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Every baseball season has its share of surprising, fantasy-relevant performers in the early going, but they always come tagged with the difficult question, "Is this guy for real?"
Here are a few of this season's surprising early risers:
Trevor Story, SS, COL: If you didn't know about the history-making slugger yet - seven HRs in his first six games - you're too late to do anything about it, as he's now 95% owned in Yahoo! leagues. Even though he had a fabulous spring, I didn't include him in my pre-season SS rankings, mainly because of uncertainty surrounding suspended veteran Jose Reyes.
But, is this guy for real? He's not going to hit 100 HRs this season, and probably not even 50, but he had eight during spring training and was a clear power-hitting prospect on his way through the minors. I wouldn't be surprised if he hits 25-30 HRs this season, which sounds disappointing, given he's a quarter of the way there, but still a lot of fantasy value for a SS.
The bigger thing to watch is how he handles increasingly frequent strikeouts. If/when Reyes comes back, Story will lose his job if he's hitting .240 and striking out three times per game. If he keeps learning and takes singles where they're available instead of HRs, Reyes could be the one out of a job.
Jeremy Hazelbaker, OF, STL: I wrote when I revisited my rankings that the STL outfield could offer some sneaky fantasy value. Hazelbaker wasn't among the names I mentioned, but got a starting job when Tommy Pham was injured and Randall Grichuk forgot how to hit. Now, the 28-year-old non-prospect late bloomer has two HRs, five RBI, two SBs and a whopping 1.575 OPS after a week of play.
But, is this guy for real? I've read some about how he changed his whole mental approach to the game after languishing in the minors, but the bigger thing is, according to reports, the speed part of his game is for real. It sounds like strikeouts always have been a problem, but if he keeps that number down, he's a 30+ SB talent.
Tyler White, 1B/3B, HOU: He's hitting .520 after his first week, with three HRs and 10 RBI after winning the starting job at 1B during spring training.
But, is this guy for real? I've seen him poke the ball to the opposite field enough times already that he seems like a legit hitter. I don't know about the power, but it's clear that no one is creeping up on him to steal his job, so it seems like he could continue contributing hits, RBI and runs in HOU's productive lineup.
Eugenio Suarez, 3B/SS, CIN: Four of his first 10 hits this season have been HRs. He's already scored nine runs and has a 1.248 for the surprising Reds.
But, is this guy for real? I had him listed in my pre-season rankings as a back-up fantasy talent at SS because I liked what I had seen in short stretches the last couple seasons, and he's only 24 and probably still improving. The new 3B eligibility gives him definite fantasy value, and like White, no one looks to be pushing him out of a job. I don't think he'll continue to hit HRs at this pace, but he did have 35 extra-base hits in 372 ABs in 2015, so he'll contribute to your fantasy team.
Jeremy Hellickson, SP, PHI: He's had two pretty strong outings in a row, featuring 11 strikeouts and just one walk over 11.2 IP, getting one win for his trouble. He now has a 1.54 ERA and a 0.63 WHIP.
But, is this guy for real? Once considered a top-shelf prospect, the 29-year-old Hellickson did have three straight seasons of double-digit wins for the Rays earlier this decade, in the last three seasons, he hasn't managed to post an ERA below 4.52 or a WHIP below 1.33. We're guessing regression is forthcoming, and even if he does manage to keep it going, I don't think the Phillies will give him many chances to visit the win column.
Disco Dan O'Shea welcomes your comments.
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