steal multiple bases each week he plays and many fantasy teams will covet that ability.
    Carlos Gomez, Tampa Bay Rays: OK, so he's not durable, but he has averaged over the past three seasons (with three franchises)14 home runs, 16 steals and 113 games. Gomez can be an electric player and he puts up numbers in the brief time before he gets hurt. There is something intriguing about that, in a way. It's better to average 14 homers and 16 steals over four months than six.
    Others to watch: Michael Taylor, Washington Nationals; Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies; Lewis Brinson, Miami Marlins


     

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    Standout prospects from the spring

    Tommy Rancel
    ESPN Insider

    Baseball has finally returned. Sure, there are those of us who are burnt out from watching baseball under the hot sun for the past month. But starting tomorrow, the games count. That also means the statistics count and fantasy baseball is now a reality.

    We have already run down the top 50 prospects you should know for the 2018 season. There's not much that a month in Arizona or Florida will do to change those rankings. That said, there are several prospects -- some on that list and some not -- who performed exceptionally well in March and, either through their efforts or fortunate circumstances, have seen their stock rise.
    With that in mind, here are 10 players you want to know going into the first week of the season:


    1. Lewis Brinson, OF Miami Marlins
    Coming into camp, you could have made the argument that Brinson was the Marlins best offensive threat, based on talent. After a solid spring in which he hit .328 with 10 extra-base hits, you can argue it based on performance, too. Miami, like their talented new outfielder, will certainly struggle this season. Brinson struck out in 17 of his 47 at-bats with the Milwaukee Brewers last season. That aggressive approach continued this spring -- albeit with better results -- so don't be surprised if his average lags behind. His power and speed are "plus" attributes and his glove is good enough to carry his bat through slumps. The Marlins have no reason not to give him 600 plate appearances this year to figure it out.

    2. Jesse Winker, OF Cincinnati Reds

    Winker lacks the flash and upside of Brinson, but he is a safer choice with a base and floor that are much more palatable. The smooth swinging lefty hit .298 in 121 at-bats for the Reds last season. His bat profiles to hit for average, so he could be near that type of production as a full-timer. He hit .347 this spring, showing he is ready to pick up where he left off. He smashed seven home runs in limited action last year, which is more in-game power than he had previously shown. He has the frame to punch 15 or more in a full season. The Reds outfield is semi-crowded, but Winker is the best pure hitter of the bunch and should rise to the top of the group soon enough.

    3. Colin Moran, 3B Pittsburgh Pirates
    Moran is just now receiving his first real opportunity in the majors as he joins his third organization since being selected sixth overall in the 2013 draft. He hit well enough this spring to wrest the third base job away from veteran David Freese and should be afforded every opportunity to keep the job this season. Moran is a polished hitter with the ability to put barrel to the bat regularly. That said, despite prototypical size and raw power, he rarely showed that pop in games. Last year, he adjusted -- prepare for the buzzword -- his "launch angle" and hit fewer balls on the ground and more over the wall as a result. He did not go yard in March, but he is still a left-handed hitter with a 320-foot wall down the right field line at PNC Park. A .280 average with 20-plus home runs seems rather attainable.

    4. Scott Kingery, UT Philadelphia Phillies
    It has been a great week for Kingery. Despite having never played a game in the major leagues, the 23-year-old signed a six-year contract worth $24 million, with the potential to grow into a nine-year pact with a maximum value of $66 million. Kingery -- a breakout star from a season ago -- hit .418 with five home runs in the Grapefruit League. This came on the heels of a year in which he hit a combined .304/.359/.530 with 26 home runs and 29 steals. It was nice to see the power carry over, at least through camp. If Kingery had a clearer path to regular playing time he would be at the top of this list. As a utility player, however, the nod goes to those with better-defined roles.

    5. J.D. Davis 1B/3B Houston Astros
    Blocked in almost every way with the Astros, Davis could be starting every day for a number of teams right now. While his long-term future has yet to be determined, Yuli Gurriel's injury has opened a temporary spot in the Houston lineup. Enter Davis, the team's third-round selection in 2014. The right-handed hitter has plus-power and an average-or-better hit tool. He can play the hot corner, too. Alas, with Alex Bregman around, there is no need for him to do so at the highest level. Davis should get some decent repetitions until Gurriel returns and then perhaps becomes the team's 26th Man, coming back when a bat is needed or used as a trade chip come July.

    6. Jack Flaherty, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
    Flaherty did not have a statistically great spring, but what he did do is work on another pitch -- a two-seam fastball -- and struck out a bunch of batters in a short period of time. He also will start the season as the Cardinals' No. 5 starter until Adam Wainwright returns from injury. The addition of the two-seamer adds another wrinkle to his arsenal and allows another pitch with which to bounce off his slider. He struck out 20 batters in 13 innings this spring, so the combination appears to be something worth taking into the season. Regardless of what happens when Wainwright returns, Flaherty is a major league starter who will get opportunities throughout the year.

    7. Daniel Vogelbach, 1B, Seattle Mariners
    A prospect zombie, Vogelbach is back on everyone's radar after a terrific spring. He led all qualified batters with a .400 average this spring and also smashed seven home runs. The former second-round pick has struggled in limited action at the highest level, but we have seen plenty of talented players struggle only to find "it" later. Limited defensively to first base, he will battle Ryon Healy for playing time. The Mariners, like most teams, will also maneuver their roster to manipulate their rotations and benches around off days. Vogelbach could get a few starts early in the season, but he'll need to keep up his spring performance if he is going to stick on the roster beyond tax day.

    8. Yairo Munoz, UT, St. Louis Cardinals
    This list's "off-brand version" of Kingery, Munoz was a surprise addition to the Cardinals' roster after a great camp. The 23-year-old hit .339 with three home runs in 59 at-bats this March. The offense is nice, but it is his versatility that manager Mike Matheny loves. Acquired in the Stephen Piscotty trade, Munoz has played six positions as a professional, with the ability to play shortstop and center field interchangeably. He is unlikely to overtake anyone's job outright. Meanwhile, as a backup to most of the team, he could get a decent amount of time -- especially when an injury occurs.

    9. Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough, SP/RP Tampa Bay Rays

    The Rays are going with a four-man rotation, although not in the traditional sense. The "fifth" game (which will actually be the third in the rotation) will be a dedicated bullpen game. This strategy requires multiple pitchers with the ability to throw multiple innings. It makes sense that a few of these spots would be filled by pitchers with the ability to start games. Chirinos and Yarbrough are key figures in this whole scheme. Both pitchers have worked through the minors as starters. They will now shift to this hybrid role. Neither have thrown a pitch in the big leagues, so the results are to be determined. That said, only one pitcher will be credited with a start on these days. There is much more to talk about here, but the quick takeaway is both of these guys could pitch 120 innings this season -- which is what a back-end starter's workload typically ends up being -- yet will barely impact your games-started limit. I have a feeling we will revisit this situation again.

    10. Ronald Acuna, OF Atlanta Braves
    Acuna is the only member of this list to not be in the big leagues to start the season, but his performance and talent make him a "must have" on any prospect list. He wasn't just one of the best players in the Atlanta camp, but in all of Florida this spring. Despite being just 20-years-old, he hit .434 with four home runs and swiped four bags. It was unlikely that he would make the Braves out of spring training for non-baseball reasons, however, his demotion has generated a lot of talk about service-time manipulation. There is no question his ultimate home will be in Atlanta. On the other hand, his start time in a Braves uniform depends on which clock you're using. If it's a strictly service time concern, he could be up by mid-April. If it's a more financially-motivated timeline, it could be well into the summer before we see him, because of arbitration deadlines.

     

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    How good can Scott Kingery be in fantasy baseball?

    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER

    Injuries continue to be the big focus from the final Spring Training weekend, so it was nice to see some positive news coming from Philadelphia Phillies camp on Sunday afternoon. Not only is prospect Scott Kingery making the club -- and not heading back to the minor leagues to percolate some more for financial reasons -- but his contract status is now set for the next six years. Kingery, unlike Atlanta Braves outfield prospect Ronald Acuna, should play this week, making things interesting for fantasy managers that have either already invested in the second baseman, or those who still might.

    Kingery has been deployed all over the diamond this month, except for pitching and catching, and energetic manager Gabe Kapler sounds confident that the 23-year-old, who hit .304 with 26 home runs and 29 stolen bases across two minor league levels last season, will see plenty of playing time. That means someone else who had been expected to play regularly will not. Just how good is Kingery and should the likes of Cesar Hernandez, J.P. Crawford and Maikel Franco, among others, be prepared for bench time? Essentially, it appears to be "yes" on both fronts.
    Kingery has the look of a young, scrappy Dustin Pedroia, boasting power from the right side of the plate but also possessing the on-base skills and speed to hit at the top of a lineup and contribute in all five fantasy categories. I really believe Kingery will be a special player statistically. Acuna has more power and upside and the Braves will likely promote him to the majors in two weeks, but Kingery is here now. This doesn't mean the Braves did anything wrong, as they are playing within the rules, however arcane they seem to be.

    Two Phillies rank among the top 100 in ESPN ADP. First baseman/outfielder Rhys Hoskins boasts power and plate discipline and is being selected in the neighborhood of Round 5. First baseman Carlos Santana is a 10th-rounder on average, one of many power bats at a deep position and more valuable in OBP formats. After that, outfielder Odubel Herrera ranks next in ADP of those in a Phillies unform -- in Round 20. Kingery deserves selection well before Herrera, since the upside in power and steals is significant. Kingery could also become eligible at several positions (including outfield), and at the expense of the inconsistent Herrera.
    As a result, and based on my thinking that Kingery offers a similar statistical skill set to young, emerging San Diego Padres outfielder Manuel Margot -- something like 15 homers and 30 steals, eventually -- then this is arguably a top-100 option in drafts as soon as today. Yes, even without knowing how much playing time Kingery will get, I would take the chance on him as my starting middle infielder right now. I think he will play a lot. On Monday's Fantasy Focus Baseball podcast with Tristan H. Cockcroft, we each projected more than 500 plate appearances for Kingery, downgrading both Hernandez and Franco just a bit.

    Here are other thoughts from a busy baseball weekend:

    • I am just as displeased as you are that a line drive from Kansas City Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield fractured the valuable pinky of San Francisco Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner, but that's baseball sometimes. Stuff happens. Expected to be out until June, Bumgarner drops from my No. 5 starting pitcher -- right after the obvious top tier -- to the 15th round. Maybe that seems a bit harsh, but he is likely to miss one-third of the season. Bumgarner can still provide an excellent 20-plus starts, so do not let him drop too far. Perhaps Round 12 is fairer.
    • It is different with right-hander Jeff Samardzija, whose main asset statistically (other than the strikeouts) is his durability. His first career DL stint happens now, so he leaves my top-30 starters, but not by much. He should only be out for three or four weeks, and his issue is not an elbow or shoulder. You can replace Samardzija in April, but try to avoid cutting him. Starting pitching is relatively deep with upside options, and I have named mine in recent sleeper blog entries.
    • The Greg Bird injury situation is potentially a big problem because, unlike Bumgarner and Samardzija, his durability has been very much in question -- and this is a foot problem. In other words, Bird quickly goes from a potential 40-homer threat to perhaps not even worth investing in for any 10-team formats. At this point, do not downgrade too much, because Bird could play in April, but I would have a tough time choosing him over the likes of Justin Bour and Logan Morrison, or even Lucas Duda, Eric Thames and Yonder Alonso.
    • Padres right-hander Dinelson Lamet fanned 139 big league hitters over 114 1/3 innings last season. He remains an unfinished product to some degree, but due to that intriguing strikeout upside, Lamet had become a popular late-round selection in ESPN formats. That changes now that he will miss at least a month with elbow pain. Sure, he might return in May, but we have seen situations like this often enough to know he might not return at all. The Padres will likely turn to Robbie Erlin or Chris Young -- the tall one from Princeton is still around! However, if young right-hander Joey Lucchesi gets a chance, invest just in case.
    • Other than injury and extreme risk, there is nothing similar about Lamet and Michael Brantley, but nevertheless, I will not be investing in the veteran Cleveland Indians outfielder. Brantley used to be a terrific fantasy provider, but has participated in just 101 games over the past two seasons thanks to shoulder and ankle injuries. He will start this season on the DL. Brantley performed well over his 375 plate appearances in 2017, hitting .299 with 9 home runs and 11 steals in 12 attempts, but it is hard to be optimistic about his body holding up --or the Indians pushing him.
    • St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright heads to the DL with a hamstring injury. That opens the door for intriguing youngster Jack Flaherty, who many of us believe would clearly outperform the veteran, given the chance. Flaherty was terrific in the minors and a bit unlucky in a small sample with the Cardinals last season. He will miss bats and, if he pitches well in April, should stick in the rotation. There is top-rookie upside here, but be aware that a slow start will likely result in his demotion to Triple-A. Cockcroft is willing to invest in Flaherty, similarly to Chicago White Sox right-hander Lucas Giolito, which means ranking him among the top-65 starters. That is both optimistic and realistic.
     

