Since the final pitch of last year's Fall Classic, fantasy owners have been counting down to Opening Day.Now, it's come, with Sunday's and Monday's games in the books..April is the most pivotal period in the fantasy-baseball marathon, as owners will make moves that will result in long-term gains or losses.
Since the final pitch of last year's Fall Classic, fantasy owners have been counting down to Opening Day.
Now, it's come, with Sunday's and Monday's games in the books..
April is the most pivotal period in the fantasy-baseball marathon, as owners will make moves that will result in long-term gains or losses. Among the many stories to monitor this month, the following 10 warrant our closest scrutiny.
Shaky stoppers: In Atlanta, Arodys Vizcaino or Jason Grilli could emerge as the leader of the Braves' closer committee, while David Hernandez or Dalier Hinojosa are vying to anchor the Phillies' relief corps. In Colorado, Jake McGee may distance himself from his competition or struggle in his first season with Coors Field as his home park.
Jeremy Jeffress and J.J. Hoover have inconsistent big league track records, but they will each get an extended look in the ninth inning with the Brewers and Reds, respectively. On the West Coast, Steve Cishek of the Mariners and Fernando Rodney of the Padres will hope to put their '15 struggles in the rearview mirror and retain their closer's roles.
MLB.com's Closer Report can save your season
Prospect pathways: Fantasy owners are drooling over the potential impact of prospects such as starters Jose Berrios, Tyler Glasnow and Lucas Giolito, plus shortstops Trea Turner and Orlando Arcia. Prospects' promotion dates can be affected greatly by early-season Minor League performances, but the needs of their parent clubs can also speed up their call-up timelines.
If the Twins, Pirates or Nationals have injured or ineffective rotation members early on, they might be quick to summon their young and touted arms. Furthermore, the arrivals of Turner and Arcia could be hastened if their respective teams' shortstops -- Danny Espinosa in Washington and Jonathan Villar in Milwaukee -- get off to slow starts.
The Story story: Few players enter this season with more volatility than Trevor Story. Now set to call hitter-friendly Coors Field home after compiling 20 homers and 22 steals in the Minors last year, Story has the potential to be a five-category asset at a premium position. But the young Rockies prospect has logged just 61 games at the Triple-A level, and his long-term mixed-league usefulness will be impacted by the eventual return of Jose Reyes.
(Update: The touted shortstop opened his career in grand fashion Monday, becoming the first player in history with two homers in his big league debut on Opening Day.)
All aboard the Cueto bandwagon: With the help of a pitcher-friendly home park, strong supporting cast and and excellent defensive catcher in Buster Posey, Johnny Cueto -- who posted a 2.51 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP as a member of the Reds from 2011-15 -- could be a fine No. 2 mixed-league starter. But fantasy owners cannot ignore the right-hander's 4.76 ERA and 1.45 WHIP across 13 stretch-run starts with the Royals last season, or his 9.58 ERA and 1.84 WHIP in Spring Training. The Cueto bandwagon could empty quickly if he struggles during April.
Surprising steals sources: Stolen bases were hard to find in '16 drafts, and many owners were left with unappealing speedsters as late-round options. Due to the dearth of steals at the draft table, wise owners will be looking to pounce on potential stolen-base assets in April. Ideally, owners should target players who can swipe 20 bags while also contributing in one or two other categories. Finding such options on waivers, of course, may be easier said than done.
Park tries to go yard in America: From 2013-14, Byung Ho Park slugged 105 homers and drove in 270 runs in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO). Though the level of play in the KBO pales in comparison to the Majors, Jung Ho Kang proved last season that a talented hitter can transition successfully to the big leagues. On the other hand, Park's high strikeout rate in Korea raises some concern about his ability to excel with the Twins.
Houston, we (might) have a first baseman: Even though A.J. Reed led Astros first-base options in offseason buzz, Tyler White may be on the verge of becoming a household name. White could be the perfect complementary piece in a powerful but strikeout-prone Houston lineup, as he has produced a lifetime .311 average and .422 on-base percentage while compiling more walks (174) than whiffs (164) during his Minor League career.
Despite his modest power potential, White should be on many mixed-league rosters if he succeeds in April. But if he starts cold, smart owners will stash Reed on their benches.
Sanchez vs. southpaws: Aaron Sanchez arrived at Spring Training on a mission to win a rotation spot, and he got his wish after dominating the opposition in March. The right-hander has held same-sided big league hitters to a lifetime .397 OPS but has surrendered an .801 OPS to lefties. Opposing managers will likely test the 23-year-old in April by writing out lefty-heavy lineups. If he can pass those exams, Sanchez will have a much easier path to a breakout campaign.
Elbow woes for Wieters: Wieters was limited to 101 games from 2014-15 due to Tommy John surgery, and his '16 draft stock plummeted when he battled elbow soreness in Spring Training. The 29-year-old moved past the pain but will need to handle the daily rigors of catching in order to log a heavy workload, as Pedro Alvarez is locked in at designated hitter. By handling his backstop duties in April, Wieters would regain much of his reputation as a safe mixed-league option.
Hurlers on the comeback trail: The road to the rotation can be a long and winding one for injured pitchers, but those who surmount all hurdles can become key fantasy additions. Smart owners will keep close eyes on the progress of Yu Darvish, Zack Wheeler, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Lance McCullers, Homer Bailey and Eduardo Rodriguez. Stashing the correct starter in April could make a massive difference in May or June.
Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB