Not to sound like a broken record, but hereís your annual reminder that the fantasy baseball season isnít a sprint. Itís a full-fledged, grueling marathon, and overreacting to one week of action is one of the worst early-season mistakes we can make as fantasy owners. Your season isnít over because you drafted A.J. Pollock or because you didn't draft Trevor Story. We still have 96 percent of the year to go!
Itís also too early to pay too much attention to specific categories -- or to panic and make trades with reckless abandon. A seasoned manager can usually eyeball their squad and have an idea on whether theyíre weak in power, steals, saves or have a lack of strikeout-heavy arms in their rotation. Thereís nothing wrong with playing a third (or even fourth) closer this early in the year, especially if itís instead of a mediocre pitcher with just one weekly start. Iím talking to the new Jeanmar Gomez owners who may have let him ride the pine this week for a single Jaime Garcia or Ross Stripling start. We never know how bullpens will shake out over the course of the season, so you may as well load up on saves while you can. The ratio categories (batting average, ERA, WHIP) are the toughest to catch up in, so itís usually wise to be mindful of those early.
Another mistake we typically make in Week 2 of the season is benching our studs because they had a cold first week. Unless youíve read something specific about Michael Wacha having mechanics issues or a drop in velocity, youíre not going to sit him for two games at home this week because of his rough start against the Pirates. That may seem obvious, but irrational thoughts sometimes creep into our minds if we see ourselves at the bottom of our standings. Update: Wacha twirled a gem Monday, so we can all relax.
Finally, another important thing to be mindful of early is the overloading of stashes. Sure, itís nice to have a Yu Darvish, Jose Berrios, Blake Snell or Lucas Giolito waiting in the wings. But if you have more than one of them and start to lose players to the disabled list, you may find yourself without back-ups when you really need them. The absolute worst thing you could do is stifle your flexibility so much that you end up taking zeroes at hitter or pitcher spots due to stashing too many unavailable players.
That said, you donít have to dismiss every trade offer sent your way or avoid every hot young free agent available. Be sure to have faith in your skills assessment and not rush to judgment early on. Balance your aggressiveness in trades and free-agent bidding with an acknowledgement that performances can be volatile and streaky from week to week. Use the first few weeks of the season to gauge your teamís strengths and weaknesses, then strike efficiently and accordingly.
Keep in mind that this column is dynamic. Those listed in my Risers section arenít exclusively guys you must pick up. Rather, theyíre simply players whose stock has recently risen that are trending upward. Similarly, the Fallers arenít necessarily players to avoid or drop. Many times, last weekís fallers are exactly the type of players who are dropped and traded away prematurely, only to end up helping another fantasy team soon thereafter. Making quick and rash decisions rarely works for us in the real world, and the same lesson can be applied to fantasy baseball.
Eugenio Suarez (SS, CIN)
No one received more attention than Trevor Story last week and it was much deserved. Storyís seven homers in his first six career games was a MLB record for the first six games of any player in any season. The second best hitting week belonged to the 24-year old Venezuelan hitting ahead of Joey Votto in the Reds lineup. Suarez hit .435 in 23 at-bats with nine runs, four homers, nine RBI and a stolen base. We certainly canít jump to conclusions after one hot week for either, but itís worth noting Suarezís K:BB ratio of 1:3 compared to Storyís 8:1. Suarez also played in 182 games in the majors with the Reds and Tigers over the last two seasons, hovering around a very low walk rate of six percent. Suarez doesnít have the home-park advantage that Story has, but Iíd be shocked if Suarez didnít have the better fantasy season. Specifically, the underlying numbers suggest a huge advantage in the batting average category for the Redsí shortstop. Despite the inevitable slumps, Iíll put Suarezís year-end numbers at: 88 runs, 20 homers, and nine swipes with a .283 average, which could amount to top-five numbers among shortstops this year.
Hanley Ramirez (1B, BOS)
Ramirez was well on his way to another special year in 2015. Through April and the first few days of May, Ramirez mashed 10 home runs, then crashed into a wall on May 4. He was never the same after that, hitting just nine bombs the rest of the year before finally being shut down at the end of August. Ramirez appeared at training camp very much in shape and ready for the role at first base. Heís had an awesome start to the regular season with a .455 average (18 at-bats) with a homer, four RBI and a stolen base. For Week 2, Hanley and the Red Sox head back home for six juicy matchups against suspect starting pitchers. The fact that he stole a base early in the season is another good sign, so perhaps heíll run more this year and provide owners with double-digit swipes. If last yearís flash of power was any sign, we could be looking at a push for 30 homers for the first time since 2008, and hitting in the middle of the Red Sox lineup should bode well for his runs and RBI, as well.
