Weekly 10: Early-season trendsetters
Polanco, Wells, Heyward burst from starting gate with big bats
It's important to maintain perspective after just six games played in a 162-game marathon.
Those players off to hot starts will inevitably cool down and those struggling out of the gate will eventually find their footing.
Just one week into this new season, though, some players have already started to grab headlines, for good and for bad reasons. While it is early, here are 10 player trends that are worth noting heading into mid-April:
1. Placido Polanco, 3B, Phillies
.481 AVG, 1 HR, 8 RBIs, 8 R, 0 SB
The 34-year-old third baseman has burst out of the gate in his second stint with the Phils, and the scary part is he hasn't even set foot in Citizens Bank Park yet. Obviously, Polanco won't continue to rake at the .481 clip he enjoyed during Week 1, but he is a career .304 hitter who bats second for the best offense in the National League in front of the likes of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. There will be plenty of runs to score and to drive in, making the 13-year vet a mixed-league force again.
2. Frank Francisco, RP, Rangers
1-2, 27.00 ERA, 5.00 WHIP, 0 SV, 2 BL SV, 3 Ks
Rangers manager Ron Washington may not be hitting the panic button in regards to his struggling offense just yet, but he wasn't afraid to declare DEFCON 2 with his closer situation. After struggling to find his velocity and control and blowing a couple of ninth-inning leads in the opening week, Francisco was forced to give way to youngster Neftali Perez, who pitched clean eighth innings in each of those games. Given that Francisco won't be of any help in the saves category for the foreseeable future, the advice couldn't be any simpler on this one: dump him!
3. Mike Gonzalez, RP, Orioles
0-2, 18.00 ERA, 4.50 WHIP, 1 SV, 2 BL SV, 3 Ks
Gonzalez has been brutal so far, but he signed a two-year, $12 million deal in the offseason to be the Orioles' closer, so his leash will be much longer than Francisco's. For those who like to plan for worst-case scenarios, Jim Johnson pitched a flawless eighth inning in front of Gonzalez last Friday, striking out a pair. Just remember that it was Johnson's inability to secure the closer's role after the O's traded away George Sherrill last summer that forced Peter Angelos and Co. to go after Gonzalez in the first place. Gonzalez will get every chance to hold on to this gig.
4. Vernon Wells, OF, Blue Jays
.350 AVG, 4 HR, 7 RBIs, 7 R, 0 SB
Wells rewarded those fantasy owners who took a gamble on him in their drafts with a strong opening series against the Rangers, launching four homers in three days, before coming back to earth against the Orioles over the weekend. While the veteran center fielder is healthy after undergoing offseason wrist surgery, it may be a bit of a pipe dream to think that he can recapture his All-Star form of 2006. Wells' OPS was just .711 a year ago, with his slugging percentage sinking to a career-low .400.
5. David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox
.111 AVG, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 0 SB
Prodded by the media to explain himself after two hitless games vs. the Yankees to begin the season, Ortiz responded with a much-publicized tirade. Unfortunately, his week wouldn't get much better, as he followed the opening series with a 1-for-7 effort vs. Kansas City. As strictly a designated hitter, Ortiz's fantasy value is already limited; with Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek and Victor Martinez all playing into possible DH roles for manager Terry Francona, Big Papi may not have the luxury of two months to figure out his swing like he did in '09.
6. Garrett Jones, OF/1B, Pirates
.208 AVG, 3 HR, 6 RBIs, 4 R, 1 SB
Much like with Wells, Jones' numbers for the opening week were top heavy; the sophomore slugger collected three of his five hits in the season-opening series vs. the Dodgers, then went just 2-for-12 with no RBIs vs. the D-backs. It's going to take more than a week for the 28-year-old to prove that his '09 rookie campaign was anything more than a fluke. The owner of a .258 average in 3,817 at-bats over 11 Minor League seasons, Jones is no sure thing to deliver over a 162-game big league season.
7. Jay Bruce, OF, Reds
.053 AVG, 0 HR, 0 RBIs, 0 R, 0 SB
Any hopes that Bruce's hot September from '09 (.353, 4 HR, 16 RBIs) would carry over into '10 were quickly extinguished. To be fair, the 23-year-old has been the victim of some bad luck, as he's picked up a few hard-hit outs. However, it's important to remember that the career .236 hitter has yet to establish the ability to hit for average as a Major Leaguer. Bruce is more than capable of topping 20 homers in '10, but owners may end up paying a steep price for that power production.
8. Jason Heyward, OF, Braves
.292 AVG, 3 HR, 8 RBIs, 5 R, 0 SB
This 20-year-old phenom has been saddled with unfair expectations by both Braves fans and fantasy owners. Yes, he is immensely talented, but he is still very young and will deal with bouts of inconsistency, as illustrated by his 11 straight at-bats without a hit last week. His opposite-field home run off of the Giants' Todd Wellemeyer is proof of just how special is swing already is, but don't forget he is a rookie and will inevitably play like one at times throughout the season.
9. Jon Rauch, RP, Twins
0-0, 2.25 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 4 SV, 3 Ks
No player in baseball has made more out of the opportunity he was given this spring than big Jon Rauch. The Twins' season appeared in jeopardy when stud closer Joe Nathan opted for Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow, but Rauch has been a savior so far. After a dominant outing in the season opener vs. the Angels, Rauch allowed five hits and a run over his next three appearances, but still managed to snag the save each time out. For now, fantasy owners should ride Rauch for as long as they can. The true test will come when he inevitably blows a save. How he responds from there will reveal whether he has what it takes to be a source of saves for the entire season.
10. Mark Buehrle, SP, White Sox
2-0, 2.40 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 4 Ks
The veteran southpaw is, and always has been, an absolute workhorse. He's up to more of the same to begin 2010, notching wins in his first two starts, spanning 15 innings. Often overlooked by fantasy owners because he's averaged just 129 Ks per season over an 11-year career, Buehrle is Mr. Reliable, having gone over the 200-innings mark in each of the last nine seasons. That kind of consistency saves fantasy owners from a lot of headaches over the course of a long summer.
Brandon Costa is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.