Just when it looked like Kenley Jansen had taken hold of the Dodgers' closer job, manager Don Mattingly threw fantasy owners a curveball. Or maybe in Jansen's case, a cutter. After Jansen notched the one-out save on Tuesday night, Mattingly used him in a set-up capacity last night. Jansen entered the game in the top of the seventh inning and got four outs before Brandon League finished off the Nationals for his ninth save in 10 opportunities.
Perhaps Mattingly will continue to use them strategically moving forward, which isn't the worst idea from a baseball perspective, but there's little doubt that Jansen is the superior pitcher. Through 162 appearances in the big leagues, the 25-year-old right-hander has averaged 14.28 K/9. Meanwhile, League has averaged just 4.11 K/9 this season and 6.61 K/9 for his career. This leads to way too many balls put into play, which opens the door for comebacks and implosions. Be patient with Jansen, as the cream should eventually rise to the top. He should be owned in all formats.
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Brandon Beachy SP, Braves (Yahoo: 27 percent owned)
Beachy has become somewhat of a forgotten man since his Tommy John surgery last June, but it's time to put him back on your radar. Fresh off an impressive appearance in extended spring training on Tuesday, the 26-year-old right-hander is scheduled to begin a minor league rehab assignment Sunday with Triple-A Gwinnett. He'll likely need around five starts in the minors, which puts him on track to join the Braves' rotation at some point next month. Don't forget, Beachy owns a 3.07 ERA over 41 starts in the majors and has averaged more than a strikeout per inning, so he could provide some serious value the rest of the way. Stash him away in a DL spot.
Neil Walker 2B, Pirates (Yahoo: 47 percent owned)
Walker got off to a bit of a slow start this season before he hit the disabled list at the end of April due to a lacerated finger, but it's still a bit curious to see him available in so many leagues. The 27-year-old batted .282 from 2010-2012 while averaging 13 home runs and 73 RBI. That's excellent production from a scarce position. Walker reached base in four out of his five plate appearances on Tuesday and drove in two runs Wednesday, so you might not be able to buy low for much longer.
Chris Carter 1B/OF, Astros (Yahoo: 23 percent owned)
Yes, Carter is striking out at an alarming rate, but he quietly has nine home runs in 40 games. That puts him on pace to surpass 30 for the season. There's nice value in that, as just 27 players made it to 30 homers last season. Only 24 got there in 2011. The 26-year-old smacked 16 long balls in 67 games last season, so the possibility can't be ruled out. You aren't picking him up for his batting average, but with his eligibility between first base and the outfield, he should be useful in deeper formats.
Kyuji Fujikawa RP, Cubs (Yahoo: 34 percent owned)
Fujikawa was the Cubs' closer before he went down with a strained forearm last month, but he's back in a set-up capacity now that Kevin Gregg emerged as Dale Sveum's preferred option for the ninth inning. Gregg has been out of his mind so far this season, going a perfect 7-for-7 in save opportunities while allowing only an unearned run over 10 1/3 innings, but this is the same guy who had a mediocre 4.21 ERA from 2010-2012 and averaged 8.2 K/9 and 5.2 BB/9 along the way. Needless to say, I have serious doubts about his ability to keep the job for the long haul. If you need saves, stash Fujikawa and wait for the meltdown.
Brandon McCarthy SP, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 30 percent owned)
McCarthy had a very rough first month as a member of the Diamondbacks, but he has shown signs of progress in his recent outings, including eight shutout frames against the Phillies on Sunday. Unfortunately, Heath Bell blew the lead, so he's still looking for his first victory. The 29-year-old owns a 5.63 ERA through eight starts and has allowed 68 hits and six homers through 48 innings, so he has been very hittable in the early going, but it's fair to expect continued improvement from his .365 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and 64.6 percent strand rate. With that in mind, I really like him for a matchup against the lowly Marlins on Saturday.
Adam Eaton OF, Diamondbacks (Yahoo: 35 percent owned)
One of the most popular sleepers in fantasy drafts this spring, Eaton was forced to begin the season on the disabled list due to a strained ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. However, the 24-year-old is already 12 games into his minor league rehab assignment and should begin playing center field within the next few days. Barring any setbacks, he should join the Diamondbacks' lineup by the end of the month. Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson will have to be creative in order to find playing time for everyone in his outfield, but Eaton offers patience, speed, and even a little bit of pop. He's well worth stashing away in most formats.
