- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
It’s interesting how Los Angeles Angels right-hander Garrett Richards and Washington Nationals outfielder Denard Span have been viewed for the past few weeks in ESPN standard fantasy leagues. Each starred last season. Richards emerged as an ace and finished as the No. 20 pitcher on the Player Rater, while Span, a veteran coming off a career year, was the No. 28 hitter, which overall ranked better than Richards. Each player recovered from injuries well enough to make their 2015 debuts Sunday afternoon, but one of them is 100 percent owned while the other isn't remotely close.
Richards is the one that isn’t sitting on free agency in any leagues I can find, so at least he’s viewed correctly. After all, at the time of his fluky-but-serious knee injury last August, he was the No. 7 pitcher on the Player Rater. Then he was abruptly done, and those wishing to invest in the hard thrower this spring figured to have to wait a few weeks into April. Fantasy owners were wisely (yet oddly) patient with Richards, and many likely had him active for Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the Houston Astros. It wasn’t necessarily the wrong move; Richards tossed only five innings, needing 100 pitches, and permitted four runs (three earned) and fanned only four, but I would have used him. His velocity was consistently in the mid-90s. In his 26 starts last season, only three, including his abbreviated finale, featured a lesser game score. But to get Richards now, you have to trade for him.
Span, curiously enough, is very available in ESPN leagues, as if people think his 2014 campaign with a .302 batting average, 94 runs scored and 31 stolen bases can’t be repeated. It sure can! As of Sunday night, he was 29 percent owned. On Monday morning, it was 39 percent owned. He's rising! Span led off in the 4-1 win against the pitiful Philadelphia Phillies, hitting a single and scoring a run in five at-bats, and one can see the possibilities in a lineup that has struggled, but now misses only one key piece in Anthony Rendon. I admit Span’s performance was a bit surprising last season, but with his oblique strain healed, there doesn’t seem to be any reason he can’t pick up where he left off. Span hit .346 after the All-Star break with 16 stolen bases. Colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft ranked Span as a top-60 outfielder last week, and look for a sizable jump this week. Span should be owned in most, if not all, leagues.
As for other repercussions surrounding these debuts, the Angels had an open rotation spot for Richards. I have confidence he’ll be better this weekend against the Texas Rangers. Those owning and waiting for lefty prospect Andrew Heaney shouldn’t expect a promotion anytime soon. Heaney struggled mightily in his latest outing for Triple-A Salt Lake, allowing seven runs while failing to escape the first inning.
In Washington, I saw many cries for enticing rookie Michael Taylor to remain with the big club after he hit two home runs and stole two bases in his 12 games, but he remains a bit raw. Taylor struck out in 19 of his 48 at-bats, and he looked shaky defensively. With Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth healthy, Taylor’s better off with regular playing time at Triple-A Syracuse. Just remember the name, for this is a future 20/20 option, though with a low batting average. Think Mike Cameron back in the day.
AL report: Awful outing for Chicago White Sox lefty Jose Quintana Sunday, with nine runs added to his ledger in four innings, but it did come in Detroit against a streaking lineup. I’d still buy low on Quintana, though he might also be available in your league. … Great sign seeing Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez get three hits and score three runs. He’s been hampered by knee woes and entered play with nary a run scored and six singles accounting for all his hits so far. He looked better Sunday, but if you're still concerned, then sell high. … It was also nice to see White Sox outfielder Melky Cabrera raise his batting average 99 points with his six hits Saturday and Sunday. Don’t look at player batting averages this early, because they never tell a complete story after two weeks. … More White Sox: Prospect Carlos Rodon made two starts at Triple-A Charlotte, and now he’s on his way to the majors, though in a bullpen capacity initially. Then again, I wouldn’t count on Hector Noesi keeping his spot for long. Rodon isn’t a must-add in standard formats, since there’s so much pitching depth, but in dynasty/keeper formats, he could be special. … The new Baltimore Orioles second baseman is Ryan Flaherty, after Jonathan Schoop sprained his knee and hit the disabled list. Flaherty’s got pop, as showed when he homered Sunday, but watch out when shortstop J.J. Hardy returns from the DL, because he’ll likely share at-bats with Everth Cabrera, too. … Have I mentioned how much I like Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Steven Souza Jr.? Yeah, probably. He’s the only player in baseball with three or more home runs and stolen bases.
NL report: Chicago Cubs heartthrob third baseman Kris Bryant recovered from his rough debut Friday with a strong Saturday, then he doubled in three at-bats Sunday. Nothing has changed. He’ll hit for power, he’ll swing and miss a lot and it will drive down his batting average, and he’s beloved like few others. It’s still not a bad idea to at least inquire as to how much someone in your league will overpay for him. … Break up the New York Mets! Wait, not literally. The team lost catcher Travis d’Arnaud to a fractured hand Sunday, and hot prospect Kevin Plawecki should make his major league debut Tuesday. Plawecki is a patient, high-average hitter with modest power, and he could play regularly the next month. In ESPN standard leagues, cut d’Arnaud (owned in 98 percent of leagues), bypass Plawecki and look for Stephen Vogt, Wilson Ramos and Derek Norris. … Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun got a weekend start in the leadoff spot, but was back hitting third Sunday. I am starting to wonder if we'll ever see glimpses of the MVP version. The Brewers are a mess at this point, and the loss of Carlos Gomez has really hurt. … Yes, that was first baseman Brandon Belt handling left field for the champion San Francisco Giants Sunday. Belt, hitting all of .152, had a few hits, but the bigger picture is Buster Posey playing more first base and top prospect Andrew Susac getting promoted. This scenario could become commonplace if Belt doesn’t hit.
Eric Karabell examines two of last season's stars debuting Sunday, but one is not very popular