Fantasy baseball is the most fun when someone comes out of nowhere, rendering all the offseason forecasts and projections irrelevant. While we certainly do our best here to identify potential breakout candidates, it would be pretty boring if this game was an exact science. Fortunately there's always room for surprises.
Though he has slowed down a bit over the past couple of days, we have already witnessed a little of that with Astros' outfielder J.D. Martinez, who is hitting .317 (13-for-41) with three homers and 10 RBI through 11 games. He's already owned in 65 percent of Y! and 89.7 percent of ESPN.com leagues, so there are plenty of believers out there. Or at least folks who hope they have stumbled on fantasy gold.
Matt Carpenter might be the biggest surprise of the young season, though. This is a guy who wasn't even on the fantasy radar a few weeks ago, yet he's hitting .375 (9-for-24) with one homer and 11 RBI over first his first 10 games. The 26-year-old was a .300/.408/.451 hitter over three seasons in the minors and has displayed excellent plate discipline at every stop, so while the batting average will inevitably come down, this isn't a complete fluke.
We'll probably get an extended look at Carpenter over the next couple weeks, as Lance Berkman admitted Wednesday that it's "possible" he'll need a stint on the disabled list after aggravating his left calf strain. Carpenter is owned in nine percent of Y! leagues and 5.4 percent of ESPN.com leagues, so it's safe to say I don't need to tell you to pick him up in NL-only formats. I like the dual eligibility between first base and the hot corner, but I need to see more before advising a pickup in mixed leagues.
Nolan Reimold OF, Orioles (Yahoo: 48 percent owned, ESPN: 16.6 percent)
Not surprisingly, Reimold is one of the most added players in mixed leagues this week after clubbing home runs in four consecutive games. While we see early season waiver wire sensations like this all the time, Reimold at least showed some signs of usefulness last year by collecting 13 homers and seven stolen bases in just 87 games. His lofty .341 batting average is bound to come down to earth, as his .370 batting average on balls in play is completely unsustainable, but hopefully the hot start will secure his place in the starting lineup over Endy Chavez. He's out of the lineup Thursday due to neck spasms. We already know Reimold's power-speed combo has promise, but he should also score plenty of runs if he continues to hit at the top of a pretty interesting Orioles' lineup.
Cody Ross OF, Red Sox (Yahoo: 13 percent owned, ESPN: 14.2 percent)
Jacoby Ellsbury will miss at least the next six weeks with a subluxation of his right shoulder, which means the Red Sox will have to rely on an outfield of Ross, Darnell McDonald and Ryan Sweeney in the short-term. Carl Crawford (wrist) is on track to come off the disabled list in early May, but Ross' spot in the lineup should remain pretty secure since he has extensive experience in center field and is a superior option to McDonald and recent call-up Jason Repko. The 27-year-old has a good amount of pop, particularly against southpaws, and should get plenty of opportunities to drive in runs with the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis hitting in front of him on most nights. He's worth a shot in deeper mixed leagues and five-outfielder formats.
Santiago Casilla RP, Giants (Yahoo: 42 percent owned, ESPN: 4.6 percent)
In the aftermath of the news that Brian Wilson was expected to undergo Tommy John surgery, the immediate assumption was that Sergio Romo was the favorite to take over the closer role. After all, he owns a fantastic 2.29 ERA and 10.7 K/9 for his career. However, it's clear that Giants manager Bruce Bochy would prefer to keep Romo in his standard set-up role, as he opted to use Casilla for the first save opportunity on Tuesday against the Phillies. Maybe this shouldn't be a big surprise, as Bochy used Casilla as the primary fill-in when Wilson was sidelined last year. Bochy has left open the possibility of using multiple relievers at certain times, including Romo and Jeremy Affeldt, but Casilla is the one you want in mixed leagues right now.
A.J. Burnett SP, Pirates (Yahoo: 10 percent owned, ESPN: 0.9 percent)
Don't laugh. Remember, Burnett actually had quite a bit of sleeper buzz before he required surgery to repair an orbital fracture in his right eye during the early part of spring training. He hasn't looked great during his rehab assignment, but the good news is that he's healthy and could join the Pirates' rotation as soon as next week. While it's true that the 35-year-old right-hander posted an ugly 5.15 ERA and allowed a career-high 31 homers last year, he also averaged 8.18 K/9 and had a ground ball rate of 49.2 percent. Wins might be hard to come by in Pittsburgh, but I fully expect his ERA to improve by a full run with the league switch and there's a good chance he'll maintain a similar strikeout rate.
Bryan LaHair 1B/OF, Cubs (Yahoo: 29 percent owned, ESPN: 6.1 percent)
LaHair batted .288/.377/.508 with two homers, six RBI and an .885 OPS over 69 plate appearances as a September call-up last year, but there were still plenty who doubted whether he could be a viable option for the Cubs at first base. That includes yours truly, by the way. However, the 29-year-old has backed up that performance by hitting .360 (9-for-25) with two homers, six RBI and a 1.128 OPS over his first nine games this year. It's way too soon to say we've found the next Michael Morse, as his strikeout rate is potentially troublesome, but those in deeper mixed leagues can afford to take the gamble.