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    Karablog: How to value Shohei Ohtani following his first major league start
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER

    One outing on the first day of April remains simply one outing, so it would be insincere to confidently state that
    Los Angeles Angels
    right-hander
    Shohei Ohtani
    is going to dominate the baseball world like so many believed he would. Similarly, Ohtani's spring numbers did not impress and let us be clear those really do not matter at all, either. Ohtani pitched very well Sunday against the
    Oakland Athletics
    and, it is important to note, looked good doing so, but it remains simply one outing.

    Ohtani flashed significant fastball velocity from start to sixth-inning finish and a nasty splitter, ultimately permitting three hits, one of them a Matt Chapman three-run home run. He fanned six hitters and walked one, though his fastball command was a bit erratic. Observers confidently state the blast was the lone mistake Ohtani made, but then again perhaps it was simply the lone mistake the Athletics capitalized on. While it is easy to dream about Ohtani embarrassing future lineups he is scheduled to face (Athletics again, then the Royals), it remains too early to know for sure.

    Still, Ohtani is correctly rostered in every fantasy league and should be because the upside on display Sunday is so tantalizing. After all, he induced 18 swings and misses. That is a lot. The concerns with Ohtani from a month ago mainly were born mainly of the exuberant value, of which little was available to be gained because eager fantasy managers pushed the Japanese import into the top 75 in ESPN average live drafts. They did so thinking he would accrue many strikeouts and bash many home runs at the plate. Sunday did not prove either is more likely to occur.

    Ohtani can be great and it will be interesting to see how the Angels manage his workload on the mound and in terms of occasional starts as the designated hitter. The first time Ohtani struggles with the former, it will likely affect opportunity for the latter. It is only natural to think that. In addition, will the Angels stick with the plan of a six-game rotation and Albert Pujols playing first base? It is hard enough to thrive as a pitcher, but to also swing a bat against big league pitchers several times per week and consistently work on the craft, well, it is asking a lot.

    None of this means Ohtani managers should trade him today for equal or lesser value. Anyway, what is the value? Based on Sunday it is generous, perhaps too much so. In that case, and this goes for every player who has started well in the smallest of samples, from Justin Smoak to Jose Berrios to Hunter Strickland, there is always a price to make a trade feasible. I do want to see if Ohtani can reach great heights, though, so I would aim to keep him around and see what happens.


    Sunday recap

    Box scores Highlights:Justin Smoak, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays: 3-for-4, 2 HR, 6 RBIPaul DeJong, 2B/SS, St. Louis Cardinals: 2-for-3, 2 HR, 2 RBIStarling Marte, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates: 2-for-7, HR, SB, 2 RJose Berrios, SP, Minnesota Twins: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 6 K, winGerrit Cole, SP, Houston Astros: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 11 K, winLowlights:Adam Jones, OF, Baltimore Orioles: 0-for-4, 2 KJason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland Indians: 0-for-4, 2 KJose Quintana, SP, Chicago Cubs: 6 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 4 BB, 2 KSteven Matz, SP, New York Mets: 4 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 KDavid Robertson, RP, New York Yankees: 1⅓ IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 0 K

    Sunday takeaways:

    • So Washington Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton is off to a nice start, with eight hits in 13 at-bats and seven runs scored after three games. Yes, we will sign up for more of that! Eaton is leading off and third baseman Anthony Rendon has hit second, and it is the smart thing to do, but does weaken the value of shortstop Trea Turner, a consensus first-round fantasy pick. Turner has hit fifth and sixth in the order and if this continues he would bat fewer times and thus have fewer chances to steal bases, but do not panic. Turner did steal a base. He walked more than he whiffed. Still a great fantasy option. So is Eaton.

    • The two most-added players in ESPN standard leagues are Chicago White Sox third baseman Matt Davidson and St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Jose Martinez. If choosing, I would definitely go with Martinez, who might not have had a three-homer performance but is simply a much better hitter. Martinez was 5-for-11 with a home run at Citi Field over the weekend and will continue to handle first base, with Matt Carpenter at third base, as he hits. Martinez is capable of hitting .300 with power. Davidson is not.

    • Three of the four Cubs starting pitchers for the Miami series pitched terribly, as Quintana, Yu Darvish and Jon Lester permitted 14 earned runs in 13⅔ innings. Only Kyle Hendricks pitched well. Quintana tossed four shutout innings Sunday until an ugly fifth, keyed by a Brian Anderson three-run triple. As an Anderson investor, I approve of his start. But Quintana is going to be fine. I would argue Darvish is just as overrated as he was a few weeks ago, in relation to expectation, but selling low is not the wise move. Lester's next outing is important; he threw harder in the opener than last season, so do not panic yet.

    • Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar leaves the weekend hitting a robust .462 and made a bit of history when he stole second, third and home in the same inning against an oblivious Dellin Betances Saturday. Pillar stole 25 bases in 29 attempts in 2015, and 29 bases in the two years since, so it seems like it is simply up to him whether he wants to run. He also could find himself leading off soon, because he is hitting well and second baseman Devon Travis, Sunday's leadoff option, is not. Add Pillar, for this could be another 25-steal campaign.

    • Pirates outfielders Marte and Gregory Polanco are the only players to have so far homered and stolen a base in the same game, and kudos to that! Of course, they played the Tigers and swept the series, though do not try to imply anything from that. The games were close and the Tigers hit. Marte and Polanco did not have big 2017 seasons, with the former missing half the season because of suspension and the latter several months because of injury. There is massive statistical upside for each, clearly, but can Marte hit for consistent power? Will Polanco hit for average and steal bases? Intriguing!

    Injuries of note:

    • The broken hamate bone suffered by Texas Rangers outfielder Delino DeShields is a real bummer because so few hitters were
    projected to steal 30 or more bases. DeShields was definitely one of them and the Rangers do not have a clear replacement. Shortstop Elvis Andrus handled leadoff duties and that could be good for him. Carlos Tocci can run, but probably cannot hit enough to play regularly. Willie Calhoun has no role in this opportunity; his demotion is likely a service time issue. And the Rangers look bad, especially on the mound. Try to keep DeShields rostered, even in shallow leagues, and wait a month.

    • The DL stint for Angels second baseman Ian Kinsler is annoying and could have been handled a week ago. Kinsler managers who left him active are stuck with him, in ESPN leagues, all this week. Zack Cozart continues to lead off and play second base and this is good for his value. By the end of April we might see Cozart eligible at three infield spots! If he continues to hit, perhaps he remains in the leadoff role as well. Kinsler is not exactly coming off a great season. Still, try to be patient with him, even though he is 35 and might not be eager to steal bases coming off a groin injury.

    Closing time:

    • The next Angels save chance is probably not going to right-hander Blake Parker, as he permitted runs in each of his first two outings and had to be saved himself by right-hander Keynan Middleton Sunday. Middleton saved three games as a rookie and struggled with home runs. Cam Bedrosian pitched the seventh inning Sunday, throwing strikes on six of 15 pitches. Middleton seems like the better pickup today.Roberto Osuna managers need not worry about the Seung Hwan Oh save Sunday, since Osuna had pitched Friday and Saturday, but we do know who is next in line for the Blue Jays. Oh has one excellent big league season and one bad one to his record. There is no reason to panic about Osuna, a top-five closer for most fantasy managers, but anyone can get hurt.


    W2W4

    • Weather continues to wreak havoc on the schedule, as cold temperatures and snow are not going away. Those in daily formats should always pay attention to the weather anyway for immediate lineup and pitching decisions, and note that in ESPN leagues players lock at game time, regardless of whether the game gets played. You've been warned. The Phillies were probably happy to get another day off (due to inclement weather) rather than play in New York on Monday night, if for no other reason to rest an already overtaxed bullpen.

    • So many starting pitchers chosen in the latter rounds of ESPN drafts did not perform up to expectations in their first outing and found themselves quickly replaced. Indians right-hander Mike Clevinger is scheduled to throw against the Angels Monday and while one outing should never be overrated, if it goes poorly then he is probably next to see his ownership drop. If that happens in your league, go get him. There is strikeout upside here. I expect Clevinger to pitch well. Center fielder Bradley Zimmer is someone to watch as well, as ESPN Fantasy projects him generously and he did not hit the first weekend. Zimmer is 1-for-9 with four strikeouts. Fantasy managers are not patient.

    •The Miami Marlins are not a good baseball team, but the Cubs did not exactly demolish them. Next up, perhaps unfairly, are the Boston Red Sox. Big difference in lefties Brian Johnson, scheduled for Monday, and Chris Sale, the Tuesday starter. Several Marlins hitters remain undervalued in ESPN leagues, including infielders Justin Bour, Starlin Castro and Brian Anderson, while Derek Dietrich might not hit the lefties, but he remains a strong DFS play on days a right-hander is opposing.
     

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    Karablog: Who is Christian Villanueva?
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER

    A mere matter of days after the first relatively obscure third baseman hammered three home runs in a big league game there was another late on Tuesday night, as
    Christian Villanueva
    of the
    San Diego Padres
    matched the
    Matt Davidson
    feat.
    Um, who?

    These fellows are somewhat comparable as older, right-handed hitting third basemen far past prospect status and not expected to provide much value to fantasy managers, but at least Davidson slugged 26 home runs for last season's
    Chicago White Sox
    . Villanueva slugged 4 in his brief 12-game major league stint.


    Villanueva launched the first two home runs Tuesday night at Petco Park off Colorado Rockies lefty Kyle Freeland, each with nobody on base, then greeted right-hander Antonio Senzatela with a three-run blast in the seventh inning of a 8-4 Padres victory. Villanueva, 26, is a longtime minor leaguer from the Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs systems the Padres took a chance on as a free agent before the 2017 season, but it is safe to say they had few expectations, if any. Tuesday was Villanueva's second start. According to ESPN Stats & Info he is the first Mexican-born player to hit three home runs in a game since Oakland's Erubiel Durazo in 2004.Even for an era in which home runs are flying at record rates, it is tough to find many that are more anonymous at the time of a three-homer barrage than Villanueva. He boasts 40 career plate appearances. The Padres could provide Villanueva regular playing time at third base and see what happens, but the advice coming from this blog entry for fantasy purposes will sound a lot like the post-Davidson discussion. Villanueva certainly has better plate discipline than Davidson - most everyone in baseball does - and there is no harm in adding an unknown player and watching what he does.What Villanueva is likely to do is provide power, and not relegated to a platoon, either. Last season at Triple-A El Paso he hit 16 of his 20 home runs off right-handed pitching, and with, for this era, solid walk and strikeout rates. Frankly, Villanueva seems to have a better chance of sustaining overall success than Davidson due to his ability to recognize strikes from balls, though the home ballpark is not a hitter's haven. In fact, none of the three home runs Tuesday traveled more than 400 feet!Still, The Padres really should see if some degree of big league success is sustainable and play him over ordinary Chase Headley and the somewhat underrated Cory Spangenberg. Remember, the team's top hitting prospects are Luis Urias and Fernando Tatis Jr., expected to handle the middle infield spots. Third base, in theory, remains open long-term. For those competing in a 10- or 12-team mixed league, Villanueva should remain a free agent for now. In deeper formats, including NL-only versions, go get him. The power is real and if the opportunity is, 20-plus home runs are certainly feasible.

    Tuesday recap

    Box scores Highlights:Didi Gregorius, SS, New York Yankees: 4-for-4, 2 HR (2), 8 RBIJosh Reddick, OF, Houston Astros: 2-for-4, 2 HR (2), 6 RBITim Anderson, SS, Chicago White Sox: 3-for-4, HR (3), 3 R, 2 SB (3)Shohei Ohtani, UT, Los Angeles Angels: 3-for-4, HR (1), 3 RBICole Hamels, SP, Texas Rangers: 5 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 11 K, winMatt Harvey, SP, New York Mets: 5 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 5 KLowlights:Giancarlo Stanton, OF, New York Yankees: 0-for-5, 5 KChris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles: 0-for-5, 4 KJosh Tomlin, SP, Cleveland Indians: 3 IP, 8 H, 8 ER, 1 KA.J. Cole, SP, Washington Nationals: 3 2/3 IP, 10 H, 10 ER, 3 BBDominic Leone, RP, St. Louis Cardinals: 1.1 IP, 3 H, 2 HR, lossTuesday takeaways:• Just as there is no reason to overrate the solid Gregorius off one extremely productive performance, do not panic as Stanton did nothing but swing and miss and left an army of runners on base for the shortstop to knock in. It is one game. Each player is rostered and active in every league and Tuesday is not a harbinger of anything. It is noteworthy that Gregorius continues to bat cleanup behind Aaron Judge and Stanton and ahead of struggling catcher Gary Sanchez, and that should result in far more runs batted in than last season, when the 25 home runs resulted in 87 RBI. I still do not expect the home run total to rise much, but Brett Gardner, Judge and Stanton get on base so 100 RBI is more than reasonable.

    Third shoutout is the charm...
    The Yankees defeat the Rays 11-4 thanks to Didi Gregorius having himself a day.
    Gregorius is the 3rd SS in MLB history with 4 hits and 8 RBI in a single game, joining Miguel Tejada and Hall-of-Famer Travis Jackson. pic.twitter.com/udGtUXz2CQ
    - ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 3, 2018
    San Francisco Giants second baseman Joe Panik hit 10 home runs in each of the past two seasons, and he does not steal many bases. He is a career .284 hitter, but it is tough to roster a hitter that does not provide above-average production in any category. Is that changing? Panik has three home runs in five games. In fact, he provided the first three runs of the Giants' season with solo shots! OK, so the rest of the lineup has not been good. Anyway, Panik has also hit two of the home runs off left-handed pitchers. Clayton Kershaw is the best there is and Marco Gonzales, well, he tries. Panik entered 2018 with 27 of his 29 home runs off right-handers. I still take the under on this fellow joining everyone else with 20 home runs, but perhaps I should not be so dismissive. Scooter Gennett did it.• Longtime reliable lefty Hamels struck out 105 hitters in 148 innings last season, by far the worst K rate of his career and there was reason for worry. On Tuesday Hamels recorded whiffs for the first eight outs of the game at Oakland, albeit with a home run and free pass in there. Still, 11 strikeouts in 5 innings is impressive and not what was expected. Hamels boasts 18 strikeouts over 10 2/3 frames, with an annoying 7 walks sprinkled in. He will need to go deeper into games if he wants to win them, in theory, and his control should be better, but Hamels has fanned more than 200 hitters five times in his career and perhaps this will be No. 6.• Hamels was not the lone pitcher to miss quite a few bats but fail to go deep into the outing. In fact, six pitchers struck out 8 or more hitters on Tuesday and nary a one completed six innings of work. You know Houston's Justin Verlander and Tampa Bay's Chris Archer well. The former was cruising until an Adam Jones sixth-inning homer, the latter had little command on a frigid day. Toronto lefty J.A. Happ fanned nine, but that seems an anomaly. Angels right-hander Garrett Richards and Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty, however, offer much upside. Richards allowed only one Indians hit - a Jose Ramirez home run - and struggled to throw strikes (4 walks), but few doubt what he is capable of achieving if healthy. Richards fanned 176 hitters in 2015 and won 15 games. He has made only 14 big league starts since. He should be rostered in all formats in case - fingers crossed - he can make more than 25 starts.• As for Flaherty, the projectable rookie filling in for broken veteran Adam Wainwright, he fanned 9 Brewers against 1 walk in 5 innings, permitting 1 earned run. He would have won, but the bullpen was terrible. Flaherty boasts strikeout upside, obviously, and I would like to see him get the chance for 150-plus big league innings but ... Wainwright has the track record and I doubt he will be sent to the bullpen when his hamstring injury is deemed healed. In fact, Wainwright, who posted a 5.11 ERA last season and 4.62 the year prior, could slip into the rotation this week! If/when Flaherty is demoted, try to keep him rostered. He will be back.• Chicago's Anderson and Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham each were able to homer and steal a base in the same game. In fact, Anderson homered twice and - here we go - is currently on pace for like 150-plus of each, since he has 3 homers and 3 steals in 4 games. Hey, enjoy this, it's baseball! However, why can't Anderson, who hit 17 home runs with 15 steals a season ago, provide 25 of each? His horrific plate discipline is the first reason I would think of, but that is more about capping batting average than anything else. He would, even with another .276 OBP, reach base enough to run that much and everyone has power now. Anyway, Anderson could drop 150 points off his current batting average, but could otherwise be a valuable fantasy option. As for Pham, he is just awesome and apparently he can see just fine, after some concerns a few weeks ago.

    Injuries of note:Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Jake Lamb was placed on the 10-day DL with a shoulder injury and this one might take longer than 10 days to heal. Lamb was hardly someone I targeted in drafts this season, mainly because he still cannot hit left-handed pitching and his home ballpark added a humidor, but even those in 10-team formats should keep him around since he hit 59 home runs the past two seasons. I just worry about him dropping to something like a .250 batting average and 22 homers. The Diamondbacks have scrappy Daniel Descalso and Deven Marrero to play the hot corner and Chris Owings probably could do so if he was not platooning in right field. I cannot make a case to roster Descalso, even though he homered off Clayton Kershaw Tuesday. Kershaw is suddenly permitting power to left-handed hitters. I do not feel the need to panic.Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and singled against the White Sox and then was pulled due to back spasms. Perhaps it is nothing and Diaz is fine, but it is worth noting he also homered on Monday and hit 17 blasts over 111 games as a rookie with the 2016 Cardinals. Also, there is no telling when or even if the Blue Jays get starting shortstop Troy Tulowitzki - remember when he was great? - back from his latest malady. Diaz might get a day off, but had he not left the game early we would be discussing the fact he boasts power and remains readily available in most leagues.

    Closing time:• Rangers right-hander Keone Kela picked up his fourth career save in conventional fashion and with nobody else in the bullpen pushing him and Greg Holland with another organization, the path is clearly there for 30 more. Lefty Alex Claudio, saver of 11 games last season, hurled the sixth and seventh innings and those rostering him in 10 or 12-team formats really should move on. He is not likely to earn saves anytime soon.• New York Mets right-hander Jeurys Familia struggled to find the plate against the Phillies, and earned only one swinging strike, but finished off the 2-0 win. It was cold. He wore short sleeves. I get it. But Familia did not look particularly good and since A.J. Ramos, a former closer capable of returning to the role, was utilized in the sixth inning, it opens up the eighth inning for others. Right-hander Seth Lugo looked terrific in a two-inning stint Tuesday and will likely lose his rotation spot when lefty Jason Vargas comes off the DL. Could Lugo and his mighty, spinning curveball be next in line should Familia falter? The manager could think so.

    W2W4

    Colorado Rockies right-hander Jon Gray makes his second road start and let us just say the first one, in Arizona, was messy. Gray went 4 innings and allowed 6 hits, 3 walks and 3 runs. This outing is in San Diego. Few probably noticed Gray had better 2017 numbers in home games at Coors Field than on the road, for whatever reason, but it certainly is possible if Gray struggles against the Padres that fantasy managers move on. That would be a mistake. I want to see which Rockies play. Rookie first baseman Ryan McMahon hit eighth on Tuesday and walked in four plate appearances, while Ian Desmond sat. McMahon is not likely to be in the lineup against Padres lefty Clayton Richard, but if he does not play semi-regularly then perhaps he should not be in the majors. Is outfielder Gerardo Parra going to play against lefties, and if so, why?• Several right-handers that struggled last week return to the mound, with quite a few eyes on the Cardinals' Carlos Martinez and Toronto's Aaron Sanchez. Martinez has a track record, but oh those six walks against the Mets and drop in fastball velocity have people worried. Martinez should bounce back, but even if he does not, do not panic. With Sanchez it is possible that since everyone viewed him as a bounce-back sleeper he became overrated for fantasy value. Sanchez pitched very well in 2016, though perhaps not as well as most realize. He was not a big strikeout option and his 15-2 record, frankly, tells us nothing except he got run support and was fortunate. He could have been 9-8. Sanchez should be a top-40 fantasy starter and he faced the mighty Yankees in his first outing. Now he gets the White Sox. Sanchez is rostered in 73 percent of ESPN leagues. If this outing goes poorly that will precipitously fall, but I would want to see how the outing goes poorly to judge him properly.
     

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    Karablog: The curious case of Maikel Franco
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER

    Philadelphia Phillies
    third baseman
    Maikel Franco
    burst on the scene in May 2015 by hitting for both power and average and he looked like a future star. Two ordinary seasons later -- and with the Phillies hardly lacking in depth or the financial resources to find someone considerably better -- Franco looks like he is playing for his starting role. Thursday's performance, in which he fell merely a double shy of the cycle is certainly interesting, especially after he managed only a single in his first 11 at-bats to start the season.

    Franco, a right-handed hitter who batted a mystifying .209 against left-handed pitching last season, hit a two-run single off erratic Miami Marlins lefty Caleb Smith, then tripled and homered off more-effective lefty Jarlin Garcia, finishing with 4 RBI. Franco, 25, finds his career at a crossroads and needs to hit well this season or the Phillies will look elsewhere, and it could well be an internal move with Scott Kingery looking like a regular option.Fantasy managers thought investing in Franco after the 2015 season was a wise move, and I was in full agreement. In an era of massive strikeout totals, he is not an overt part of that crowd, as he tends to make contact. Franco has hit 49 home runs over the past two seasons, and that remains valuable in context and earned him a place on more than 25 percent of ESPN standard rosters. However, his .294 on-base percentage certainly was not going to work with a new analytically inclined regime intent on improving in that area -- as they should be.One game does not change a thing, really. I have watched so many of Franco's at-bats (usually ending in frustration) over the past few seasons and he surely is capable of considerably better performance. He can swing at the right pitches, though often does not. He can hit baseballs to all fields, yet seldom does so. His batting helmet seems to fly off several times per week as he sells out for pull power. Franco could be a 35-homer option who provides a .275 batting average, but time is kind of running out on him in Philadelphia.The Phillies love Kingery, a natural second baseman who can hit for power and steal bases -- and for good reason. So far, new manager Gabe Kapler has been utilizing the rookie all over the field. On Thursday, Kingery batted third and played right field, a position he had not played in years. Second baseman and leadoff hitter Cesar Hernandez reached base five times in Thursday's 5-0 win and while many believe he is in jeopardy of losing playing time, I do not.I think Franco and to some degree shortstop J.P. Crawford, who looks totally lost at the plate, are the ones to worry about, though Crawford is a solid defender and Kingery probably cannot handle shortstop regularly. Time will tell. It is not too late for Franco to matter, but I don't think he needs to be rostered in all mixed leagues at this point. Franco needs to show consistency, and one performance against several Marlins lefties is not enough.

