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Pitching Preview for Week 1

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The last time Fantasy owners had to set rotations, James Shields was a Ray, Josh Johnson was a Marlin and R.A. Dickey was a Met (and had yet to win a Cy Young Award). Many of the pitchers you trusted a year ago will likely be fixtures on your active roster again this season, but not only have some pitchers changed teams, but others have changed roles, and others still have emerged from the minors.

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This preview of the upcoming starting pitching options is aimed at helping you to sort through this new landscape of alternatives in weekly leagues, particularly in standard mixed leagues. Each week, I will rank the top 70 starters, so if you have a dilemma over which of two or three pitchers to use in the coming weeks, you can refer to this list to see which is ranked highest.

I will also be reviewing several of the two-start pitchers in more detail. Not every two-start option will be analyzed in greater depth, as those typically ranked in the upper echelons of the top 70 are must-starts that you need to keep active week after week. Also, low-end pitchers who are largely unowned in mixed leagues -- and should remain that way for the time being -- will not be covered here. Ricky Nolasco and Jhoulys Chacin, for example, have been omitted from this week's analyses, even though both are scheduled to make a pair of starts.

Each pitcher covered will also get one of the following ratings: solid standard mixed league start, marginal standard mixed league start, deeper mixed league start or AL-only/NL-only start. Those who receive the "marginal standard mixed league start" tag could be worth using in the coming week, but owners should check their available alternatives before getting them active. As teams trot out the top of their rotations for the beginning of opening week, most of this week's two-start pitchers are strong Fantasy options, so there is a larger proportion of "solid standard mixed league starts" than there will normally be. The lower portion of the top 70 is dominated by one-start pitchers, as are the ranks of pitchers who just missed the cut, so this is probably not going to be the week to scour the waiver wire for two-start options.

