1. Adam Dunn (1B - White Sox) - Is he back? Probably a little too soon to say definitively, but the power stroke has at least shown signs of returning through the first month of 2012. He has 4 in April for an AB/HR of 19.0 (with all of his HRs coming since April 20th). Of course, this is slightly slower than his career rate of 14.8, but certainly leaps-and-bounds better than last year's dreadful 37.7 that only led to a total of 11 HR for the season. Dunn is still striking out at astronomical rates (36%), which is even higher than his career rate of 27%. But he is drawing walks (14 on the year) and his avg/OBP is in-line with what we were seeing pre-2011. We're not out of the woods yet, but it at least looks like we'll be getting some decent power out of Dunn this season.
2. Edwin Encarnacion (3B - Blue Jays) - Encarnacion added to his HR total on Sunday with his 6th shot of the season. At 29, he looks to finally be reaching the potential we've been talking about for so long. He's hitting .302/.333/.605 with 19 RBI and 3 SB. The breakout indicators were there over the last couple of years with XBH%'s over 10% with flashes of tremendous HR power. The weakness and cause for concern is his 3:1 K:BB rate that could lead to some extended slumps and will almost certainly drop his .300+ average over a full season. But we'll trade average for mid-teen AB/HR power any day in fantasy. Up-arrow as long as he continues to smash the long-ball.
3. Henderson Alvarez (SP - Blue Jays) - Rookie pitcher Henderson Alvarez continued his hot-pitching on Sunday and is now 4-for-5 in QS to begin the 2012 season. Yesterday, he hurled a 6.0 IP, 1 ER game against the Mariners to earn his first win of the year. While Alvarez has been consistent and is currently carrying an ERA of 3.62 and WHIP of 1.11, his low K/I rate of just 0.28 (K/9 equivalent of 2.51) doesn't instill confidence. Last year was a bit better at 5.7 in 10 starts, but still makes you wonder if he can continue to pitch so effectively with such a low K-rate. The bright spot is that he forces the groundball out with a GO/AO of 2.0. For me, he's a spot-start candidate with the right match-up (and other fantasy owners tend to agree with an ownership percentage in the single digits). This week, he'll face the Angels followed by a favorable matchup against the Twins in the subsequent week.
4. Josh Willingham (OF - Twins) - The Hammer just isn't slowing down. A 3-5 on Sunday brings his line to .353/.457/.706 to begin the season. While the power isn't much of a surprise (he's called "The Hammer" for a reason), Willingham's average is quite the surprise and can probably be chalked-up to just a hot month. For a full season, Willingham has never hit over .277 and holds a lifetime batting average of .263. But he does have 4 seasons of 20+ HR including last year where he flirted with 30 (he ended with 29 in just 136 games) for an AB/HR of 16.8. You have to assume a slump is buried in these numbers somewhere so expect regression at some point. I'd also be curious to see if the pitcher-friendly confines of Minnesota will affect his HR pace over a full season, but he never has had ballpark factors on his side having played in Florida, Washington, and Oakland during his career.
5. David Phelps (SP/RP - Yankees) - With Freddy Garcia struggling in the rotation, the Yankees will turn to David Phelps for a start on Thursday against the KC Royals. Phelps has only seen relief duty this year, but has been decent out of the bullpen with a 3.57 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 7.1 K/9 in 17.2 IP over 6 games. In 18 starts in 2011 at Triple-A, Phelps posted a 3.19 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP with a K/9 of 7.5. Phelps' fantasy value is certainly AL-only worthy simply because he is pitching for the Yankees who lead the league in runs scored and will be pitching against the Royals who rank 21st. With Phil Hughes and Garcia both struggling and Andy Pettitte still a few weeks from returning, a good performance out of Phelps on Thursday could yield more starts. Worth the pick-up in AL-only.
Follow us on Twitter all year: @Fantistics and @jribando