Scott Feldman SP, Cubs (Yahoo: 24 percent owned)
Travis Wood isn't the only pleasant surprise in the Cubs' rotation this season. Feldman owns a 2.53 ERA through his first seven starts, including five straight outings of at least five innings with two earned runs or fewer. His walks are up from last year and .218 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) indicates that he has been rather fortunate, so I don't expect him to continue at his current pace, but he has likely done enough to keep a rotation spot over Carlos Villanueva once Matt Garza is ready to be activated from the disabled list. I'd consider streaming him this weekend against the Mets, who are hitting .214 as a team this month.
Alexei Ramirez SS, White Sox (Yahoo: 46 percent owned)
I completely understand the lack of enthusiasm for Ramirez at this point, as he finished with a lousy .651 OPS last season and only has one home run through 38 games this season, but he's still a proven commodity at the shortstop position. And it's not like he's been all that terrible for fantasy owners, as he's hitting .281 and already has seven stolen bases. And just a bonus, White Sox manager Robin Ventura has moved him to the No. 2 spot in recent days, which should increase his potential for counting stats. Maybe Ramirez won't touch his past production, but he can still be pretty useful in most formats.
Scott Kazmir SP, Indians (Yahoo: 25 percent owned)
Oh, I'm going there. Sure, this pick has lost a bit of momentum after Kazmir gave up four runs over five innings last time out, but I still find his resurgence intriguing. My main reason for optimism is the major spike in his velocity, as he has averaged 91.8 mph on his fastball this season, his highest since he posted a 3.49 ERA with the Rays back in 2008. Of course, the southpaw is an extreme fly ball pitcher and has never been all that efficient in the first place, so the potential for disaster remains. But I'm willing to take a flier in deeper formats. Hey, the guy is still only 29, so you never know.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in less than 10 percent of Yahoo! leagues)
Aaron Hicks OF, Twins (Yahoo: 3 percent owned)
Hicks was a popular sleeper pick in mixed leagues following his fantastic spring, but the success hasn't translated so far, as he owns a lowly .143/.242/.268 batting line through his first 33 games in the majors. There is some reason for optimism though, as his strikeout rate is down to 22.2 percent this month after it was sitting at 31.3 percent in April. It isn't much, but perhaps he's finally adjusting to big league hurlers. Hicks has good patience and intriguing power-speed potential, so hopefully we'll be able to look at Monday's two-homer game as a turning point.
Yasmani Grandal C, Padres (Yahoo: 2 percent owned)
Grandal showed plenty of promise as a rookie last season, batting .297/.394/.469 with eight home runs and an .863 OPS in 60 games, but his stock took bit of a tumble after he was handed a 50-game suspension in October for testing positive for synthetic testosterone. However, the time to buy-low is almost over, as the 24-year-old backstop is scheduled to begin a 10-game minor league assignment this weekend and should return from his suspension on May 28. Nick Hundley has really slowed down after a hot start to the season, so Grandal may get the bulk of the playing time upon his return. Feel free to stash away in two-catcher formats.
Eric Young, Jr. OF, Rockies (Yahoo: 2 percent owned)
Young's wheels have always made him interesting from a fantasy perspective, but the biggest issue has been playing time. That shouldn't be a problem in the short-term though, as Michael Cuddyer is currently on the disabled list with a bulging disk in his neck. Meanwhile, Young has started six out of the last seven games and has batted leadoff in all of them. With 67 stolen bases in 291 major league games, he makes plenty of sense if you need some speed in deeper leagues.
Nick Franklin SS, Mariners (Yahoo: 1 percent owned)
Entering play Thursday, Mariners' shortstops -- Brendan Ryan and Robert Andino -- have combined to hit just .121 with a .318 OPS through 40 games. Just to put things in perspective, major league pitchers begin play Thursday with a .123 batting average and a .318 OPS. I bring this up because Franklin is hitting .339/.459/.523 with four home runs, 16 RBI, five stolen bases and a .982 OPS over 30 games with Triple-A Tacoma and is more than worthy of a promotion to the big leagues. Franklin isn't as skilled defensively as Ryan or Andino and maybe Brad Miller will get the call from the minors first, but it's clear that something needs to change soon. I'd prefer to stash Franklin if I had my choice.
Andy Dirks OF, Tigers (Yahoo: 7 percent owned)
Dirks missed four games in late April due to a sore knee, but he has been red-hot since returning to the lineup, hitting .333 (18-for-54) with four home runs, nine RBI, two stolen bases and a 1.019 OPS in 15 games. The 28-year-old quietly owns a .287/.339/.449 batting line over 198 games in the majors and has held his own in a small sample against left-handed pitching. While he hasn't run much in the big leagues, he has shown the potential for double-digit homers and steals. It will be interesting to see if Avisail Garcia sticks around when Austin Jackson returns from the disabled list, but Dirks is worth a try in deeper formats in the interim.