Rizzo de Mayo
Jack is back! It's only apropos that the last time John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez were leading the majors in saves, Jack Bauer was out and about saving the world from those pesky terrorists. Between the new series premier of 24, the NFL Draft on Thursday and the arrival of Angels prospect C.J. Cron, it's a big week for us all! Just like the world's villains can never underestimate Jack, we as fantasy owners, should never underestimate our fantasy league mates. Cron, the Angels 24-year-old former first round prospect, was called up this weekend to occasionally spell Pujols at 1B and to DH as the team likely gets ready to DFA the aging and inept Raul Ibanez. Josh Hamilton and Kole Calhoun will return to the lineup soon, so Cron will have to solidify his place on the team with superb contributions. I thought my sneaky NFBC bid of $52 would be enough to get him, but Cron went for $173 with a backup bid of $127.
It's not that Cron is a lock to dominate or that his pedigree guarantees immediate success. The point is that smart fantasy players are willing to gamble on the next big thing, sometimes these decisions can help you win leagues, and the money that comes with it. I've had the misfortune of drawing legend and Hall of Famer Stephen Jupinka, in three straight NFBC Vegas Main Event drafts - NFBC'ers know that Steve is one of the best fantasy players in the world. Two seasons ago, my partner Ronny Mor and I had a 28-point lead on second place in mid-April and decided that we weren't willing to part with the potential of Trevor Bauer to bid too much on this stud prospect named Mike Trout, figuring he would get sent back down to Triple-A. After all, our outfield was stacked, our offense was in good shape and we were just plain stubborn. Well, Steve snagged Trout for $54 and the rest was history. With Trout carrying his squad, Steve passed us mid-summer and tacked on another 20 points in route to easily winning our league, finishing fifth overall out of 420 teams.
Last season, we had the pleasure of getting outbid on some guy named Yasiel Puig (winning bid $5, our bid $2) a week before $500 plus bids were the norm. Guess who got him and ran away with our league? Yep, Steve freaking Jupinka. Keep in mind, you can't win these competitive leagues with one player - Steve took Max Scherzer in the fifth, Carlos Gomez in the seventh, Miguel Cabrera with his first overall pick - and he grinded it out on FAAB all season long, an important element for success.
So, is Cron this year's Trout and Puig or will someone else come along who we can scoop up on FAAB to help us cruise to victory? Chances are slim. What Trout did in 2012 and Puig in 2013 were once-a-decade type feats and most leagues have already stashed the Gregory Polancos of the world. But you don't get out from your leagues' doldrums safely if you don't fight head-on and take some risks. Just ask Jack Bauer.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B CHC - Rizzo burst onto the fantasy scene in 2012 after an offseason trade with the Padres, hitting .285 with 15 home runs in 87 games. A hot commodity going into the 2013 season, Rizzo's first full season was a rough one, striking out 127 times and finishing the season with a .233 average. We chalked up the disappointing year to growing pains and selected Rizzo within the first 100 picks on draft day in most leagues this spring. Despite a slow first week of the season, Rizzo heads into Cinco de Mayo festivities with 6 HR, 16 RBI, .300 BA, .423 OBP after a scorching week (7 R, 3 HR, 6 RBI, .357) and is showing more patience at the plate (16.5% walk rate compared to 11% last year). The 24-year-old lefty is on the verge of a breakout season and is outplaying first basemen drafted several rounds ahead of him including Eric Hosmer, Edwin Encarnacion and Prince Fielder.
Desmond Jennings, OF TB - Jennings was a DFS dream last week, cracking homers in three consecutive games (2 @ NYY, 1 @ BOS) and has a fine five-category pace through the Rays' first 30 games (18 R, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 6 SB, .294). Jennings is still striking out around 20% of the time and the BA likely won't sustain, but most stud hitters have one of those outlier batting average seasons, so why not 2014 for Des? The .333 BABIP has been fueling the batting average though and his career .252 needs to be taken with more than just a grain of salt. Like Rizzo, Jennings seemed like a bargain at draft tables (NFBC ADP of 112) and the decline in SB (from 31 to 20) was due mostly to a groin injury he was nursing last year, which kept him from attempting to steal often. The 20 HR/40 SB season is a stretch, but it's also a dream that may become a reality as early as this season.
