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Reality Check: Two of a kind

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Both Brian Matusz and Gordon Beckham were selected in the first round of the 2008 draft, Matusz fourth overall and Beckham eighth overall. Both immediately became elite prospects at their respective positions, and both made good first impressions in Fantasy.

But then both crashed and burned in particularly horrific ways, Beckham compiling a .662 OPS over the last two seasons, lower than that of Jason Donald, and Matusz posting a 10.69 ERA in 12 starts last year, the highest ever for a pitcher with that many starts.

Yes, over the last four years, their fates have intertwined like something out of a teenage vampire novel, which makes this latest development all the more, um, poetic.

Both are among the hottest claims off the waiver wire right now.

They did it with big weekend performances, Matusz striking out seven Rays over 7 1/3 innings of two-hit ball and Beckham homering three times in the span of two games.

Hey look, a full moon.

So were their big weekend performances just the requisite high notes in an otherwise dreary melody, or were they something halfway sustainable, the earliest signs of a long-awaited breakthrough?

Say it with me now: I don't know.

Gosh, that's annoying. You come in search of answers, and I give you the runaround before blasting you with the reality that I know as little as you do. Still, it's no more than halfway as annoying as this:

"I feel like I'm back to being the guy I was and the guy I've been," Beckham told MLB.com after his four-RBI game Saturday. "The guy I just kind of pushed under the rug for a long time. I just feel like I'm prepared to hit and ready to hit and that's allowing me to get in a good position and allowing me to do the things I'm capable of doing."

Oh, I feel so enlightened now. Thanks for explaining it in such concrete terms. That's the sort of response so abounding in details and overrun with specifics that I'm left with no room to wonder if the hot hitting is little more than luck of the draw.

Really, dude?

OK, so the man himself is clearly no help, but in the end, it's the numbers that sustain us. And according to the numbers, here's what I know about Beckham:

He's 25, as in the age often cited (along with 26, 27 and 28) as the beginning of a player's physical prime, resulting in the kind of power boost that might cause a player like Beckham to have almost as many home runs through June 3 (eight) as he had all of last season (10). So there's that.

He has a .248 BABIP, which is low by his standards -- or any player's, for that matter. Even last year, when he hit only .230, he managed a .276 mark, and the .290 range is more common for him. Bump his .237 batting average up to the .265 range, which is a possibility with the normalization of his BABIP, and suddenly the doubters are few and far between.

His hot streak didn't begin over the weekend, but on May 1, when he went 3 for 4 with the first of his eight home runs. Since then, he's hitting .275 with an .813 OPS, resulting in 109.5 Head-to-Head points, which is good enough to rank him third among second basemen during that stretch, ahead of Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, Dan Uggla and Brandon Phillips, among others.

No kidding.

Of course, the kicker for Beckham is the same as it was for Alex Gordon last year or Rickie Weeks the year before or any other highly drafted, highly regarded player who, for whatever reason, has underperformed to begin his career: He should have been doing this all along.

When you're on the fence about a player, that's what should put you over the top.

Matusz, of course, has the pedigree angle going for him as well, and unlike Beckham, he at least tips us off a little on what might have contributed to his turnaround:

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"I feel real good with my slider right now," Matusz told the Baltimore Sun after Saturday's start. "I have a great feel. I'm just letting it rip, really. Just letting it go and attacking the zone with it. It's got great bite, so I'll hang with it."

Good plan. Matusz is indeed relying on his slider more, throwing it 20.8 percent of the time compared to a meager 8.3 percent last year, according to FanGraphs.com, and the payoff, like Beckham's, didn't just begin over the weekend. Over his last five starts, Matusz has a 2.87 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP and 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings.

Of course, the more obvious explanation for his resurgence is that his average fastball velocity is up to 91.0 miles per hour, which is about where it was during his rookie season and a full three miles per hour better than it was last year, when he fought through shoulder issues. That was the reason for optimism over Matusz coming into the season, and it's just as plausible of an explanation for his success now.

