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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
Twins' Byron Buxton named No. 1 prospect by MLB.com
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:00 am ET) Twins outfielder Byron Buxton was named the top prospect in baseball by MLB.com Friday.

Buxton played just 31 games in 2014 due to wrist and concussion issues and finished with a .240/.313/.405 line along with four home runs, 16 RBI and six stolen bases in 121 at-bats with high Class A Fort Myers. He also went 0 for 3 at the Double-A level. Buxton is making his second straight appearance atop MLB.com's top prospect list.

The rest of MLB.com's top-five prospects (in order) are Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, Astros shotstop Carlos Correa, Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor and Cubs shortstop Addison Russell. None of the quartet appeared in the top five of last year's MLB.com prospect list, though all four cracked the top 12.


Red Sox designate Drake Britton for assignment
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Red Sox designated pitcher Drake Britton for assignment Friday, clearing a roster spot for pitcher Alexi Ogando.

Britton appeared in seven games with the Red Sox in 2014, tossing 6 2/3 scoreless innings while striking out four batters and walking two. He posted a 5.86 ERA and 37:38 K:BB ratio in 58 1/3 innings with Triple-A Pawtucket.


Peter Moylan 'doing fantastic' in return from Tommy John
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Free-agent pitcher Peter Moylan indicated Friday that he's "doing fantastic" in his return from his second Tommy John surgery, the Houston Chronicle reports.

"I’m doing fantastic, mate. Dropped 35 pounds," Moylan said. “My goal is to be 100 percent by end of spring. Ball is coming out great, though. Probably have to throw for some teams right around the start of spring to gauge interest, but there have already been some nibbles, which is encouraging."

Moylan underwent the procedure last March after receiving a non-roster invitation from the Astros. He's throwing from about 70 percent strength off a mound and in the process of deciding whether to sign a a deal in the near future or after the season begins. He hopes to resume pitching in the big leagues by midseason at the earliest.

Moylan has made 309 appearances since debuting in 2006, compiling a 21-9 record, 2.80 ERA and 213:121 K:BB ratio in 276 innings.


Braves' Shelby Miller: Sinker is 'going to take me to the next level'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Braves starting pitcher Shelby Miller had an up-and-down season with the Cardinals in 2014. He began the season by going 6-2 with a 2.79 ERA before going 2-7 with a 5.11 ERA over his next 16 appearances (15 starts).

Miller, however, was able to finish the season on a high note, going 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA and .190 opponents' batting average over his final seven starts. Miller attributes his success down the stretch to incorporating a sinker into his repertoire, per FOX Sports South.

"I said I'm going to throw some of these, and we'll see where it's at," Miller said of a conversation he had with catcher A.J. Pierzynski before an Aug. 23 start against the Phillies. "It felt good so we just went with it. I started throwing it literally within three days. It's a good pitch that I picked up quick.

"I still need a lot of work with it. I need a lot of work with all my pitches. There's all sorts of ways to get better. But I think that's definitely a pitch that will help me be more efficient and take me deeper into games. That's [the sinker] going to be a huge pitch for me this year that's ultimately going to take me to the next level. Not only that but kind of mixing it all together, becoming more of a complete pitcher more than a thrower."

Miller added he will also begin to work more on his changeup, which he threw just 2.2 percent of the time in 2014, per FanGraphs.com.

"I know [Braves pitching coach] Roger [McDowell] has been known for changeups," Miller said. "A lot of great pitchers have come through this organization, [and] that's a pitch I would love to pick up. I want to be able to throw it more consistently, [and] have a little bit more confidence in it."


Scott Baker agrees to minor-league deal with Yankees
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Yankees agreed to a minor-league deal with pitcher Scott Baker, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. If Baker makes the major-league roster, he will be paid $1.5 million.

Baker made 25 appearances (eight starts) for the Rangers in 2014, going 3-4 with a 5.47 ERA. He had 55 strikeouts in 80 2/3 innings.


Rockies designate Jayson Aquino for assignment
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) After completing a two-team trade Friday, the Rockies decided to designate Jayson Aquino for assignment, the team announced.

Aquino spent 2014 bouncing around the minor league, pitching in 18 games with a 5.13 ERA in 107 innings pitched. He went 5-10 with 83 strikeouts in stints with both Double-A Tulsa and Class A Modesto.


Report: Red Sox express willingness to trade Edward Mujica
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Red Sox have expressed a willingness to trade reliever Edward Mujica, a source told FOX Sports. The right-handed reliever is set to make $4.75 million in 2015.

Mujica, who was an All-Star with St. Louis in 2013, went 2-4 with a 3.90 ERA and eight saves in his first season with Boston in 2014.


Orioles 1B/OF Steve Pearce agrees to $3.7M salary for 2015
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Orioles avoided arbitration with outfielder/first baseman Steve Pearce, agreeing to a $3.7 million salary for 2015, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. Pearce reportedly filed for $5.4 million, while the Orioles reportedly offered $2 million.

Pearce is coming off his best season as a major leaguer, batting .293 with a .373 on-base percentage, .556 slugging percentage, .930 OPS, 21 home runs, 26 doubles and 49 RBI in 102 games.


Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is 'staying put'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) A team source told CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman that Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is "staying put."  Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich told FOX Sports earlier in the week that it is "highly, highly unlikely" Tulowitzki will be traded before opening day.

Tulowitzki, who has been linked to trade rumors involving the Mets this offseason, is under contract through 2020 on a six-year, $118 million deal. He is also recovering from August hip surgery.


Red Sox agree to deal with pitcher Alexi Ogando
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Red Sox have agreed to a deal with pitcher Alexi Ogando, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. It is a one-year, $1.5 million contract, which includes $1.5 million in bonuses, according to USA Today.

Ogando has been a free agent since being non-tendered by the Rangers in December. Ogando made just 27 relief appearances in 2014 due to an elbow injury. He went 2-3 with a 6.84 ERA.

Ogando, who was an All-Star in 2011, also has experience starting at the major-league level, going 19-12 with a 3.40 ERA in 48 career starts.


 
 
 
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