As we approach the end of April, most fantasy veterans recognize that a slow start doesn't mean we should just pack it up and call it a season. Health issues aside, over a full season, most statistics regress to career mean - Billy Butler won't hit .200, Prince Fielder should surpass 20 home runs and Madison Bumgarner will likely run through a stretch of starts where he's nearly unhittable. We can't help but look at the teams in first place and wonder if that is the team we'll be staring up at the whole season or chide their offenses led by Kevin Kouzmanoff and Ian Stewart knowing we can pass them sometime around mid-May. But what if that owner looks like he's been blessed by the roto gods and can do no wrong?
Currently, my NFBC Main Event squad sits in 9th place out 15 teams with 82 points - a whopping 47 points behind the leader, Full Grown Guppies. My pitching has been outstanding for the most part (Yu Darvish, Gerrit Cole, Sonny Gray, Chris Archer, and Robbie Ross have led the way) while hitters like Prince Fielder, Jay Bruce, Jedd Gyorko, Brett Lawrie, and Billy Butler have severely drained my batting average - last place in both BA and HR. Meanwhile, "Guppies" has had the ultimate April, riding incredible starts from Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Bautista, Justin Upton (three of his first four picks), Pedro Alvarez and Dee Gordon. He not only leads our league, but the entire challenge - tops out of 420 teams. Hanley Ramirez hasn't even begun to get warm for him and he had the foresight to draft Francisco Rodriguez in the 24th round. Sometimes a team is built under the perfect storm and has a manager (or managers) who build on their hot starts with additional confidence to make the right moves at the right time. Guppies added Trevor Bauer for $9 (out of a $1000 budget) a week before the crowds and you can almost expect something to bad to happen to a Reds outfielder - Guppies lone bid this week was for a $28 Chris Heisey.
Along with dozens and dozens of NFBC managers, I'll be keeping a close eye on Guppies - not just because he's in first place overall, but because it looks like he has the Eye of the Tiger this year and has built a squad that isn't just running on fumes. Last season, later round values like Chris Davis and Jean Segura were keys to many championship teams. As the month of May rolls in, we should be able to identify which of our competitors we should keep a close eye on, especially when it comes to fighting it out for the next Yasiel Puig on the waiver wire. Now excuse me as I hit the proverbial roto books so that I can catch up to Guppies.
Devin Mesoraco, C CIN - Mesoraco has been on absolute fire since coming off the disabled list on April 8th. He has hit safely in all nine games he has played in, with 3 HR, 10 RBI and an unsustainable .515 BA/ 1.481 OPS. Mesoraco was either a late round second catcher in draft leagues or was likely available on waivers for those not wanting to carry a third catcher on the DL - those who did have been strongly rewarded, albeit the small sample size. Mesoraco was highly coveted in fantasy circles, hits in a plus home park and can be expected to reach and possibly surpass the 20 HR mark without hurting the BA - just don't expect .300+ come season's end. He has kept his K% below 20% for most of his minor league career and has the potential to finish the year top 10 at his position.
Justin Morneau, 1B COL - It feels as though Morneau was under the radar in draft leagues with an NFBC ADP of 218 as the 19th first baseman off the board this spring. Morneau put up mediocre numbers in 2013 (17 HR, 62 R, 77 RBI, .259) after a couple of injury-riddled seasons and last hit over 20 HR in 2009 (he hit 30 that year). Coors Field is a huge home park upgrade over Target Field and he looks primed for a nice season - he has 15 RBI in his last five games and is hitting a robust .344 on the young season. Morneau, along with Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard, are making a good case for fantasy owners not to overlook supposed over-the-hill talent at the corners. I wouldn't expect Morneau returning to 34 HR - 130 RBI form from 2006, but 20-100 with .285 is certainly possible and a fun summer in Coors is most certainly guaranteed.
Anthony Rendon, 2B WAS - Rendon's bat has been a pleasant surprise amidst the crowded conversations surrounding young stars Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. Rendon is proving quite versatile to the Nationals, batting at every lineup spot except for third and fourth and has split games evenly at 2B and 3B, moving over to 3B full time with the injury to Ryan Zimmerman. Rendon doesn't steal bases, but has a bit of pop and can contribute to BA, R and RBI categories. He's hitting .320 with three HR, 14 RBI so far and is 7-12 (.583) against lefties. Rendon could learn to take a walk (7.9% BB rate in 98 games last year, 5.7% so far this year), but since he doesn't run, it shouldn't matter to fantasy owners that much. He's a phenomenal value for where he went in drafts (ADP: 238) and though he'll be prone to slumps, he should have a fine overall season in what looks to be a potent Nats lineup.
Yankees Aces (Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, SP NYY) - Tanaka and Pineda have been absolutely lights out through six combined starts. Tanaka boasts a 28:2 K/BB ratio in three starts and appears to be hushing skeptics who expected him to be less of an overpowering force than country mate Yu Darvish. Pineda, who was the 111th pitcher off NFBC draft boards this spring, won the team's last rotation spot and holds a 1.00 ERA through his first three games, pitching six masterful innings in each of them. For a Yankees squad with rotation concerns following CC Sabathia's drastic decline last year, the future looks bright. Sabathia should keep his ERA under 4.00 this year and with this dynamic trio in the rotation, the Yankees could surprise us in the playoffs, should they get in.
