A number of top prospects already have made significant impacts around the league. Jason Heyward has been every bit as good as advertised for the Braves. Ike Davis slammed two home runs in Friday’s game, and is now batting .314 with a .978 OPS for the Mets. And Mike Leake — without any minor league time to hone his skills after being drafted eighth overall last June — is 2-0 with a 2.94 ERA in his first five professional starts.
This week’s "Pickups" section will introduce you to three other young players who — if they haven’t been snatched up already — have shown the potential to add significant value to your team.
As always, in the "3 Up, 3 Down" segment you’ll find the players who have the best and worst chances of success during the coming week. And you’ll find my recommendations for owners who are streaming pitchers in "Down the Stream."
Andre Ethier, outfielder, Dodgers
Through Friday’s games, Ethier is the major league leader in batting average (.376), OPS (1.165), and RBIs (32). He also ranks atop the National League in homers (10). Oh, and he hit a walkoff grand slam in the ninth inning of Thursday’s game against the Brewers. That’s a pretty good start to the season for the constantly improving young outfielder, who just might be in the league MVP discussion come October.
Matt Capps, relief pitcher, Nationals
Remember the mantra, "Don’t overpay for saves?" Well, the reason you don’t is that saves are a fickle and unpredictable category. The current league leader in saves is the Nationals’ Matt Capps, who has 11 of them to go with a 1.10 ERA in 16 1/3 innings.
The next five names on the leaderboard? Francisco Cordero, Jon Rauch, Rafael Soriano, Kevin Gregg, and David Aardsma. At least four of them were available in the 12th round of most drafts this spring.
And, what about Jonathan Broxton, the top closer on the majority of preseason lists? The big righty has just two saves so far this season, despite posting a 1.69 ERA and whiffing 18 batters in 10 2/3 innings.
Adrian Beltre, third baseman, Red Sox
The Red Sox needed someone to step up and lead the offense after they were swept by the Orioles at Camden Yards, and Adrian Beltre rose to the occasion during the ensuing series versus the Angels. Beltre went 7-for-17 (.412) during the four game affair, driving a pair of long balls over the Green Monster and bringing home six runs. He is now batting a robust .339 on the season.
Clayton Kershaw, starting pitcher, Dodgers
There is plenty to like about Clayton Kershaw’s future as a hard-throwing lefty with a deadly offspeed arsenal. But his start to the 2010 season has left a lot to be desired.
Kershaw posted a 3.07 ERA over his first five starts, but walks – which plagued him throughout the 2009 campaign and prevented him from working deep into games – remained a problem, as he issued 22 of them in just 29 1/3 innings.
Then, the 22-year-old was rocked for seven runs on five hits, two walks, and two hit-batsmen in just an inning and a third by the Brewers on Tuesday, inflating his ERA to 4.99 and his WHIP to 1.70.
Until Kershaw figures out a way to pare down his walk rate, debacles like that will happen, and his inconsistency will be maddening to fantasy owners.
Gordon Beckham, second baseman, White Sox
Manager Ozzie Guillen gave Beckham the day off on Friday, hoping that some rest will help the second-year infielder get off the schneid. After hitting .270 with 14 homers in just 378 at-bats last season, Beckham has managed only five extra-base hits and is batting .198 through 101 at-bats in 2010.
It’s far too early to call this a sophomore slump of epic proportions, but Beckham is hitting too many pop-ups (17.9 percent) and grounders (49.4 percent), and not enough line-drives (14.3 percent), indicating that he might not be seeing the ball as well as he was last summer.
Derek Lowe, starting pitcher, Braves
When the Braves signed Derek Lowe to a four-year, $60 million contract two winters ago, they thought they were getting an elite sinkerballer. After all, Lowe won 14 games for the Dodgers the previous season with a 3.24 ERA and 1.13 WHIP.
But the 36-year-old’s ERA spiked to 4.67 last season, and sits at a bloated 6.06 after seven outings so far this year. Lowe’s mediocre strikeout rate limits his fantasy potential to begin with, but if he continues to struggle with walks (19 in 38 innings), it might be time to look for superior options on the waiver wire.
Brett Cecil, starting pitcher, Blue Jays
Cecil took a perfect game into the sixth inning of his last start against the Cleveland Indians, and finished with 10 strikeouts over eight frames of one-run ball. The 2007 sandwich round pick is now 2-1 with a 2.61 ERA and 0.77 WHIP in three starts for the Jays, and the 23-year-old’s 21-to-4 K/BB ratio that portends similar success in the future.
Expectations should be tempered because Cecil pitches in the toughest division in the league, but he also pitched well in his first two starts of the year, which came against the Red Sox and Rays.
Starlin Castro, shortstop, Cubs
There’s nothing wrong with setting the modern era RBI record for hitters making their MLB debut, and that’s precisely what Castro did when he plated six runs in a 14-7 victory over the Reds on Friday. The 20-year-old Castro also touched ‘em all on a three run homer in his first career at-bat.
Castro compiled a .302 average over two-plus seasons in the Cubs farm system, and should be expected to hit for a decent average immediately. His above average speed could also result in 20 steals, assuming he stays in the majors for the duration of the season.
One thing to remember, however, is that although Castro has excellent bat speed, he hit just six homers in 665 minor league at-bats. The power eventually will come, but don’t expect him to pepper the Wrigley Field bleachers right away.
David Freese, third baseman, Cardinals
Freese isn’t known for his defense and doesn’t offer much in the way of speed, but he’s done plenty with the bat so far this season to earn the trust of manager Tony La Russa.
The 27-year-old is hitting .344 with a .912 OPS through 96 at-bats, and is 12-for-25 (.480) against left-handed pitching. He has been red-hot of late, posting a .344 average, all three of his homers, and an impressive 19 RBIs over the past ten games.
If you are playing in a head-to-head league, a potentially useful — if controversial — strategy is streaming pitchers. The key is to get as many wins and strikeouts as possible during the week, without entirely conceding the ERA and WHIP categories. Below, are pitchers that you’re likely to find on your league’s waiver wire, who have optimal matchups for streaming on each day of the coming week.
Saturday, May 8: Jon Garland, Padres at Astros
Sunday, May 9: Scott Feldman, Rangers vs. Royals
Monday, May 10: John Maine, Mets vs. Nationals
Tuesday, May 11: Brad Penny, Cardinals vs. Astros
Wednesday, May 12: Chris Volstad, Marlins at Cubs
Thursday, May 13: Jhoulys Chacin, Rockies vs. Nationals
Friday, May 14: Tom Gorzelanny, Cubs vs. Pirates