There's big news in the fantasy baseball world today, as the Houston Astros made the surprising but welcoming decision to promote intriguing outfield prospect George Springer to the major leagues for Wednesday's game. Springer was ESPN Fantasy's No. 7 prospect for 2014 production prior to the season. Perhaps as soon as Wednesday, Springer will deliver numbers we can use, and this is certainly meaningful news in all fantasy formats.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Springer
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonGeorge Springer definitely has home run pop, but he also has blazing speed, stealing a combined 45 bases between Double- and Triple-A in 2013.
I ranked Springer as my No. 5 prospect for this season, but had I suspected that he would be in the big leagues this soon, he might have been first, to be honest, ahead of even Chicago White Sox slugging first baseman Jose Abreu, polished New York Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, special Boston Red Sox shortstop/third baseman Xander Bogaerts and certainly overrated runner Billy Hamilton, who can't seem to hit big league pitching consistently. Yeah, I think Springer will be that good, a fantastic amalgamation of power and speed, more impactful in fantasy than all other rookies because he brings instant offense across all categories.

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Neil WalkerJustin K. Aller/Getty ImagesEntering the season, Neil Walker had three career homers in April. He's got five already in 2014 with two weeks left in the month.

Big league second basemen don’t generally contend for home run titles, and when one comes along with enticing power, fantasy owners tend to gravitate toward that player. Last season, for example, 26 hitters managed to reach 26 or more home runs, and the only middle infielder among that group was Robinson Cano. In 2012, Cano also stood alone as a middle infielder among the 36 players who hit 27 or more home runs. This theme is partly why San Diego Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko and Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy bring special value as power hitters at positions that don’t generally provide those statistics.

It’s possible that Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker is on his way to surprisingly joining the club of power-hitting middle infielders. Walker’s fantasy owners have already received three blasts this week -- he hit two of them in the rain on Monday -- and that means he’s only one off the big league lead with five home runs after 14 games. Walker has been a reliable yet modest fantasy contributor for years, hitting 12 or more home runs four consecutive seasons, including last year’s career-best 16, but he’s obviously on pace for far more after only two weeks.


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Homer BaileyFrank Victores/USA TODAY SportsHomer Bailey has improved his ERA each of the past five seasons, but has been hit hard in his three starts in 2014.

Cincinnati Reds right-hander Homer Bailey entered his Monday outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates having been torched for four runs in each of two outings by the strong St. Louis Cardinals lineup, leaving many of his fantasy owners concerned. Bailey had permitted 16 hits in all over 9 1/3 innings, and despite the fact this was the No. 16 starting pitcher chosen in ESPN average live drafts this season, there were some people panicking and dropping him from rosters.

So what did Bailey do Monday, against a Pirates franchise he’s had the most success against in his career? He gave up four home runs in five odd innings, that’s what! In fairness, everyone except Dave Concepcion was seemingly hitting home runs in this crazy, rain-impacted game, one which is scheduled to be completed Tuesday, but still, now the Bailey panic meter will really rise. Bailey owners won’t care about the nine strikeouts with nary a walk, focusing solely on the negative, and Twitter was ablaze Monday night with one Bailey owner after another asking if he/she could drop him for the likes of Mark Buehrle, Aaron Harang and Scott Feldman, starting pitchers performing well above their means on the mostly irrelevant (at this stage) Player Rater so far.


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A second member of the top 10 in ESPN average live drafts has hit the disabled list, as Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw has company in Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre. However, while Beltre was placed on the DL Sunday, it’s likely he could return before Kershaw, who hasn’t played in three weeks. In the case of Kershaw, the best pitcher in the game, his ailing back will be given plenty of time to heal. With Beltre, now the best third baseman since Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera moved to first base, his strained quad is not viewed as a serious problem, and an April return seems likely.

