While owners shouldn't make any final judgments on players after two to three games, there are some positive signs and red flags in player performance. We are going to try and wade through the small sample sizes and try to find some trends in just two to three games. Remember, just because a player might be mentioned in a downgrade does not mean he should be dropped. For this week, a downgrade and check status will be combined as there have been very few demotions have taken place and that there should be a wait and see strategy at this time in the season.
Chad Billingsley P, LAD- Billingsley has been extremely inconsistent over the last few seasons, and as someone who owned him last season, he could be maddening because of his enormous talent. He might have thrown the most dominant game during these first few games recording a swinging strike with all of his pitches and a 14.8 percent swinging strike rate overall. Yes, this start was against the Padres in Petco, but the high amount of swinging strikes and the fact he had a 71.4 percent first pitch strike percentage are very positive signs considering his 4.02 BB/9 from 2011 and that his 7.6 percent swinging strike rate from 2011 was his lowest since 2006.
Luke Scott 1B/OF/DH, TB- Scott appeared made his first start with the Rays on Saturday night going 3-for-4 with a double, three RBI and a run scored. While Scott will spend time on the bench against left-handed pitching at first, I wouldn't be surprised to see him in there more often against them later in the season even with BJ Upton coming back soon. Joe Maddon has loves to pinch hit late in games, so he should get an at-bat or two even if he isn't starting. He has held his own against them in his career producing a .787 OPS and a .229 ISO, which are not too different from his career rates (.844 OPS and .230 ISO). I think you can pencil him for 450 plate appearances if he can stay healthy, which should allow him to produce 20 plus home runs along with a .250/.330/.40 line. He should be available in most leagues and he has flexibility at both first base and the outfield. (Ed Note: Scott left Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, so watch for more updates.)
Johan Santana P, NYM- Santana looked great in his few innings of work against the Braves on Thursday, but then ran out of gas in the fifth. While his velocity is not what it once was (averaged 87.7 mph with fastball on Thursday compared to 89.7 in 2010), his change-up was just as dominant. He recorded a swinging strike rate of 15 percent in start, and he was using his slider more frequently. Santana still has a long way to go, but this snapshot proved that he can still be a successful major league starter because of his ability to change speed and record swinging strikes. I wouldn't be surprised to see a higher walk rate as he is gaining command, and throwing fewer pitches in the strike zone.
Adam LaRoche 1B, WAS- LaRoche remains on the scrap heap in many leagues because of a torn labrum which required season ending surgery last year that zapped him of all of his power. I have written elsewhere that owners are far more likely to see a repeat of one of his 20 home run 80 RBI seasons than a repeat of 2011 season. He never had a season with an ISO below .179 until last year, and with him batting cleanup in the Nationals lineup, he should have plenty of RBI chances. He is a no risk pick up at this point as a free agent, and can more than adequately fit a utility role in standard league.
Hector Santiago P, CHW- In one of the more shocking moves this week, Robin Ventura has decided to give Santiago sole possession of the White Sox closer role. I was convinced that Ventura would go with the veteran Matt Thornton (I have him on a few of my teams), and the team seems to think Thornton cannot close out games. The 24 year-old, but he features a fastball that sits between 93-95 from the left side along with a screwball and occasional slider. I'm not sure whether he can hold onto the role, as his command was spotty at times in the minors (4.1 BB/9) and that I have not seen him record many swing and misses in his very brief time in the majors. However, he is your guy if you need some saves now. Keep Crain and Thornton around as insurance.
Lucas Duda 1B/OF, NYM- Duda showed some of his home run potential on Saturday blasting two solo home runs against the Braves. The new dimensions at CitiField helped to provide him with his first home run, and both of the home runs were very well hit fliers. Duda was one of my undervalued picks before the season because of his HR/FB rate and ability to hit the ball in the air. His .206 career ISO is impressive considering he has played more than half of his games at the old CitiField, and it looks like the new dimensions will help him get to 20-25 home runs this season. His career line drive of 20 percent should allow him to hit .270 to .280 along with a .370 OBP.