Brock Holt (2B/3B/OF, BOS)
Holt was my late-round middle infielder target for drafts in March. The reasons were numerous: heís eligible at three positions in NFBC and was far off of most folksí radars. I was in the small camp of fantasy players who thought that Holt would find his way into a daily lineup spot, specifically at the expense of the overrated Rusney Castillo. Though it appears I was on the right track, a few of my competitors in leagues where I didnít own him yet had the same idea, as he was one of the most popular free agent pickups in NFBC this past weekend. Most importantly, the Red Sox organization loves Holt. His defense, consistency at the plate and the great energy he brings to the team are all huge benefits for Boston. Holt wonít hit many homers or steal a ton of bags, but should contribute in the other three categories Ė especially in batting average. If Holt is still available, definitely consider adding him.
Vincent Velasquez (SP, PHI)
Velasquez was a popular late-round SP in many circles, including with some of the veterans who draft live in Las Vegas, Chicago and New York in the NFBC every year. His first start (6 IP, 6 K, 3 BB, W) left his owners salivating for more and those who donít own him feeling like they missed the boat. In terms of drawbacks, how many wins can Velasquez get on a bottom-rung team with below-average run support in the Phillies? Secondly, Velasquez still has room for improvement with his control after several erratic starts last season as a rookie with the Astros. But his demeanor, maturity, pitch arsenal and velocity canít be denied. Velasquez is slated for his second start of the year against the Padres on Thursday, followed by a Week 4 matchup at home against the Mets. The 2016 ride may not be the smoothest and could come with some WHIP damage, but the skills are undeniable and weíre talking about a flamethrower capable of striking out a batter an inning for at least 25 starts.
Tyler White (1B, HOU)
White was hyped in spring and has looked good early, hitting .556 with 3 homers, 9 RBI and 4 walks en route to being named AL Player of the Week in his first ever week in the majors. He has solid plate discipline, power and a great ballpark to call home, so itís likely heís already been sniped in most fantasy leagues. White will go through rough stretches as all rookies do, but I canít really find many negatives other than A.J. Reed breathing down his neck if he really starts to struggle. Even then, White would likely shift to 3B and carry the heavier side of a platoon with Luis Valbuena.
Jean Segura (SS, ARI)
The problem with Segura has always been his inability to take a walk. In general, Segura has never been a very good hitter or on-base guy. The new squad and ballpark may have invigorated him. Leading off in Arizona, he has the potential to truly put up some amazing counting categories and land in the top 10 among shortstops come seasonís end.
Noah Syndergaard (SP, NYM)
There probably isnít much I can tell you about ĎThorí that you donít already know. Oh, did you know he was throwing sliders at 95 mph in his first start? Of course you did. Syndergaard could easily be the Metsí best starter this year and could legitimately compete for the Cy Young. Enjoy the ride.
Kenta Maeda (SP, LAD)
It was difficult to fully buy in on Maeda heading into the season, but he likely quelled some of those concerns in his major league debut with six shutout innings against the Padres. He has a plum mix of pitches and the control appears to be on point with projections. Maeda is lined up for two home starts against the Diamondbacks and Giants this week, which will be much more challenging than his debut. At the end of the season, Maeda should out-earn his 150 ADP and finish as a top-25 starter with at least 17 wins and a WHIP below 1.10.
Ian Desmond (OF, TEX)
Desmond has been trending in the wrong direction for the past couple of years. Now on the wrong side of 30, Desmond has been striking out in nearly 30 percent of his at-bats over the last two seasons after averaging a strikeout-rate of around 21 percent during his prime years. A change of scenery to a more hitter-friendly ballpark and a new position could bode well for Desmond, but his days of being a top-30 fantasy asset are behind him. Though Desmond could pop another 20-plus homers this season, heís at risk to hurt fantasy owners in batting average and likely wonít be attempting stolen bases like he has in the past. The shortstop eligibility is only a plus for your squad if heís productive, as heíll likely be getting crushed in runs, stolen bases and batting average when compared to the younger, rising shortstops in the league.
Miguel Sano (OF/DH, MIN)
If thereís one player youíll allow me to mildly panic about, itís Sano. He wasnít a target of mine in drafts this year based on where he was going (60 ADP), but when he fell to the middle of the sixth round in our 15-team NFBC Main Event, it was hard to pass on him. My concern with his 35.5-percent strikeout rate in 80 games as a rookie was on full display in the first week of the season, as he struck out 11 times in 22 plate appearances. Itís so early, and at some point Ė likely when the weather warms up - Sano will flex his muscles and really start working toward his projected range of 30-35 home runs. Iím just hoping that it happens soon so that the Twins arenít tempted to send him down to Triple-A, which is very realistic possibility. In addition, Sano isnít a great defender and has already been substituted in the latter innings of a couple of games. To make matters worse, the Twins promoted prospect Max Kepler on Sunday. On the bright side, maybe the Kepler promotion will get him going at home this week?