Of course, it doesn't explain why his season began with him allowing four earned runs or more in four of his first six starts, which is why his overall numbers are still ugly and the skepticism still abounds. It's not like his last five starts were Cy Young-caliber or anything. He's still the same basic specimen.

So here we are back to not knowing, back to basing our roster decisions on speculation and hunches. Blah.

But at this point in the season, with no more obvious breakouts available on the waiver wire, is that really such a terrible thing? If you've been clunking around with Jemile Weeks -- or worse -- at second base, if you've tried every Joe Blanton and Kevin Millwood type out there, hoping to strike gold with the hot hand, if you happen to have a junk roster spot that you've been using on players like Andrelton Simmons and Yasmani Grandal, heck yes, you should pick up Beckham or Matusz.

Just because I'm not ready to give them my seal of approval and live the next four months in anguish when it (predictably) backfires doesn't mean I'm not willing to take a chance on them.

And you should, too. Quick, before the werewolves come.

In the now ... A look at how recent events have impacted certain players' Fantasy value

Jed Lowrie, 3B/SS, Astros: What gives already? Here we are a third of the way through the season, and Lowrie has an .877 OPS, good enough for first among shortstop-eligible players. His 172 at-bats are more than he had in 2010, when all the hype started in the first place, so the claims he's due to slow down eventually are wearing kind of thin. He's coming off a 16-game stretch in which he hit .328 with five home runs and a 1.064 OPS, much like he had in late April and early May, so clearly his season numbers aren't just the result of an isolated hot streak. A certain amount of skepticism on Lowrie is warranted, but this deep into the season, you have to recognize the sustainability here. Lowrie is averaging more Head-to-Head points per game than Starlin Castro this season, yet he's owned in fewer leagues than Kyle Lohse.

Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals: About the worst thing you can do in Fantasy Baseball is give up on a stud too early, and that line of thinking is precisely why Zimmerman was about a fourth-round pick entering this season. He didn't do anything to deserve it last year, his numbers declining across the board from near-MVP performances in 2009 and 2010, but he got a free pass because of his abdominal surgery early in the season. This year, his numbers have only gotten worse, and while injuries (this time to his shoulder) again deserve some of the blame, at some point, the injuries themselves become reason enough to discredit him in Fantasy. One thing's for sure: Since the start of the 2010 season, Zimmerman has a .756 OPS. That's a long time for a stud to go without stud numbers. Maybe "adequate starter" is more accurate now.

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Ernesto Frieri, RP, Angels: Frieri gave up his first hit as an Angel on Saturday. It came in his 14th appearance. Along the way, he racked up 30 strikeouts in 14 1/3 innings, giving him a rate of 18.8 per nine innings. That's Aroldis Chapman-type stuff. Even before Chapman was closing, he was owned in more than 80 percent of leagues, the idea being, "Well, he has to take over closing duties eventually, and in the meantime, those strikeouts are mighty nice." Why doesn't the same logic apply to the 64-percent-owned Frieri? If anything, he's more valuable than Chapman was then because at least he's getting part-time saves, recording four of the team's last six. And considering he's the right-hander in the closer platoon and comes closer to having "closer stuff" than Scott Downs, it's only a matter of time before he wins the job outright.

Drew Smyly, SP, Tigers: Everything seemed to be going so well for Smyly through his first six starts, when he had a 1.59 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. But that was the problem: Everything had to go well for him to factor as a six-inning pitcher -- the low ERA, the stellar strikeout-to-walk ratio, everything. And, as is often a case for 22-year-olds rushed straight from Double-A to the majors, it didn't. Smyly's four-run outing on May 14 was the nudge that sent the house of cards tumbling. A few too many homers here, a couple extra walks there, and suddenly his ERA is 6.53 over his last four starts. It's the same thing that happened to Brandon Beachy in the second half last year. It doesn't mean Smyly isn't still a talented pitcher, but it does mean his growing pains will likely prevent him from making a significant contribution in mixed leagues.

