May 06, 2009

As the saying goes, "April showers brings May flowers." Now that the weather is bound to warm up across the country, fantasy owners should benefit from some consistency that will let us determine what to make of the season's first month. However, this welcome steadiness doesn't mean there won't be weekly trends we need to monitor. Let's take a look at how some players finished April, and what it means for their chances during May.

Raul Ibanez (OF, PHI) crossing the plate regularly

Ibanez is making the slow start by Ryan Howard (1B, PHI) null and void as the 36-year-old is more than picking up the slack. Finally out of Safeco Field, Ibanez gets the opportunity to produce in one of baseball's most hitter-friendly parks. His career-best .424 OBP (thanks in large part to a 0.92 BB/K ratio) is putting the sole-patched Ibanez in great position to score and he has responded with 21 runs. Toss in eight dingers, 21 RBI and three stolen bases and you have a Top 20 outfielder on your hands. While the speed is likely a fluke, expect Ibanez to contribute positively in four of the five main roto categories.

Hank Blalock (1B/3B) is powering up

Although I won't dispute his label as an injury risk, I will point out that Blalock did play at least 143 games each season from 2003 to 2006. Since then, he's challenged Milton Bradley (OF, CHC) and Ken Griffey Jr. (OF, SEA) as fantasy's most frustrating player to own. Now healthy, Blalock is doing his best Chris Davis (1B/3B, TEX) impression. After sending seven balls into the bleachers, Blalock is bringing back memories of his 32-homer 2004 season. A closer look tells us that Blalock had a 10.7 BB% with a .355 OBP that season. This year, Blalock is walking less than desired (2.4 BB%) while his OBP sits at .295. Enjoy the power surge, but don't count on him topping 25 homers or 90 RBI.

Alexei Ramirez's (2B/OF/SS, CHW) legs getting a work out

While Ramirez spends most of his time walking back to the dugout after striking out, he does make the most of the rare instances he finds himself on base. One of this season's most controversial selections, experts put enormous expectations on Ramirez. This resulted in the Nicole Richie-thin Cuban going drafted as early as the third round in some leagues. Through 22 games, Ramirez is sporting a brutal .195 average with an equally horrendous .247 OBP. However, there is a silver lining on this brutality, as the gazelle-esque speedster has increased his BB% to 7.2 percent, giving him some opportunity to run. This past week saw Ramirez swipe three bags, even though he hit only .211. He's an incredibly streaky player, but his true value won't be revealed until Ozzie Guillen moves him up in the order (he's currently been batting anywhere from seventh to ninth). He'll get going, and even if it takes a bit longer, his legs are still helping out your team.

Nick Blackburn (SP, MIN) finding his groove

I haven't been shy about professing my man-love for Twins pitchers, and Blackburn is this week's Twin du jour. The 27-year-old righty spent this past week tossing two stellar seven-inning outings. A master of command, the former 29th round pick relies on getting ground ball outs (44.7 GB%). Not one to issue a free pass (2.01 BB/9), Blackburn is ERA-and WHIP-friendly. He won't give you many Ks (3.45 K/9), but he has three quality starts in five attempts, helping out fantasy teams in the win, ERA and WHIP departments.

Brian Anderson's (OF, CWS) oblique brings back Chi-town hero

The White Sox plan to party like it's 2005 after calling up World Series hero Scott Podsednik (OF, CHW) to man centerfield until Anderson returns from his trip to the DL. Scotty Pods has started all three games since being called up, and has managed two hits in 12 at-bats. At 33, he doesn't have the speed that he once did, managing only 12 stolen bases each of the past two years. Sentimentally, this move can positively affect the White Sox, but it won't do the same for the common fantasy owner. He has a chance to swipe a few bags over the course of the next two weeks, but his value starts and ends there. In three games he's batted ninth twice and seventh once, limiting his scoring opportunities.

This is why you can't count on Pronk

People love a good comeback story. Cinderella Man and The Replacements just to name a few. Maybe that's why so many people salivated at Hafner's hot start this season. Fresh off a season in which he played only 57 games, Hafner owners were ecstatic with his four-homer start to the 2009 season. Low and behold, Hafner felt soreness in his right shoulder (ahem...the same shoulder he had surgery on last season) and scheduled a visit to Dr. James Andrews. Sound the alarm. Travis Hafner's career resurrection is in serious jeopardy. The good news is that Ryan Garko (1B, CLE) and Kelly Shoppach (C, CLE) get to see more PT. I remain confident that Garko has more mixed-league value as he's hit safely in 15-of-17 games and has more walks (11) than strikeouts (7). Shoppach, on the other hand, is hitting a whopping .238 with 18 punch-outs to only two walks.