In other words, there are injuries fantasy owners might want to panic about, but Beltre’s doesn’t seem to be one of them. He was injured Tuesday in a game in which he singled, doubled and knocked in two runs, and he was deemed day-to-day after that. Beltre, who missed a total of seven games the past two seasons combined, sat out the entire weekend series with the Houston Astros, making his DL stint retroactive to April 9. I think one reason the Rangers feel comfortable without him for the short term is because they really seem to like replacement Kevin Kouzmanoff. It’s been only a few days, but Kouzmanoff, a 32-year-old journeyman whose last big league at-bat came in 2011, impressed in spring training (1.035 OPS) and has hit for modest power in the past. It might seem like he’s getting only a fortnight to prove himself, but who knows for sure? He could stick around if he hits. It’s not like David Ortiz is handling the team’s designated hitting duties, after all.

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Dayan ViciedoEd Zurga/Getty ImagesDayan Viciedo is a force against left-handed pitching, but rather underwhelming versus righties.

The loss of Chicago White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia for the rest of the season because of a torn labrum in his left shoulder shouldn't send shockwaves through the fantasy baseball world. After all, Garcia, 22, was owned in barely 10 percent of ESPN standard leagues at the time of Wednesday's injury, hitting .267 with two home runs. ESPN Fantasy projected him to hit 14 home runs and steal nine bases, so he wasn’t exactly a fantasy building block. However, the guy likely to replace Garcia on a regular basis really isn’t special, either.

Dayan Viciedo, the 25-year-old Cuban, saw his home run output fall from 25 in 2012 to 14 last year, and through 10 days of this season was essentially platooning with left fielder Alejandro De Aza. Viciedo bats right-handed and can’t do much with right-handed pitching, but now he's going to face it regularly. This is not a good thing. His big league career spans more than 1,200 plate appearances and while the .915 OPS against lefties shines, the .674 OPS against right-handers is a problem. Similarly, De Aza also will be exposed because he will, in theory, face all pitchers, even the lefties that tend to flummox him. De Aza has nary a hit in the past week after smacking a few home runs early, and unless he's stealing bases, he's not a top-50 outfielder, either.


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The Atlanta Braves debut for right-hander Ervin Santana could not have gone much better. The veteran Santana, who was signed seemingly out of desperation after two of the team's starting pitchers ruined their elbows, made his first start Wednesday at home against the New York Mets, and eight shutout innings later, having allowed three hits and nary a walk, with six strikeouts, Santana is 1-0.

The Braves are off to a 5-3 start thanks to their pitching, which has been outstanding (2.06 team ERA). Five Braves pitchers are owned in more than 90 percent of ESPN standard leagues, which is awfully rare. One is the game's top closer, right-hander Craig Kimbrel, who sure looked mortal Wednesday, and then the first four starters below. Let's take a closer look at the Braves rotation:

Santana: I generally have avoided this fellow in the past because of his year-to-year inconsistency; his good years have made him a fantasy boon, his bad years have killed fantasy teams.

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Josh HamiltonBob Levey/Getty ImagesJosh Hamilton had four multihit games and four extra-base hits in his first eight games.

Fantasy owners will be tempted to cut Los Angeles Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton now that he’s on the shelf for at least six weeks, and perhaps more than two months, with a thumb injury, but I think that’s a mistake. Sure, I can’t possibly know how many injured players your team is dealing with, and for standard leagues we get only one disabled list spot and three bench options. If you've got Clayton Kershaw, Jose Reyes and Aroldis Chapman, then yes, it’s going to be tough to keep Hamilton on your roster. But you really should try.


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Much-maligned Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun entered Tuesday with a .150 batting average, nary a home run or a run batted in and a worrisome thumb problem.

He'll enter Wednesday hitting .240 with three home runs, seven RBIs and yep, still that worrisome thumb problem. So I ask you with a relatively straight face, in the big picture, what really changed?