Felipe Paulino, SP/RP, Royals: At 95.1 miles per hour, Paulino's average fastball velocity is second only to Stephen Strasburg's among starting pitchers. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that he's averaging 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. But, of course, that's nothing new for the Royals right-hander. He entered the season averaging 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings for his career. What's new is the consistency. In his six starts since returning from an early-season DL stint for a forearm strain, he has compiled a 1.70 ERA, allowing zero earned runs in four of them. Granted, six is a small sample, and Paulino has fooled Fantasy owners before, but he's still only 28. Isn't it possible all the injuries over the years delayed his breakthrough until now? Given his strikeout potential, wouldn't you want to gamble on that possibility rather than stick it out with a Drew Smyly?

Down the line ... A brief update on some of the minor-leaguers who have caught the attention of Fantasy owners

Yasmani Grandal, C, Padres: Grandal got exactly one at-bat in the majors before the Padres sent him back to Triple-A Tucson on Sunday, and while some may consider the short stay a disappointment, it might actually be the best thing for the elite catcher prospect. Though at first glance, Grandal has mastered the Triple-A level, batting .317 with a .921 OPS, keep in mind Tucson is an especially favorable place to hit. Shoot, Anthony Rizzo hit .331 with a 1.056 OPS there last year, and his transition to PETCO Park was a disaster. At age 23, Grandal isn't far from taking over full-time, especially if Nick Hundley continues to hit under .200, but you don't want him tackling PETCO before he's 100 percent ready.

Mike Olt, 3B, Rangers: If Olt's two-homer game Friday wasn't enough to open eyes around the league, he went and repeated the feat on Saturday. And just for good measure, he did it again on Sunday, too. His 17 home runs now lead the Texas League, and he has a .318 batting average and 1.060 OPS to go along with them. Olt's batting eye has always been the attribute that set him apart from other minor-league sluggers, and seeing it translate to the upper levels only validates his top-prospect standing. A September call-up isn't outside the realm of possibility, but he'd need an Adrian Beltre injury for anything more.

Moises Sierra, OF, Blue Jays: Sierra tends to get overlooked behind Anthony Gose and Jake Marisnick in the Blue Jays system, but he certainly made some noise this weekend, homering three times in Friday's game before adding another in a 4-for-4 performance on Saturday. Sierra isn't a particularly well-rounded hitter, but the power potential, which has led to 10 home runs in 208 at-bats at Triple-A Las Vegas this year, is legitimate. And if it continues to this degree, the 23-year-old will force himself into the team's immediate plans. His free-swinging approach may ultimately doom him, but in a best-case scenario, a second coming of Vernon Wells would be pretty nice.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Dodgers' Zack Greinke tweaks mechanics in minor-league start
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:13 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke made a mechanical adjustment in the fifth inning of his minor-league start Wednesday that led to a potential breakthrough, as he induced an inning-ending ground ball and struck out the next four batters, MLB.com reports.

"I tried something with a pitch and it came out perfect," Greinke said.

Greinke allowed two runs on five hits in seven innings while striking out nine and throwing 85 pitches Wednesday.

"Not many guys can make one pitch and completely turn their game around," catcher Yasmani Grandal said. "He was like, they're not going to hit me anymore. It was a mechanical thing, [pitching coach Rick Honeycutt] said something with his face or the way he was looking."

Greinke's next start will come April 7 against the Padres in his regular-season debut.


Astros pitcher Mark Appel to start year in Double-A Corpus Christi
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:06 pm ET) Astros pitching prospect Mark Appel is expected to begin the season with Double-A Corpus Christi, reports the Houston Chronicle.

Appel, who was the team's 2013 No. 1 pick, has yet to pitch in the majors.


Report: Mets place Cesar Puello on waivers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:53 pm ET) The Mets have placed outfield prospect Cesar Puello on waivers, ESPNNewYork.com reports.

Puello isn't in line to make the Opening Day roster and is out of options, so he'll need to pass through waivers before the team can send him to the minors. He went 9 for 36 with no extra-base hits this spring.


Athletics' Jesse Chavez hints he's headed to the bullpen
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:35 pm ET) Athletics pitcher Jesse Chavez told reporters that "the writing is on the wall" and indicated that he'll likely start the season in the bullpen.