Jordan Schafer OF, Astros (Yahoo: 42 percent owned, ESPN: 43.5 percent)
Another popular waiver wire target this week, Schafer is currently tied with Michael Bourn -- the man he replaced -- for fourth in the majors with six stolen bases. He has already drawn nine walks over his first 54 plate appearances, which is nice to see after he walked a total of 28 times over 338 plate appearances last year. I'm skeptical about his ability to hit for a high batting average, as he still strikes out way too much (24.9 career strikeout rate) and has a .379 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) so far this year, but the new Astros' leadoff man has a real chance to swipe 30-plus bags with the clear path to the starting center field job.
Jed Lowrie SS/3B, Astros (Yahoo: 10 percent owned, ESPN: 2.1 percent)
Lowrie has shown flashes of being a quality fantasy contributor over the past couple of seasons, but the biggest criticism has been his complete inability to stay healthy. Beginning this season on the disabled list due to a sprained thumb didn't do anything to change that reputation, but he has hit safely in five out of his first six games and should be the Astros' regular shortstop and No. 2 hitter as long as he's on the field. Lowrie still has a lot to prove against right-handed pitching (.642 career OPS), but I like his chances of reaching double-digit homers this year. Maybe he's not starter material in shallow mixed leagues, but he's an ideal MI (middle infielder) option in deeper formats.
Denard Span OF, Twins (Yahoo: 15 percent owned, ESPN: 15.6 percent)
Span is hitting .340 (16-for-47) with four doubles, one triple, one stolen base and an .848 OPS over his first 12 games this season. Small sample success aside, the most important thing is that he hasn't had any setbacks after concussion symptoms limited him to just 70 games last year. We know Span isn't going to hit for any power, but if healthy he should have a good chance to get back to 20-plus stolen bases and 80-plus runs scored while hitting atop the Twins' lineup. There are better starting options in shallow mixed formats, but there's no reason why Span shouldn't be owned in more leagues right now.
Chris Iannetta C, Angels (Yahoo: 32 percent owned, ESPN: 11.7 percent)
Iannetta getting traded this offseason was sort of a good news, bad news situation. Good to get him away from a team where he was regularly jerked around, but bad because he was leaving Coors Field for the pitcher-friendly Angel Stadium. It hasn't mattered much so far. Iannetta is hitting .267 (8-for-30) with two homers, three doubles, eight RBI and a .920 OPS over his first 12 games. Fantasy owners should consider themselves lucky if Iannetta hits higher than .250 (he has a .236 career batting average), but he should be a pretty solid bet for 15-20 homers. There's relevancy here in deeper mixed formats, but he's a must-own in leagues which use on-base percentage and/or OPS.
Luke Hochevar SP, Royals (Yahoo: 11 percent owned, ESPN: 1.4 percent)
Recommending someone after they give up seven runs over four innings and get drilled in the ankle with a comebacker? Hey, at least things can only get better from here. Hochevar actually entered the season with quite a bit of momentum after posting a 3.52 ERA and 68/24 K/BB ratio over 79 1/3 innings after the All-Star break last year. He also increased his ground ball rate to 49.8 percent for the entire season. We're seeing Danny Duffy get picked up in many mixed leagues at the moment, but Hochevar is the one to own in the Royals' rotation.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in less than 10 percent of Y! and ESPN.com leagues)
Luke Scott 1B/OF, Rays (Yahoo: 8 percent owned, ESPN: 3.5 percent)
One of the streakier hitters in the game, Scott is hitting .333 (9-for-27) on the young season and has homered in three out of his last five games. He won't maintain the lofty batting average -- we're talking about a .265 career hitter here -- but the good news is that he appears healthy following season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Playing his home games in Tropicana Field could hurt his overall power numbers, but it's easy to forget that he averaged 25 homers from 2008-2010. With his dual eligibility between first base and the outfield, the new Rays' DH is a fine option in most mixed formats.
Eduardo Nunez 2B/3B/SS, Yankees (Yahoo: 4 percent owned, ESPN: 1.9 percent)
Brett Gardner was placed on the disabled list Wednesday with an elbow sprain, which presumably means that Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez will get most of the playing time in left field. However, this also frees up the DH spot for Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, which likely means more at-bats for Nunez. The 24-year-old has a .273 batting average over 408 plate appearances in the big leagues and went 22-for-28 in stolen base attempts last year, so he could be a nice option in deeper mixed leagues with daily lineup changes. Heck, Joe Girardi has even talked about using Nunez in the outfield. The more positions he's eligible at, the better.
Hector Noesi RP, Mariners (Yahoo: 1 percent owned, ESPN: 0.4 percent)
Noesi didn't get much attention in the Michael Pineda-for-Jesus Montero swap, but was much more than a throw-in. The 25-year-old right-hander sits in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball and averaged 8.7 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 over parts of six seasons in the minors. While he didn't make it out of the fourth inning in his season debut last Monday against the Rangers, he responded by striking out six over eight shutout innings against the A's on Saturday. He is a fly ball pitcher, but that concern is mitigated by making half of his starts in the spacious Safeco Field. Noesi will get his second straight home start Saturday against the White Sox and don't be surprised if he ends up being a popular streaming option there throughout the season.