The Royals’ Scott Podsednik leads all AL hitters with a .457 batting average. The Blue Jays’ Casey Janssen is atop the league in wins with three. And the Nationals’ Matt Capps is tied for the NL high in saves with four.
So, heading into Week 3 of the MLB season, there is no reason to deviate from your preseason expectations. You can rest assured that the leaderboards will look very different in the not-too-distant future.
With that in mind, this week’s column is once again based entirely on what was predicted before the season began. In the "Three Up, Three Down" segment, you’ll find the players who have the best and worst chances of success during the coming week. The "Pickups" section will remind you of some of the sleepers who might have gone unnoticed in your draft, and identify players who have been impacted by the early decisions of their managers. Finally, you’ll also find my recommendations for owners who are streaming pitchers in "Down the Stream."
Nelson Cruz, outfielder, Rangers
Cruz became the first player in MLB history to go deep in six of his team’s first eight games, and he leads the majors in round-trippers (prior to Friday's action). Clearly, the longtime minor leaguer is a legit power threat, and his ability to steal 20-plus bases makes him an undervalued fantasy stud. After a phenomenal 12-for-29 (.414 average) start to the season, Cruz might even improve on his .260 average from last year, making him a valuable contributor in all five hitting categories.
Matt Garza, starting pitcher, Rays
The 26-year-old Fresno State product has always had excellent stuff, but he’s been maddeningly inconsistent since arriving in the majors in 2006. However, Garza is off to a terrific start this year, after winning his first two starts and fanning 14 batters in 16 innings. It might be that the early success is simply a product of facing the Orioles, but if Garza finds a way to limit his walks and work deeper into games, he will be worth much more than you paid for him on draft day.
Jorge Cantu, third baseman, Marlins
Future Hall of Fame second baseman Jeff Kent told viewers during a Giants telecast that "the money lies in the RBIs". If so, Cantu is laughing all the way to the bank, after setting a MLB record by getting a hit and an RBI in each of the Marlins’ first 10 games. The hot corner is surprisingly shallow in fantasy this season, so Cantu’s owners will gladly take another 95-plus RBI campaign, similar to the ones he produced in 2008 and 2009.
Javier Vazquez, starting pitcher, Yankees
The boo birds are already on top of Vazquez in the Bronx, as he’s been shelled for 12 runs in 11 innings to begin the season. Vazquez was one of the top five starting pitchers in the NL last year, but has never enjoyed much success in the Junior Circuit, and Yankees fans haven’t forgotten his disastrous 6.92 ERA after the All-Star break in 2004. If you’re risk averse when it comes to fantasy, you might want to unload Vazquez while he still has some value — perhaps for a John Danks or Edwin Jackson-caliber starter. Otherwise, make sure that you’re prepared for an up-and-down campaign.
J.D. Drew, outfielder, Red Sox
Big Papi’s early slump has largely enabled Drew to escape blame for a horrendous 4-for-28 start to the season that includes a worrisome 13 strikeouts. The 34-year-old is a notoriously streaky hitter, and he’s simply ice cold right now, so he should be on fantasy benches. That said, dropping Drew may not be a good idea, because he’s come through with a summertime surge in each of the past two seasons.
Trevor Hoffman, relief pitcher, Brewers
At some point, "Hells Bells" had to ring for Hoffman in the wrong way, and that time may have arrived. The 42-year-old has blown two of his first four save chances, and has allowed three homers — including back-to-back shots by Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday — in just four innings. Hoffman is unquestionably one of the best closers of all-time, but owners might want to pick up LaTroy Hawkins or Todd Coffey in case his struggles continue.
Sometimes, valuable fantasy contributors are overlooked on draft day, because owners were overzealously pursuing their favorite sleepers. If any of the following three players are on your league’s waiver wire, they might be worth a gamble — depending on your team’s needs.
Scott Podsednik, outfielder, Royals
Podsednik will not hit over .400 for much longer, and he offers next to nothing in the power department, but the steals are hard to overlook. Kansas City’s leadoff man has six swipes in nine games, and nabbing a 40-50 steal threat after the draft is highway robbery.
Martin Prado, second baseman and third baseman, Braves
Versatile players can be as valuable to a fantasy team as to a real one, and Prado — who has a hit in each of the Braves’ games so far — is eligible in most leagues at two of the positions with the least depth. If he’s still sitting on your league’s waiver wire, you’d be wise to ride Prado’s hot streak while it lasts, and he’ll provide excellent insurance for your squad as a .300 hitter with 12-15 homer pop down the road.
Justin Masterson, starting pitcher, Indians
The former Red Sox farmhand now has a guaranteed job in the Tribe’s starting rotation, and he has made the most of it so far. Through two starts, Masterson has 14 strikeouts and just two walks in 11 innings of work. If the 25-year-old keeps that up, his struggles against lefty batters might be an afterthought.
Down the Stream
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, April 17: Jaime Garcia, Cardinals — vs. Mets
Sunday, April 18: Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks — at Padres
Monday, April 19: Brad Penny, Cardinals — at Diamondbacks
Tuesday, April 20: Chris Volstad, Marlins — at Astros
Wednesday, April 21: Shaun Marcum, Blue Jays — vs. Royals
Thursday, April 22: Johnny Cueto, Reds — vs. Dodgers
Friday, April 23: Nick Blackburn, Twins — at Royals