The talented Braun made a few adjustments and overcame mass booing in his personal paradise of Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday to smack three no-doubt home runs and drive in a ridiculous seven in an impressive 10-4 victory. In 20 career games in this lovely -- and angry, at least Tuesday -- ballpark, Braun is hitting .405 with 10 home runs and 21 RBIs. So yeah, Braun likes to hit in Philly and against pitchers such as Kyle Kendrick. Braun's fantasy owners wish he could play all his games in the Philly bandbox with the wind blowin' out, but he can't. Later this week it's back home to Milwaukee. Oh, and with that worrisome thumb problem.

[+] EnlargeRyan Braun
Mike McGinnis/Getty ImagesBrewers slugger Ryan Braun had been off to a slow start ... until Tuesday.
Braun proved for one afternoon that he is able to play and occasionally play well through this malady, which is nice, but it still doesn't change his overall fantasy value, unless you let it.

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Yordano VenturaJohn Rieger/USA TODAY SportsYordano Ventura has allowed opponents to bat just .192 in his four career starts.

In a fantasy baseball world that unfortunately gets cluttered with so many injuries -- and there were more significant ones Tuesday -- it’s always nice to see a young pitcher with nasty stuff make us smile. It reminds us why baseball is so awesome and helps us forget that, for example, Tampa Bay Rays lefty Matt Moore might need season-ending surgery and half the sluggers seem to have thumb injuries. Kansas City Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura was all positive Tuesday, reaching triple digits with his fastball and flummoxing Tampa Bay Rays hitters with his changeup for six scoreless innings. He didn’t win because the Royals never scored and through seven games they still haven’t homered but oh, Ventura did his part.

What makes me laugh is that after Ventura was selected late in roughly half of ESPN average live drafts and skipped from his first start because of a rainout, fantasy owners gave up on the flamethrower and started dropping him. Yes, Ventura is one of the most-dropped pitchers in ESPN leagues. He was down to about 15 percent ownership; now it's double that after Tuesday's performance, but impatient people cutting him so quickly is odd. I don’t view Ventura as spot-starter material. I think he's a future star. The only thing affecting his current value is the fact the Royals will temper his innings, as they did last week. Perhaps Ventura makes 25 starts, something like that. Remember the ridiculous Stephen Strasburg rules a few seasons ago? Fantasy owners whined for months, but my basic point is enjoy the statistics when he is pitching and simply find someone else in September when he's not. What, you'd rather own an average pitcher who will make 33 starts, like Mark Buehrle?


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The details regarding Ryan Zimmerman's shoulder injury are starting to become a bit clearer, and it's actually possible that if the Washington Nationals move him over to first base, at least on a part-time basis, there really could be no statistical losers here. Zimmerman, the still-productive third baseman with a painful, arthritic throwing shoulder, should return to the lineup soon, but at least some of the time he figures to be wearing a first baseman's glove. The Nationals aren't blind to what's going on, and say what you will about the injury history of Zimmerman, an annual top-10 fantasy third baseman owned in all leagues, but he has played in 142 or more games in four of the past five seasons, and he still hits.

The problem is when he throws. Zimmerman's right shoulder is an issue for him and pitchers, and when you watch him throw from the safety of your own sofa, your own shoulder begins to throb and you worry the ball will plunk a poor fan in the third row. Zimmerman often plays shallow at third base to compensate for his bum shoulder, and while he doesn't pile on the errors, there are certainly plays he cannot get to. Frankly, and I don't see this discussed anywhere, Zimmerman has become a bit like Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera in this regard, unable to handle the hot corner, though unlike Cabrera, Zimmerman used to be Gold Glove-caliber. He'll be better than Cabrera at first base, but then again, you or I would be better, too.

Fantasy owners can gain from this unfortunate situation, in both shallow and deep formats.

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videoIt's certainly possible that Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Matt Moore is not hurt as badly as it originally looked when he left his Monday outing in the fifth inning, but generally when a pitcher leaves a start in the worrisome fashion he did, clutching his pitching elbow, let's at least say his fantasy owners should prepare replacements. Moore won 17 games a season ago and is certainly a strikeout pitcher, but as of now we don't know for sure if he's going to miss any starts or a bundle of them, as his sore elbow has a Tuesday date with an MRI machine, so it's best to remain optimistic.

