J.J. Hardy | Baltimore | SS | 10 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .263/.323/.420
Two seasons removed from his last year eclipsing 20 home runs, J.J. Hardy largely became a fantasy afterthought. It’s hard to blame fantasy gamers for souring on Hardy; between the injuries and his struggles when healthy, both in his last year in Milwaukee and his lone season in Minnesota, there was little to like. The beginning of his tenure with the Orioles has been much the same, seeing Hardy land on the disabled list in early April. Healthy now, Hardy has hit the ground running since being activated and warrants attention.
When healthy and playing to his talent level, Hardy is capable of hitting 20-plus home runs with an average in the high-.270s-to-low-.280s with a full season’s at-bats. Numbers like those are playable at the shortstop position, and gravy coming from a middle infield slot. With so few plate appearances, no firm conclusions can be drawn about his approach at the dish, but it is promising to see that he is laying off pitches outside the strike zone, and making more contact than last season. Playing his home games at Camden Yards, a home run-amplifying ballpark, should aid Hardy’s cause in channeling his 2007 and 2008 self.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all mixed leagues using a MI slot, most mixed leagues of 12-teams or larger that don’t use a MI, and all AL-only leagues.
Mitch Moreland | Texas | 1B/OF | 35 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .278/.345/.475
Since supplanting Jeffrey Gross’ heart throb Chris Davis at first base for the Texas Rangers, Moreland has played quite capably and earned the trust of the team’s brass. Never a blue chip prospect, he did crack the Rangers’ top-10 in The 2010 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, where his power was described as above average, which, in addition to his strong play in the minors, helps support his success to date with the parent club. Owner of a substantial platoon split, Moreland struggles mightily against lefties slashing just .213/.327/.277 in 47 career at-bats, while ripping righties to the tune of .289/.380/.554 in 204 at-bats. Moreland’s strong play has prompted manager Ron Washington to play him in the outfield on days the team turns to Mike Napoli at first base, adding to his value in leagues where he now qualifies there.
He may see a slight dip in his playing time when Josh Hamilton returns from the disabled list, but expect that decrease to come almost exclusively against southpaws, a time it would be wise to sit him on fantasy squads where possible. At the moment, Moreland is a valuable, and slightly versatile glue guy. Should he make strides against lefties, he has a chance to become more than that. He’s likely owned in most large mixed leagues already, but owners in shallow-to-medium-sized mixed leagues who can use him against right handers and sit him against left handers, should strongly consider rostering him.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all large mixed leagues, some shallow-to-medium-sized mixed leagues and all AL-only formats.
Trevor Plouffe | Minnesota | SS | 1 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: .232/.270/.379
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has officially given up on Alexi Casilla as a shortstop and moved him back to second base permanently. With Tsuyoshi Nishioka still nursing a broken leg, and a ways away from returning to help the Twins, they have promoted Plouffe from Rochester to bridge the gap at shortstop.
A one-time first-round draft pick, Plouffe hasn’t lived up to his lofty draft status. This season has seen him hit the ball hard in the International League, with six home runs in 78 at-bats, he has even hit one homer since his promotion, making him an interesting player for owners in AL-only leagues and very large mixed leagues. While he can’t maintain his current power pace, his minor league track record points to him as a player who may be capable of hitting double digit home runs if given full time at-bats. The Twins’ plan appears to be to play Casilla and Nishioka together up the middle again when both are healthy, but Casilla has struggled, leaving open the possibility of Plouffe stealing a starting role and shifting Casilla to a reserve role. Plouffe has missed the last two games nursing a strained hamstring, but expects to be able to give it a go Friday.
Recommendation: Should be monitored in large mixed leagues using a MI, and owned in some AL-only leagues using a MI.
Brian Matusz | Baltimore | SP | 44 percent Yahoo! ownership
Oliver ROS: 4.16 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
After not falling on his face in his August 2009 promotion, Matusz was a popular upside pick headed into 2010. Most of last season was rough on Matusz: His ERA was south of four in only one month prior to August, and his xFIP was never under four until then. He finished the season strong, though, leading to hope for success this season. A spring rib injury forced him to the disabled list, and he has yet to throw a pitch in a major league game this year. Healthy enough to throw in extended spring training, Matusz isn’t far from a return to the Orioles rotation.
As an extreme fly ball pitcher, Matusz is likely to be hurt by the home run occasionally, especially when taking into account his home ballpark and division. Expecting much more than Oliver’s projection is ambitious, but worth gambling on in more than the 44 percent of leagues he’s owned in now. Playing the match-up game with Matusz should help maximize his value, allowing owners to enjoy his solid strikeout rate and cut down on some of the risk.
Recommendation: Should be owned in all large mixed leagues, many medium sized mixed leagues, and all AL-only formats.
Joey Devine | Oakland | RP | 0 percent Yahoo! ownership
YTD: 0.00 ERA, 0.43 WHIP, 12.54 K/9, 0.00 BB/9 (Triple-A)
Oliver ROS: 3.67 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
A change of scenery appeared to be all Devine needed to fully flourish in 2008. Unfortunately he has been unable to follow up that performance because of injury. Before the 2009 season he required Tommy John surgery, wiping out not only that season, but last year as well (a cautionary tale for those assuming a full return to health for Stephen Strasburg in the typical time-frame). Lights out results in Triple-A, and reports of him throwing in the mid-90s are encouraging signs that he may be fully recovered and ready to contribute in the A’s bullpen.
Devine isn’t the only impact bullpen arm on the mend for the Athletics—closer Andrew Bailey is sidelined with a forearm injury as well. News isn’t all promising for the 2009 American League Rookie of the year. After throwing 25 pitches on Tuesday, he complained of soreness in his elbow. The Athletics plan to have him throw another bullpen session before sending him out on a rehab assignment. Should Bailey’s elbow soreness prove to be a precursor to something serious, Devine could find himself passing a mediocre Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour in the pecking order for saves. Even if he’s unable to save any games, Devine has a chance to be helpful to ratios for owners in need of some help there.
Recommendation: Should be monitored in leagues where non-closing relievers are useful, and should be added in large mixed leagues if Bailey suffers any setbacks.