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Don't wait until it's too late!

Senior Fantasy Writer
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There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball. Each team has a 40-man roster, with a handful of players on the 60-day DL. In addition, there are hundreds of players in the minor league system not on the 40-man rosters. And then there are the Johnny Damons of the world, banging on the doors to be allowed back in.

So, add it all up, and you're talking a solid 1,600 players floating around with at least a smidgen of a claim for relevance. Granted, that list is whittled down to about 750 truly-relevant major league players on any given day, and, in a 12-team Fantasy league, you'll likely have to know about half that number.

Which means there's plenty of room for gaps.

Every year, there are a handful of players who make a big splash during the season and have people running to Google or Wikipedia, trying to get some information on these guys who seemingly came out of nowhere. The list includes players like former Mexican Leaguer Joakim Soria, Japanese star Kei Igawa, and inspiration for the heartwarming movie, The Rookie, Jim Morris.

This year, in just two weeks of action, we already have a few new members of the group, including the following three: an under-the-radar pitcher brought over from Japan, a slugger who had toiled in the minors for the last nine seasons and a young fireballer who turned a stellar spring training into a spot on one of this year's hottest teams.

Bryan LaHair, OF/1B, Cubs
Why You Don't Know His Name: LaHair toiled in the minor leagues from 2003 to 2011 -- with occasional, short-lived big-league stints in Seattle and with the Cubs -- putting up a .295 batting average in 3624 at-bats.
Why You Should: In 2011, his 38 home runs earned him Pacific Coast League MVP honors. So far this season, he is hitting .360, with two home runs -- a grand slam and a shot that went out of Wrigley Field, onto Sheffield Ave.
Is He Worth A Spot On My Team?: Yes. Part of being successful in Fantasy is getting the breakouts before they break out. Time is running out to snatch LaHair. The 29 year-old Worcester, Mass., native was an unpopular pick in drafts this season because many would-be owners feared him being either a quadruple-A player (success in the minors, but just can't hit at the major league level), or eventually being pushed out by prospect Anthony Rizzo, who was acquired in a trade with the Padres by a front office that had initially drafted him while they were running the Red Sox. But LaHair has proven that he has real power and can hit for average. After entering his first game as a pinch hitter on April 7 -- he had been sidelined with back issues -- LaHair has strung together an eight-game streak of reaching base safely. His OPS, as of Wednesday morning, is 1.128, and, just as a nice cherry on top, he's good for a few steals as well.

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Wei-Yin Chen, SP, Orioles
Why You Don't Know His Name: With all the hype surrounding Yu Darvish and his move from Japan to MLB, Chen, 26, quietly signed with the Orioles in the offseason.
Why You Should: Chen managed a 2.48 ERA and 1.06 WHIP over 88 starts in the Central League, according to Baseball Reference. In 2009, over 164 innings pitched, his ERA was 1.54. But while pitchers like Darvish, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and even Igawa came to America with a good deal of fanfare over their gaudy strikeout totals, Chen is more of a Mark Buehrle-type, sporting lower strikeout numbers, but impressively lower ratios.
Is He Worth A Spot On My Team?: In deeper leagues and some scoring leagues, he is. Chen won't post the sexiest of statistics, but his numbers from Japan indicate that he won't rely on the strikeout to get batters out. So far this season, Chen has done pretty much the opposite of this, striking out 10 batters in 11 innings, with a 1.46 WHIP (and a relatively low-for-the-WHIP 3.27 ERA).

Drew Smyly, SP, Tigers
Why You Don't Know His Name: He's played one year of professional baseball.
Why You Should: During that one year, he had a 2.07 ERA and 1.103 WHIP across two levels in the Tigers organization. He struck out 130 batters in 126 innings.
Is He Worth A Spot On My Team?: Eventually, he'll be relevant in all mixed leagues. For now, though, he's a stellar option in Al-only leagues, all keeper leagues, and can help a squad in 14 or 12-team leagues. I'm not just using Smyly as an example to kill some space in a column; I have him in several of my own leagues, and am reaping the rewards. He's not exactly Justin Verlander, who had a 1.29 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in his one season in the minors, but he's off to a great start so far this season with a 0.90 ERA and eight strikeouts.

A future question you might find yourself asking ...

Who is Matt Maloney?

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If Francisco Liriano's troubles turn out to be the result of an injury (keep in mind he said earlier this spring that he pitched through shoulder pain last year), very deep leaguers may be seeing Matt Maloney's name pop up as a possible replacement in the rotation.

Maloney, 28, has a 4.91 ERA and 0.95 WHIP so far this season for the Twins in a long relief role. When Scott Baker and Jason Marquis were both absent in spring training, it was Maloney who was briefly stretched out as a possible replacement. Maloney posted a 1.17 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in spring training, for what that's worth, and had a successful minor league career, posting a 3.27 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over almost 900 innings in the Cincinnati system (he was traded to Minnesota this winter).

Maloney hasn't met much success in the majors, with a 5.36 career ERA. But, if you just isolate the games in which he's pitched four or more innings -- he has 11 starts in his career -- he has a 4.15 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP. And if you dismiss his first three career starts, from June 2009, his ERA is 3.26, with a 1.16 WHIP.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Twins' Josmil Pinto (concussion): I'm cleared for 'everything'
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:23 am ET) Twins catcher Josmil Pinto told reporters he had been cleared to do "everything" in terms of baseball activity, but isn't sure when he'll see game action, per the Pioneer Press.

Pinto suffered concussion-like symptoms after he was hit on the back of the head three times by an Adam Jones backswing on Saturday. He indicated earlier in the week that he could get into a game this weekend.


D-Backs' Cahill feeling good despite so-so minor-league outing
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:21 am ET) Diamondbacks starting pitcher Trevor Cahill allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings during a minor-league start Thursday, according to The Arizona Republic. Cahill, who is competing for a spot in the rotation, said he pitched better than his stat line indicated.

