On April 2, 2001, the St. Louis Cardinals sent a green rookie by the name of Albert Pujols out to left field to act as their Opening Day starter. Pujols, just 21 and hiding in a lineup loaded with sluggers like Mark McGwire and Jim Edmonds, struggled in his first couple of games. Then the Cards went on a trip to the Arizona desert, and Pujols started hitting. He didn't stop until the Angels handed him intimidating amounts of money in the 2011-2012 offseason, preferably in large sacks with hilariously painted dollar signs on them (I prefer to imagine something like this). Sure, Pujols had been rated the #41 prospect in baseball by Baseball America before that season, but what he was doing was basically unprecedented. He arrived on the scene and immediately became pretty much the best hitter in baseball. Prescient fantasy owners who nabbed him early on began bowing in prayer to their new rotisserie god.
Pujols's arrival as an all-time fantasy stud was awe-inspiring and surprising all at the same time, and the shocker fantasy stars are the ones that tend to be the most fun, year-in, year-out. Maybe the star is a player whom you acquired for a song. Better yet, maybe you picked him up off of waivers. He's the guy no one expected big things out of, but is suddenly one of the top fantasy producers. There's a certain satisfaction about owning this type of player, that feeling that you completely screwed the rest of your league as you watch him dismantle opposing pitching and propel you to the top of the standings.
After the jump, five of the most shocking fantasy studs of the early season. If you own one (or more) of these players and got them for pennies on the dollar, well, don't dislocate your shoulder while patting yourself on the back.
The Melk Man had a breakout season with the Royals in 2011, but nothing could prepare fans for the kind of carnage he's been responsible for thus far in 2012. Cabrera just finished up a month where he was pretty much the best hitter on the planet, hitting an almost unholy .429/.457/.647. He rapped 51 hits in the month of May, and he leads the National League in total hits, batting average, and triples. He's even thrown in nine stolen bases for good measure. He's been unconscious, and has captured the hearts of Giants fans everywhere (and also inspired these guys).
Everybody is wondering if he can keep this up. I sincerely doubt that he's going to continue with the human hit factory routine, but there's no reason he won't continue to produce. He has a healthy opposite field swing that should keep generating hits, and AT&T Park's enormous right-center field power alley should keep the triples coming. Personally, I'm enjoying this apparent crusade to prove that 2011 was no fluke. The Melk Man delivers!
Encarnacion has already matched his 2011 home run total in less than half as many at-bats. Perhaps the man in the white shirt has dumped Jose Bautista and is focusing his powers on Encarnacion this season. Toronto's erstwhile enigmatic slugger has apparently broken out this season, entering June sporting career highs in slugging percentage and OPS. The inflated batting average and OBP disappeared once April ended, but the power stayed. Encarnacion has been doubly valuable because he's eligible at both first base and third base, leading wags like me to say that at least they don't dock you points for defense.
The Encarnacion we saw in May (the low-average power guy) is the real thing. The surge in home runs is nice, but he's 29 and players don't usually become newly-minted 40-home run guys at that age (teammate Joey Bats notwithstanding). Encarnacion will probably end up with over 30 bombs, but it's probably just a one-year thing. Keeper leaguers trade high.
Ok, how many of us saber-geeks scoffed at the A's acquisition of Josh Reddick before the season? I know I did. The famous "Moneyball" franchise, acquiring a low-OBP, fringe outfielder for their All-Star closer? Critics were falling all over themselves to prove whether Beane was either going cheap or going completely batcrap insane.
Well, Oakland has had the last laugh. While Bailey shocked the masses and got hurt (notshocked), Reddick has launched 14 home runs and is slugging .547. He sat there on the waiver wire in a couple leagues I play in, daring me to pick him up. I steadfastly refused, and now I feel like a complete horse's rear end. Reddick has been the man in the East Bay, the lone bright spot in a truly crummy A's lineup (think I'm joking? Egad). The Oakland hellhole destroys batting average, but is actually somewhat neutral toward power (especially during the hot summer months). If his power dries up, it'll be because he had a fluke May, not because he was hurt by his environment.
I had a fun time disparaging Trumbo in this article last December for his brainless hacking in his rookie season, but oh how the tides have turned. If you had stated that, at the start of June 2012, Trumbo would have an OPS+ more than 90 points higher than his much more celebrated teammate, Albert Pujols, you'd have been fitted with the straight jacket and sent to join the cast of Sucker Punch. As Pujols and several other ice cold Angel hitters were busy torpedoing the team's season throughout April and May, Trumbo was doing everything he could to keep it afloat.
Trumbo walked 25 times in 2011. So far this season, he's drawn 12 walks in two months. That's not great, but it demonstrates definite improvement, and shows that Trumbo is able to make adjustments when the book on him going into this year was to just keep throwing him crap off the plate until he got himself out. The Angels don't dare take Trumbo out of their lineup at this point, and he's young enough that the improvements in plate discipline are probably for real. He's a great source of power until he proves otherwise, and he's especially valuable since he's eligible at three positions. Three cheers to proving cynical bastards like me wrong!
Remember that whiff-tastic Rangers prospect who once struck out an ungodly 150 times in 419 plate appearances? Whatever happened to that guy? This other Chris Davis on Baltimore is a completely different beast. Davis has become a reborn follower of the Church of Making Contact and is actually coming close to fulfilling the promise he had as a Texas farmhand. He's launched nine homers and is slugging .521, and most likely came cheap or was picked up in the very late draft rounds. There's always the fear that his strikeout problems will engulf him again; they were a major issue as recently as 2011. He's a solid third baseman if they don't, but he might be a solid sell-high candidate right now.