    Thursday recap

    Box scores Highlights:Jay Bruce, OF, New York Mets: 2-for-4, HR (1), 2 R, 4 RBIYolmer Sanchez, 2B/3B, Chicago White Sox: 3-for-5, 3 RBI, 2 triplesNiko Goodrum, 2B, Detroit Tigers: 2-for-5, HR (1), 2 RBI, SB (1)Andrew Cashner, SP, Baltimore Orioles: 6 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 5 K, winNicholas Pivetta, SP, Philadelphia Phillies: 5 2/3 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 9 K, winLowlights:Lewis Brinson, OF, Miami Marlins: 0-for-4, 4 KTrea Turner, SS, Washington Nationals: 0-for-3, 3 K, ejectionBrent Suter, SP/RP, Milwaukee Brewers: 5 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 3 BBAdam Wainwright, SP, St. Louis Cardinals: 3 2/3 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 4 BBJoakim Soria, RP, Chicago White Sox: 1 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 0 K


    Thursday takeaways:

    • Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre singled, doubled and walked in his four plate appearances at Oakland and continues to show few signs (if any) of demise. He turns 39 years old on Saturday. Happy Birthday! Yes, Beltre missed several months last season with a calf strain but, when he played, he hit and defended like always, posting a .915 OPS and showing excellent plate discipline. Beltre is rostered in most fantasy leagues -- and should be -- but just because he was hurt last season or because fellow "veteran" Nelson Cruz is currently on the disabled list, that really means nothing moving ahead. Beltre is going to have another terrific season


    • Mets outfielder Michael Conforto made his debut following a scary shoulder injury late last season and was thrust into the leadoff role. No matter, Conforto launched a fifth-inning home run off Stephen Strasburg and later drew a walk to help set up Bruce's grand slam off Brandon Kintzler. Conforto bashed 27 home runs in his 109 games and 400 plate appearances last season, so dreaming of a 40-homer campaign is hardly wild. Conforto can do this and, with his plate discipline, it's a good a thing that he leads off. This is all good. Conforto is still available in quite a few ESPN standard leagues, as managers were impatient. Go get him.
    • Miami's Brinson looks hapless at the plate, as his 4-K performance Thursday gives him 11 whiffs over seven games. Brinson has seven singles in 35 at-bats, and four came in one extra-inning game. This hardly means Brinson cannot play at this level, or that he is further away from realizing the enticing talent that made him worth rostering in more than one-quarter of ESPN standard leagues. Brinson has the ability to provide more than 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases and the Marlins have him leading off, which shows their confidence. Try to be patient with him, but don't be stunned if the Marlins decide to send him for more seasoning at Triple-A.
    • I will admit I did not want to invest in Boston Red Sox lefty David Price for this season, but he now boasts a pair of seven-inning shutout performances, with 5 K's in both outings. Price is not throwing as hard as he did last season but this has not been a problem. Next up is a scheduled home matchup with the mighty New York Yankees, and if I have to give an answer about how many starts it will take before I believe in Price, I would say four or five. Even then, it hardly guarantees his valuable elbow will make it through 25-plus appearances.
    • Price's opposing starter was Tampa Bay Rays rookie right-hander Yonny Chirinos, and he tossed five shutout innings of his own, allowing three hits and nary a walk, striking out four. Four days earlier, against these same Red Sox, he tossed four shutout innings in relief, allowing just one hit. Chirinos looks great and perhaps the Rays just do not want him to start regularly and maintain a heavier workload, but he is worth rostering in deep leagues in case they do.



    Injuries of note:

    • Under normal circumstances, perhaps seeing Washington outfielder Adam Eaton pulled in a blowout loss would be no big deal, but he suffered a sprained ankle on the same leg in which he tore his ACL early last season, so it matters. The Nationals can afford to be cautious, since Brian Goodwin seems to be ample replacement and Howie Kendrick can play the outfield as well. Eaton has looked terrific at the plate so far, and there is little reason to believe that is a fluke. Eaton is a career .286 hitter, draws walks, can provide home run and stolen base totals in the teens and scores many runs. Fantasy managers with Trea Turner are not happy by him hitting fifth or sixth in the order -- and it does seem like that will continue, but Turner can still steal 50-plus bases in that lineup spot. He loses value, but remains truly valuable. His Thursday ejection was for arguing a strikeout call (and he was probably correct), but don't you go throwing him out of your lineup.
    • Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera suffered a hip flexor injury rounding first base on a first-inning single and left Wednesday's game, setting the stage for Goodrum's heroics. Cabrera has missed 30-plus games twice in the past three seasons, but he told reporters after the game that this latest incident appears to be no big deal. The Tigers are one of many teams off on Friday, but Cabrera could play Saturday. He has looked good at the plate, with four of his seven hits going for extra bases. As for Goodrum, a 26-year-old second baseman with three big league hits in 26 at-bats and 12 strikeouts entering the game? He is not a prospect. Goodrum hit .265 with 13 home runs and 11 steals at Triple-A Rochester last season, so it's not stunning that he homered and stole a base in this gam. For all we know, he could get hundreds of at-bats for the Tigers this year, but this is not a player you must add.



    Closing time:Closing time:



    • Brewers right-hander Corey Knebel crumbled to the ground throwing a ninth-inning pitch after suffering a hamstring injury, and will head to the DL for what could be a while. Arguably the fantasy MVP among closers last season, Knebel has been dealing with a sore knee. While right-hander Jacob Barnes could be next in line for saves (because he already has one) I think the job will go to electric lefty Josh Hader, who was the top setup man. Barnes threw the sixth and seventh innings of his most recent appearance. Hader is the NL version of Andrew Miller, with the dominance and strikeouts. Get him immediately, for he should add the saves now as well.
    • San Diego Padres lefty Brad Hand suffered his second loss in three games and, again, it was not the least bit pretty or the result of bad luck. Hand walked the first two batters of the ninth inning in a scoreless game, then after an error and a Carlos Gonzalez strikeout, walked rookie Ryan McMahon to force in a run. A DJ LeMahieu single plated two more. Hand allowed five runs to the Brewers on March 30, though only two were earned runs. None of this means Hand is about to lose the closing role, however. These were the first walks he has allowed in four appearances. That said, right-hander Kirby Yates could certainly get a save chance soon.



    W2W4


    • The Dodgers and Giants met in an odd series last week in which each game was a shutout. The Giants won the first two on Joe Panik solo home runs -- one early in the game against ace Clayton Kershaw and the other in the ninth inning against awesome closer Kenley Jansen. The Dodgers took the third contest 5-0 behind Kenta Maeda. The Dodgers are hitting .202 as a team, but face some enticing San Francisco pitching, including lefties Derek Holland and Ty Blach. One would think the Dodgers are going to start hitting soon. Kershaw is winless after two outings but has pitched well. Jansen, however, has not pitched well. Watch the Los Angeles offense and their closer closely this weekend.
    • Coors Field will finally host some baseball games as the Atlanta Braves visit for three, followed by the Padres. The Braves lead the majors in runs scored, thanks in part to a 15-run outburst in the third game of their opening Phillies series, but it does appear to be a legitimate offense. Imagine how it will look when outfield prospect Ronald Acuna debuts in a week! Only three active Braves hitters are rostered in most ESPN leagues (Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Ender Inciarte), leaving several intriguing options for this series in the thin air of Denver -- including Nick Markakis, Dansby Swanson, Preston Tucker and even Ryan Flaherty, who has hit in all six games. However, other than this series in Denver, I'm not ready to recommend Flaherty.
    • As for starting pitchers to keep a close eye on this weekend, watch Danny Duffy, Kevin Gausman, Lucas Giolito, Vince Velasquez, Mike Minor, Tyler Mahle, Marco Gonzales, Matt Harvey and Jake Arrieta. Duffy pitched poorly his first time out and might be dealing with a shoulder problem. Gausman also pitched poorly, but we know that as soon as we give up on the Orioles right-hander, that's when he pitches well. Giolito gets the Tigers and that is a good thing. Velasquez gets the Marlins and that is also a good thing. Minor could not finish five innings in his first start since 2014, but give him a chance. Mahle did not permit a run to the Cubs in his first start and would become extra-popular with another strong performance. The same holds true with Seattle's Gonzales. Harvey, scheduled to face Washington's Tanner Roark on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, is already popular -- but perhaps it is too soon to be so optimistic. Arrieta makes his season debut for the Phillies.

    Have an awesome weekend!
     

  11. #11  
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    Karablog: Jameson Taillon, Gregory Polanco continue impressive starts
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER



    The surprising Pittsburgh Pirates enter the second full week of the season a cool 7-2, after taking three of four games from the Cincinnati Reds over the weekend. Sunday's heroes are not exactly new names to fantasy managers, but right-hander Jameson Taillon and outfielder Gregory Polanco did not emerge as the statistical superstars so many predicted they'd become last season; Taillon fell out of the top 200 in ESPN average live drafts and Polanco was a 14th-round selection. The upside for each is, of course, considerably greater, presuming health. Ah, there it is. Health cures all!These critical Pirates seem healthy today, at the least. Taillon, a first-round choice in the 2010 amateur draft, has teased fantasy managers for years with his strikeout potential, and last season had surgery for testicular cancer and still somehow, made 25 starts. That should have been the first focus, not the 4.44 ERA and 1.48 WHIP, and Sunday's impressive one-hit shutout was a reminder of what can be. Taillon fanned seven and walked only two and through two performances, relying on a nasty four-seam fastball, he has won them both and whiffed 16 in 14 2/3 innings, with a mere two free passes. He can be an ace.Polanco was supposed to be a top-20 outfielder, and last season he simply could not stay on the field, making three appearances on the disabled list with hamstring issues and seeing his OPS fall to the wrong side of .700. Polanco can hit for power and steal bases, as he showed in his breakout 2016 with 22 home runs and 17 steals. Last season, in 108 games, he hit 11 home runs and stole eight bases but continued to have trouble when facing left-handed pitching. On Sunday, Polanco homered for the third time in eight games, and his eight walks versus six strikeouts is impressive.The Pirates famously parted with franchise icon Andrew McCutchen and ace right-hander Gerrit Cole this winter, and contending in the tough NL Central seemed unlikely. Perhaps it still is. After all, even manager Clint Hurdle cautioned reporters after Sunday's 5-0 win in reference to Taillon, noting, "It's April. Let him pitch. Let him show you who he is and what he is. Don't need to write the end of the story now."That seems fair and I am not the one likely to alter projections before the ides of April, but Taillon does belong on fantasy rosters immediately in case this is all real, which it very well might be. It is rather difficult to get excited about the Pirates rotation otherwise, as right-hander Trevor Williams has more walks than strikeouts and little upside, and right-hander Ivan Nova posted a 5.83 ERA after last year's All-Star break. Neither right-hander Chad Kuhl nor lefty Steven Brault is a strikeout option. Prospect Mitch Keller is, but we are not likely to see him for months, if at all in 2018. It is up to Taillon to lead statistically, and he certainly is capable.As with Taillon to some degree, I would like to see what Polanco does against better opposition. Hurdle batted him second for the fifth time so far, and if anything it has made the 26-year-old more patient at the plate, which can only be a good thing. A return to 2016 numbers seems easily attainable with health and plate discipline, making Polanco a potential top-20 outfielder. Starling Marte joins him. Perhaps we have all underestimated these new Pirates.