My Top 70 Starting Pitchers for Week 1
Rank Player Start 1 Start 2
1 Clayton Kershaw SF (Cain) PIT (Burnett)
2 Justin Verlander @MIN (Worley) NYY (Sabathia)
3 David Price BAL (Hammel) CLE (Masterson)
4 Stephen Strasburg MIA (Nolasco) @CIN (Cueto)
5 Felix Hernandez @OAK (Anderson) @CHW (Axelrod)
6 Cole Hamels @ATL (Hudson) KC (Shields)
7 Adam Wainwright @ARI (Kennedy) @SF (Cain)
8 CC Sabathia BOS (Jon Lester) @DET (Verlander)
9 Chris Sale KC (Shields) SEA (Iwakuma)
10 Yu Darvish @HOU (Harrell) LAA (Weaver)
11 Johnny Cueto LAA (Weaver) WAS (Strasburg)
12 Matt Cain @LAD (Kershaw) STL (Wainwright)
13 R.A. Dickey CLE (Masterson) BOS (Lester)
14 Jered Weaver @CIN (Cueto) @TEX (Darvish)
15 Gio Gonzalez MIA (Eovaldi) N/A
16 Cliff Lee @ATL (Medlen) N/A
17 Madison Bumgarner @LAD (Ryu) N/A
18 James Shields @CHW (Sale) @PHI (Hamels)
19 Yovani Gallardo COL (Chacin) ARI (Kennedy)
20 Ian Kennedy STL (Wainwright) @MIL (Gallardo)
21 Brett Anderson SEA (Hernandez) @HOU (Bedard)
22 Jeff Samardzija @PIT (Burnett) @ATL (Hudson)
23 Jake Peavy KC (Santana) N/A
24 Max Scherzer NYY (Phelps) N/A
25 Mat Latos LAA (Wilson) N/A
26 Jonathon Niese SD (Volquez) MIA (Slowey)
27 Zack Greinke PIT (Sanchez) N/A
28 Josh Johnson BOS (Doubront) N/A
29 Kris Medlen PHI (Lee) N/A
30 Matt Moore BAL (Gonzalez) N/A
31 Brandon Morrow CLE (Jimenez) N/A
32 A.J. Burnett CHC (Samardzija) @LAD (Kershaw)
33 Jason Hammel @TB (Price) MIN (Worley)
34 Jordan Zimmermann MIA (LeBlanc) N/A
35 Roy Halladay @ATL (Maholm) N/A
36 C.J. Wilson @CIN (Latos) N/A
37 Hisashi Iwakuma @OAK (Parker) @CHW (Sale)
38 Tim Hudson PHI (Hamels) CHC (Samardzija)
39 Jon Lester @NYY (Sabathia) @TOR (Dickey)
40 Doug Fister NYY (Nova) N/A
41 Hiroki Kuroda BOS (Buchholz) N/A
42 Andy Pettitte BOS (Dempster) N/A
43 Anibal Sanchez @MIN (Pelfrey) N/A
44 Jarrod Parker SEA (Iwakuma) @HOU (Norris)
45 Matt Harrison @HOU (Norris) LAA (Hanson)
46 Alexi Ogando @HOU (Humber) N/A
47 A.J. Griffin SEA (Maurer) N/A
48 Jaime Garcia @ARI (Cahill) N/A
49 Clay Buchholz @NYY (Kuroda) N/A
50 Dan Haren @CIN (Bailey) N/A
51 Lance Lynn @ARI (McCarthy) N/A
52 Marco Estrada COL (De La Rosa) N/A
53 Dan Straily @HOU (Peacock) N/A
54 Matt Harvey SD (Richard) N/A
55 Vance Worley DET (Verlander) @BAL (Hammel)
56 Mike Minor CHC (Feldman) N/A
57 Homer Bailey WAS (Haren) N/A
58 Alex Cobb CLE (McAllister) N/A
59 Shelby Miller @SF (Vogelsong) N/A
60 Brandon McCarthy STL (Lynn) N/A
61 Wade Miley @MIL (Lohse) N/A
62 Josh Beckett SF (Lincecum) N/A
63 Derek Holland LAA (Vargas) N/A
64 Trevor Cahill STL (Garcia) N/A
65 Ryan Vogelsong STL (Miller) N/A
66 Tommy Milone SEA (Saunders) N/A
67 Tim Lincecum @LAD (Beckett) N/A
68 Jeremy Hellickson BAL (Chen) N/A
69 Paul Maholm PHI (Halladay) N/A
70 Ryan Dempster @NYY (Pettitte) N/A

Two-Start Options to Consider

Jon Lester, Red Sox (@NYY, @TOR): Lester has had a great spring, but last season, he was a liability in most mixed leagues. With just one of these matchups, I could see sitting Lester in Week 1 if I had strong alternatives, as we need to see if he is really back from his subpar year. Still, he wasn't quite as bad as his 4.82 ERA made it appear, and we can feel secure that Lester is still good enough to use in a two-start week in just about any scenario.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Jeff Samardzija, Cubs (@PIT, @ATL): After an effective first season in the Cubs' rotation, there shouldn't be much controversy about using Samardzija in a two-start week -- or in a one-start week, for that matter. Owners should rightfully have concerns about run support, as the Cubs' offense hasn't improved over the 2012 version that scored 3.2 runs per nine innings for Samardzija. That's really the only worry to have about him, but he can still offer enough with Ks, ERA and WHIP to keep in your lineup on a weekly basis.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Jonathon Niese, Mets (SD, MIA): With a 3.40 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, Niese looked like a breakout pitcher last season, but the skills have been there for the last three years. Ever since becoming a staple of the Mets' rotation in 2010, Niese has recorded good strikeout and ground ball rates, and he has lowered his walk rate each of the last two seasons. The 2012 version of Niese was legitimate, and he is worth using in any two-start week.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