Russell Branyan (1B/3B, SEA) bringing out the lumber

No one has ever accused Branyan of lacking power. Although, they may site his career .234 average as a reason he's never surpassed 315 at-bats in any season. The MLB's version of Paris Hilton, Branyan has been passed around to ten different teams, including seven in the last four years. Finding a home (and playing time) in Seattle, Branyan has finally combined his prodigious power with a respectable average. With six homers and a .314 average, Branyan currently finds himself mixed-league worthy. A .381 BABIP suggests the batting average is an accident, but there's no denying Branyan could hit 30 homers and approach 90 RBI this season. Just plan on him doing it with a .250 average.

Justin Upton's (OF, ARI) Jekyll and Hyde show continues

A head-to-head owner's nightmare, Upton decided that he was going to be more "good" this week than "bad". A 10-game hitting streak has seen Upton's average climb from .167 to a respectable .268. Adding runs and RBI to the mix, Upton is looking like a three-category monster that has upside in both steals and average. Despite his propensity to slump at various times throughout the season, the Diamondbacks are committing to giving him ample playing time. Although it's probably too late, see if you can swindle a frustrated owner, especially in keeper leagues.

Matt LaPorta (1B/OF, CLE): Your cup of coffee is ready

The cornerstone of the CC Sabathia (OF, NYY) trade, LaPorta finally got the call up this weekend. Clearly tired of the Ben Francisco (OF, CLE) experiment, the Tribe was no longer willing to watch LaPorta launch homer-after-homer in the minor leagues. LaPorta brings enormous power, and he brings it now. Considered "Major League ready", LaPorta can knock in 70 runs while blasting 20 dingers. In the middle of an explosive offense, LaPorta will bring the kind of fireworks that make fantasy owners ecstatic. Those in deep mixed-leagues who need some additional power should definitely take the chance on this possible Rookie of the Year candidate.

When getting offers, say, "Sorry, Cantu"

In a week of impressive offensive outbreaks, none may be more meaningful than Jorge Cantu's (1B/3B, FLA) inspiring past seven days. Cantu hit .360 while belting four homers, scoring six runs, and knocking in 13. With 24 RBI on the year, Cantu is tied for fourth in the majors. If anything, it's further proof that his 29-homer, 95-RBI season a year ago was anything but a fluke. His .340 BABIP will likely bring his .352 average closer to the .290 range, but his improved plate patience (10.1 BB%) and decreased strikeout rate (15.5 K%) have his OBP at a ridiculous .432 clip. While you may be inclined to sell high on this crusty 'stached Texan, do yourself a favor and enjoy his production all to yourself.

Embrace the Matt Garza (SP, TAM) breakout season

Matt Garza is evolving, folks. Eat it up, before it's too late. He's sure to be owned in your league, but I get the sense that owners are a bit bearish at the moment. Garza has added the strikeout to his repertoire (9.27 K/9), now helping owners in four-of-five pitching categories. Hitters are batting .177 against Garza, down from .246 a year ago. Almost all his peripheral numbers have increased yearly, and at 25-years-old, in his fourth MLB season, Garza is clearly establishing himself. On a team of superstars, Garza will finally get his due as a Top 30 starting pitcher come October.

Buy low on Josh Beckett (SP, BOS)

Beckett has done his best Ricky Hatton impression recently, getting pounded his last two starts. While his K/9 is actually up, Beckett's downfall comes from his inability to throw strikes. Walking roughly 1.75 batters-per-nine the past two seasons, Beckett has seen this number rise to 5.02 thru five starts this season. A .398 BABIP is also contributing to his obese ERA and WHIP. Typically a strong starter, Beckett has faced the Rays twice and Yankees once, suggesting better times are ahead. His owners are undoubtedly frustrated at the moment, so see if you can pull a classic buy low-sell high.

Follow Brad on Twitter:

You May Like