Ricescapades: Five Hitters Off To Hot Starts (That Aren't Flukes)

Baltimore's Adam Jones is proving that his 2011 home run surge was no joke. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

The first few weeks of the season can be treacherous terrain for amped-up fantasy owners ready and willing to make knee-jerk roster decisions. Small sample size goofiness rules the land, and rational thought process can be nothing but a glimmering mirage. If a player gets on a hot streak, bunching together some hits or home runs, it's natural to jump to the waiver wire to pick him up. This could end poorly, because you may end up dropping a player who could be more valuable over the course of the season than the flash in the pan you just went out of your way to scoop up.

Remember when Chris Shelton hit ten home runs in April of 2006? I wonder how many managers fell all over themselves trying to grab him and then were completely disappointed when Shelton fell off the face of the earth on May 1st of that year. Even worse is when a manager feels the need to trade for a player having a hot streak and then gets completely burned because the player they gave up turned out to offer way more than the two extra weeks of torrid hitting from the guy they just got.

Sometimes, though, the hot streaks are for real. There are instances where things just click, or where players just suddenly develop, and the small sample size fooferah turns into full scale fantasy stardom. After the jump, here are five players off to blazing hot starts that are likely not flukes. Obviously, these players aren't going to OPS 1.100 for the whole year, but sustaining their added fantasy value, when it hadn't been there before, is hardly out of the question.

1. Adam Jones

The Orioles' center fielder has come out of the gate with a bang, with five home runs and a .621 slugging percentage thus far. Ever since Jones was a Mariner prospect traded for Eric Bedard's dead left arm, scouts have projected him to develop plus power. After years of middling home run numbers, he finally broke out last year with 25, and many believed it was just the start. His inability to take a walk (he's drawn just one so far this year) will keep him from any kind of star status, but at 6'3", 225, he's always profiled as a better power hitter than he's shown. Don't be shocked if he keeps sending balls over the wall and blows past 30 home runs this season.

2. Matt Joyce

A long-time favorite of mine, Joyce has mashed four early home runs to go with a .995 OPS. Going back to his rookie season with Detroit, I've always liked Joyce's long swing and the potentially big power year it could produce. Joe Maddon has been giving him some added exposure against lefty starters this season, and that added playing time could lead to an uptick in his counting numbers. He strikes out too much and will likely hover around the .260-.270 range before too long, but don't be surprised if he hits 25 home runs and, if he can get back into the double digits in steals, turns into one of the more sneaky-good fantasy outfielders.

3. Matt Wieters

He's finally doing it! After touting Wieters as the number one keeper candidate at catcher, and then offering him up as a player destined to have a monster season, it's great to see Wieters justifying my fanboy faith by rocking the ball in the early part of the season. Wieters has already socked six home runs, proving that his 2011 power surge was no fluke. Most encouragingly, Wieters is complimenting the sustained power with improved OBP, and he's also showing no signs of the struggles he had against right-handed pitchers last year. This might, at long last, be the breakout we've been waiting for. I, for one, welcome our new PECOTA overlord.

4. J.D. Martinez

Martinez has never been viewed as much of a prospect, despite shredding minor league pitching at every stop. Martinez owns a .958 career minor league OPS, but baseball people have generally viewed his long-term career trajectory with a yawn. Right now, he's doing a nice job of waking those people up. Martinez entered the day hitting .298/.408/.492, and has been the key cog in a surprisingly competent Houston lineup thus far. Most encouragingly, he's been more selective at the plate, having drawn twelve walks already (compared to thirteen all of last year). Skeptics have never liked his swing or relative lack of power, but given his minor league stats, maybe we shouldn't be too surprised if he just keeps on hitting. Minute Maid Park's short left field wall may help his power numbers anyway.

5. Luke Scott

Scott may be stuck in a strict platoon and may have insane political views, but don't think for a second that he can't help your fantasy team. After a down 2011 and some early season injury problems this year, Scott has started to get hot, mashing four home runs in the early-going and adding fifteen RBIs. Scott averaged 25 homers a year from 2008 to 2010, and in '10 sported a .902 OPS in the baseball purgatory known as the Orioles' lineup. His 2011 was likely ruined by injuries; his power has always been real, and now that he's in a stronger lineup, he should get more RBI chances and some better pitches to hit.

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