April 05, 2011

Every smart fantasy owner knows it's dangerous to read too much into early season stats. Last April, Barry Zito looked destined for a 24-win season with four wins in his first five starts. Zito would go on to win only five more games all year.

But when it comes to the bullpen -- where opportunity is half the battle -- early success can go a long way.

Take Craig Kimbrel, for example. The young Atlanta Braves hurler entered the season in a platoon with left-hander Jonny Venters. But Opening Day it was Kimbrel, not Venters, who got the call in the ninth. Kimbrel has struck out five in two flawless outings so far and looks like the Braves' closer for the foreseeable future.

What other early season stars might be setting themselves up for long-term success? Let's look around the league:

Mariano RiveraHeath BellBrian Wilson

Wilson is healthy and seems poised to return Wednesday. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Wilson had "fire coming out of his nose" during a simulated game. I'm not exactly sure what that means, but it can't be good for opposing hitters. Get him in your lineup.

Joakim SoriaNeftali FelizCarlos MarmolJonathan PapelbonFrancisco Rodriguez

Marmol had an up-and-down week for the Chicago Cubs, recording two saves and blowing another. He's always going to give up walks, but his ability to mow batters down usually bails him out. He should be fine in the long-term. ... Soria has already recorded a win and a save and he's inching toward first-class. The Royals' ineptitude is the only thing holding him back.

Jonathan BroxtonChris PerezJose ValverdeJoel HanrahanJ.J. PutzHuston StreetJoe NathanLeo NunezJohn AxfordRyan FranklinFrancisco CorderoBrandon LyonCraig Kimbrel

Broxton has been piling up the saves but they haven't been pretty. He leads the league with three saves but he has given up an earned run in two of his three appearances. New manager Don Mattingly seems firmly in Broxton's corner and until Broxton starts blowing saves you should be, too. ... Hanrahan had a great week (three saves, 0.00 ERA) and his backup, Evan Meek, imploded (1.2 IP, 10.80 ERA). He should have the job all to himself until the Pirates spin him for prospects. ... Blowing a save is bad enough, but to do so in spectacular fashion on Opening Day is a cardinal sin. Lyon gave up six hits to the Phillies in their comeback win on March 31, and he's going to need a string of dominant outings soon to hold off Wilton Lopez.

Kevin GreggBrandon LeagueSean BurnettJordan WaldenMatt ThorntonJose ContrerasJon RauchBrian FuentesJake McGee

League looked good in his first save appearance, but David Aardsma is looming. Luckily for League, there's no timetable on Aardsma's return. With a couple more flawless saves, League might not have to worry. ... Fernando Rodney's inability to find the strike zone cost him the Angels' closer role. Jordan Walden, a rookie with an excellent slider, will get the lion's share of save chances going forward. He's a must-add. ... Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said he wants Burnett "available" for the ninth inning. That's manager speak for: "Burnett's our closer until the real Drew Storen shows up."

Brad LidgeAndrew BaileyFrank Francisco/Octavio Dotel

Bailey's rehab is moving along at a steady pace but the A's haven't set a timetable. A return in late April seems realistic. ... Francisco threw a bullpen session over the weekend and is working his way back from soreness in his throwing arm. The Blue Jays acquired him to be their closer and he should assume that role when he's 100 percent.

Backups who will ensure you're banking saves even if your closer goes down

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