Christian Yelich, OF MIA - To say I'm a fan of Yelich's game would be a huge understatement. Targeting him in all of my NFBC drafts, I sang his praises to my cynical friends who didn't think his 15 HR / 15 SB "ceiling" was a big whoop, nor realistic this early in his career. Everything you've read about Yelich and his work ethic are true. A good friend of mine was a teammate of his at Westlake High School (on the outskirts of the baseball haven known as the San Fernando Valley). He claims Yelich was not only a freak of nature, but was one of those guys who ate, drank and slept baseball - he had that 'it' factor that apparently very few teenagers in the game have. Scouts, baseball writers and fantasy pundits alike have seconded this notion and now we get to watch Yelich mature as he shoots to be the first Marlin since 2010 to score 90 plus runs (Dan Uggla had 100). Call me crazy or biased, but if Giancarlo Stanton stays healthy and continues to mash, 90 runs for Yelich is realistic - as is that 15/15 with a BA north of .290. "Riser" is his middle name and Yelich will get better by the month.
Brandon McCarthy, SP ARI - BMac's stock is on the rise after three consecutive excellent starts (19 IP, 24 K, 1.42 ERA, 1.10 WHIP) - a complete 180 degrees from his brutal first four starts (20 ER in 25.1 IP with a 6.4 K/9). Owners should let the good times roll while they can, since they never seem to last that long. McCarthy has pitched more than 135 innings only once in his career (2011) and is always a good bet to hit the DL. He has never won double digit games in a season, though this can easily be attributed to playing on underwhelming teams throughout his career and not being able to stay on the mound. BMac will have a true test this week as he takes on a White Sox team that leads all American League squads in run scored, and is top five in most offensive categories. It's hard for baseball fans and fantasy folks not to love McCarthy (and his lovely wife, Amanda), so let's hope he finally puts together the year we've all been waiting for.
Drew Smyly, SP DET - If you're like me, you've been waiting for the Smyly love-fest to begin - and here we are. We drafted him in March 2013 and were mildly (or severely, depending on who you ask) disgusted when Rick Porcello won the fifth rotation spot over him and watched Smyly dominate in middle relief (76 IP, 9.6 K/9, 0.5 HR/9, 2.37 ERA with a 2.31 FIP to match). Doug Fister gets traded to the Nats and all of a sudden, we're off to the races! We had to wait a few weeks as Smyly kept getting skipped and issues about inning limits were obvious to us all. Finally, he gets a start against the Angels and gets pulled after struggling through three innings, giving up four earned runs. The next two starts are what owners expect from the filthy, 24-year-old lefty - 13 K in 13 IP, giving up two earned runs in one start and holding the Royals scoreless in the next. Pitch counts of 93 and 94 are good signs as well. Smyly heads home to face the lowly Astros this week, with a chance to throw 100 plus pitches and perhaps reach double digit strikeouts against the league's biggest whiffers (9.1 strikeouts per game).
Hitters: Brayan Pena, C CIN, Mark Teixeira, 1B NYY, Wil Myers, OF TB, Colby Rasmus, OF TOR
Pitchers: Wily Peralta, SP MLW, Corey Kluber, SP MIN, Jake Arrieta, SP CHC, Joe Smith RP LAA
Not Falling For It: Scooter Gennett, 2B MLW, Erik Bedard, SP TB
Eric Young Jr., OF NYM - I think back to my NFBC Main Event draft in Las Vegas when I selected Young over Dee Gordon, while still needing a shortstop. Hindsight is 20-20, but I've watched Dee play baseball here in City of Angels and thought it would be a matter of weeks, not months, before Cuban prospect Alex Guerrero would take his job. Well, at this point Young looks to be the one out of a job with Chris Young and Juan Lagares returning to the lineup. EY has speed (he led the NL with 46 SB last year) and scores runs, but is just not that good of a baseball player (career slash line: .254/.325/.332). Owners hope he finds his way back to the top of the lineup at some point and avoids his early Colorado days as a middling utility player and pinch runner. I'm not giving up hope yet, and we know what being called a "faller" in this column does to hitters (see Carlos Santana last week).