Jeff Samardzija (SP, SF)
The move to the friendly confines of AT&T Park only mildly offsets his outlook. That yard is a magical one for pitchers, but if Samardzija continues to get beat up the way he has over the last year, heíll be a hard one to plug into the old fantasy rotation. Samardzija led all major league pitchers last season in hits allowed (228) and earned runs (118). Moreover, he allowed more hits than any other pitcher this spring. He should continue to rack up the strikeouts, but owners still need to be mindful of when to start him. If you own Samardzija, you probably already had a tough decision to make this week with one of his two starts at Coors Field. If youíre in a league that allows trades, hope for him to string together a few solid starts in a row so you can ship him off. Then run like the wind.
Dallas Keuchel (SP, HOU)
He of epic control has struggled over his first two starts, allowing 10 free passes over his first 12.2 innings. I donít expect Keuchel to completely unravel back to his 2013 form, but itís worth noting how good the defense was behind him when you look at a FIP that was a half run higher than his ERA over the last two years. It also wouldnít be surprising to see him regress closer to his 3 BB/9 range from 2013, as opposed to the 2 BB/9 we saw in 2014 and 2015. Keuchel also saw a huge bump in K/9 last season (8.4) from 7.1 over the past two years. Thereís no denying what he did in his Cy Young season, or that heíll have plenty of run support and could win 18-plus games again, but Keuchel was mispriced along with the true aces in March drafts despite deserving to be taken in the Sonny Gray/Danny Salazar range. I could very well eat my words, but Iíd have no problem betting against a significant regression across the board.
Travis d'Arnaud (C, NYM)
The Metsí catcher was a big target of mine this season and I donít plan on abandoning ship after a rough first week. The oft-injured 27-year old has just one hit over his first 19 plate appearances, but a slow start for him is no big deal. TDA is one of the better hitting catchers in the league and should help fantasy teams in batting average, but he hits so low in the lineup that it diminishes his run and RBI opportunities. Heís never played a full season, but could probably crush 20 or more homers with at least 450 plate appearances, so try to be patient with him.
Randal Grichuk (OF, STL)
Grichuk had a bad first week, but fantasy owners need not worry. The outfielder started only three of the Cardinalsí six games last week, ceding his starts to scorching-hot rookie Jeremy Hazelbaker. Grichuk struck out eight times in his first 15 at-bats, but came off the bench Sunday and walked three consecutive times, scoring two runs. He walked two more times and went 2-for-3 with two runs and an RBI-double Monday. Iím micro-analyzing here, but the bottom line is that Hazelbaker is almost 29 years old and the hot streak is almost out of his system. Grichuk is the future, and although heíll continue to strike out a lot, heíll connect enough to flirt with 25 homers and 90-plus RBI.
Zack Greinke (SP, ARI)
Itís easy to say that Greinke was due to regress this season. Last seasonís ratios (1.66 ERA, 0.84 WHIP) were eye-popping and beyond any of our wildest dreams. As a loyal Dodger fan, Iíll say that Greinke got what he deserved last week, allowing 3 homers in a game for the first time in his career and giving up 11 earned runs in 10 innings. The move from Dodger Stadium to Chase Field is one of the reasons most of us ranked Greinke near the bottom of the top tier of aces. Despite all the negatives, the one thing I donít expect Greinke to do is to fall apart. Despite his documented personality quirks, Greinke is a warrior and one of the best pitchers in baseball. Expect him to break out of his slump Friday against the Padres in Petco Park. Heís got a tough hole to climb out of ratio-wise, but Iíll put his year-end ERA and WHIP at 3.18 and 1.10 to go with nearly nine strikeouts-per-nine.
Glen Perkins (RP, MIN)
Though itís wise not to panic with most of the first weekís slumpers, itís always concerning any time thereís a significant velocity drop with an aging closer. Perkinsí fastball is down about 2.5 mph from last yearís 93.7-mph average. He allowed two hits and a walk in a non-save appearance Saturday and then blew the save Sunday, allowing three hits and two earned runs. Perkins has a short leash and with the Twins struggling early, a change could happen at any given time. Expect to see Kevin Jepsen get the first shot over Trevor May should Perkins continue to falter. Jepsen has had a rough start as well, but is a veteran with experience in the role, even though May is probably the better option in the long run.