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Byron Buxton is 5 for 5 with two home runs and 10 RBI so far this spring.
I kind of wish he wasn't.
Understand that we've been here before with him — and by "here," I mean a place of excitement, genuinely optimistic for what he might accomplish during the upcoming season. He was, after all, considered the top prospect in baseball just a few years ago.
But it might as well have been eons ago. So much has happened to derail his career since then that a full-scale breakout isn't even thought to be on the menu for the 25-year-old this year. Survival is what those who take a flier on him are hoping for — survival and stolen bases.
With the headlines he's generating now, though, I'm just afraid of seeing everyone get burned again, whether by the next migraine or broken toe or the 30 percent strikeout rate that requires a massive home run total to give him a respectable batting average — the type of power ceiling he hasn't come close to demonstrating yet.
But scouts did project him for that kind of power once upon a time, and he did add 21 pounds to his lean frame this offseason. And we do live in a world where Jurickson Profar exists, finally capitalizing on his former No. 1 overall prospect potential last year, if only partially after looking like a lost cause with the Rangers. He was also 25.
It's not a perfect parallel seeing as they're different types of hitters, but if Buxton can add to these numbers in the weeks ahead, it's your reminder that sometimes potential take time, especially when there are so many interruptions along the way.
I mean, for excited as we've been about Buxton in the past, he had never before had a spring in which he hit more than one home run. So already, that's something new.
Who goes first?
For the first time this spring, Ronald Acuna and Ender Inciarte were part of the same Braves lineup Monday, and wouldn't you know it, Inciarte hit leadoff. Acuna was in the cleanup spot, which is how manager Brian Snitker said he foresaw the lineup this offseason. There was talk later of him keeping Acuna in the leadoff spot, where the 21-year-old says he's more comfortable, and it's worth pointing out that when Inciarte was out of the lineup Sunday, Acuna hit leadoff.
"There's a few different ways we could go that are all really good," Snitker said back in mid-February. "We're just going to wait to see where we're at in a couple weeks. All those things will play itself out. You've got to start somewhere with a lineup."
Acuna took off last year when he moved into the leadoff spot, but it'll be tough for Snitker to justify batting his best power hitter behind the pitcher rather than high on-base hitters like Josh Donaldson and Freddie Freeman. It'll be just as tough for Fantasy owners to justify Acuna's current ADP (10th overall, according to FantasyPros) if he's not running like he did out of the leadoff spot, swiping 14 bases in 67 games compared to two in 44 games everywhere else. The Braves have never been too keen on letting their middle-of-the-order bats run.
The flip side, though, is that Inciarte would become a more justifiable play in mixed leagues if he's batting leadoff. He stole 15 bases in 54 games there compared to 13 in 102 everywhere else, and of course he'd benefit from hitting in front of Donaldson and Freeman.
Mazara ready to blast off?
Stand back. This is not a drill. Nomar Mazara looks like he may be on the verge of joining the fly ball revolution.
An investment in the 23-year-old each of the past two years required a sort of blind faith in the raw ability given that the underlying numbers didn't hint at an impending breakout. In fact, it seemed unlikely he could hit for much more power given how often he put the ball on the ground.
He hits the ball plenty hard, though, so this change could be what allows him to unlock his full potential. It certainly has been for lesser talents.
"I worked really hard in the offseason," Mazara told MLB.com. "I want to be the man I know I can be."
And I have new reason to believe in man now. Stock up for me.
Nelson still less than whole
They're playing it cool, anyway.
"This is something that had you guys not asked [manager Craig Counsell] about, we would not have even mentioned it because these are frankly things that go on all the time during the season," general manager David Stearns told the Milwuakee Journal Sentinel. "A guy doesn't feel great, we skip a bullpen. He pitches the next day, takes his regular turn."
Sorry, but it's not that simple when the pitcher in question has missed the past year and half with an injury (torn labrum) known for derailing careers. Yeah, he was emerging as a front-line option before the injury, but we don't even know yet if he'll come back throwing as hard. And we still don't know when.
"I think he is close to pitching in a game, but it's not going to be this week," Counsell said. "He's going to have to face hitters first, so he's got some steps to go."
There it is. The easy out.
Look, Nelson is a fine gamble if it you have nothing to lose with the pick, but he needs to show something this spring before I can entertain real hopes for him. And it sounds like we're still pretty far from him doing that.
Kikuchi with a K
The results of Yusei Kikcuhi's stateside debut were nothing spectacular. He allowed two unearned runs on one hit with one walk and one strikeout in two innings Monday.
That strikeout was a notable one, though: Mr. Joey Votto. Here's him feebly swinging at Kikuchi's curveball:
And here's what he had to say about that curveball, via MLB.com:
"It's very surprising. In the league right now, there are not many pitchers that throw a curveball like that. [Hyun-Jin] Ryu for the Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw from the Dodgers. Maybe a couple of others that throw a very traditional curveball like that from the left-hand side. It has lots of potential."
The curveball isn't even Kikuchi's bread and butter. That'd be the slider, though the fastball also earns high marks from evaluators. The 27-year-old averaged 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings in Japan last year and only had one year where he delivered what we'd consider a high rate, but keep in mind strikeouts aren't as big a part of the game there as they are here.
My hope for him is Kenta Maeda-like ratios, but without all the innings machinations that the Dodgers are known for.
Big role for Christin Stewart?
Conventional wisdom today says a lineup's best hitter bats second, giving him an opportunity for more at-bats over the course of a season than a No. 3 hitter, so it's encouraging to see Stewart filling that spot in the early going. Some of the depth charts you'll find online would suggest he's not a sure thing for the Tigers lineup, but more performances like Monday's would go a long way toward securing that. he went 2 for 3 with a double and a homer against the Phillies.
And frankly, given how few worthwhile bats the rebuilding Tigers have to slot in their lineup, his performance last September should be enough to secure him the job:
The on-base skills are great, the strikeouts aren't so bad, really, and the power is probably the best tool of all. Yeah, his defense is a mess, but why wouldn't a rebuilding team allow Stewart to learn on the job, particularly if his bat is major-league ready?
My prediction: They will. He's as good as golden in left field and one of my favorite late-round choices in five-outfielder leagues.
So which Fantasy Baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued pitchers can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Scooter Gennett's huge breakout last season, and find out.