"I think they had their minds made up from the beginning. But we'll see what happens," Chavez said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Chavez allowed one run on three hits and one walk while striking out six over six innings of work on Wednesday against the Angels. He posted a 4.50 ERA, a 1.75 WHIP and 12:4 K:BB ratio over 16 innings this spring. If he is demoted to the bullpen as a long reliever and spot starter, the A's will likely go will left-hander Drew Pomeranz as their fifth starter.


Brewers choose to have Michael Blazek open season in bullpen
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(5:33 pm ET) Brewers pitcher Michael Blazek has won a spot in the bullpen to open the season, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Blazek was being stretched out this spring in prep for a starting assignment at Triple-A Colorado Springs, but he pitched so well the team opted to keep him on the roster.

“I don’t think it has completely hit me yet,” Blazek said Wednesday. “It probably won’t until I get (to Milwaukee). We’re still in spring training so I’ve still got that mind set.”

Blazek has held opponents to a .226 average and has struck out 18 batters in 17 1/3 innings this spring.

“They just said as of right now, you’re coming up there with us,” he said. “That’s all I really needed to hear. I know I’m going to be somewhere in the 'pen. I’m going to keep the same mind set and take it one day at a time.”


Athletics OF Josh Reddick feels fine after minor-league at-bats
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:32 pm ET) Athletics manager Bob Melvin said Wednesday that outfielder Josh Reddick took three at-bats in a minor-league game Tuesday and felt fine physically, MLB.com reports.

Reddick is recovering from an oblique injury that will cause him to open the season on the 15-day disabled list, but he may be able to return soon after the season begins.


Athletics hoping Coco Crisp (elbow) can play Opening Day
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:25 pm ET) The Athletics remain hopeful that outfielder Coco Crisp (elbow) will be healthy enough to play Opening Day, MLB.com reports.

"I think it depends on how he feels tomorrow," manager Bob Melvin said Wednesday. "I think it's going to be a pretty good indication on what we need to do."

Melvin said that Crisp was sore Wednesday, and the team will decide Thursday if he'll need to open the season on the disabled list. It's possible he'll play during the team's three-game Bay Bridge Series against the Giants, starting Thursday.

"He's really the one guy on our team that we're not worried too much about at-bats," Melvin said. "If he could play in the Bay Bridge Series, we'd be good with that. Whether he's not, I really don't know yet."

If Crisp does open the season on the disabled list, the Athletics will likely carry outfielder Billy Burns on the Opening Day roster.


Mets SP Bartolo Colon finishes spring 0-3 with 7.02 ERA
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(5:24 pm ET) Mets starting pitcher Bartolo Colon took the hill Wednesday against the Cardinals for one final spring outing before he starts in the season opener Monday against the Nationals. Colon allowed three runs on six hits and one walk in five innings. He struck out two in a 5-4 loss.

Colon finishes the spring with a 0-3 record and 7.02 ERA. He went 1-4 with a 4.50 ERA in five starts against the Nationals last season.


Tigers' Kyle Ryan coughs up three runs in two innings vs. Astros
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:23 pm ET) Tigers pitcher Kyle Ryan got the start and logged two innings of work Wednesday night against the Astros. Ryan, who is competing for a bullpen role, allowed three runs -- two earned -- on four hits and no walks while striking out two in a 3-2 defeat.

Ryan owns a 6.23 ERA this spring. If he fails to break camp with the club, he'll be inserted in the Triple-A rotation.

"I know there's a chance," Ryan said, per MLive.com. "All I can do is go out there and be myself and do what I do."


Blue Jays' Drew Hutchison tosses three scoreless innings
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:20 pm ET) Blue Jays pitcher Drew Hutchison allowed three hits and one walk in three scoreless innings while striking out one in his team's 9-7 win over the Red Sox Wednesday.

Hutchison's fine spring finale gives him a 1.50 ERA and 12:5 K:BB ratio in 18 spring innings. His next start will come against the Yankees Monday on Opening Day.


 
 
 
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