Moore was pitching fairly well at Kansas City Monday, permitting a first-inning run but little else.

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Heading into the weekend both Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks and New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira were owned in 100 percent of ESPN standard leagues, each having been selected in the range of the 17th round in ESPN live drafts. And now, with the weekend complete and with each slugger hurting, it’s probably time for a free fall.

Middlebrooks strained a calf prior to Saturday’s loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, and by early Sunday he had been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a Grade 1 strain. Teixeira was injured early in Friday’s loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. It was a really innocuous play, a foul ball grounder to his left, but he instantly reached for his right hamstring. Seconds later, he limped off the field and by the time the Yankees played Saturday, he was already on the 15-day DL! So, were you able to stay healthy this weekend?


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Charlie BlackmonAP Photo/David ZalubowskiAfter a 10-hit weekend, Charlie Blackmon looks like a decent depth option.

The fact that Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon is not one of the 10 most added players in ESPN standard leagues tells me that his historic game Friday night, when he registered six hits in six trips to the plate with five RBIs and four runs scored, went relatively unnoticed. Hey, maybe you were out on a date that night, or away for the weekend. It happens. Blackmon homered and was unsuccessful on a stolen base attempt -- so close to a combo meal, for those Fantasy Focus podcast listeners! -- and his big performance led to him leading off the entire weekend, for which he finished with 10 hits and a successful stolen base.

The point here is that anyone securing regular at-bats for a team that plays half its games at Coors Field is worth a look in many fantasy leagues, and Blackmon, at least before the weekend

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Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp is expected to make his season debut in center field Friday night against the San Francisco Giants, and from what I’ve read he’s feeling pretty confident he’s healthy and ready to resume his productive ways. Fantasy owners would love it if that were the case, but is that asking for too much? As we head to the first full weekend of regular-season baseball how Kemp plays and how manager Don Mattingly deploys his four big league-caliber outfielders into only three spots will surely be something to watch.

[+] EnlargeMatt Kemp
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsMatt Kemp hopes to bounce back from injuries which contributed to a career-low .723 OPS in 2013.
Perhaps I’m not as optimistic as others about Kemp’s statistical upside for this season, but surely he must be owned in all leagues and his owners, whether they invested an eighth-round pick as in ESPN ADP or something else, have to be aware what he’s done in the past. In 2011, Kemp was fantasy’s top player, hitting .324 with 39 home runs, 126 RBIs and 40 stolen bases in 161 games. In the two years since, Kemp has played in 179 games, hit 29 home runs and stole 18 bases. Hamstring, ankle, shoulder and, perhaps, personal woes have likely played a significant role.


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Chris ColabelloBrian Kersey/Getty ImagesFor those in daily leagues, Chris Colabello can help you when he's facing a left-handed pitcher.
The story of Minnesota Twins first baseman/outfielder Chris Colabello is actually kind of interesting, one I followed during the past year due to my investment in one of my deep teams. The Massachusetts native played for most of his 20s in the independent Can-Am League before finding work with the Twins organization in 2012 at age 28. He ended up with the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats, and I was able to see him several times due to their close proximity to ESPN's headquarters in Connecticut.

Colabello wasn't a prospect but one of many unremarkable right-handed power hitters seeking opportunity, and players of this ilk do possess value in the major leagues and in the fantasy world. Last season he made his big league debut with the Twins and didn't hit much, and this winter it was reported he would take an offer to flee to Korea. He did not, and he made the Twins. On Thursday Colabello, who I admit to be rooting for, hit two doubles and knocked in six runs in an exciting 10-9 win over the Chicago White Sox.

It's likely that few fantasy owners enjoyed Colabello's outburst, but for those in daily leagues, consider yourself warned. Colabello is going to keep playing against lefties.

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