Eric Mack
Monday April 18th, 2011

Three is the magic number in baseball. Three strikes, three outs, and now three weeks. That's how long it generally takes to get a decent lay of the fantasy land.

There are some notable, if not surprising, things to digest as we near the three-week point. Albert Pujols, the No. 1 overall pick, is hitting just .239. Hanley Ramirez, the second overall pick according to average draft position, is at just .244. They are both getting hotter of late, though.

Here are some of the pleasant surprises:

1. It isn't 2010 for Matt Kemp anymore

Kemp spent most of last season in Joe Torre's doghouse. He is spending it in the fantasy penthouse right now, scoring the most points among hitters through Fantasy Week 2 (April 11-17). Kemp, who turns 27 in September, is hitting .474 with three homers, 12 RBI, 12 runs and eight steals (.546 OBP and .719 SLUG) through 57 at-bats. His latest heroics might have ended Ryan Franklin's tenure as the Cardinals' closer (consider adding Mitchell Boggs or Jason Motte if you need a sleeper for saves).

Kemp is talented enough to maintain this stretch of fantasy dominance. He has long been considered a future fantasy first-rounder. It only makes sense it could happen at 27, the age of breakthrough.

2. No way, Jose, you say?

A pair of Jose's have had strong starts to the season. The Mets' Jose Reyes looks every bit of a contract-year breakout at .315-1-6-11-6 (.351-.493) and leading fantasy with 73 at-bats. The latter stat is the most impressive, but he'll need to sustain his health.

The Pirates' Jose Tabata, known for his prowess in steals, has added power to the résumé, though, going .310-3-4-13-8 (.420-.517). He is just one homer from his 2010 Pirates total already. He looks like a must-start in all leagues.

3. Wrong second-year Marlins OF has 4 HRs

Logan Morrison, like Tabata, has displayed the kind of power out of the gate that most believed would be a few years away. Instead, Morrison has four homers and his corner outfield 'mate Mike Stanton, also a second-year player, surprisingly has zero. You had to figure that would be the other way around. It is still very early, but Morrison looks worthy of a start in mixed formats now.

It has to be given Troy Tulowitzki, with apologies to Dan Haren, who led all pitchers again with a pair of dominant starts. Tulo, who turns 27 in October, already has seven homers -- a pace of one every other game. The preseason talk of him overtaking Hanley Ramirez as the No. 1 shortstop looks completely justified. The question will be, as it always is with him, can he stay healthy for a full 162. He has only one season of more than 545 at-bats in his four-year career. He is the right age to set career highs across the board, though.

The top few replacements this week are actually those returning for themselves.

OF Grady Sizemore (knee), Indians -- Now that is how to return to the lineup. Sizemore homered and doubled and has teammates and fantasy owners very excited. "Today is the first day I've seen him totally healthy since I've been here," said Chris Perez, who was dealt to the Indians in mid-2009 when Sizemore's injury woes were at their peak. "He put on a great show. It's only one game, but he looked good. It's a tremendous uplift to have a guy like him back with us." Sizemore is a must-add and must-start outfielder in all fantasy leagues immediately.

OF Jason Bay (oblique), Mets -- Like Sizemore, Bay is a big-time comeback player of the year candidate. He still needs to prove capable of slaying the Citi Field dragon, though. The Mets are hoping to activate Bay on Tuesday. You can go to him right away in NL-only formats, but there are enough productive outfielders in mixed leagues to keep him reserved until he proves healthy and productive. The guess here: we are going to see an outfielder on the level of .275 with 20 homers and 80 RBI, which is barely over replacement level in a standard league.

SP Ubaldo Jimenez (thumb), Rockies -- Jimenez will return to the Rockies rotation Tuesday and will be a two-start pitcher next week. He was hitting 97 in his rehab work in Arizona, so there should be very little caution about him being able to help right away. He's a must-start.

OF Josh Hamilton (broken arm), Rangers -- There is nothing humorous for fantasy owners about Hamilton's loss to a broken humerus. It is a pretty rare injury in baseball; it helps slightly it is not his throwing arm. Hamilton's loss makes David Murphy a solid addition in all leagues, particularly Rotisserie formats with his surprising four steals to date. Murphy will get full-time at-bats and has proven productive in stretches. This is the 29-year-old's chance to look like an everyday outfielder.

C Joe Mauer (illness), Twins -- Mauer's DL stint was first due to leg weakness, but it turns out he had a serious flu bug that has sapped his strength and caused weight loss. It could take awhile for him to be full strength. The replacements are hardly even AL-only viable, Drew Butera and Steve Holm. "We're going to mix them both in there and see what happens,'' manager Ron Gardenhire said. Neither is going to take off enough offensively to make an impact.

Most-added players:

1. OF Jonny Gomes, CIN 2. OF Sam Fuld, TB 3. SP Aaron Harang, SD 4. OF Lance Berkman, STL 5. 2B Jonathan Herrera, COL

We were criticized a bit for our curious faith in a rebound year from Berkman. Even we couldn't have envisioned this start from the former elite fantasy slugger. This is a mere hot streak, but a few more of these and he will be a must-start in all fantasy leagues, through thick and thin. He is already a must-own. The position versatility with outfield and first base helps, too.

Most-dropped players:

1. SS Rafael Furcal, LAD 2. RP Matt Thornton, CHW 3. RP Joe Nathan, MIN 4. SP Daisuke Matsuzaka, BOS 5. SP Erik Bedard, SEA

The Twins have decided -- actually, Nathan himself decided -- it is best if he pitches in non-pressure situations for the time being. It is rare a closer takes himself out of the role, but it should be a temporary thing. Matt Capps, 27, is good enough to start to start in all fantasy leagues for as long as he holds the role (or Nathan decides he is not fit for it).

Most-scouted players:

1. 2B Herrera, COL 2. OF Gomes, CIN 3. 3B Maicer Izturis, LAA 4. SP Jeanmar Gomez, CLE 5. DH Travis Hafner, CLE 6. RP Matt Capps, MIN 7. SS Jed Lowrie, BOS 8. SP Josh Tomlin, CLE 9. 2B Brandon Phillips, CIN 10. SP Hiroki Kuroda, LAD

The Red Sox might be leaning toward a switch from Marco Scutaro to the younger and more potent bat of Lowrie. It is a mere curiosity Lowrie has a seven-game hitting streak going and turned 27 years of age Sunday. This is the beginning of a breakthrough. Own him in any size league immediately. He is still available in 60 percent of leagues.

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