A.J. Burnett, Pirates (CHC, @LAD): Burnett enjoyed a renaissance in his first year in Pittsburgh, as he threw strikes at the highest rate of his career and let his home park help him to avoid the long ball. Given the departure from Burnett's recent norms, owners should have some healthy skepticism about his chances for a repeat, but at least in Week 1, he should have a soft landing. Burnett's opening day start is at home against the Cubs, though his second start at the Dodgers could be dicey, it won't be enough to spoil his week.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Tim Hudson, Braves (PHI, CHC): Though Hudson's velocity and already-modest strikeout rate dropped last season, his ability to avoid hard contact was still very much in evidence. As a one-start pitcher, Hudson will often be a borderline option in standard mixed leagues, but with two starts, he is an easy choice to start over one of your back-of-the-rotation types.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Matt Harrison, Rangers (@HOU, LAA): With a shrinking walk rate and a pitch-to-contact approach, Harrison has been an efficient pitcher since becoming a full-time starter in 2011. If he had Hudson's ground ball tendencies and a pitcher-friendlier home park, Harrison would be an automatic choice in a two-start week. However, Harrison may not measure up to your other options in some two-start weeks, but that's not the case in Week 1. His start at Houston alone should give him enough value to earn an active roster spot.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Jarrod Parker, Athletics (SEA, @HOU): It would look like a dream week for Parker, who gets the lowly Astros along with a start against the Mariners at home, where he posted a 2.61 ERA last season. Parker relied on an 80 percent strand rate (according to FanGraphs.com) to keep his home ERA low, though, so he's not always going to be a slam dunk when he pitches at O.co Coliseum. However, most of your alternatives for filling out a back-end rotation spot this week are of the one-start variety, so you might as well roll with Parker this time.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Brett Anderson, Athletics (SEA, @HOU): With superb walk and ground ball rates, Anderson is a must-start in two-start weeks, just as long as he is healthy. He seems to have put the strained right trapezius muscle that limited him earlier in spring training behind him.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners (@OAK, @CHW): As a dual-eligible SP/RP pitcher, Iwakuma can't sit on the bench in Head-to-Head leagues, but is he worth starting in Roto? He did thrive in the rotation last season with a 2.65 ERA over 16 starts, but a high strand rate helped to shrink that mark. Then again, he's still a worthy start even if his ERA goes into the mid-3.00s, and for this week, he should survive U.S. Cellular Field given his ground ball tendencies.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Jason Hammel, Orioles (@TB, MIN): The Orioles may be a team without a true ace, but if Hammel can approach what he did last season, owners will be starting him most weeks. Hammel was generally consistent in his ability to get swings-and-misses and grounders before getting shelved by knee surgery. While it would have been more reassuring if Hammel could have put together a full season of strong stats, the possibility of a highly productive two-start week makes him sometime to get active for Week 1.
My take: Solid standard mixed league start.

Edinson Volquez, Padres (NYM, @COL): Getting out of Cincinnati helped Volquez to lower his ERA...as long as he was pitching at PETCO Park. Away from San Diego, Volquez's high home run and walk rates left him with a 5.60 ERA. It remains to be seen how the fences coming in at PETCO will impact Volquez, but with a start at Coors Field, it's easy to avoid him in this two-start week.
My take: NL-only start.

Justin Masterson, Indians (@TOR, @TB): The walk and strand rate issues that had dogged Masterson for most of his career reemerged last season after he appeared to have taken a step forward in 2011. He's not a threat to be taken out of the park, but a high ground ball rate will only take Masterson so far. If he can revert to his '11 level of production, then owners can consider using Masterson in standard mixed leagues. For now, he can be ignored in those formats, even in two-start weeks.
Rating: Deeper mixed league start.

Vance Worley, Twins (DET, @BAL): What happened to Worley from July on last season, when his ERA mushroomed from 2.92 to 4.20 over the course of 11 starts? It could have been the bone spur in his elbow or batters finally figuring him out. Or just maybe it was a fluke. Worley compiled an outrageously-high .404 BABIP during that stretch. A reduced ground ball rate suggests that Worley may have lost some effectiveness, but with his elbow surgery well behind him, Worley should be a viable two-start option once again.
Rating: Marginal standard mixed league start.

