Weekly Planner: The closer countdown, plus young arms to watch

Sunday March 30th, 2014

Taijuan Walker is one young arm who could give your fantasy team a boost over the season to come.
Ted S. Warren/AP

Get ready, my fellow travelers in this crazy world we inhabit for six months every year. On Sunday night, the Dodgers and Padres kick off the 2014 baseball season here in North America. Save for the All-Star break, we won't be without baseball again until the end of October. It's a beautiful thing.

The first few weeks of the season are a time for fantasy owners to be patient more than anything else. Nothing that happens this week, or the one after, or the one after, short of a devastating injury, that will make or break your team. Now is the time to evaluate players on the fringes of rosters and determine what, if anything, your team lacks. Many fantasy owners are reluctant to make trades early in the season, unwilling to bend on their preseason thoughts about players. Do not be that owner. If you're open to making a move right from the jump, you could get a bargain or simply rectify a deficiency in your roster sooner rather than later.

In the weeks to come, the Weekly Planner will focus on roster trends and players to buy, sell and hold, in addition to letting you know which starters will take the mound twice and which teams play seven games during the week. Those developments will start to take root next week. For now, we're going to put a spotlight on what you can already do to put yourself in a better position to get off to a hot start this season.

FANTASY BASEBALL WEEK 1: Weekend pitchers to stream | Weekly planner | Hitting report | Pitching report | Waiver wire | Closer rankings | Daily league tips | Pitcher scouting: Eovaldi

One position you'll need to monitor with equal parts patience and vigilance the first few weeks is closer. We know that somewhere in the neighborhood of at least 5-to-7 relievers who are closers right now won't be all season. Some of them will be out of the job by May 1. That means you need to be ready to pounce to get yourself some cheap saves. During the season, we'll regularly update the closer rankings in a separate column. For the first week, however, consider this our first planted flag for the ninth inning.

1. Craig Kimbrel
2. Greg Holland
3. Kenley Jansen
4. Koji Uehara
5. Trevor Rosenthal
6. Joe Nathan
7. David Robertson
8. Aroldis Chapman
9. Glen Perkins
10. Sergio Romo
11. Addison Reed
12. Jonathan Papelbon
13. Ernesto Frieri
14. Casey Janssen
15. Rafael Soriano
16. Jim Johnson
17. Jim Henderson
18. Nate Jones
19. Steve Cishek
20. Grant Balfour
21. Jason Grilli
22. Huston Street
23. John Axford
24. Rex Brothers -- I think Brothers takes over for LaTroy Hawkins before long.
25. Joakim Soria
26. Jose Veras
27. Fernando Rodney
28. Bobby Parnell
29. Carlos Martinez
30. LaTroy Hawkins
31. Tommy Hunter
32. Josh Fields
33. Chad Qualls
34. Danny Farquhar
35. Joaquin Benoit
36. Mark Melancon
37. Darren O'Day
38. Jesse Crain
39. Cody Allen
40. Tyler Clippard

The next Matt Harvey or Jose Fernandez is not here ... yet

Last year at this time, the excitement around Harvey and, to a lesser extent, Fernandez, was already palpable. A lot of that was because they started the season in the majors. This year's marquee pitching prospects -- among them Seattle's Taijuan Walker, Arizona's Archie Bradley, Pittsburgh's Jameson Taillon and Baltimore's Kevin Gausman -- aren't quite here yet. For Walker, it's because of injury. For the other three, it's because their respective teams decided, for one reason or another, to start them in Triple-A.

That does not mean these players should be off your radar, though. Walker is likely owned in your league. He's on the 15-day DL due to a shoulder impingement, though his stint has been backdated to March 21. He may not return when immediately eligible, but he's not expected to miss too much time.

Bradley was sent to Triple-A Reno to start the year, but you can bet he'll be in the majors sometime this summer. The No. 7 prospect in all of baseball according to MLB.com, Bradley had a 1.97 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 119 strikeouts in 123.1 innings at Double-A Mobile last year. He projects as a true frontline starter, and can help the Diamondbacks right now. Consider this a mix of him getting a bit more seasoning and the Diamondbacks delaying his service clock to prolong team control.

Taillon dealt with a bit of a sore elbow during the spring, but he was always going to start the year at Triple-A Indianapolis. MLB.com's No. 10 prospect shouldn't be in the minors long, either. Remember, the Pirates might not be as deep in the rotation as they were last year. A.J. Burnett is now in Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh got huge years out of Francisco Liriano and, for a time, Jeff Locke last year. Gerrit Cole is probably already the best pitcher in Pittsburgh, so it will help having him in a Pirates uniform for the entire season. Still, the Pirates might need reinforcements this year more than they did in their surprise run to the playoffs a season ago. Taillon is just the arm to provide those.

Finally, Gausman will begin the year with Triple-A Norfolk, but like the Pirates, the Orioles could need help in the rotation sooner than they anticipate. He left Orioles camp by giving manager Buck Showalter and the front office something to think about, allowing up just one run on three hits while striking out eight against a Pirates lineup that included six starters. The Orioles are set in their rotation with Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris and Wei-Yin Chen, but Gausman has a higher ceiling than arguably all of those starters, and could give the team more flexibility by pushing someone, most likely Norris, to the bullpen.

The song remains the same for Bradley, Taillon and Gausman. If you have the roster space to stash a guy, potentially for two or three months, all three are worth owning.

Two-start pitchers

There are a lot of aces on this list, as you'd expect in the first week of the season. For those of you in weekly leagues, the pitchers are ranked in order of how I would start them this week.

1. Jose Fernandez
2. Stephen Strasburg
3. Chris Sale
4. Felix Hernandez
5. Zack Greinke
6. Adam Wainwright
7. Madison Bumgarner
8. Andrew Cashner
9. David Price
10. Justin Verlander
11. Cliff Lee
12. Julio Teheran
13. Sonny Gray
14. Matt Cain
15. Justin Masterson
16. James Shields
17. A.J. Burnett
18. Jeff Samardzija
19. Hyun-Jin Ryu
20. Francisco Liriano
21. Johnny Cueto
22. Jered Weaver
23. Jon Lester
24. CC Sabathia
25. Scott Kazmir
26. Erasmo Ramirez
27. R.A. Dickey
28. Yovani Gallardo
29. Matt Moore
30. Tanner Scheppers
31. Ian Kennedy
32. Nathan Eovaldi
33. Chris Tillman
34. Jorge De La Rosa
35. Dillon Gee
36. Brandon McCarthy
37. Ricky Nolasco
38. Trevor Cahill
39. Drew Hutchison
40. Scott Feldman

Teams playing seven games

• Diamondbacks
• Rockies
• Marlins
• Athletics
• Mariners
• Giants
• Rays
• Blue Jays

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