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Wednesday 21st Feb 2018

Craziness and surprise players and second guesses are all part of the first week of 2016, when the "story" was indeed NL power hitting NL'er Trevor Story. In fact, aside from being clever in using Story as a lead, we will leave him, as the Rockies shortstop is hardly a secret.

However, there are a cluster of Week 1 performers worth our eyes, so let's take a look at them, starting with Reds shortstop Eugenio Suarez. A member of Lord Zola's Tout Wars team, Todd inadvertently nominated Suarez for $12 when he meant to open the infielder at $1 (and whom I rostered two years for a while on my AL Tout squad while Suarez played for the Tigers). Traded for Alfredo Simon last September, Suarez is well on his to earning Todd his $12 with a killer .368-3-8 week. Suarez did hit 13 big flies last year and though his on-base numbers are a little low (.315 range) the infielder similarly has some pop and a little speed for a middle infielder, and if you have an injury in a mixed league, chances are the shortstop is out there. You could do worse.

On the other hand, Houston might have a serious find in their 33rd round pick of 2013, Tyler White, who owns the first base slot for now. White is one of those guys I love, having posted a .422 OBP with 174 walks to 164 strikeouts over 294 minor league games, which included a .911 OPS and line of .311-35-215. If available, jump all over White.

With the injury to Kyle Schwarber, expect Jorge Soler to get the lion's share of playing time, and also expect that when is active Javier Baez, who played some outfield during the spring, to get into a groove as the team's utility player. Also remember how deep the team is with the likes of Ben Zobrist, who can play second and the outfield, but I would not expect a lot from Matt Szczur, despite his hot start (.571-1-4). A fifth-round selection in 2010, Szczur has some skills for sure, in speed (140 minor league swipes) but his on-base numbers, unlike those of White, are derelict. 347 whiffs to 199 walks was good for a minor league .346 OBP when we factor the .281 batting average, but in the Majors, over 153 at-bats, that number drops to .289 and I don't see Szczur improving it that much at age 26.

One more hitter this week, Jeremy Hazelbaker, was a fourth-round pick of the Red Sox in 2009, then was swapped to the Dodgers, then released, and signed as a free agent no less than twice by St, Louis. A left-handed hitting first baseman/outfielder--something of which the Cards have a surplus--has had a nice start with a .400-2-3 first week of 2016. But, like Szczur, I don't see much growth potential, partially because of his 295 walks to 789 whiffs (.341 OBP) but mostly with Matt Adams, Brandon Moss, Matt Holliday, and Stephen Pisoctty all vying for outfield/first base time, Hazelbaker will be a victim of those numbers.

Turning to some pitching, the big name of the week has to be Dodgers starter Ross Stripling who dazzled the Giants on Friday. Nabbed from Texas A&M in the fifth round in 2012, Stripling has made 48 starts with a 12-10, 2.83 mark over 235.3 innings. Stripling earned 213 whiffs to just 57 walks, with a 1.105 WHIP and just 12 homers allowed and on a team so good at developing pitchers, Stripling makes as good a rookie pitcher gamble as you will find.

A couple of more starters worthy of your interest continues with Vince Velasquez, the Astros second rounder in 2010, who then swapped the hurler along with Mark Appel for Ken Giles. Velasquez made 19 appearances after the swap last year, including seven starts, over which he posted a 1-1, 4.37 record, but whiffed 58 over 55.3 innings while posting a 1.275 WHIP. The down side is the Phils are not likely to set too many records for wins this year, but Velasquez is an interesting cog in a potentially interesting Phils rotation.

Juan Nicasio has been bouncing around the Majors since 2011, posting a somewhat boring 23-25, 4.83 record over 445.3 innings, which included 71 starts, largely for the Rockies. A change of scene to the Dodgers last year helped a lot as Nicasio, now 29, whiffed 65 over 58.3 innings. Control is a concern, as the big righty (6'4", 240 lbs.) did walk 32 last year (1.56 WHIP), but Nicasio could be a nice fit on a good Pirates team. He was easily a big FAAB target in all the premiere leagues last week, and a solid seven strikeout, zero walk start last week suggests maybe the new Buc is coming into his own.

Looking to a couple of relievers, again back the Phils where  Jenmear Gomez now has a pair of conversions and talk of committee or not, looks like he is primed to bag the bulk of saves this year. This is interesting, as the 25-year old Gomez only has that pair of saves for his career which spans back to 2006 when he debuted for Cleveland's Gulf Coast team, and Gomez is not really a strikeout guy with just 254 over his 445 big league frames, but, for now he has the hot hand and will likely get the ball.

Finally, expect Ryan Madson to be the right-handed platoon in Oakland's closer land, with Sean Doolittle being the Southpaw counterpart, meaning both will get save chances, and both can be stretched out over the season. My big fear of Doolittle is indeed that overwork coupled with his hard throwing would invite injury, but the Oakland is so good at interchangeable parts that this move makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways.


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