Bud Norris, Astros (TEX, OAK): Norris is homer-prone and susceptible to wildness, but despite velocity that has been on the wane, he has been a reliable source of strikeouts. Worth owning in standard 15-team mixed leagues, Norris isn't someone you'd start every week, but with a pair of outings, he is worth a try.
Rating: Deeper mixed league start.

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

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Player News
Nationals sign Tony Gwynn Jr. to a minor-league deal
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:57 pm ET) The Nationals have signed outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. to a minor-league deal, the team announced. 

Gwynn will be invited to major-league camp with the deal. The 32-year-old hit .152 over 105 at-bats with the Phillies last season. 


Nationals' Matt Purke hoping to get on a mound soon
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:31 pm ET) Nationals pitcher Matt Purke is hoping to throw off a mound in a few weeks, according to MLB.com.

Purke had Tommy John surgery last May, and has struggled with injuries since being selected in the third round of the 2011 draft. Purke was actually released by the club during the offseason, but came back on a minor-league deal. 

Purke said he was frustrated by the injuries, but understands he has to take it all in stride. "It's just something you have to take in stride, keep moving forward," he explained. "I'm ready to keep progressing the best I can and really get myself out there and pitch and perform. When my number is called, I'll be able to help when I can."

Purke is currently in the middle of a throwing program. He's been able to long toss, and hopes to throw off a mound in a few weeks. The team is still unsure when Purke will be ready for game action.


Twins' Danny Santana learning to play multiple positions
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:16 pm ET) Danny Santana came to the Twins in 2007 playing primarily shortstop. Now, Santana is playing in the outfield and learning how to transition to a new position on the field.

"I didn't know how to play the outfield and I needed a lot of work," he said to MLB.com. "It wasn't hard, because I have the ability to play many positions. But the hard part was being in center field and throwing to the bases. At shortstop, you throw from different angles. In the outfield, you need to be on top to throw."

Santana hit .319 with 40 RBI and 70 runs scored in 405 plate appearances in 2014.

"There's a lot of people here who believed in Danny Santana's future for a long time. We were able to get a glimpse of that last year," manager Paul Molitor said. "I have a lot of confidence in that kid. He's going about his business very professionally. He's really a good listener and applier. Some guys listen well and have trouble taking it out there. He's pretty good at taking information and putting it into play."


Padres' Cameron Maybin to hit leadoff in first spring game
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:07 pm ET) Padres outfielder Cameron Maybin will hit leadoff in the team's first spring game, according to MLB.com.

Manager Bud Black basically confirmed the news, though he wouldn't make it official as he prefers to let the player know before the media. Maybin is the forgotten man in the team's outfield heading into camp. While he's proven he can play center field, the club is expected to go with Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton when the regular season starts. 

Maybin, 27, hit .235/.290/.331 over 251 at-bats last season. 


Giants experimenting with Norichika Aoki in the leadoff spot
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:43 pm ET) The Giants are experimenting with using outfielder Norichika Aoki in the leadoff spot, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Aoki will hit leadoff on Tuesday with Angel Pagan sidelined. While Pagan is expected to claim the role once the regular season begins, manager Bruce Bochy said he would consider using Aoki in the leadoff role occasionally. When that happens, Pagan would hit in the third spot in the order. 

Aoki, 33, hit .285/.349/.360 over 491 at-bats last year. 


Twins' Glen Perkins feeling healthy heading into games
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:34 pm ET) Twins reliever Glen Perkins is feeling healthy heading into spring games, according to the Pioneer Press.

Perkins was shut down at the end of last season due to forearm and elbow issues. He hasn't experienced any of those issues this spring. "Really the barometer on how my arm feels is the bite on my slider," Perkins said. "If my slider is loopy, then my arm is probably tired, especially my forearm."

Perkins added that he threw a few sliders during a recent bullpen session, and was happy with how they looked. "I told them it was coming and they swung and missed at a few," he said. "It's got good movement right now. That means obviously I'm fresh, but also I'm strong and healthy."

Perkins is expected to pitch during an exhibition game on Wednesday. He posted a 3.65 ERA over 61 2/3 innings last season. 