    Sunday recap

    Box scores Highlights:Shohei Ohtani, SP/UT, Los Angeles Angels: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 12 K, winJameson Taillon, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates: 9 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, winSean Newcomb, SP, Atlanta Braves: 6 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, winBryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals: 3-for-4, HR (6), 2 R, 2 RBI, 2 BBA.J. Pollock, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks: 2-for-4, HR (1), 2 R, SB (3)

    Lowlights:Giancarlo Stanton, OF, New York Yankees: 0-for-7, 5 KAdam Eaton, OF, Washington Nationals: 0-for-6Cole Hamels, SP, Texas Rangers: 5 1/3 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 5 KTyler Mahle, SP, Cincinnati Reds: 4 2/3 IP, 9 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 2 KMatt Harvey, SP, New York Mets: 5 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 2 K

    Sunday takeaways• The biggest story in baseball so far and the top option on the ESPN Fantasy Player Rater are one in the same. Los Angeles Angels right-hander/designated hitter Shohei Ohtani indeed looks special, like he is one of the best players in the sport. Ohtani won his first start more than a week ago and looked good. Then he homered in three consecutive starts at DH late last week. Finally, Ohtani took a perfect game into the seventh inning against the Oakland Athletics Sunday, finishing with 12 strikeouts in seven shutout innings. He is unbelievable and I am fully prepared to admit that leaving him out of my top-100 rankings was foolish except ... we still have not made it to mid-April. I do not think we should have been concerned about Ohtani's ability, despite what scouts told us from the meaningless spring games. Yeah, I saw Ohtani in March and was not impressed. He had little fastball command. Pitchers were fooling with him at the plate. How could so much change in two weeks? Well, some things have.Oh, I remain concerned about durability, especially since nobody else has been able to pitch and hit like this in a century, but the pitcher looks amazing. The Athletics could not deal with Ohtani's splitter. If he pitches well, I believe better offenses will struggle with it as well. I have to view Ohtani as a top-20 starting pitcher, even if he does not surpass 150 innings. Yes, it is early and the hitting side seems like it will be a bigger issue, but on the mound this is a dominating figure.• As fantastic as Ohtani looks, and some fantasy managers will make important decisions on him based on eight days of performance, do not panic on New York Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, either. Yes, Stanton struck out five times on Sunday, the second time he has done so in the young season. However, you know what he is capable of, and that is great power. I still worry Stanton can't remain healthy for six full months, but at the plate he is streaky and will have stretches like this. Ask yourself this: If Stanton had a one-week stretch of struggling like this in July, would anyone care? Would they notice?• The Philadelphia Phillies unveiled right-hander Jake Arrieta on Sunday against the Miami Marlins and all things considered it was not a bad performance. Arrieta did permit a home run to light-hitting shortstop Miguel Rojas, but he settled in after the first inning and departed after 74 pitches, a reasonable result considering his shortened spring training. Arrieta is on the schedule to face the Tampa Bay Rays, in their dome, over the weekend. Neither of the Florida teams hits much, but Arrieta certainly can be a top-20 starting pitcher this season, so get him active if you have not already done so.• While Ohtani deserves the top spot on the Player Rater so far, Bryce Harper looks like baseball's top player, NL version. Of course, we have said that in the past and he has delivered only one terrific full season of work to fantasy managers. Harper has still achieved things at a young age that few have in baseball history, but the reason he was a first-round fantasy risk was the lack of durability. The fact that he is hitting .357 with a homer nearly every game and tons of walks is not at all surprising. His career OPS in March/April is 1.098. In May it is .936. In the final four months it is no better than .883, which is still significant, but the point is Harper has started seasons looking awesome before. I am not skeptical of his talent, but health is a skill, and even in a contract season I would worry about him suddenly developing that skill.• Quite similarly, fantasy managers should not be surprised that Arizona's A.J. Pollock homered and stole a base on Sunday. He is very capable of a fantastic season, just like 2015 when he hit 20 home runs and stole 39 bases while batting .315. That is a fantastic season! Pollock missed nearly all of 2016 and 50 games last season. Look, I do not want Harper or Pollock or anyone to get hurt, but the greatest indicator of future injury is past injury, as the great Stephania Bell often reminds us. While Harper and Pollock can win fantasy managers their leagues, and it can be difficult to predict injury, I would also never tell someone not to trade them if the offers are there, and they should be. I tend to be less cautious in relying on brittle players.

    Injuries of note• I admit I had two initial thoughts when I saw Cincinnati Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez plunked by a Taillon pitch in Sunday's game. First, do I have this guy on any teams? Second, does this mean awesome prospect Nick Senzel gets the call? No, it is not all about me and I do hope Suarez returns to playing soon, but his thumb is broken and his absence could be lengthy. The Reds immediately had Triple-A third baseman Alex Blandino removed from his game, a harbinger of his pending promotion, while Senzel will continue to mind second base for those same Louisville Bats. Senzel needs to work on his new defensive position but also needs more time in the minors for those extra special financial and team control reasons, the same ones depriving Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna of big league time. Blandino is actually mildly interesting for OBP but he boasts neither pop nor speed. Suarez was supposed to hit 25 home runs. He will not likely do so now, and it might be tough to keep him rostered in shallow leagues.Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts sprained an ankle sliding into a dugout attempting to retrieve a baseball, which really stinks because at the plate he looked rejuvenated, like his 2016 version and then some. Bogaerts has been barreling baseballs and hit a pair of home runs through nine games. He knocked in six runs Saturday. Perhaps he needs to miss merely a day or two and this is no big deal. Dustin Pedroia does not appear close to action, so while Eduardo Nunez can move to shortstop, he would have been playing anyway. Brock Holt does not help a fantasy team much.

    Closing time• Four of the pitchers to earn Sunday saves are named Brad, which is probably just a coincidence. Interestingly, Padres closer Brad Hand was not among them. Then again, I cannot really find any other relief pitchers with that name likely to earn saves anytime soon. Brad Keller of the Royals? Nah. Each of the four instances of Brad Saves from Sunday is interesting. Arizona's Brad Boxberger has permitted a base hit in only two of five appearances. He looks like he is keeping this role. Miami's Brad Ziegler, barely rostered in fantasy, earned his first save, through little fault of his own but again, I think he keeps the job. Popular Drew Steckenrider is not next in line, Kyle Barraclough is. Baltimore's Brad Brach keeps getting chances when fantasy managers like to speculate about Mychal Givens and/or Darren O'Day. Brach loaded the bases with Yankees on Sunday with nary an out and somehow escaped with the save. And Houston's Brad Peacock saved Sunday's win and not Ken Giles. I do not think that means Giles is out as closer, as he was unavailable after pitching the prior two days, but I do think Peacock could be next in line. Astros manager A.J. Hinch should leave Peacock in a multi-inning role, but his Sunday actions could signal otherwise.

    W2W4

    Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Jhoulys Chacin faces St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Miles Mikolas on ESPN Monday, and while I cannot say I have much interest in the former, the latter was effective in his first outing and hit a home run. Mikolas pitched in Japan the past few seasons and earned his way back to this league after struggling mightily with control earlier in his career. Is he legit? Well, he might be. The Cardinals have prospect Jack Flaherty lurking in Triple-A, and he fanned 11 in his weekend outing. We keep presuming his rotation spot is the one being used by veteran Adam Wainwright, but truth is, it could be anyone except Carlos Martinez. Mikolas permitted three home runs in his first outing. That will need to change moving ahead.
     

  12. #12  
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    What to expect from Nick Senzel
    Tommy RancelESPN Insider

    Ronald Acuna is definitely the name you want to know for 2018 and beyond. All the reasons why can be found
    here. But what if Acuna is unavailable? Or the price is too high for you at the moment? Who is the alternative? Rob Refsnyder, it is not.

    Gleyber Torres is the obvious first choice. He would have been the talk of the league last summer if not for a freak injury that ended his season prematurely. He has worked hard to get back into the conversation (a four-hit game on Sunday helped), but the New York Yankees added the necessary depth this offseason and no longer need to rush him to the top level to fill a hole. He will be an impact player, just one we will have to wait longer than we would like for.

    Although he lacks the flashy upside of Acuna or Torres, the sensible (no pun intended) alternative is Nick Senzel of the Cincinnati Reds. That may seem like a no-brainer given his draft status -- second overall in 2016. He has a game that is more of a matte finish than sparking chrome, he may not garner as much attention as a player with shinier tools; especially to the casual eye.

    While the Acuna-type players will wow observers in batting practice or in an exhibition setting, Senzel's game is more nuanced. His hit tool is his best asset -- one of the best in the minors -- but that does not pop off the page until you see him in an actual game. When you do, however, he quite often looks like the best player on the field.

    Senzel's swing is build for the top of the order. A career .315 hitter through 190 games as a professional, he should approach that mark at the highest level. It is a very compact stroke that packs a punch even if it is not designed for power. His home run total may never top 20. Meanwhile, what he lacks in over-the-wall power, he makes up between the gaps. He could easily top 50 doubles a season to go along with 15-18 home runs as a full-timer.

    Up until this weekend, Senzel had been a third baseman exclusively. He has improved defensively since his days at Tennessee, but I always felt his ultimate home was second base even before Eugenio Suarez signed a new contract. The keystone position is where Senzel debuted for the Louisville Bats this weekend. He looked comfortable in his new home, making 12 plays in 12 opportunities. While the right side of the infield will ultimately be his home, the opportunity for promotion may require him to move back to the hot corner.

    Word came down on Monday that Suarez suffered a broken thumb over the weekend and will miss an undetermined amount of time. The Reds do not have to rush here, especially since Senzel is not even on the 40-man roster yet, but if they want to see what their top prospect can do, there is an opportunity.

    Flipping back to the long-term view. How in demand is a second baseman who can hit .300 with the potential for 60 or more extra-base hits? It should be higher than you would think. Only five qualified second basemen hit. 300 or higher in 2017. One of them (Dee Gordon) is a center fielder now and another moved back to third full-time (Jose Ramirez).

    If we ignore the Suarez situation, the odds are likely the Reds would prefer to stall some of Senzel's service time clock. That does not mean you forget about him. Even if he is passed on at this moment, Senzel should reach the majors in the relatively near future where he will unseat Scooter Gennett as the club's primary second baseman.

    Currently, Senzel is owned in just 6 percent of leagues. Though there may not be a sense of urgency right now (the Suarez situation once again excluded as we don't know the club's reaction yet), if he hits as expected in Louisville, (4-13 this weekend was a good start), a more savvy manager may make a move to stash him away as the summer approaches. In that case, you should have him on the radar now and be poised to make a move when the time comes.
     

  13. #13  
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    Top fantasy baseball free agents by position
    Eric Karabell
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    Fantasy baseball managers should regularly check the waiver wire to see what is available, even if your team or teams do not necessarily have a current need for a particular position or statistic. Perhaps a player is lurking who will soon perform well and add depth to your team, and it will offer you the shot to make a trade for another need.

