Up until this past weekend series in Milwaukee, I encountered many panicked Allen Craig owners on Twitter wondering if the first baseman had lost his 22-homer pop from last season. On Saturday, the "Wrench" knocked his first ball out of the park as part of a 7-for-14 weekend series, including three extra base hits, three runs and four RBI. Since the calendar flipped to May, Craig is 9-for-28 with seven RBI. He's now on pace for 131 RBI and represents one of the best "buy low" candidates if you can convince his owner that he's still a "buy low." And I'm definitely buying Craig for all of the same reasons that many bought into him in the preseason. With a slow start in the power department, it might be unrealistic to expect Craig to hit more than 25 home runs, but we're still looking at a .300 hitter with 90 run and 100+ RBI potential hitting in the middle of one of the premiere lineups in the National League. Like the boys from 'N Sync once said: Buy, Buy, Buy!
Everth Cabrera stole two more bags last night and now has 10 swipes on the year (two behind Jacoby Ellsbury, who leads the majors). Last year, Cabrera was a ridiculous 44 for 48 in the steals department, which was an unsustainable rate to expect all over again in 2013. So far this year, Cabrera's been caught three times. (So there you go.) Obviously Cabrera needs to get on base to steal bases, and so far he's getting on base at a very respectable .357 clip. For a middle infielder, that's elite. A great sign through the first month is Cabrera's plate discipline. He's striking out 17.9% of the time (down from 24.5%) and walking 11% of the time (up from 9.6%). It appears Cabrera is making a concentrated effort to cut down on the strikeouts, which would boost his value as a fantasy shortstop tremendously. He's already hit as many home runs (two) as last year, and he's on pace for 91 runs on an improving San Diego offense. I'm not expecting a batting average north of .265, but 50 steals is definitely doable for Cabrera. If you lost Jose Reyes and scooped Cabrera up, consider yourself good to go.
With all of the firepower of Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, the underrated Jordan Zimmermann continues to grow as a starter in Washington. Zimmermann leads the Nationals with five wins and a 1.64 ERA (eighth best in the majors), despite a K/9 rate of 5.52. I expect his K/9 rate to rise to right around seven strikeouts per nine as the season progresses (it was 7.04 in 2012), but the fact is Zimmermann doesn't need to throw up gaudy strikeout numbers to succeed. His BB/9 rate of 1.43 is elite, and he's inducing more ground balls than ever (51.2% GB%). For those of you thinking Zimmermann has been lucky, keep in mind that he's always been a guy who outperforms his peripherals. The last two seasons he had an xFIP and SIERA above 3.70 but still managed an ERA under 3.18 in both seasons (including 2.94 last season). I've often compared Zimmermann to San Francisco's Matt Cain, and I'm excited to see the continued growth of Washington's "third wheel" behind Strasburg and Gonzalez.
I wasn't all in on Eric Hosmer in the preseason, but I did think he'd have a nice little bounce back. Last September, an MRI revealed a small tear in his right rotator cuff and, naturally, I put two and two together and determined his loss of power and the injury were directly related. But now that we're one month into the new season and the power still hasn't returned, I'm less likely to believe last season's injury was the main culprit. In 101 plate appearances, Hosmer has yet to leave the yard and is still stuck on single-digit runs and RBI (he has nine apiece). According to his .333 BABIP, he's actually been more lucky than unlucky at the plate, yet he's still hitting a disappointing .258/.337/.326. While his walk rate is nearly identical from last year, his strikeout rate is all the way up to 20.8%. Hosmer continues to hit ground balls at a high rate (50.7%), while his fly ball rate is down to 23.2%. His ZiPS numbers call for 15 home runs, 61 runs, 63 RBI and 12 steals the rest of the way, but I'd take the under on the home runs and RBIs. He still has value as a corner infielder or as a first base reserve, but he's not startable right now in standard leagues.
Despite not owning him anywhere, I was a Jimmy Rollins believer in a weak shortstop class in the preseason. But a rough start to 2013 has me reevaluating Philadelphia's veteran shortstop. So far, Rollins is batting .236/.291/.350 with one home run, 13 runs, eight RBI and three steals in 134 plate appearances. His strikeout rate has shot up to a career worst 17.9% a year after a previous worst of 13.7%. In each of the past three seasons, Rollins' strikeout rate has gone up, and it appears to be headed in that direction once again. With only one home run and a .114 ISO, Rollins won't come anywhere close to touching last year's 23 bombs, which was his highest home run total since 2007 (and a pretty clear outlier, in my opinion). The Phillies offense is struggling as a whole (they're 24th in the majors with 119 runs scored), and Rollins has definitely been a contributing factor to the team's inept start hitting atop the lineup. If you can move Rollins on his name alone, I'd do it. I'd even do a straight swap for the guy I wrote about above, Everth Cabrera. At 34, the wheels are starting to come off of Rollins.
I had a hard time picking between Jon Niese and Marco Estrada, who is toiling around with a 6.08 ERA through seven starts in Milwaukee, but I was so high on the underrated Niese in the preseason that I am willing to call myself out on this one. His last start was by far his worst of the season, as the 26-year old gave up seven runs and seven hits to go along with six walks and three strikeouts against the Braves on the road. While he has gone 6+ innings in four of seven starts, Niese has survived on a K:BB ratio of 20:19 in 36 1/3 innings. He's actually been pretty fortunate to post a 4.66 ERA, as his peripherals are much higher (5.11 xFIP; 5.15 SIERA). I'm not ready to give up on Niese completely, but a drop in velocity to below 90 has me at least concerned. His first pitch strike rate is down from 62.7% in 2012 to 50.3% in 2013, and batters are swinging at fewer pitches as a whole. I would still give Niese the nod in his next start against Pittsburgh, but I'll be watching very closely.
Alex Kantecki is a contributor for Fake Teams, Big Leagues Mag, Dobber Baseball and Vigilante Baseball. You can follow him on Twitter at @rotodealer.