Carlos Beltran, OF NYY - To say Beltran is falling does not mean we are giving up on him. Beltran went 2-17 (.118) last week with no homers, runs or RBI but does have 5 HR, 13 RBI on the season. His BB% (5.3%) is similar to last year's (6.3%) but far from career norms that were nicely in the low double digits. Beltran is striking out at a higher clip (18.4%) this year and the .272 BABIP has a correction pending. Yankee Stadium suits him well, but fantasy drafters paid for last year's .296 BA that will be hard to repeat. Beltran doesn't have age on his side either (37 years old) and perhaps we've forgotten the injury-plagued seasons that cost him 172 games in 2009 and 2010. Stay cautious of the batting average and let's all hope that Beltran has one more solid season in him.
Will Venable, OF SD - Venable has been absolutely putrid at the plate, hitting .194 with no homers or steals and striking out about 30% of the time (34 K in 110 PA). Venable has stolen 20 or more bases in four consecutive seasons and was a fantastic waiver wire pickup in some leagues finishing the year with 22 HR and 22 SB. Maybe those of us in San Diego can pinpoint what's wrong, but for now we should just chalk it up to a bad start and hopefully his worst month of six. It's tough to give up hope (read: drop) a player who can put up counting categories, but the Padres are absolutely dreadful hitting as a team (worst in MLB .215 BA) and Carlos Quentin is nearing a return to the outfield. Venable is a guy who might be available on your waiver wire in a few weeks if you'd like to dump him for the likes of Chris Heisey or Michael Choice. His career .254 BA will likely ensure his absence from your lineup won't kill you should you choose to part ways.
Matt Garza, SP MLW - Karma is a bitch, or so they say. My fellow RotoWire colleague Scott Jenstad calls Garza a "bad human being" (publicly blasting Eric Sogard and his wife, telling Samardzija to leave the Cubs) - a distinction given only to him, Josh Outman (ignored a kid's request for an autograph during batting practice when there was absolutely no one around) and Matt Holliday (ask Scott about that one yourself). Well, karma is probably not to blame for Garza's 5.00 ERA through his first five starts, but he certainly doesn't look like number two starter who steadily maintained a WHIP between 1.24 and 1.26 in four consecutive seasons and once through a no-hitter. Garza has been maddingly inconsistent, giving up 4 ER or more in half of his starts. Garza looks fine after an apparent thumb contusion and is on track for a home two-step against the DBacks and Yankees. The 7.5 K/9 is on pace with career numbers but the 3.0 BB/9 is troubling. Garza is one of those guys (like Tim Lincecum) that I'm completely happy with them being OPP (other people's problems).
John Axford, RP CLE - I don't know how long the leash is on Axford, but it is obvious Terry Francona's is longer than mine. Then again, I'm not the one paying him $4.5M this season. I have never been an Ax fan, and don't believe that even his fantasy owners think Axford in the ninth will last all season. Ax does have nine saves on the year, but sits with a 4.38 ERA in 12 IP essentially on two game ending home runs to the White Sox on April 13 (to Alexei Ramirez) and yesterday (a 3-run bomb to Dayan Viciedo). Six of his nine saves have come against weak hitters on cold hitting teams (Padres, Royals and the A's in week 1). The AL Central has Jose Abreu and some guy named Miggy Cabrera who hasn't even begin to warm yet - and they'll be ready to feast on the Axman should they get the chance. The main issue here is the walks (5.40 BB/9, 5.09 in 2012 when he last closed out games). I'm not a Cleveland Indians fan, but if I were, I'd certainly start a petition to get Cody Allen into the role - not that I own him on any fantasy teams, but to keep the percentage of heartburn down in the city of Cleveland and because Indians fans simply deserve better.
Hitters: Brad Miller, 2B SEA, Ike Davis, 1B PIT, Matt Joyce, OF TB, Mitch Moreland, DH TEX
Pitchers: Tyler Skaggs, SP LAA, Bartolo Colon, SP NYM, Jason Vargas, SP KC, Sergio Santos, RP TOR
Not Falling For It: Joey Votto, 1B CIN, Hector Santiago, SP LAA