    Since it is early in the season, we often see even the most veteran of managers cutting reliable players too soon after 30 at-bats or several starts. That really should not happen but we know it does! Patience should be a virtue but then again, who are we kidding? Fantasy sports managers love to overreact.Nevertheless, the purpose of this weekly blog entry is to identify undervalued players that could potentially be available in your league(s), so without further ado, let us get to it! Players rostered in more than half of ESPN's standard leagues are not eligible for inclusion on this list.

    Catcher

    Tucker Barnhart, Cincinnati Reds (10.5 percent rostered): There are several catchers available in at least 50 percent of ESPN standard leagues who are being added often in the past week, among them Toronto's Russell Martin, but he is a rather large batting-average risk. Barnhart, a fantastic defender, homered earlier this week but does not figure to reach double digits this season. What I like is he has drawn five walks against seven strikeouts and his .296 batting average might not be such a fluke. Barnhart hit .270 last season and stole four bases. He can do so again.Kevin Plawecki, New York Mets (3.6 percent): The Travis d'Arnaud elbow injury creates an opportunity for Plawecki to receive regular playing time, and he could be much like Barnhart. Do not expect big power, but Plawecki can draw a walk and potentially hit .260 or above.Others: Christian Vazquez, Boston Red Sox; Kurt Suzuki, Atlanta Braves; Victor Caratini, Chicago Cubs


    Corner infield

    Colin Moran, Pittsburgh Pirates (21.8 percent): Moran and Miami Marlins starter Brian Anderson were two of my sleeper hitters for the season because they showed modest power in the minors and would be given starting jobs in the majors. Sometimes that is enough. Moran posted a four-hit game last week, and while he is not likely to hit his current .344 for long, his is an elite contact rate (in a small sample) and he could provide 20 home runs. Moran has struck out only five times.

    Nick Senzel, Cincinnati Reds (9.1 percent): Starting third baseman Eugenio Suarez went on the DL for a while with a busted thumb, and the next day the Reds announced they were shifting Senzel, a natural third baseman, back from second base. When everyone is healthy, that seemed like the fastest path to the majors. Not anymore. Senzel can really hit, and he could get the promotion from Triple-A Louisville this weekend.Others: Maikel Franco, Philadelphia Phillies; Eduardo Escobar, Minnesota Twins; Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants; Adrian Gonzalez, New York Mets

    Middle infield

    Yolmer Sanchez, Chicago White Sox (15.2 percent): He is playing regularly at third base but eligible at second base, and Sanchez is capable of adding to his numbers from 2017, when he hit .267 with 12 home runs and eight stolen bases. Sanchez is not an efficient base stealer; he is 12-for-25 on attempts in his career. The Chicago lineup is improved and Sanchez is a short-term, fill-in type.Asdrubal Cabrera, New York Mets (43.8 percent): The veteran switch-hitter blasted a pair of home runs in Tuesday's win and certainly could return to his power stats from 2016, when he hit 23 home runs. Last year he hit 14. Cabrera does not steal many bases, but he hit .280 in each of his first two Mets seasons, and more than half his at-bats have come in the Nos. 1 and 2 lineup spots, so he should score more runs than past years if it continues.Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves (42.7 percent): Raise your hand if you gave up on him after his disappointing rookie campaign. What a shame. Swanson is not likely to approach 20 home runs, but he looks rejuvenated as he hits baseballs hard to all fields. He could hit at least .280 for the season, and as short-term fill-ins for the likes of Elvis Andrus go, he is a strong option.Others: Jed Lowrie, Oakland Athletics; Ben Zobrist, Chicago Cubs; Dixon Machado, Detroit Tigers; Aledmys Dias, Toronto Blue Jays


    Outfield

    Jose Pirela (15.1 percent) and Franchy Cordero (2.3 percent), San Diego Padres: Each will likely play regularly, with Manuel Margot joining Wil Myers on the disabled list. Pirela seems safer for batting average and -- this is important -- playing time. Cordero was called up from Triple-A, and while he portends to be someone providing perhaps 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases, he swings and misses quite a bit and could end up back in the minors in a week.Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians (30.7 percent): Once a fantasy star, Brantley is on the mend from ankle surgery and not playing regularly, but he had a pair of singles in Wednesday's game and stole a base -- good signs indeed. Brantley hit .299 last season over 90 games with nine home runs and 11 steals. There might be more missed time in his future, but when he plays, he should hit.Steve Pearce, Toronto Blue Jays (8.3 percent): A right-handed hitter often deployed in a platoon, Pearce homered in three consecutive games recently, and they were not all off lefties. The Jays can use him regularly at designated hitter with Kendrys Morales injured, and they probably will. Pearce has not proved the most durable fellow himself, but has averaged 16 home runs over 93 games the past four seasons.Others: Derek Dietrich, Miami Marlins; Brian Goodwin, Washington Nationals; Drew Robinson, Texas Rangers; Matt Joyce, Oakland Athletics


    Starting pitcher

    Nick Pivetta, Philadelphia Phillies (17.6 percent): While his 2017 numbers were mostly atrocious, do not overlook the mighty strikeout rate. There is something there with the right-hander, who has not walked a hitter in his past two outings while totaling 16 strikeouts. Young pitchers with strikeout potential emerge annually.Joey Lucchesi, San Diego Padres (10.7 percent): The unknown left-hander who skipped Triple-A has 16 strikeouts in his first three outings, including eight of them in an outing at Coors Field. That tends to get noticed. Lucchesi remains unproven and his fancy ERA and WHIP have him on the most-added list, but he does not throw particularly hard as compared to others, so be careful.Yonny Chirinos, Tampa Bay Rays (8 percent): The rookie right-hander was never known as a big strikeout option coming through the minors but through his first three outings -- two starts -- Chirinos has yet to permit a run. As with Lucchesi, take the numbers you see and keep perspective, but if the Rays continue to allow him to start games, fantasy managers should invest and see what happens.Zack Wheeler, New York Mets (8.9 percent): Once a renowned top prospect but now 27 years old, the right-hander tossed seven innings of two-hit, shutout ball at Miami this week, and while the Marlins are not a reasonable offense, seven innings is impressive. He struck out seven. It is hard to bet on health here, but it's not too late for Wheeler to matter.Others: Andrew Triggs, Oakland Athletics; Tanner Roark, Washington Nationals; Reynaldo Lopez, Chicago White Sox; Mike Fiers, Detroit Tigers


    Relief pitcher

    Matt Albers, Milwaukee Brewers (6.2 percent): This is what it has come to in Milwaukee. Albers is 35 and earned his third career save in Wednesday's win, though it was not so pretty. Perhaps manager Craig Counsell uses Albers in tandem with hard-throwing lefty Josh Hader, the sexier pickup. Corey Knebel will not return for a while, so Albers can get to double-digit saves or, if he struggles, open the proverbial door for Jacob Barnes again.Nate Jones, Chicago White Sox (11.5 percent): He saved Wednesday's win because Joakim Soria, recommended in this space a week ago, was unavailable. I think if you add Jones, you might have to wait a while for regular saves, but they should be pending at some point.Others: Fernando Rodney, Minnesota Twins (he will appear in this space every week until he gets to 50 percent rostered!); A.J. Minter, Atlanta Braves; Brad Ziegler, Miami Marlins

     

  14. #14  
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    Which pitchers off to strong starts are worth picking up in fantasy baseball?
    Ron Shandler
    ESPN INSIDER

    There is a reason why four starting pitchers had first-round average draft positions last month: Elite pitching is precious and scarce. So if there are any hints that new stars are emerging, free-agent foragers will be all over them.

    Once again, he who hesitates is lost.

    As with batters, some early surprise performances are clearly outliers, some are clearly for real and some, well, who knows? Skills metrics, history and contextual changes are helpful in finding explanations. With starting pitchers, we can also look toward the opposition. With only three to four outings in the books, a soft schedule can artificially boost a pitcher's numbers.

    The following starting pitchers are off to unusually good starts. Which ones are for real?(Minimum three starts)

    Trevor Bauer had a 3.15 ERA with solid peripherals in the second half of last year, leading many analysts to buy in for 2018. His current 2.25 ERA and 1.10 WHIP seem to be rewarding that decision. However, a 4.04 xFIP is less optimistic, and with two of his three starts against Kansas City and Detroit, it's too soon to know whether his good fortune will continue.

    Jose Berrios' minor league numbers had Twins fans looking forward to their next savior. But after bombing out in his MLB debut, his follow-up showed only moderate growth. Are his current 2.18 ERA and 0.63 WHIP the breakout we've been waiting for? It's too early to tell. While his skills metrics look great, he struggled against the Mariners, the only winning team he has faced so far. At minimum, we can say that there are signs of continuing growth.

    Dylan Bundy hurled 30 innings, struck out 40, walked only two and allowed no earned runs back in Class A Delmarva in 2012; from that point, greatness was expected. Injuries and ineffectiveness have derailed him in the years since, but that only makes his current 1.40 ERA more intriguing. Despite a slight decline in velocity, his support metrics say it's for real. The fact that three of his four starts have been against Minnesota, Houston and Boston makes it even more impressive.

    Gerrit Cole has already posted some fine seasons, but injuries and inconsistency have marked his career. Are his 1.29 ERA and 0.67 WHIP precursors to a breakout in Houston? Not so fast. His 69 percent first-pitch strike rate and 19 percent swinging strike rate are off the charts, but consider the teams he has faced. Texas (twice) and San Diego are a combined 13-21. Cole should have a solid year, but let's see how he fares first against some real competition.

    Patrick Corbin'snumbers (1.65 ERA, 0.70 WHIP) may be an early sign that the Chase Field humidor is working. In his three home starts, he struck out 28 and walked three in 22 innings, then struggled a bit on the road in pitcher-friendly San Francisco. Corbin's metrics are a huge leap from his history and bear further watching. For what it's worth, Zack Greinke and Zack Godley are demonstrating similar home-road splits. Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker are not.

    Ian Kennedy had become a fantasy nonentity after last year's 5.38 ERA and declining skills profile. But his current 1.00 ERA and 1.06 WHIP harken back to better times. His 3.54 xFIP indicates some obvious regression and puts his current performance on par with his 2014-2015 output. And with two of his three starts against solid competition, it's possible that there is still some gas in the tank at 33.

    Joey Lucchesi has a 1.66 ERA and 0.97 WHIP and has allowed only one earned run in his last three starts. With 25 strikeouts in 22 innings and a 2.63 xFIP, it sure looks like it's for real. But it's still only four starts, and the aggregate record of his opposition has been just shy of .500. His quick ascension from the minors makes him interesting, but not someone for whom you'd empty your FAAB coffers. Yet.

    Sean Manaea had a solid rookie year but then took a step back in 2017. His early 1.63 ERA and 0.72 WHIP seem like signs of a return to earlier expectations. Despite the success, his underlying skills metrics are not as dominating. His velocity and first-pitch strike rate both show decline from even last year's disappointment. Be cautious.

    Rick Porcello is one year removed from a Cy Young Award, but after a disappointing 2017 season, are his current 1.83 ERA and 0.76 WHIP indicators of a rebound? Not likely. Two of his outings were against the Rays, and in his other game, he was staked to an early 6-0 lead in a getaway game for the Yankees. His skills metrics indicate he will likely regress to his typical ERA around 3.75.


    Jameson Taillon is one of the reasons the Pirates are off to such a hot start. His 0.89 ERA and 0.69 WHIP are otherworldly, but are boosted by a .160 BABIP and 92 percent strand rate; his 3.14 xFIP is more representative of his underlying skill. Two of his three starts were against the Reds and Marlins, against whom he hurled 15 shutout innings and allowed just five hits. Regression is coming.

