04/20/10 11:20 AM ET
Trendspotting: Follow the leaders
Wigginton riding power surge; Lester off to sluggish start
By Chris Stryshak / MLB.com
Expect to see a healthy mix of established stars performing (or not) in some unexpected areas and a few unheralded names making their marks in 5x5 play.
Opportunity came knocking for Ty Wigginton in the form of injuries to starting infielders Brian Roberts and Miguel Tejada, and the long-time super-sub has responded by swatting five big flies in his last seven games. His eligibility at second base makes him a prime target for those scouring the wire for some cheap middle-infield power.
Although he still hasn't played his way into an everyday gig with the ChiSox, Andruw Jones has launched three homers over the past week -- the same number he clubbed in 209 at-bats in 2008 -- and could force manager Ozzie Guillen to clear room for his hot bat.
By this day in 2009, Ben Zobrist had yet to secure a starting role in Tampa Bay but had already clubbed a trio of long balls. Fast forward to 2010, and the erstwhile breakout star is still searching for his first dinger with a slugging percentage more than 200 points lower than the .585 mark he posted last season.
Josh Hamilton's current power drought encompasses much more than the first two weeks of the 2010 season. The big guy has dealt with his fair share of injuries over the past year and has only two homers to show for his last 39 games, a span of 151 at-bats.
Twenty-year-old Jason Heyward has delivered the goods in his first taste of Major League action. The hulking outfielder has pushed across 15 runners so far and sits near the summit of the Major League leaderboard in that category.
But he doesn't sit at the very top because that seat is being occupied by the Marlins' Jorge Cantu, who set a Major League record by recording at least one hit and one RBI in the season's first 10 games en route to a total of 16 ribbies in the early going.
The proud owner of a .941 Minor League OPS, Matt LaPorta was promoted to inject some firepower into the middle of an Indians offense that lacked a big-time run-producing threat. It hasn't quite worked out yet for either party, as the 25-year-old hasn't driven in a runner since the second game of Cleveland's season, on April 7.
Victor Martinez was thought to occupy a cushy piece of real estate hitting out of the three-hole of a usually lethal Red Sox offense, but with the team mired in a prolonged funk, V-Mart has only four ribbies to show for the season's first two weeks and hasn't plated a runner since April 11.
Cameron Maybin has been the primary beneficiary of Jorge Cantu's RBI onslaught, scoring at least once in 10 of the young campaign's first 13 games. As impressive as he's been, he'll get even more chances to touch home from his new spot atop the Marlins order.
There doesn't seem to be much slowing down the ageless Ivan Rodriguez, who is ripping at a crisp .450 clip and has scored a run in eight straight games to give him 10 on the year, a figure that leads all ML catchers.
Optimistic projections had Julio Borbon pegged for 100 runs this season as the tablesetter for the high-octane Rangers offense, but a dismal April (.083 AVG, 0/7 BB/K, 1 R) has already bumped him out of the leadoff spot in favor of Elvis Andrus, and his hold on the everyday job in center field is slipping with each subpar effort at the plate.
Chris Coghlan crossed home 84 times en route to taking home the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year Award, but not much has gone right for the 24-year-old in 2010. He's struggled to a .109 average and a .146 on-base percentage, resulting in him coming around to score just twice.
A member of the Mariners outfield currently sits near the top of the American League in hitting, but for a change, it's not Ichiro Suzuki. Franklin Gutierrez ranks second in the circuit with a .426 average and has hit safely in 13 of the M's first 14 games, with seven multi-hit efforts.
He ranks behind only the Royals' Scott Podsednik, who is hitting a scorching-hot .500 (16-for-32) over his last eight games to bring his overall mark to .457. While he is certain to return to Earth before long -- the 34-year-old is, after all, just a .279 career hitter -- there's little reason not to give him a whirl for the time being.
Few established fantasy studs have struggled to the degree that Carlos Lee has so far. El Caballo has been trending downward across the board, but nowhere worse than in the average department, where he's posted a basement-scraping .104 mark (5-for-48).
He might not be in any danger of losing his center-field job with the Cardinals, but fantasy owners have begun to sour on Colby Rasmus, who finally halted an 0-for-16 skid with his third long ball of the year April 18. The rangy outfielder is hitting just .188 so far.
Now that he's started to pile up some free passes, Andrew McCutchen has put his young wheels to use by nabbing five bases over his last six games. The dual-threat outfielder upped his stolen base total in each of the four months he spent in the Majors last season, so this should only be the beginning.
Owners who gobbled up Joey Votto for his power must be delightfully bewildered by his recent aggressiveness on the basepaths, as the burgeoning star has unexpectedly swiped four bags in his last eight contests. However, this isn't completely out of character for Votto, who stole a combined 44 bases over his last two Minor League campaigns.
Before you try to swipe a bag, you first have to get on base, which has been a huge problem for Jose Reyes (.150 AVG, .222 OBP) since his return from injury. The Mets' scuffling leadoff man hasn't yet found his game legs and is only 1-for-2 in steal attempts so far.