Justin Morneau 1B/DH, MIN- I know it is very early, but I think the idea of Morneau of playing in both of the Twins games and collecting two hits (even with one of them of the infield variety) has to be considered a victory at this point. He hit the ball very hard in two of his at-bats. Just over a month ago, Morenau was saying he would have to retire if his concussion symptoms continued. He already looked better in these two games than he looked at any point during the 2011 season when he produced a -0.3 WAR, four home runs and a .227/.285/.333 line in 288 plate appearances. He probably will never regain his MVP numbers, but these first two games were as good of a sign that he has seen in two years.
Chris Perez P, CLE- After one game it is safe to say that Perez's job might already be in jeopardy. Anyone who has looked at advanced metrics can tell you that Perez was extremely lucky last season. His strikeout rate decreased from 8.71 K/9 to 5.88 K/9, and his FIP (4.24) and xFIP (5.01) indicated that 2012 could be a rough season. In Thursday's blown save, Perez could not find the plate and only recorded a swinging strike rate of 3.2 percent. The worst news is that his average fastball velocity sat at 90 mph, down from his 93.4 mph average in 2011. Vinnie Pestano is the best reliever in the Indians bullpen, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him claim the ninth inning job sometime in the next couple of weeks even though he was not very good on Saturday either with his first shot at the role.
Doug Fister P, DET- Fister left Saturday's game after 3.1 innings pitched because of a strain in his left side. The Tigers immediately placed him on the disabled list after the game and loses favorable matchups against the White Sox and the Royals over the coming weeks. These types of injuries can be annoying for pitchers and can nag for a while. The earliest he can be back is on the 22nd of this month, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him out until May. Duane Below will get his spot in the rotation, and essentially compete with Drew Smyly for the fifth spot once again until Fister returns.
Sean Rodriguez SS, TB- Joe Maddon initially said the Rodriguez was going to be his everyday shortstop, but he had Rodriguez on the bench on Saturday against Hiroki Kuroda in favor of Reid Brignac. I'm sure that Rodriguez will amass more plate appearances than Brignac over the course of the season, but this game already indicates that Maddon is not fully committed to the idea of Rodriguez as the starter. Brignac is the better defender at the position, and he went for the platoon advantage immediately against strong right-handed pitcher. I have a feeling this is something we will see often, but Maddon can be unpredictable.
Tommy Hanson P, ATL- Hanson was decent against the Mets on Thursday, allowing just one run and striking out four in five innings of work. However, I am very worried about Hanson's decreased velocity. He averaged just 88.7 mph on his fastball during the start (down from 91.3 mph in 2011 which was down from 92.7 mph in 2010), and he only recorded a swinging strike percentage of 6 percent in the game. The question is whether this will remain permanent or if Hanson still has not fully recovered from his shoulder injury. Hanson's offspeed pitches are still strong enough to make him effective, as he only allowed a 7 percent line drive rate in his start on Thursday, but his strikeout rate would take a hit.
Carlos Marmol P, CHC- Marmol blew his second save in as many games on Saturday walking two and allowing two hits. Marmol has not gotten opposing hitters to chase anything out of the zone so far. He has yet to a record a swinging strike yet, and I have noticed he is not throwing his slider as often. The good news is that Kerry Wood, the likely replacement, has been even worse in those two games. Additionally, his fastball velocity has been up around 92-94 mph, where as it was sitting at 91-93 for most of last season. It has been only two games, and I expect Marmol to remain the closer, but the lack of swinging strikes is troubling. It is worth monitoring his next few games closely.
Jason Kubel LF, ARI- Kubel has gotten off to a slow start with the Diamondbacks in two games going hitless with one walk in seven plate appearances. What has been troubling so far is that he has difficulty making contact so far chasing (19.2 percent swinging strike rate) by chasing a lot of pitches out of the strike zone, and every ball he has put in play has been on the ground. I know it has only been two games, but Kubel is a defensive liability in left field. If he does not make a better impression at the plate, he will certainly lose some playing time to Gerardo Parra (one of the best defensive left fielders).