April 15, 2010

Every week from now until September, you can come here to find an in-depth look at fantasy baseball's buy-low and sell-high candidates. It's early, but it's never too early to fleece some chumps in your league ...

Ervin Santana, SP, Angels

For a second straight year, Santana is getting off to a slow start (though last year that start was in May). And for the second straight year, he's a perfect candidate to swipe from an owner who may be down on him.

Santana's elbow is back to full strength. His velocity is good. He's struck out 11 in 11 2/3. But he has a 6.94 ERA. Why? His command is a little off, no big deal in April. He's also faced two good lineups in the Twins and Yankees, the latter in the bandbox/tourist trap in the Bronx, just about the worst place for a right-handed flyball pitcher can find himself. According to the good folks over at fangraphs.com, Santana has given up 12 flyballs in two starts, about what can be expected from him. Four of them have been home runs, which is just bad luck. Even two HRs allowed would have been on the unlucky side.

Really, the only bad sign so far this year is that Santana has thrown 105 and 113 pitches in his first two starts, a pretty hefty workload for a guy coming off some elbow problems. But even that could be a positive sign that Mike Scioscia is confident that Santana's health issues are behind him.

Assuming his command issues fall by the wayside as April moves on, Santana is going to be fine. Sure, he'll be a little homer-prone as usual. But he's also a great candidate for 200 strikeouts, a sub-4.00 ERA and a sub-1.20 WHIP.

Jay Bruce, OF, Reds

Bruce is living on the edge these days. Most owners view him as a promising 23-year old. But there are plenty who are getting sick of him after two seasons that were up-and-down at best, disappointing at worst. If someone like the latter owns Bruce in your league, take advantage.

Bruce's early-season line is ugly (.161, one extra-base hit). But his peripherals are just fine, including a 29.2 percent line drive rate. As expected, his strikeout rate is high (22.6 percent), but nothing that should prevent him from hitting in the neighborhood of .270.

At this point, the only real concerns with Bruce is his injury history and Dusty Baker's insanity (if there's a manager who would bench his best young player because of an early season slump, it's Dusty). If healthy, and left in the lineup, Bruce will hit 30 home runs and drive in 90-plus while not hurting your batting average.

Jason Heyward, OF, Braves

There's nothing wrong with Heyward. He's a beast, and in five years he's going to be in the Pujols/Mauer stratosphere. But the Heyward hype machine has seemingly taken over the human race like something out of a Ray Kurzweil book.

Anyone in keeper leagues should obviously hold onto him, but anyone expecting Heyward to live up to the hype in 2010 is going to be disappointed. The 20-year old is striking out once every three plate appearances, and that's before pitchers have really had a chance to figure him out. He's likely going to be a drag on your batting average, and he hasn't attempted a stolen base yet.

So if you own Heyward, go out and read Tom Verducci's feature on him in this week's SI, and tell all your friends to read it, too. Then get one of them to give up way too much for a guy who should finish 2010 with a Jack Cust-esque line.

Zach Duke, SP, Pirates

Duke's becoming an annual fixture on this list, as he continues to pile up the lucky starts early in the season. Sure, he pounds the strike zone, but with three strikeouts over his first two starts, Duke's ERA should be hovering closer to 5.00 than his current 3.00. Add in the fact that a Pirates lineup that has no right scoring 17 runs over two games has scored 17 runs in his two starts, and you have one ridiculously lucky starter.

Duke is barely rosterable in NL-only leagues, and if you can get anything for him you should go ahead and do it. He's a veteran innings eater who's more likely to do damage (in the way of a high ERA and WHIP) than he is good (he'll be lucky to win 10 games).

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