Braves Bonanza (Ervin Santana, Alex Wood, Aaron Harang SP ATL) - Was there ever a doubt that the Braves would find a way to have one of the best rotations in the National League once again? Despite season ending injuries to Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and a few week sidelining of Mike Minor, the Braves hold the league's lowest ERA (2.44) through the first three weeks of action. Alex Wood and his funky delivery has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his first four starts, though there will certainly be bumps along the road. Santana has a 10.3 K/9 with a 0.86 ERA / 0.81 WHIP through his first three games with a fair shot to top his best season (2006: 16 W, 8.8 K/9, 3.49 ERA). The fantasy-undrafted Harang is the biggest surprise of the group, pitching seven no-hit innings in his start last week sitting with a 0.70 ERA through three games. The 4.46 xfIP foreshadows an eventual correction, but for now fantasy owners who snagged him off waiver wires will look forward to his next two starts against the Marlins before deciding whether to cut bait or not. Santana certainly looks like the member of the group whose rise looks like the real deal.
Hitters: Matt Wieters, C BAL, Elvis Andrus, SS TEX, Howie Kendrick, 2B LAA, Marcell Ozuna OF MIA
Pitchers: Jon Lester, SP BOS, Martin Perez, SP TEX, Tyson Ross, SP SD, Huston Street, RP SD
Not Falling For It: Dan Uggla, 2B ATL, Brett Oberholtzer, SP HOU
Pablo Sandoval, 3B SF - The 27 year old Sandoval had many things going for him in the off-season - walk year, winter weight loss and that mythical age 27 power peak - he's got a .171 BA to show for it so far. Sandoval has yet to live up to his hype or put up the numbers fantasy owners expect, outside of .330, 25 HR, 90 RBI effort in his first full season in 2009. Sandoval is a career .294 hitter, but looks like a shell of his former self to those of us who have been watching Giants games. He has maintained a consistently decent K% since that 2009 season, hovering between 13.1 and 13.5% which is something to take note of considering he's at 20.5% so far. He's likely to improve that number towards his career norm, but AT&T Park does him no favors in the power category. Sandoval will no doubt pick up the pace at some point, but for now he seems lost as he swings at ugly balls outside of the strike zone and appears undisciplined.
Kyle Seager, 3B SEA - Perhaps fantasy owners are expecting a complete flip-flop from last year where the currently ice-cold Seager hit .293 with 7 HR, 44 RBI, 54 R before the All Star break and .212, 7-25-25 after. Seager is hitting .158 with no homers and only two runs batted in, hitting from the sixth slot most of the year. Seager is the antithesis of a sexy draft pick and has very little upside outside of the .260 - 20 HR - 70 RBI - 10 SB his owners expect. The Mariners are second only to the Astros in team batting average (.226) - once Cano and company heat up, Seager will eventually get his numbers, but he's just not someone to get particularly excited about.
Chris Carter, DH HOU - It seems impossible to top last year's 36.2% strikeout rate, but Carter nears the 40% mark through three sluggish weeks of at bats. His 29 HR in 585 PA last year came with a hazardous .223 batting average as we know full well what to expect when drafting him. It was also incredibly impossible to time Carter on a week to week basis based on any type of splits - owners saw a barrage of home runs from their benches only to insert him back into lineups for weeks of nothing but strikeouts. Hitting .132 (.094 ISO) with no home runs means we know a streak is coming, but with the promotion of stud prospect George Springer, Carter is no lock to play every day nor approach last year's plate appearances. Carter is a perfect example of the importance of drafting power with average in drafts' earlier rounds - basically, so that we don't have to rely on guys like Carter, Adam Dunn and Mark Reynolds.
Danny Salazar, SP CLE - There's little doubt of Salazar's capabilities and dominance, but he may have been a tad too popular, drafted at an ADP of 138 as the 26th starting pitcher off draft boards. Not to say that Salazar's 7.71 ERA and 1.96 WHIP won't significantly improve, or that his 10.9 K/9 won't maintain - it's just that young, exciting pitchers tend to get over-drafted as we sometimes focus on the pedigree and ignore the struggles that most young pitchers go through. Salazar gained even more notoriety as the first pitcher since 1900 to record 10 Ks without making it through 4 IP in his April 10th start against the White Sox. Salazar will look to begin fixing his ratios with two nice starts this week against the Royals at home and the Giants on the road.
Rex Brothers, RP COL - It's tough to categorize a reliever who has pitched less than eight innings on the season as "falling", but here is Rex Brothers in the spotlight. Between the dominance of Rockies' closer LaTroy Hawkins and the universal industry accord that it was only a matter of time before Brothers overtakes him, I am left among those who have been humbled. Granted, there will be ample opportunity for the takeover, but Brothers is not doing himself any favors, blowing a save, giving up a 10th inning walk-off homer and walking seven in 7.2 IP. Meanwhile, the 41 year old Hawkins is five for five in save opportunities and looks to have extended his stay in the ninth inning over the left-handed Brothers. This quandary puts owners with Brothers on our rosters in a tough position - and in a waiting game that may never work out in our favor this year.
Hitters: Carlos Santana, 3B CLE, Jean Segura, SS MLW, Jason Heyward, OF ATL, Carl Crawford, OF LAD
Pitchers: R.A. Dickey, SP TOR, Dan Straily, SP OAK, John Lackey, SP BOS, Erasmo Ramirez, SP SEA
Not Falling For It: Miguel Cabrera, 1B DET, Madison Bumgarner, SP SF