D.J. Short

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Pronk Rejuvenated?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

I had the chance to see "42" earlier this week and happened to sit right behind a father and son. The boy couldn't have been any more than eight or nine years old and was decked out in his baseball cap and little league jersey. He watched the movie attentively and when it was over, you could see the inspiration beaming from his face as he walked out of the theatre and discussed the movie with his father. I know it isn't much, but that moment gave me hope in what has otherwise been a very tough week. I hope you're doing well.


You'll find this week's recommendations below, with AL-only and NL-only names on the second page. Don't forget that you can always track me down on Twitter if you have specific questions about your team.


Tony Cingrani SP, Reds (Yahoo: 44 percent owned)

The Reds were dealt a tough blow this week when staff ace Johnny Cueto was placed on the disabled list with a strained lat muscle, but the injury has opened the door for Cingrani to get an extended test in the team's starting rotation. One of the game's most buzzed about pitching prospects, the 23-year-old southpaw was off to a fantastic start with Triple-A Louisville this season, tossing 14 1/3 shutout frames with a terrific 26/2 K/BB ratio. He had a minuscule 1.73 ERA between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola last season and allowed one run in five innings as a September call-up. While Cingrani isn't going to overpower hitters, his deceptive delivery could lead to quite a bit of initial success. It certainly helps that his first two starts will be against the Marlins and the Cubs.

Edward Mujica RP, Cardinals (Yahoo: 28 percent owned)

Mitchell Boggs was the first choice to replace the injured Jason Motte as the Cardinals' closer, but it hasn't taken long for manager Mike Matheny to consider other options. After Boggs blew a save on Sunday, he pitched again on Monday with a four-run lead. However, Mujica was warming up in the bullpen in case things got out of hand. It turns out that he wasn't needed, but Matheny's actions were telling. And while I like Trevor Rosenthal quite a bit, he hasn't done anything so far to suggest that he's worthy of the responsibility. Mujica doesn't have the strikeout rate of a prototypical closer, but he throws strikes and quietly owns a 2.95 ERA in 142 appearances since the start of 2011. I still think Rosenthal emerges as the man in the long-term, but Mujica is the pitcher to grab in this bullpen.

Travis Hafner UTIL, Yankees (Yahoo: 17 percent owned)

Hafner had to settle for a one-year, $2 million deal with the Yankees over the winter, but he has proven to be an excellent bargain in the early going, hitting .342 (13-for-38) with four homers, two doubles, eight RBI and a 1.142 OPS. The 35-year-old has hit safely in 10 out of 12 games. This includes a go-ahead pinch-hit homer in Wednesday's win over the Diamondbacks. Sure, "Pronk" has a lengthy injury history and he's only eligible out of the UTIL spot in fantasy leagues, but would it surprise anyone if he reached 20 homers again thanks to the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium? Not me. He's a fine pickup in deeper leagues as long as you can stomach the lack of versatility.
Josh Donaldson 3B, Athletics (Yahoo: 14 percent owned)

After batting .290 with eight home runs, 26 RBI and an .844 OPS in 47 games during the second half last season, Donaldson is currently getting the chance to serve as the A's starting third baseman. While the batting average hasn't been there thus far, the 27-year-old has collected six extra-base hits (two homers), eight RBI and nine runs scored in 16 games. Scott Sizemore is done for the season after another ACL surgery, so nobody is an immediate threat to his playing time. He's capable of reaching 15 homers with regular at-bats and could even come close to double-digit stolen bases. I'd like Donaldson a lot more if he was still catcher-eligible, but he should have some value as a CI (corner infielder) in deeper formats.

Jeremy Guthrie SP, Royals (Yahoo: 21 percent owned)

What else does Guthrie have to do to get some respect in fantasy leagues? The 34-year-old yielded two runs over seven innings Tuesday in no-decision against the Braves and owns a 3.17 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 17 starts since joining the Royals last July. Home runs are going to happen -- he has already allowed five in 19 2/3 innings this season -- and the strikeout rate isn't overwhelming, but he limits walks and had a long history as a productive innings-eater in the tough AL East before his disastrous stint in Colorado. Those in shallow leagues can pass, but he's a fine back-end option in deeper formats.    

Jhonny Peralta SS, Tigers (Yahoo: 38 percent owned)

Peralta failed to draw much enthusiasm on draft day after he regressed in a big way last season, but he's off to a nice start so far in 2013, hitting .304 (17-for-56) with one homer, three doubles and five RBI through 13 games. Granted, his .410 BABIP (batting average on balls) isn't sustainable, but I don't expect him to finish with a strikeout rate of 26.7 percent, either. His pop has value at the traditionally shallow shortstop position, so he could be a productive fill-in if you recently lost Jose Reyes. Stephen Drew, who just returned from a concussion, could be another name to look at if Peralta is off the board.

Carlos Ruiz C, Phillies (Yahoo: 13 percent owned)

Ruiz is currently serving a 25-game suspension for testing positive for Adderall, but he will be eligible to join the Phillies on April 28. Setting aside the stimulant use, there's reason to be skeptical about him approaching his career-best numbers from last season, as he benefitted from a .339 batting average on balls in play and saw a major spike in power despite hitting fly balls less often than his career rate. The 34-year-old backstop also dealt with plantar fasciitis down the stretch, which hopefully won't become a nagging issue. Keep those caveats in mind, but Ruiz should be worth using in deeper leagues and two-catcher formats as soon as he's activated. It might be worth stashing him soon in order to get ahead of the crowd.

Chris Young OF, Athletics (Yahoo: 15 percent owned)

After Young was acquired from the Diamondbacks during the offseason, there was some uncertainty about how often he would play, but injuries have given him a pretty prominent role thus far. While the 29-year-old is only hitting .192 (10-for-52), he has collected six extra-base hits (two homers), nine RBI, four stolen bases and nine runs scored in 13 games. His struggles against right-handers make him a batting average risk, but don't forget that he had back-to-back 20-20 seasons in 2010 and 2011. He should be owned in most mixed leagues at least until Yoenis Cespedes returns from his hand injury.

Brandon Belt 1B, Giants (Yahoo: 39 percent owned)

Many fantasy owners bought in on Belt after he smacked eight home runs in 24 games during the Cactus league, but those spring training statistics haven't translated thus far. To be fair, Belt suffered from a stomach virus during the first week of the season and lost 11 pounds, so it might take him a little while to get his strength back. Maybe we won't see a huge power breakthrough from Belt this season, but he has a good approach at the plate and should be able to hit for average. I wouldn't start him at first base in a shallow league, but he's worth using at a CI (corner infielder) spot if an impatient owner dumped him on the wire.  

Edwin Jackson SP, Cubs (Yahoo: 46 percent owned)

Some fantasy owners have already given up on Jackson because of his 6.06 ERA, but I'm thinking they'll regret it down the road. While his control has been off recently, he has notched 20 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings and has yet to give up a home run. His .356 batting average on balls in play indicates that he hasn't had much luck on his side, but having Gold Glove second baseman Darwin Barney back from the disabled list should help on that end. Jackson posted a 3.91 ERA between 2011-2012 and is coming off a career best 8.0 K/9, so don't let him sit on the waiver wire for long.  

Shopping at the five-and-dime:

(Players owned in less than 10 percent of Yahoo! leagues)

Daniel Nava OF, Red Sox (Yahoo: 9 percent owned)

Now that David Ortiz's return is right around the corner, most expect that Jackie Bradley Jr. will be sent down to Triple-A Pawtucket. Ortiz will likely need regular rest for his heels, but his return should push Jonny Gomes and Nava into a platoon in left field. Of course, Gomes has traditionally struggled against right-handed pitching, so there's a chance that Nava could end up with more at-bats in this scenario. The 30-year-old switch-hitter owns a .371 on-base percentage and a .783 OPS against right-handed pitching in the majors, so while he doesn't offer much pop or speed, he could be a productive fifth outfielder in daily leagues.

Francisco Liriano SP, Pirates (Yahoo: 4 percent owned)

Liriano was forced to begin the season on the disabled list after he broke his right (non-throwing) arm during the offseason, but he was very impressive in his first  rehab start with High-A Bradenton on Monday night, striking out six batters over three perfect innings. The 29-year-old will likely need at least two more rehab outings, but he should be ready to join the Pirates' rotation in early part of May if all goes well. Control issues have plagued Liriano in recent seasons, but he still misses plenty of bats and could benefit by pitching in the easier league and in a pitcher-friendly home ballpark. He's well worth stashing in a DL spot in deeper leagues.

Chris Denorfia OF, Padres (Yahoo: 3 percent owned)

Denorfia doesn't get much attention because he's on the weak side of a platoon with Will Venable, but he's pretty fantastic at it. The 32-year-old owns an .842 career OPS against left-handed pitching and produced eight home runs and 13 stolen bases last season despite logging just 382 plate appearances. He's off to a hot start so far this season, highlighted by a home run against Clayton Kershaw on Wednesday night. The Padres will face a pair of left-handers this weekend in a series against the Giants, so Denorfia makes for a nice strategic play in leagues which allow daily lineup changes.

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D.J. Short is a Rotoworld baseball editor and contributes to NBCSports.com's Hardball Talk blog. You can also find him on Twitter.
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