    There are several other pitchers who are off to good starts but whose support metrics are soft, presaging a decline. These include Chad Bettis, Andrew Cashner, Jakob Junis, Aaron Nola, Chris Stratton and Trevor Williams.
     

  15. #15  
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    Who is Yonny Chirinos, and can he help your fantasy team now?
    Tommy Rancel
    ESPN INSIDER

    Here's a riddle for you. Entering Monday's slate of games, there are three pitchers who have an ERA of 0.00 and a minimum of 10 innings pitched. Two of them, Jeurys Familia and Craig Stammen, are traditional relievers. The third is not a starting pitcher. Who is he?

    Yonny Chirinos has been getting the "who is he?" treatment for a while now. Brent Honeywell spent the better part of the past two seasons as the Tampa Bay Rays' top prospect, but Chirinos was named the club's minor league Pitcher of the Year for 2017. It is nothing he is not used to.

    Since signing in 2012 for a mere $100,000 out of Venezuela, Chirinos has spent his entire career in a Rays' organization where bigger names have come and gone (Taylor Guerrieri, Enny Romero, etc.), but now it is Chirinos who is pitching his best at the highest level.

    It was not long ago when it looked as if Chirinos had peaked as a pitcher. Without a plus-plus offering and much pedigree, he struggled in 2016 as a Double-A starter. As mentioned in the past, that level is usually a make-or-break point for a lot of prospects. Despite the unfavorable results, Chirinos remained a pitcher. He had enough depth in his arsenal, and more importantly, maintained the control of those pitches (1.1 BB/9), which allowed him to move through the organization relatively quickly, compared to how the Rays do things.

    Last season, Chirinos took a big step forward. Once a pitcher who threw in the low-90s with a curveball and changeup, he became a pitcher with a mid-90 sinker, a hard slider and a split-fingered changeup. Throughout the metamorphosis, he held on to the control and command. He walked just 26 batters in 168 1/3 innings across two levels.

    After being left unprotected from the Rule 5 draft in 2016, the Rays added him to the 40-man roster last November. With that spot came an invitation to spring training with the big league club.W

    hat happened after that was a surprise to not only Chirinos but the entire league.

    The Rays sent a ripple throughout the league when they announced they would work with a four-man rotation indefinitely. The fifth spot would be occupied by a medley of relievers chosen by matchup. The four-man rotation became a three-man rotation before the season started when Nathan Eovaldi landed on the disabled list. Chris Archer, Blake Snell and Jacob Faria are the only pitchers guaranteed to make a start in a given week. The rest are TBD -- to be determined or the bullpen day.

    A large portion of the "bullpen day" concept is rooted in limiting a pitcher from facing a lineup for the third time. Thus far, starters have a slash line of .234/.309/.388 against the first time they go through the order in 2018. That jumps to .282/.350/.476 when they see the lineup for a third time. With that in mind, if you have a few pitchers who you can use twice through the order, you should be able to manipulate the matchup and avoid a third time. It is sound logic, provided you have the resources.

    Chirinos pitched well enough in spring to make the Opening Day roster. His history as a starter made him a prime candidate to fill one of the spots for these hybrid pitchers required to pull off the unorthodox rotation. Though he is not a card-carrying member of the rotation, he has made two starts and has arguably been the Rays' best pitcher regardless of title.

    The 24-year-old right-hander has tossed 14 1/3 shutout innings across three appearances. He has punched out 12 batters and walked just two (he has hit three batters). He is extremely efficient due to his ability to typically work ahead in the count. Thus far, he has thrown a first-pitch strike 72 percent of the time. The league average is below 60. Despite his relative youth and inexperience at the highest level, he shows a grasp for pitching that indicates a baseball IQ reserved for a higher maturity level.

    In his most recent appearance -- a start on April 11th against the White Sox -- Chirinos pitched into the sixth inning. He allowed no runs on four hits and a walk while striking out five on 75 pitches. He even faced the top of the order for a third time before receiving the hook. Going back to his feel for pitching, Chirinos used 17 sinkers, seven sliders and four splits the first time through the order. The second time, he flipped the usage, throwing the splitter 13 times, the sinker a dozen times and just four sliders. As he faced Yoan Moncada, Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu a third time, he used eight sliders, six sinkers and four split-fingers. Of his 75 varied tosses, 49 went for a strike (65 percent).

    As the scheduled off days become less frequent, the Rays will likely add an official fourth and maybe even a fifth starter. Chirinos has served as a de facto member of the rotation already, so he seems likely to move into a permanent spot when it is created.


    Why Chirinos should matter to you now is two-fold. First, he is generating strikeouts and a WHIP (0.70) that can help you immediately. He is doing so with or without appearances that count against your starts limit. Secondly, while he has pitched enough to win all three of his appearances, the odd usage -- and the Rays' poor offense -- has his record at 0-0. That said, once/if he gets a regular rotation spot, he should start seeing a few W's added to the left column.

    Currently, Chirinos is flying under the radar with an ownership percentage below 10. That said, he has jumped seven percent in the past week. His next appearance -- start or not -- will likely come later this evening against the Texas Rangers. If he puts up more zeros, that percentage will likely jump into double figures. If you are streaming pitchers or are in a deeper league, Chirinos is worth the price; especially while other owners in your league may still be asking, "Who is he?"

     

  16. #16  
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    Top fantasy baseball free agents by position
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER

    Fantasy baseball managers should regularly check the waiver wire to see what is available. Perhaps a player is lurking that will soon perform well and add depth to your team, and it will offer you the shot to make a trade for another need. Patience is a virtue, but we often see even the most veteran of managers cutting reliable players too soon after 30 at-bats or several starts. That really should not happen, but we know it does!

    The purpose of this weekly blog entry is to identify undervalued players that could potentially be available in your league(s), so without further ado, let us get to it! Players rostered in more than half of ESPN's standard leagues are not eligible for inclusion on this list.

    Catcher:

    Kurt Suzuki, Atlanta Braves (10.7 percent rostered): Regular playing time could soon be compromised when Tyler Flowers returns from a DL stint, but that is OK. Suzuki bashed 19 home runs in 81 games and 309 plate appearances in 2017 and it does not seem like a fluke. Suzuki enters the weekend hitting .270, but with five walks against one strikeout. Who does that? He has power. He is underrated.

    Others: Luke Maile, Toronto Blue Jays; Matt Wieters, Washington Nationals; Jose Lobaton, New York Mets; Tucker Barnhart, Cincinnati Reds

    Corner infield:

    Yuli Gurriel, Houston Astros (47.7 percent): The 33-year-old Cuban hit .299 in his first season with the Astros, but provided a mere 18 home runs, much to the disappointment of many. He started this season on the DL after hand surgery and has hit .250 in six games with a home run, but has become popular lately because he is not struggling like Logan Morrison, Carlos Santana and a slew of other first basemen. Gurriel is a good hitter with modest power. He makes contact and hits in the middle of a strong lineup. Chances are he helps a fantasy team, but perhaps not enough after months of investment.

    Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins (30.5 percent): Power is not pending for this player, but Mauer is safe for batting average and if a fantasy manager has struggled with a first baseman hitting 50 points below his weight, a few weeks of Mauer should help that. Just do not expect home runs; Mauer hit seven last year. Go add Tampa Bay Rays first baseman C.J. Cron if you want the potential for 25 blasts, but with his rotten plate discipline, it might come with a .240 batting average.

    Luis Valbuena, Los Angeles Angels (22.7 percent): Another fellow that will not help the batting average, but he is utilized solely against right-handed pitching and can hit 22 home runs like he did in 2017. Check the matchups for a given week before adding him.

    Others: Christian Villanueva, San Diego Padres; Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants; Ronald Guzman, Texas Rangers; Mitch Moreland, Boston Red Sox


    Middle infield:

    Cesar Hernandez, Philadelphia Phillies (39.8 percent): The emergence of rookie Scott Kingery has not hurt the team's leadoff hitter, who continues to take his walks and is no longer underachieving as a base stealer. Hernandez is likely to raise his current batting average and flirt with 100 runs scored in a lineup that takes many pitches and wears down pitchers. Phillies shortstop J.P. Crawford generally bats ninth and sits on occasion against lefties; Hernandez plays regularly and scores runs.

    Aledmys Diaz, Toronto Blue Jays (13.4 percent): Diaz plays shortstop for his new team and if he hits he will keep the role even when Troy Tulowitzki returns, which could be a while. Diaz hit 17 home runs for the 2016 St. Louis Cardinals in 111 games so the power we are seeing is not a fluke, but the .300 batting average from that year was. Diaz profiles as a .250 hitter. Still, with 20 home runs possible, that could work.

    Miguel Rojas, Miami Marlins (6.9 percent): He bats second for a major league team -- yep, the Marlins have not been relegated -- on a regular basis and sometimes that is enough. Rojas has been a utility infielder for years, devoid of power, speed, upside. Last year he hit .290 and made contact and now he bats second. I do not think Rojas will hit 10 home runs or steal 10 bases, but he could hit .290 again.

    Others: Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks; Ben Zobrist, Chicago Cubs; Howie Kendrick, Washington Nationals; Marcus Semien, Oakland Athletics

    Outfield:

    Aaron Hicks, New York Yankees (45.8 percent): Durability remains a problem for this switch-hitter, but he made strides for power and plate discipline last season and could see time in the leadoff spot this year. Hicks hit a pair of home runs in his second game off the disabled list.

    Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers (28.8 percent): Once a fantasy star, Kemp homered twice in the road series in San Diego this week and seems to be a lineup fixture until someone better comes along. Even last season, Kemp hit 19 home runs in 115 games and his .276 batting average is fine. He no longer steals bases and be thankful defensive statistics do not count in fantasy, but as a fifth fantasy outfielder he can help you until he cannot.

    Teoscar Hernandez, Toronto Blue Jays (8.0 percent): The risk here is obvious, and it has little to do with Hernandez. Designated hitter Kendrys Morales could come off the DL any minute and Hernandez could get demoted to Triple-A Buffalo. Or the Jays could play Hernandez and watch him blast tape-measure home runs. Hernandez did that last September. He has power. But if you read this over the weekend and Hernandez is not in the majors at least you were warned.

    Tyler O'Neill, St. Louis Cardinals (5.0 percent): He could debut Thursday, but there is no indication his promotion is a permanent thing. O'Neill is built like a linebacker and boasts power, but give him 500 at-bats and he might hit .250. Still, where does he play in this outfield?

    Mallex Smith
    , Tampa Bay Rays (20.9 percent): This fellow can steal bases and will remain a regular at the top of the lineup. I am surprised his four stolen bases have not translated to greater attention on rosters.
    Others: Steve Pearce, Toronto Blue Jays; Franchy Cordero, San Diego Padres; Brandon Nimmo, New York Mets; Leonys Martin, Detroit Tigers


    Starting pitcher:

    Trevor Williams, Pittsburgh Pirates (37.5 percent): The 1.93 ERA is superficially low and does not match the 3.84 FIP, so be careful here. Williams is not missing many bats and his walk rate is inflated, so he has been fortunate, but I pegged him as a sleeper to improve a bit on his 2017 numbers, which means a 3.84 ERA is possible.

    Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers (23.9 percent): Take the under on 150 innings because the Dodgers boast rotation depth and like to use it, but Ryu should pitch well when given opportunity. He struck out 17 hitters in his past two outings, beating the Padres and Athletics. His career ERA is 3.39.

    Reynaldo Lopez, Chicago White Sox (41.3 percent): Walks are this right-hander's issue, but when they come with strikeouts we can often overlook. Lopez is not likely to keep his ERA better than 4.00 for long if he continues his wild ways, but the strikeouts are legit.

    Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston Red Sox (29.8 percent): Much like Lopez the walks are a problem, but Rodriguez should get considerably more run support and has seemed on the verge of breaking out in the past.

    Others: Vince Velasquez, Philadelphia Phillies; Ivan Nova, Pittsburgh Pirates; Chad Bettis, Colorado Rockies; Matt Boyd, Detroit Tigers; Chris Stratton, San Francisco Giants


    Relief pitcher:

    Keynan Middleton, Los Angeles Angels (49.2 percent): The current option for Angels saves does not appear to be on safe ground to keep the role, thus he comes only partly recommended. Angels manager Mike Scioscia has other options and like last season the closer could be a surprise. Middleton misses bats, but allows home runs, 11 of them as a rookie and his first of 2018 came on Wednesday. Other right-handers lurk.

    Bud Norris, St. Louis Cardinals (21.9 percent): It is certainly possible Greg Holland rights himself and pushes Norris aside for ninth-inning work, but there is little indication of that occurring soon. Norris is pitching great, with 17 strikeouts versus one walk, and saved 19 games for Scioscia last season. He can top that mark if Mike Matheny and Holland let him.

    Adam Ottavino, Colorado Rockies (48.3 percent): Saves are not likely coming his way, but if he keeps striking out two batters per inning fantasy managers will keep noticing.

    Others: Fernando Rodney, Minnesota Twins (he will appear in this space every week until he gets to 50 percent rostered!); Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers; Adam Cimber, San Diego Padres; Matt Albers/Jacob Barnes, Milwaukee Brewers

     

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    Karablog: Braves corner infielders to worry about
    Eric Karabell
    ESPN INSIDER
    Entering Wednesday, all seemed right and proper with the corner infield positions for the Atlanta Braves. First baseman Freddie Freeman was healthy and thriving, while over at third base, there was journeyman Ryan Flaherty among the league leaders in hitting -- a positive, if unsustainable situation, as there remained little case to invest in any fantasy league. Still, there were no actionable stories here. By Wednesday night there were several, as an errant pitch struck Freeman on the left wrist and Flaherty had potential, looming company at the hot corner.

    First, let us deal with Freeman, one of the more valuable assets in fantasy for his potential to hit for average and power. When the Hoby Milner fastball connected with Freeman's wrist in the eighth inning, an odd thing occurred; Freeman, with an exasperated look of defeat, simply and methodically exited the field for the clubhouse. He typically would have walked to first base or remained at home plate awaiting trainer and manager aid, but he seemed to think initially that something was amiss. Something like last season when an Aaron Loup pitch broke his left wrist. Freeman missed six weeks and dealt with soreness the rest of the season.

    Fantasy managers might not have been able to notice Freeman was in physical distress in the second half of 2017, because the numbers were there, and his status as a second-round choice in ESPN ADP was no fluke, but nobody wants to deal with wrist or hand injuries, least of all the players. Initial X-rays showed no break, and the Braves should have an update Thursday on how much playing time, if any, Freeman could miss. Perhaps -- and hopefully -- all is fine. Baseball -- not only fantasy ball -- is better off when the stars are healthy and thriving.



    Flaherty sits at the other end of the superstar spectrum, and I think it is safe to say he is not going to hit .365 for much longer. He is rostered in roughly 10 percent of ESPN standard leagues, and that simply shows how desperate and impatient most fantasy managers are. Still, it seemed a bit strange when the organization inked a one-year, minor league contract with free agent Jose Bautista on Wednesday afternoon, noting he will play third base. Bautista, 37, hit .203 for last season's
    Toronto Blue Jays and was, sans debate, one of the worst players in baseball with his minus-1.7 WAR. And that occurred as a right fielder. We should be dubious to expect Bautista to perform capably at third base, a spot he last played regularly a decade ago.


    At the plate, I admit this can make sense, as the Braves are woefully lacking in right-handed power, a situation made worse by the refusal to promote top prospect Ronald Acuna until he has a decent stretch of games at Triple-A Gwinnett, as if that would mean something. Bautista's contact rate plummeted the past two seasons, and he struck out at a career-worst 24 percent clip last season, albeit with a strong walk rate. Bautista hit 23 home runs, all but three off right-handed pitching, but that is no longer much of an achievement.


    Flaherty, a left-handed hitter who hit his first home run of the season later on Wednesday night, is not the answer either, and those relying on him should know this. The Braves are a surprising sixth in MLB in runs scored, tied for 15th in home runs, but
    Dansby Swanson and Kurt Suzuki are the lone right-handed hitters in the lineup.

    In fact, what I think is going to happen at third base for the Braves this season is this: versatile Johan Camargo, who came off the disabled list Wednesday and struck out as a pinch hitter, is a better option for fantasy than Flaherty in deep leagues. A year ago, Camargo hit .299 with a bunch of doubles, which was nice, but nothing special. When Flaherty cools down -- he is a career .222 hitter, people! -- I expect Camargo to play third base until September, when prospect Austin Riley should get a look.

    Riley is hitting .370 with power for Double-A Mississippi, and if the Braves were real contenders -- sorry, gotta be honest -- many would be discussing him, but there is no reason to rush. Come next spring, this is Riley's job. If this organization will not promote Acuna, then expecting a Riley promotion this season is probably foolish.

    For this season, some combination of Flaherty, Camargo and I suppose, if things work out, Bautista will handle things, but my reaction to the Bautista signing is to smile and ignore any notion of adding him in even deep leagues. Bautista has had an interesting and productive career. In 2004, he played for four big league teams in the majors, though he did not hit. The Pittsburgh Pirates kept him around, and by 2006, he was hitting a bit and drawing walks. In 2010, sans warning, he bashed 54 home runs for the Jays when that really, really meant something and four times was a top-10 MVP American League finisher.

    Last season, his bat looked slow -- too slow. Defensively, he was a liability. This is what the Braves view as protection for Freeman in the lineup? Hey, I think Bautista is an interesting fellow and the move by GM Alex Anthopoulos really offers little downside. Those fellows are pals, so things like this happen. Follow Bautista on Twitter @JoeyBats19 and enjoy, but I do not see much fantasy relevance here, as any power would be offset by batting average. If ranking Braves third-base options for 2018, it goes Camargo, Bautista and Flaherty -- and on the other side of the diamond, we hope none of these fellows has to suit up because Freeman is absent.

    Wednesday recap

    Box scores Highlights:Ryan Zimmerman, 1B, Washington Nationals: 3-for-4, 2 HR (3), 3 R, 4 RBI
    Yoan Moncada, 2B, Chicago White Sox: 2-for-7, HR (3), 4 RBI, 3 R, SB (3)

    Teoscar Hernandez, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: 4-for-6, HR (1), 4 RBI, 2 R
    Jose Berrios, SP, Minnesota Twins: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K
    Gerrit Cole, SP, Houston Astros: 7 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, win

    Lowlights:Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians: 0-for-6, 4 K
    Franchy Cordero, OF, San Diego Padres: 0-for-5, 4 K
    Luis Perdomo, SP, San Diego Padres: 3 IP, 10 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 4 K
    Tyler Mahle, SP, Cincinnati Reds: 5 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 6 K
    Ryan Madson, RP, Washington Nationals: 2/3 IP, 5 H, 6 ER, 1 BB, 1 K

    Wednesday takeaways:
    • Houston's Cole was a big strikeout option for last season's Pirates, finishing with 196 of them, but the current version is averaging more than 13 strikeouts per nine innings, which is obviously crazy and historic. People ask if I think Cole is someone to trade away in fantasy, and I keep saying I think he can do what he did in 2015, when his final ERA was 2.60. That means that his current 0.96 ERA is not going to continue, so keep that in mind. Cole allowed 31 home runs last season, and three so far over four outings. He has yet to face a thriving offense (Mariners, Padres, Rangers twice) but he cannot control that. I think Cole's ERA for the rest of the season is likely to be around 3.00. I think he will strike out roughly a batter per inning. That is great, and Cole could end up among the top-10 starting pitchers. If you get offered Mike Trout or Clayton Kershaw, of course, I make the deal. If it is Hanley Ramirez, Didi Gregorius or Shohei Ohtani, I do not.

    • Few will notice because of the team he hurls for, but Detroit Tigers lefty Matthew Boyd has made three starts, and in each of them, he has gone six or more innings, allowed precisely one earned run, and he has yet to win. That combination is apparently rare enough that the last fellow to achieve it was Pedro Martinez in 1994. Run support can be a wonderful thing! Boyd has proved himself at Triple-A, and last season, he had stretches in the majors, during which he looked interesting for fantasy managers in deep formats. I'm just saying that is happening again.

    • The Red Sox are hitting machines, and after pummeling the Angels' pitching for a few days, they have passed the Ohtanis for the most prolific offense in the majors in terms of runs scored. The club has already bashed four grand slams, with Wednesday's coming from Rafael Devers, and the lineup will improve when middle infielders Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia are healthy. What does this mean for fantasy? Add catcher Sandy Leon? Nope. It means I will absolutely take a second look whenever my starting pitcher is facing them if he is not a top-50 or so option.

    • The Reds are bad, and on Thursday morning, they decided to blame beleaguered manager Bryan Price and the pitching coach, even though that hardly seems reasonable this early in a season that was expected to be, well, pretty bad. Jim Riggleman, with quite a past and hardly someone we should expect to be a progressive thinker, takes over as manager for a while. Fantasy managers always ask what a managerial change means for them, but in this case, I do not see much altering unless Billy Hamilton remains in the leadoff spot. He does not get on base and Jesse Winker does, so at least Price was doing something right. Does this move mean anything for a pending Nick Senzel promotion? Doubt it.

    Injuries of note:• Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton was placed on the DL with migraines, and while we must presume this has affected his play on the field, there remains ample reason for concern as to whether he will soon reach his immense potential at the plate as well. Buxton can hit for modest power, and he can steal many bases, but making contact is a problem and so is durability. Try to keep him rostered in a 10-team league, but there are no guarantees Buxton comes close to being the top-60 fantasy asset we see in his over-aggressive ADP.

    Closing time:Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Alex Colome saved his fourth game but opened the ninth inning with a pair of walks and one of them scored. Colome's inflated ERA of 9.00 did not budge. No, Colome does not look right, and yes, setup man Sergio Romo is experienced as a closer -- if this continues for much longer the players could swap roles. I just do not see the Rays making a change soon unless Colome is hiding an injury. For one, the Rays want to trade Colome, and that is far more likely if he is thriving as a closer. Second, pitchers lose command on occasion and then they find it. Colome should fix things soon.

    W2W4:

    • The Angels cannot wait for the Red Sox to leave town, and Thursday they face lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, a strikeout option perhaps on the verge of stardom. Rodriguez has whiffed 15 hitters in 9 2/3 innings, though his command has been far from perfect as well. Oh, and since everyone wants to know, it would be surprising if Ohtani is in the lineup against this oft-wild lefty. Ohtani remains on the schedule to pitch Tuesday at Houston, assuming his finger blister healed. Why risk that with DH at-bats against a tough lefty? Rodriguez should be the focus here, especially since the Red Sox provide so much run support.

    Fantasy managers are growing tired of Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Domingo Santana, but Thursday he is scheduled to face Marlins lefty Dillon Peters and his 6.75 ERA. Perhaps that is not fair; Peters has one bad outing and a pair of quality starts to his record. The struggling Santana -- so great last season, but nobody has the patience to wait -- bats right-handed, and the Christian Yelich return to health absolutely could affect playing time. Yelich singled and walked twice in Wednesday's game. If Santana does not start hitting, then a benching for Eric Thames on a more regular basis will be prudent. Thursday's game is important.

     

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