Piling up steals has been just about the only thing that Matt Kemp has struggled with this season, as he's been gunned down three times in five tries.
One of only a handful of three-game winners, the undefeated Matt Garza (24 IP, 19 Ks, 0.75 ERA, 0.88 WHIP) has been the lynchpin for a Rays rotation that has pitched its way to 10 victories and a first-place showing in the cutthroat AL East.
Twenty-three-year-old Jaime Garcia has only toed the rubber for three big league starts but has already been featured in a pair of Trendspotting columns -- such is the scope of his emerging talents. Garcia outpitched Johan Santana in his last outing (7 IP, 1 H, 2 BB, 5 Ks) and although he didn't get the win, he should have plenty of chances pitching for the first-place Cardinals.
The 2010 season has been rough on most of the Baltimore rotation. Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen and David Hernandez have experienced varying degrees of success so far, but the 2-11 Orioles have generated the third-fewest runs in the Majors and haven't often put their starting staff in position to win.
The Astros bats have been dreadful all season, but Wandy Rodriguez has not exactly helped his cause with a 7/7 K/BB ratio and a 1.56 WHIP through three winless starts.
Forced to settle for a Minor League contract this past offseason, the Nats' Livan Hernandez has responded with a flawless 0.00 ERA after blanking the Brewers and the Mets in his first two starts.
Hiroki Kuroda has twirled a pair of gems to start the year, thanks in large part to phenomenal control (15 IP, 1 BB). He's also shown an impressive propensity for inducing ground balls, as 60 percent of the 35-year-old hurler's outs have been of the worm-burning variety. The result? Try a 1.20 ERA on for size.
Jon Lester is off to his second consecutive sluggish April after being knocked around to the tune of an 8.44 ERA in his first three trips to the hill. A massive spike in BB/9 rate (5.06) has been his Achilles' heel so far this season.
All of those early-career innings finally seem to be taking their toll on 26-year-old Scott Kazmir. The erratic lefty was tagged for a 4.89 ERA in 26 starts last season and was bombarded for six earned on eight hits and three walks in his '10 debut.
Ricky Romero has been frighteningly efficient in three 2010 starts. He's allowed just 17 baserunners (11 H, 6 BB) over his first 23 innings, good for a handsome 0.74 WHIP.
Never underestimate the power of St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan. Brad Penny, the latest of the pitching guru's reclamation projects, has sliced a big chunk off his 1.40 WHIP from '09 by stitching together a 0.95 mark through three starts this year.
Rich Harden has had his ups and downs but usually manages to do an effective job of keeping runners off base (career 1.25 WHIP). That hasn't been the case this year, as the righty has been touched up for 11 hits and has handed out 14 free passes over his first 13 1/3 innings, resulting in an ugly 1.85 WHIP.
One could argue that Gavin Floyd's 2.23 WHIP is unfairly skewed by his April 18 meltdown against the Indians (1 IP, 7 ER, 6 H, 4 BB), and to a degree, it is. But the 27-year-old wasn't very sharp in his prior two outings, either, allowing 19 runners to reach base over 12 frames.
There won't be many leads to work with in Baltimore, but Jim Johnson has shown he can at least be an adequate replacement for injured closer Mike Gonzalez. Johnson threw two strong innings for the save vs. Oakland on April 18 and has earned the all-important vote of confidence from skipper Dave Trembley.
Kevin Gregg has settled in nicely as Toronto's ninth-inning man of choice, having gone a perfect 3-for-3 in save opportunities since displacing the ineffective Jason Frasor.
The rumblings are starting to swirl around Arizona's Chad Qualls following a shaky start in which he's allowed 10 hits and three walks over six appearances and blown two of three save chances. D-backs skipper A.J. Hinch insists that Qualls has a firm hold on the job, but that could change if the struggling 31-year-old continues to have trouble slamming the door.
How can a reliever who hasn't tossed a single big league pitch in 2010 already be trending downward? That's what happens when a manager won't commit to reinstalling his closer into the ninth-inning role after returning from the DL, as was the case with Charlie Manuel and Brad Lidge last week.
Brian Matusz's stunning maturation has been one of Baltimore's lone bright spots during the early going, as the 23-year-old southpaw has fanned 23 batters over 18 2/3 innings of work to lead all AL hurlers.
Justin Masterson has only tossed 11 innings over his first two starts, but if he can start working more efficiently, his 11.45 K/9 rate should result in some eye-popping K totals for the burly right-hander.
A decrease in the velocity of both his fastball (90.9 mph vs. 92.6 in '08) and curve (78.2 mph vs. 80.0 in '08) has resulted in some startlingly low strikeout totals for the formerly dominant Ben Sheets. The veteran righty has been mostly effective in his first season with the A's, though his 4.24 K/9 rate is by far the lowest of his career.
Tim Hudson is throwing his fastball as hard as ever but isn't missing many bats, as he's racked up just two punchouts over his first 12 2/3 innings. The 35-year-old vet posted an uncharacteristically high 6.38 K/9 rate in seven starts last season, but it appears as if that mark was a mirage.
Chris Stryshak is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.