"I was able, for the most part, to keep the ball on the ground," he said. "I felt like I didn't make too many mistakes and the ones I did, they hit. That's going to happen."

Cahill, who has a 4.50 ERA through three spring starts, said he feels better about his command and ability to repeat his delivery than in past years.

"I think the misses are a lot better," he said. "They're competitive misses. They're not yanks in the other batter's box. Most of the misses are down, which leaves less room to get hurt."


Nats' Drew Storen to pitch Friday, Stephen Strasburg on Saturday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:17 am ET) Nationals right-handed pitcher Drew Storen is among the pitchers slated to make an appearance in Friday's Grapefruit League game against the Cardinals, and starter Stephen Strasburg will pitch Saturday against the Mets, according to Comcast SportsNet Washington.

It will be Storen's first outing since he underwent surgery to remove the hook of hamate bone from his left hand back on March 13. Strasburg will also make his first appearance since suffering an ankle injury on March 20.


D-Backs' Hellickson skips minor-league start due to dead arm
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:16 am ET) Diamondbacks pitching coach Mike Harkey said starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson did not make his minor-league start Thursday due to dead arm. However, Harkey expects Hellickson to be ready for the start of the season.

"He got some treatment a couple of days after his last start and in his bullpen he was a little dead," Harkey said. "It was a perfect time to do it now in March than do it in April."

Hellickson threw a bullpen session Thursday instead of making his minor-league start. He is still scheduled to pitch Saturday against the Royals.

Hellickson is 2-1 with a 5.87 ERA in three spring starts.


Red Sox's Christian Vazquez scheduled for an MRI on Friday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:12 am ET) Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez (elbow) will undergo an MRI on his injured elbow on Friday. He downplayed the issue, telling reporters that he's "going to be fine," according to WEEI. He is scheduled to catch Joe Kelly in a minor-league intrasquad game. Vazquez will be refrained from throwing to bases.

Rays' Cash: Desmond Jennings been on fire offensively all spring
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(8:15 am ET) It took 12 games for Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings to hit his first home run this spring, but despite the lack of home run power, the 28-year-old outfielder is still doing pretty well in Grapefruit League games.

Jennings, who hit a solo home run Thursday against the Yankees, is batting .483 (14 for 29) with two RBI, four runs, four walks and two stolen bases.

“He’s been on fire all spring, his at-bats, everything,” manager Kevin Cash said, per The Tampa Tribune. “The impressive thing is, the other day he didn’t have his best day, looked a little lot of sorts, but he came back two days after that and just erased it. He’s knocking balls all over the place.”


Athletics' Jesse Chavez happy with spring showing
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:55 am ET) Athletics pitcher Jesse Chavez allowed four runs (two earned) on seven hits and two walks in 3 2/3 innings while striking out one in Thursday's 6-4 win over the Giants.

Chavez, who was on the mound just two days after the birth of his daughter, is happy with his performance this spring, the Bay Area News Group reports.

"I feel good," Chavez said. "I’ve put some men on, but I’ve pitched out of some jams. I’ve showed them I won’t let it snowball."

Chavez believes he needs to improve at changing the eye level of batters.

"I’ve got to get them to change eye levels better," Chavez said. "The last two or three starts, I haven’t been able to do that. The pitches that I’m trying to elevate they’re fouling off (instead of swinging and missing) and that runs up my pitch count."

Chavez has posted a 4.50 ERA in 16 innings as he competes for a spot in the rotation.


Giants' Bochy: Joe Panik pressing, remains starter at second base
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:09 am ET) Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Thursday that while infielder Joe Panik might be pressing, he remains the team's starter at second base without reservations, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

Panik is just 8 for 50 this spring after going hitless in four at-bats Thursday, though he has delivered three doubles and two home runs. He's looking for a strong follow-up to an impressive rookie season in which he hit .305/.343/.368 in 269 at-bats.


Pirates P A.J. Burnett changes tune about shifting
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:38 am ET) Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett has not had the highest of opinions when it comes to infield-shifting in the past. In 2013, he let some reporters know what he thought about shifting at the time.

When asked about a shift of shortstop Clint Barmes that year, Burnett stated, “I do not have a problem with (Barmes), I had a problem with the (expletive) shift. We play people in the wrong spot.”

But Burnett seemed to change his tune when reflecting upon the subject.

“As much as I complained about the shifts, they helped,” Burnett said. “They really did. It's that one a game, you've got a no-hitter for four or five innings and one gets through, and where you're like … ‘(expletive) shift.'

“But (shifts) saves you more than anything, and that's the truth.”

The 38-year-old has lost some steam on his fastball at this point in his career and he knows that.

“It took me getting a little older to realize that I'm not able to blow it by guys anymore and ground balls are just as good,” he said.

Burnett has posted a 6.39 ERA with nine earned runs, eight walks and 12 strikeouts in four starts this spring.


Time running out for Matt Lindstrom to win spot with Angels
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:35 am ET) Angels pticher Matt Lindstrom can opt out of his contract if he's not placed on the active roster five days before the regular-season opener, and he believes he may not have an opening to fill in the bullpen, MLB.com reports.

"There's a ton of guys in here that have shown they can compete at this level," Lindstrom said. "I just hope I can be one of those guys that breaks camp with the team. It'd be fun to be on a team like this, that has so much potential, especially with how many games they won last year. The pitching staff's going to be solid no matter which way they go, but I'm hoping to be a part of that."

Lindstrom has given up seven runs in 4 2/3 spring innings but is excited about how his arm feels this spring.

"I can just tell the ball's coming out better," Lindstrom said. "Hopefully, that can just translate to outs."


 
 
 
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