- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Not all strikeout rates translate from the minor leagues to the majors, but in the case of Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Alex Cobb, who was successful in 2012 but hardly outstanding, it seemed like the best was still yet to come. It's why I paid particular attention to Cobb's strikeout rate in spring training and ultimately landed him on a few of my teams, as the Rays were raving about him and let's face it, that organization has proved to know a thing or two about pitching, even when it's not rejuvenating older players.
Cobb posted enticing strikeout rates through the minor leagues, with more than a K per inning from 2010-12, and while his 2012 mark with the big club was modest, I was willing to take the chance in the later rounds of drafts on someone outside the top 60 starters in ESPN ADP. So far, so good as Cobb shut out the New York Yankees for 8 1/3 innings Wednesday, permitting only three singles and one walk while striking out seven. He's 3-1 with a 1.82 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, and it all looks legit. Cobb pounded the strike zone all night, throwing 72 of 106 pitches for strikes, and even though the Yankees lineup is a shell of what it normally is, the performance was impressive. Cobb was able to locate his fastball all night, while also inducing 11 ground-ball outs.
I owned Cobb on a few teams last year and recall being impressed with how he responded from a terrible mid-August outing against the Los Angeles Trouts when he was lit up for 12 hits and eight runs over 2 2/3 innings. That got him dropped by many fantasy owners, but the wise move was to be patient. After all, Cobb started August with three consecutive outings of seven innings and one run allowed. After the Angels thrashing, he tossed a four-hit shutout of the Oakland Athletics, whiffing eight. One could see a pitcher on the rise still figuring things out. This spring that pitcher struck out 28 in 25 2/3 innings, securing a rotation spot over hyped youngsters such as Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi. They'll have to keep waiting.
So far in April, Cobb has fanned only 22 hitters in 29 2/3 innings, so he's not exactly Clayton Kershaw, but growth remains. He's already 100 percent owned in ESPN standard mixed formats, but I'm still buying. A year ago, Rays lefty Matt Moore was one of my big sleeper picks, which didn't work out, but now he looks dominant. Trust the Rays. I've got them winning the World Series, and with David Price, Moore, Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson and let's face it, the useful Roberto Hernandez (25 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings), it's hardly outrageous. Now, if they'd just call up their franchise right fielder, maybe they could provide a little support for these guys!
Box score bits (AL): One of my annual faves is Oakland Athletics lefty Brett Anderson, but I wouldn't use him for his next outing. Anderson cruised through three innings at Fenway Park Wednesday, but then that ended and he was ripped for six runs over four innings. Anderson was no sure thing to start after leaving his previous start with a sprained ankle, and he hurt his thumb a few starts earlier. Durable he is not. Add right-hander Dan Straily now in case he's summoned to replace a disabled Anderson. ... Houston Astros outfielder Robbie Grossman doubled twice in his big league debut while leading off. He's a patient hitter with potential to help deep-league owners in runs and steals. ... Astros corner infielder Brandon Laird homered, doubled twice and knocked in four. A right-handed hitter, there's not much to see here for fantasy, but use him to spot start against lefties like Seattle's Joe Saunders, who was awful Wednesday. ... Astros right-hander Lucas Harrell was obliterated for eight runs in his second outing of the season, but including his seven innings of one-run ball Wednesday, he has permitted five runs in the other four starts. Harrell is useful in AL-only formats. ... Detroit Tigers right-hander Jose Valverde, in the low minors when the week began, now has only one fewer save than the recognized closers on the Astros, Mets, Angels and Marlins. He'll finish 2013 with more than 25 saves. ... Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos is hitting .317 in 63 at-bats. The return of shortstop Erick Aybar (heel) this weekend affects his batting slot, but contrary to popular opinion probably not his production or value. Leading off, Bourjos is hitting .316. Batting ninth he's at .318, and he still hasn't tried to steal a base anywhere.
Box score bits (NL): Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Ted Lilly tossed five effective innings at Citi Field in his season debut, allowing one run and striking out seven. Lilly isn't a standard league must-add, but he rarely pitches poorly. ... Outfielder Julio Borbon made his first start for the Chicago Cubs, a week after the Texas Rangers let him go, and doubled in three at-bats. Borbon isn't expected to see much playing time, but there is stolen base upside if Alfonso Soriano or David DeJesus gets hurt, or dealt. ... J.J. Putz owners are panicking after he blew his third save of the season Tuesday and wasn't summoned to close Wednesday's game, but he's still the closer. Setup man David Hernandez, not exactly thriving himself, blew the save but got the win. Don't add lefty Matt Reynolds, despite saves the past two days. They're probably his last ones. ... Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez continues to improve, with four home runs in his past five starts. On Wednesday, he even homered off a left-handed pitcher! ... Speaking of going yard off a lefty, Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard did as well. Incredibly, Howard hadn't homered on an 0-2 pitch since 2008. Anyway, Howard owners have been and should be patient (he remains 100 percent owned), as April is historically by far his worst slugging month.