I don't want to beat a dead internet horse, but Nate McLouth's fast start bears mentioning, especially in an article geared toward points leagues. He's been popping up in fantasy baseball articles all over the net and for good reason, as the Orioles leadoff hitter against right-handers is batting .351/.455/.486 in 89 plate appearances with one home run, 21 runs, 7 RBI and 8 steals. All of those tasty stats add up to 78 points, which is 15th best among hitters. There's no way McLouth keeps this pace up, but he's firmly earned a No. 4 outfield role on your fantasy team. The only thing holding the resurrected McLouth back is a career .222-batting average against left-handers, which has kept his butt on the bench in games in which a southpaw starts. When his batting average creeps down to his career average of .251, the steals will inevitably come down with it. But could McLouth still challenge his career high of 23 swipes he set back in 2008? Absolutely. Buck Showalter won't put on the breaks on McLouth, who has been caught just once on the base paths. Sadly, there's no power more power here, but the 31-year old could score a total of 85 runs with his fast start.
I drafted Kyle Seager in multiple leagues because third base was a wasteland of injuries to start the season, and after a slow beginning, Seager has rewarded those owners who remained patient. Last year, Seager blasted a surprise 20 home runs with 13 steals for the Mariners and grabbed plenty of attention from fantasy owners. He lost his second base eligibility in the majority of leagues and that certainly dragged down his preseason value, but Seager is again proving his value as a fixture at the hot corner. He's currently batting .297 with 3 home runs, 11 runs and 13 RBI, and his .366 OBP is sixth best among third basemen. While he's been nonexistent on the base paths so far, what could help Seager this season is increased power. Among hitters with 20 home runs last year, only J.J. Hardy had an ISO lower than Seager's .163. But to start 2013, Seager's ISO is up to .196, while his line drive rate is on par with last season. I think 20 home runs are about right for Seager, and improved plate discipline should lead to a batting average well above last year's .259 average. He's a top 12 option at third.
Among pure closers, Jason Grilli leads the way in points leagues with 89 points. The Pittsburgh closer is a perfect 10-for-10 in saves and has a 17:4 K:BB ratio in 11 innings. Grilli continues to get plenty of swings and misses this season with a 13.9 percent swinging strike rate, and his first pitch strike percentage is up to 58.1 percent. He's maintained excellent control with a 9.3 percent walk rate, and he has yet to give up a big fly (a big no-no for closers). The most encouraging sign from Grilli has been his velocity, which has hasn't skipped a beat from its jump of 92.4 in 2011 to 93.6 in 2012 (it's currently sitting at 93.7). Some questioned why the Pirates would let Joel Hanrahan, a proven major league closer, walk at the end of last season. Grilli is showing us why. He's for real. The Pirates lead the NL Central and should remain competitive throughout the year, which should present Grilli with plenty of save chances.
Despite seven home runs in April, Jose Bautista has been one of the bigger disappointments in baseball with a .192 average in 82 plate appearances. He's still slugging for tremendous power, as half of his 14 hits have gone out of the ball park, but his plate discipline is leading to a higher strikeout rate and a lower walk rate than in years past. Bautista is ranked 50th among outfielders in points leagues, and a big part of that is due to his career high 24 percent strikeout rate and an 11 percent walk rate (his lowest walk rate since 2008). A strong average is something you probably didn't expect from Bautista coming into the season (he's a career .251 hitter), but walks and solid contact were. So far, that's not the case. Bautista's contact rates are down across the board, and he's also swinging at more pitches (42.4 percent Swing%) than at any point in his career from 2006 on. I still think Bautista has 40-home run potential, but that's going to come with a real stinker of a batting average and weeks of extreme slumps. That reminds me a lot of Jay Bruce, who was taken well after Bautista in preseason drafts.
Elvis Andrus just signed an eight-year contract, $120 million extension at the start of April that will keep the 24-year old shortstop in Texas at least through 2018 (he has an opt-out clause at that time). Set to test free agency in 2014, it was a little surprising that the Rangers committed long-term to Andrus with another superstar prospect, Jurickson Profar, waiting in the wings to fill in at short. After averaging 34 steals from 2009-2011, Andrus stole 21 bags in 2012 in a down year. While he's on pace for more than 30 steals this season, his average has slipped to .242 and his on-base percentage to .286. Given those numbers, it's hard to project 25 steals the rest of the way. His swinging strike rate and swing percentage are both down, and the power, predictably, is nonexistent. For me, Andrus is turning into a borderline starter in 12-team leagues. His real life value is greater than his fantasy value.
Jonathan Papelbon hasn't had many save chances as the Phillies are off to a 12-14 start in the competitive NL East. While he hasn't blown any of his four chances, there are some concerning signs with the former hard-nosed closer from Boston. Papelbon's 18.8 percent strikeout rate is light years away from his 32.4 percent mark in 2012. His velocity is down a full two ticks from 93.8 in 2012 to 91.9 this year, and his swinging strike rate is currently a career worst 8.3 percent. Saves are what get closers the most points in points leagues (duh), but Philadelphia isn't providing its closer with many opportunities in the ninth. The Phillies bullpen has a 4.16 ERA (3.85 FIP), which is the eight worst ERA in the league, and that has had a direct effect on Papelbon's save chances. Drafted among the top closers on draft day, Papelbon hasn't returned value in April. I'd strongly consider dealing Papelbon if you could sell his name, but it could be hard selling a lousy six strikeouts per nine innings.