AL Quick Pitch: Derek Holland has now pitched two straight quality starts to begin the season. With improvements to WHIP and his GB% over the last couple of years, there are good things ahead (except for an unlucky schedule with upcoming starts against the BoSox and Yanks). Ian Kinsler is lighting it up early and is certainly looking like 1st round value from a 2nd round ADP from draft day. Desmond Jennings hasn't been quite as good, striking out 9 times and recording just 1 SB and no home runs through the first two weeks. I wouldn't be too quick to call for a sophomore slump and think he'll ultimately reach his potential in 2012 (20/40). Francisco Liriano now has two extremely poor starts under his belt after having a nice spring. This is looking like a case of typical Liriano - subtle signs of brilliance followed by weeks of fantasy frustration. I'm dropping / staying away from him in mixed leagues. With Lorenzo Cain heading to the disabled list for an injured groin, Jarrod Dyson will get the call. He'll see some playing time and is a source for stolen bases in AL-only leagues. He can be left on the wires in mixed leagues. Sticking with the Royals, Salvador Perez is off his crutches but is still on a June timetable for a return. Even when he does return, a knee injury for a catcher could limit his playing time as I'm sure the Royals will not want to risk further injury to their star prospect. Johnny Damon is off the unemployment line and signed with the Cleveland Indians for a one year deal. There's no doubt Damon is in the twilight years of his career, but he did swipe 19 bags last year. He's a cheap source for speed, but nothing else at this point. Josh Willingham hit his 4th HR and is now the league-leader (for now). The power isn't a surprise as he did average AB/HR of 16.8 last year. But playing in a pitcher-friendly park in Minnesota combined with the fact that about a dozen of his HR in 2011 were "just barely" HRs could lead to a drop overall. Nice power bump now, but I expect a decline for a full season from an AB/HR perspective. Carlos Pena is also lighting it up. While the 3 HRs isn't a surprise, a .400+ average certainly is a shock to everybody. With a career .225 average, this will fall and fall quickly. When it does, you will not want to be stuck catching the falling knife so be sure to watch the situation carefully and be ready to bench him when needed. Brandon Inge returns to the Tigers this weekend after being shelved with a groin injury. His playing time will be inconsistent and mostly against lefties out of the 2B spot, so no real fantasy value here. Mike Adams got the save with Joe Nathan resting after two days of consecutive work. Adams is a great Holds guy who has eclipsed the 30-hold mark for two straight seasons. I think he, over Alexi Ogando, is the closer-in-waiting if Nathan struggles. For now, he's straight middle-relief with the occasional save opportunity. Drew Smyly got his first big league start and got into some pitch trouble early. He through 90 pitches in just 4.0 IP, but only gave up 1 ER (a solo HR to Carlos Pena) and struck out 5. He's got some K potential, but is a bit too risky to take a gamble with him at this point.
1. Derek Holland (SP - Rangers) - I am really liking what I am seeing out of Derek Holland so far this season. Two starts so far and both have been QS with yesterday's start yielding a 7.1 IP, 2 ER, 8 K performance against the Mariners. In 3 complete years in the Bigs, the 25-year-old Holland has lowered his WHIP each season, improved his GB/FB to 0.89 and SLG to .398. Up arrow for Holland as his ownership is still spotty in mixed leagues and you may still be able to get him on the cheap. His next two starts will be a challenge though and it should give us a better indication of just how much he has improved (facing Red Sox next week and the Yankees the next).
2. Francisco Liriano (SP - Twins) - Liriano had a great spring and he seemed to be a decent late round gamble just in case he returned to his old self. I guess this is why we don't place too much value in spring starts. In Spring Training, Liriano posted a 1.11 WHIP, 2.33 ERA, and perhaps most importantly recorded 33 K's with just 5 BB's in 27.0 IP. Then, something happened. The season started. Through two starts, Liriano has a 10.00 ERA in 9.0 IP with 5 BB, 6 K's, and 15 hits allowed. I realize you can't base an opinion on just two starts, but this sort of inconsistency is typical of Liriano throughout the last few years. Expect moments of brilliance with decent K totals, but that sound you hear is fantasy owners not willing to put up with it over the long haul. He will be found on the waiver wire in most mixed leagues multiple times throughout the season.
3. Salvador Perez (C - Royals) - Just four weeks after undergoing knee surgery, Royals catching prospect Salvador Perez is off his crutches and is deep into rehab. While he's due back in June, I'm concerned about the Royals giving him everyday catching duties while he recovers from a knee injury. If the injury was somewhere else, I'd feel better about the squatting, but knees and catchers are delicate situations and I don't expect the Royals to risk Perez's long-term value by rushing him back. While you may see him in action before the All-Star break, I don't think he'll be a consistent fixture in your fantasy lineup until after the break. But with the catcher position always being weak in fantasy, he is definitely worth the stash.
4. Josh Willingham (OF - Twins) - Can anyone stop the Hammer? Josh Willingham is on fire to start the season, leading the league with 4 HR in just 22 AB. Willingham is no stranger to power as he has an AB/HR for his career of 20.2 and has posted three seasons since 2004 with AB/HR in the teens with over 500 AB (including last year's best of 16.8 in 563 AB). Willingham is certainly a cheap source of power, but playing in a pitcher's park of Minnesota could make it difficult to repeat this 16.8 rate in 2012.
5. Carlos Pena (1B - Rays) - Pena is off to a fast start. While the 3 HR is no surprise for a guy who has a career AB/HR rate of 15.9, his .429 average is a nice prize through the first two weeks. His career average is just .239 over the last twelve years so it doesn't take Bill James to predict a massive regression at some point in the near future. When that starts to happen, it will happen quickly and you won't want to be sticking with Pena during it. By that statement, I mean just be prepared to have Pena on your bench during the decline. He is certainly worth ownership in all leagues simply for his 30+ HR potential.