Ben Francisco, OF, PHI - Instead of ripping on Domonic Brown, who is now dealing with a broken hand, I'll look at the glass as being half full and upgrade Francisco instead. The truth is Francisco was likely going to get the starting gig in right field with Brown off to a horrible start. Before the injury, Brown was only 1-for-16 (.063 BA) with nine strikeouts. Francisco on the other hand has been on fire, batting .421 with two home runs. Don't forget about Ben in NL-only and deeper mixed leagues on draft day.
Ian Kinsler, 2B, TEX - Apparently healthy (for now at least), Kinsler has been the hottest player so far this spring. While it's a small sample size (13 plate appearances) Kinsler has four home runs and a whopping 2.370 OPS. He's also stolen a bag and it looks like he'll be leading off for the Rangers. Over the last few years Kinsler has been a first or second round pick, so he'll come at a nice discount after a poor 2010 season. While second base is deeper than most think, he'll be a guy to target in the first three rounds.
Nick Blackburn, P, MIN - Ron Gardenhire has stated that Blackburn has earned a spot in the Twins' rotation. He's thrown five scoreless innings this spring and appears to be throwing better after an offseason surgery on his elbow. Last year's 5.42 ERA and 1.453 WHIP are nothing to be proud of but the injured elbow could be the cause of those numbers. Before last season he had two straight years with a 4.03 and 4.05 ERA, so last year appears to be the outlier. Even with the off year in 2010, Blackburn took advantage of Target field, owning a 3.71 ERA and allowing only 10 home runs in 89.2 innings. In contrast, he had a 7.57 ERA on the road and allowed 15 home runs in only 71.1 innings. Just like the Padres, Blackburn is worth starting when he's in his pitcher-friendly confines.
Erik Bedard, P, SEA - Granted, it hasn't been against elite hitting but the six Ks over three no-hit innings have Bedard off to a good start. Bedard has reported no problems with his shoulder and has everything to play for with an incentive-laden, one-year contract. This is a guy who averaged over a strikeout per inning in 2009 before he was hurt and has the advantage of playing his home games in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the league. He's worth a late round flier, a dollar bid or a spot on your bench at the very least.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, BOS - One of my favorite draft strategies is to go back and look at where players were ranked heading into last season and compare that to where they're going this season. After going back and looking, there was a fair debate on who to take between Carl Crawford or Ellsbury. Ironically, they now both play for the same team. Ellsbury appears over the rib injury from last season and looks to assume his role as the leadoff hitter for the Red Sox. With new teammates Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez hitting behind him, an outstanding fantasy season could be in store. Thinking he could bat .300 with 100 runs and 60-70 stolen bases isn't unrealistic provided his injury concerns are no longer an issue.
Matt Wieters, C, BAL - Wieters is another player who I think is falling too far in drafts. The pedigree is there, as evidenced by his minor league numbers. In 575 minor league at-bats, he hit .344 with 32 home runs. While he may hit lower to start the season, he'll be in a much stronger lineup which should help his RBI totals. Entering his third season as a major leaguer, look for Wieters to take the next step and provide a nice return on his current 135 ADP.
Jake Fox, DH, BAL - This is my extreme darkhorse this week but I think he deserves a mention. I'd like Fox so much better if he could have caught one more game last year and gotten catcher eligibility. It will be a matter of time before Fox gets eligibility at some positions, probably first base. Baltimore has a couple of fragile players in Derrek Lee and Luke Scott blocking him from playing time, so Fox could get some regular at-bats with an injury. Fox has gotten off to a 6-for-12 start that includes three home runs. Outside of his time spent with Oakland, he's hit a homer for every 20 at-bats with Baltimore and the Cubs so the power is legit from the 28-year-old.
Matt Cain, P, SF - I'm not quite ready to downgrade Cain, who's dealing with some elbow inflammation. Cain played catch without any setbacks on Saturday and will progress to continue to build himself up over the next week. It's never good to hear about an elbow injury from a pitcher but this may be a case of the Giants handling one of their stars with white gloves. For now bump him down a few notches on your draft board but be prepared to move him up if this is nothing significant.
Francisco Liriano, P, MIN - I had Liriano in this same section last week when there were rumors swirling around about a deal that would land him in pinstripes. Now there's news that he's dealing with shoulder soreness, although the team has stated it's due to a lack of offseason conditioning on Liriano's part. I'm not thrilled when a player who makes millions each year neglects to keep in decent shape when that's what he's paid to do. Liriano could be fine by Opening Day if he builds up his strength and doesn't suffer any setbacks.
Chris Carpenter, P, STL - Cardinal fans held their collective breath after Carpenter left Tuesday's game with what's being labeled as a hamstring strain. After the season-ending injury to Adam Wainwright, an injury to Carpenter would likely lead to a lost season for St. Louis. Carpenter has reported he can still feel the injury but it's getting better every day. I'm not all that high on Carpenter; he'll be 36 next month and saw his home runs jump from .33 per nine innings in 2009 to .80 per nine innings in 2010. While that's not a huge number, the loss of 1.6 mph in his fastball over that same time could explain the .98 increase in ERA. Needless to say, I'm not overly optimistic on Carpenter this season.
Corey Hart, OF, MIL - Hart injured an oblique that will minimally cost him the next 10 days while he recuperates. The tricky thing about oblique injuries is that they tend to linger. That being said Hart had a horrible spring last year but still went on to post a career year in home runs and RBI, so monitor his progress as Opening Day gets closer.
Michael Stanton, OF, FLA - Stanton injured his quadriceps running to first base last Monday which has limited his activity over the last week. The injury is being labeled as a mild strain, which doesn't sound too bad. He's been hitting off a tee and could see live batting practice as soon as today (Sunday). I consider Stanton the type of player you can't be accused of reaching for during drafts; the floor for this season with 500-plus ABs is 35 homers.
Chase Utley, 2B, PHI - I'm staying away from Utley this year, especially with the news that he's received a cortisone shot to alleviate the pain in his right knee. I've done a couple of drafts this week and despite the news about his ailing knee it hasn't seemed to affect his draft position. He missed time last season with a thumb injury and even if he was completely healthy now, I wouldn't be as high as most are on him. He's seen his OPS drop for four straight seasons (.976, .915, .905, .832) and I think people are still remembering him as the 33/14 and 31/23 guy he was in 2008 and 2009. Even if the cortisone shot works, I'd guess he finished in the single digits for stolen bases and the knee affects his home run swing. There are too many red flags here for me to recommend him, especially considering how high he's going in drafts.