Hee Seop Choi, Marlins: OK, so we all know how hot that Miguel Cabrera is, and the Marlins pitchers, whether because they faced the Expos or not, have been incredible. But who expected, even after only two weeks, Choi to be outhomering the guy he was dealt for, Derrek Lee, 5 to 1? I still think Lee will hit more homers, knock in more runs, steal more bases, etc., but the point is about Choi. Maybe he's better than we thought? Why did everyone bury the guy when, as a rookie, he wasn't that horrible until his head slammed into the ground and ruined his season? Choi has a long swing, an uppercut swing that will result in homers. But, we feel compelled to point out, he has only six hits, and five are homers. Is he all or nothing? Also, in his short career consisting of 277 at-bats, barely half a season, he has 15 homers, but 10 came in April. Maybe he's a fast starter, maybe he's for real. Owned in only 29 percent of leagues, it's worth the chance.
Paul Lo Duca, Dodgers: OK, we've got Charles Johnson hitting homers and knocking in runs left and right, Miguel Olivo is stealing bases and your NL average leader is also a catcher. What gives? Well, Lo Duca can certainly hit. He's batting .486, and he has had a few streaks like this before as well. Can he sustain? Well, nobody can, not like this, but Lo Duca can help a fantasy team when he's this hot. However - why is there always a however? - Lo Duca does not have power, and nobody knows how he slugged 25 homers in 2001 when he had no track record to do so. Since then, in two very full seasons and two weeks of this year, he has 17 total. Lo Duca doesn't strike out - only once in 35 at-bats this season. Expect him to hit .300 for the season, a reachable goal, but get tired as the season goes on and not top 60 RBI, even batting fifth in the order. Owned in a rather low 89 percent of leagues, Lo Duca is a fine option at catcher.
Jermaine Dye, A's: Look, this guy is just a good hitter. Give him health, he gives you 30 and 100. All the time. Dye already has five homers, 12 RBI and a .333 average after nine games; last year, still recovering from injuries - one a separated shoulder - he knocked in 20 runs all season. From 1999-2002, those four seasons, Dye averaged 28-105, and was one of the safer run producing guys around. He is again. You'll have to trade for him to get him, but it's worth it.
Danny Graves, Reds: OK, time to put this Ryan Wagner will dominate the world stuff to rest. Sure, Wagner is good, throws hard, will be a fine closer someday. But not now. Graves has been a loyal Red for years, and a fine closer himself. Remove last year's rotation disaster and Graves is pretty good. He's got four recent seasons of between 27 and 32 saves on his resume, and one aberration nightmare as a starter. This season he's 4-for-4 in save chances, and has allowed two baserunners. He's fine. He's the closer. He's going to get 30 saves yet again. Trade for him if you like.
Ben Sheets, Brewers: We've been saying it since last season: A guy with a WHIP that good and an ERA that high is either making really bad pitches at the worst possible time, or is unlucky. Either way it's a harbinger of better things ahead, and Sheets is proving that after three starts in 2004. Really, he's proving it in only two starts, since he got lit in his opener. Sheets hasn't walked a batter in 11 innings over two starts, and he had a 10-strikeout game. Last year his WHIP was 1.25, rather low, his ERA was 4.45, rather high and in part due to too many home runs allowed. He's allowed only one homer in three starts now, and while he did leave Thursday's game with back spasms, this still looks like Sheets' breakout season. That doesn't mean Cy Young, but 15 wins and 175 K are possible, with other decent peripheral numbers.
Rich Harden, A's: It's only one start, but it was a big start. Harden was sent to the minors in part because the A's didn't need a fifth starter until week two, but also because their prized addition to the rotation struggled last September, and in spring training. And then he got hammered by the Rangers, allowing 11 hits and six earned in four innings. Harden does have great stuff, nobody argues that. He strikes people out, can be overpowering. What's the matter with him? We think he'll figure it out soon, but if he doesn't, the next guy in the A's succession of great arms is Justin Duchscherer, and if he comes up, grab him. It could happen in May.
Jason Johnson, Tigers: Remember how everyone rushed to the waiver wire to grab the Detroit ace after he shut down the Jays on opening day and didn't allow a run. Everyone and their plumber were looking up stats from last year, asking how a guy could have a solid 4.18 ERA and WHIP over 1.50. And then the Tigers were scoring runs, we all saw the next Paul Byrd to win 17 games guy right here. Not so fast. Johnson's been tagged in back-to-back road starts, and his numbers are again frightful. Part of his problem is he doesn't strike batters out - this year, four walks, five Ks. Just not good enough. AL owners are dropping him now, but I still think he can duplicate his 2003 stats, which is both good and bad.
Jim Thome, Phillies: In eight games, Thome has zero RBI, zero HR (obviously), only one run scored and - what's this, a .290 average? No, Thome really is not struggling, it's the Phillies who are. Nobody is on base for this thumper, and nobody is able to knock him in. Of his nine hits, four are doubles. And soon they will become homers. When someone says to me that Thome can't reach 45 homers because he has none in the first two weeks, I say that's foolish: It means he'll hit those 45 homers in five months plus two weeks, instead of six full months. Find a Thome owner down on his second round pick (likely), and deal for him. Thome, as well as most Phillies hitters, will be fine.
Greg Maddux, Cubs: I was trying to make the case that Maddux was just too old and his strikeout rate had fallen just too far and that's why he's not a candidate to recover from his nasty start to 2004, but I can't believe it. Maddux has seven walks and four strikeouts in 9.2 innings. That won't continue. The Pirates did club him around - the Pirates! - but it's an aberration as well. Maddux has actually been dropped in 1.3 percent of leagues, which is a bit crazy. Maddux won't be like Roy Halladay last year, when Halladay didn't win in six April starts but then won 21 games in five months and struck everyone out, but he is better than this, and isn't too old. Last year Maddux had a 5.13 ERA through April. He wasn't much better in May. But after the All-Star break, he had a 3.03 ERA and nine wins. Don't panic, Maddux is the same pitcher he was last season.
Juan Pierre, Marlins: And finally, to Mr. Pierre, who has managed to attempt one measly stolen base in nine games. Worried? Don't be. The Marlins have been winning every game, most against Montreal, and it can be surmised that nobody needs to risk stealing a base in a game where the other team never scores. Pierre has only scored once all season, which is odd. It's just bad luck that Miguel Cabrera has six homers, and Pierre wasn't on base for any of them. (Though Pierre did score on a Cabrera hit April 13). Pierre is hitting for average. He'll steal bases. He'll score runs. He'll make you happy.