Red Sox OFs Betts, Castillo to share time in CF this spring
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:30 pm ET) Red Sox manager John Farrell said Sunday that outfielders Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo will get equal playing time in center field this spring, MLB.com reports.

"Like we said at the outset of camp, we'll take all of camp to determine that," said Farrell. "They're going to get equal playing time. But I think it's important they both get comfortable with the combination of the guys on the flank because of communication, the responsibilities for balls in the gap, fly ball communication and those priorities."

While Betts had ample time to make an impression on the team during his rookie season, the Red Sox are still getting to know Castillo and his capabilities.

"With Rusney, I think it's a matter of frequent at-bats, more games played," Farrell said. "Particularly after our season concluded, he went to the [Arizona] Fall League and Puerto Rico, and through repetition, I think he's just gotten better timing and consistent routes in the outfield and he's looked very good here in camp so far."

Castillo went 12 for 36 in his short time with the Red Sox last season.


Report: Red Sox, Phillies haven't made progress on Hamels' deal
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:16 pm ET) The Red Sox and Phillies have not made progress on a deal for pitcher Cole Hamels, according to the Boston Herald. 

The Red Sox have been mentioned as a contender for Hamels in the past, but the club is hesitant to give up their top prospects for the pitcher. Though Phillies' special assistant to the general manager Charley Kerfeld was spotted at Red Sox facilities on Monday, two sources told the Herald that no progress has been made on a deal. 

The Phillies are said to covet either Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart, but Boston has refused to include either player in a deal.

Hamels, 31, posted a 2.46 ERA over 204 2/3 innings last year.


Cardinals' Carpenter seeks to balance aggressiveness, patience
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:04 pm ET) Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter hopes to combine the aggressiveness he displayed in 2013 with the patience he showed in 2014, MLB.com reports.

"I've had both extremes of it," Carpenter said. "I've had it where I've led the leagues in walks [2014], and I've had where I've led the league in hits [2013]. I'm trying to search for that perfect balance where you're aggressive, but you're still patient.

"In the postseason, I felt that I was more aggressive than I had been at any point in my career, but at the same time, I wasn't flailing at balls. I didn't lose anything. Now, it's finding the perfect balance to where I'm swinging the bat, I'm being aggressive, I'm trying to do damage, but at the same time, I'm a guy who can walk a lot, get on base and set the tone as a leadoff hitter. I think that's part of growing up as a baseball player. You learn and you adapt and you continue to try to figure out who you are as a hitter."

Carpenter homered four times during last year's postseason after hitting just eight home runs during the regular season, with his first two postseason blasts coming on the first pitch of his at-bats. He's looking to capture that approach more often this season.

"I think he's a smart enough guy to do it because he knows what he does really well," hitting coach John Mabry said. "That's what you take pride in -- those guys who put in all the work to get to where they are and then say, 'I'm not happy.' They want to put in the extra work to get to that next step, the next level."

Carpenter is looking to build off a 2014 season in which he hit .272/.375/.375 with eight home runs and 59 RBI in 595 at-bats.


Mariners' Dustin Ackley to get a lot of playing time this spring
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:01 pm ET) Mariners outfielder Dustin Ackley will get a ton of playing time this spring, according to MLB.com.

Manager Lloyd McClendon said he wants Ackley to get off to a strong start, and will give the outfielder a lot of at-bats in March. Ackley seemed happy with the arrangement. "I think that's good," Ackley said. "The more at-bats you get, the better your timing gets and the more comfortable you feel. I think everybody wants to get at-bats and get ready."

Ackley had a tough first half of the season in 2014, but seemed to come on strong late. He stressed that being strong mentally should help in 2015. "I just need to stay consistent and don't start pressing if I don't get a hit for a couple games or don't do this or that," he said. "It's not being result-oriented and just going out there and playing and trusting in my swing and my mental standpoint."

The 27-year-old hit .245/.293/.398 over 502 at-bats last year. He's expected to open the season in a platoon role with Rickie Weeks. 


 
 
 
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