Brayan Pena, Kansas City Royals
There's a chance Jason Kendall (shoulder) will be ready for opening day, but he's more likely to come back in mid-May, if not later. In the meantime, Pena looks like he'll be splitting backstop duties with the newly acquired Matt Treanor. And even when Kendall returns, the veteran will probably see more games on the pine.
Pena has more offensive upside than Treanor and has already taken advantage of a Kendall-less lineup, batting .309 with 12 RBIs in 86 at-bats after last August. In the last two seasons, he posted contact rates of 90 percent and 82.7 percent, respectively - signs that point to promise. Plus, in a number of at-bats nearly equal to the total from his 2009 campaign, his fly-ball rate rose more than 10 percent.
The switch hitter does much better against righties, an advantage he would hold in a platoon with either of his right-handed counterparts. There's a lot to like here for a No. 2 AL catcher with low-end No. 1 ability. -Heaney
Dan Johnson, Tampa Bay Rays
When the Rays let Carlos Pena walk, they expressed a desire to address first base. But not a strong one: They signed Johnny Damon (left field) and Manny Ramirez (DH). Ben Zobrist can play first, but he's the probable starter in right and a backup at second, too.
Sizemore a year wiser, fitter
For his part, Johnson says that he isn't taking this shot for granted. Will the former Oakland Athletics prospect's profile (lifetime .307/.420/.560 in seven full or partial seasons in the minors) surpass "Quad-A junkie"? The 31-year-old boasts an excellent BB/K, even in the bigs. He spent a year in the Rays' system before playing in Japan in 2009. Last year, Tampa welcomed him back and promoted him following his tear at Triple-A Durham (.303 BA, 30 HR, 95 RBI in 340 AB).
Johnson hit .198 but slugged seven bombs in 111 at-bats for the rays. He has a .243 career average and hasn't played regularly in years. Consistent playing time may level out that batted-ball distribution and improve his chances on balls in play. The Rays are working with a net, but they're letting Johnson walk the tightrope. Is he thisclose to putting it together? The upside entails borderline deep mixed value. -Minnix
Jed Lowrie, Boston Red Sox
After wrist surgery (2009) and mononucleosis (spring 2010) halted his progress, he reminded us of his once high prospect status with a .287-9-24 line with 31 runs in 171 at-bats last season. He remains stuck behind Marco Scutaro, but in his small sample size last year, Lowrie showed signs of regaining his power (easing concerns about his hand recovery) and contact stroke while improving his batting eye by leaps and bounds.
Such stints can go a long way for single-universe profit the following year. Many are writing it off and see Scutaro as entrenched; Beantown trade rumors and Lowrie's rebirth crack holes in that. Maybe Dustin Pedroia needs a few extra days off to keep his foot loose, and we've seen Kevin Youkilis dinged often.
Managers of mono-league teams sometimes shove into their middle infield spot an unexciting commodity simply to avoid taking zeroes or a buried prospect to compile occasional contributions. Parking Lowrie there or on your bench with eligibility at second and short, even if his at-bats aren't frequent, offers a palpable profit opportunity. -Heaney
Scott Sizemore, Detroit Tigers
Last year was a poor time to buy; Sizemore was many a fantasy man's sweetheart sleeper. The coupon is still valid, and this year is a better one in which to use it.
Sizemore broke his ankle in the Arizona Fall League in 2009 and came to Tigers camp healthy but not at full strength. He thoroughly disappointed, statistically. Even the Tigers seem to feel as if they overestimated his potential. But he regained his strength at Triple-A Toledo and hit .298 with nine homers in 299 at-bats; he rapped eight hits (two homers) in 28 at-bats in September for Motown. Jim Leyland has raved about the difference in Sizemore between this year and last.
Carlos Guillen (knee) won't be ready for opening day. And how long will he last, once he's back? Will Rhymes is tabbed as the opening day starter, but that only decreases Sizemore's price. He probably just needs some more time to prep. Rhymes' flimsy bat makeup doesn't bode well for starter's work, nor does it compare to Sizemore's combo of good D and .285-15 potential. He'll run some, too. -Minnix
Jeff Francis, Kansas City Royals
How many of your league mates will be interested? He's almost like a destitute man's Erik Bedard. In 2008, he was on the DL for five and a half weeks with shoulder inflammation. Surgery on his torn labrum in spring training 2009 cost him the entire campaign. In 2010, he spent two separate periods of 30-plus days on the DL with shoulder issues.
So the cost must be virtually nothing. Which is one reason that he's worth a shot. Another: The southpaw morphed into a saber-friendly target in the past four years with his continued improvement in BB/9. Last year, he sported a 1.98 BB/9 while he was upright. A rate of walks per nine in the mid-2.00s is a real likelihood. Francis won't miss Coors Field; Kauffman Stadium is much kinder.
The 30-year-old is at full strength and boasts conservative pitching skills that always give his club a chance to win. Good health may not last beyond ST, but it may last for the balance of the year. KC doesn't have the O to offer great run support, but help isn't far off. Francis isn't sexy, but he has a lot of room to turn a profit. -Minnix
Alexi Ogando, Texas Rangers
Neftali Feliz will remain the closer for 2011, so saves buzz doesn't apply to Ogando barring an injury. But a groin injury to Tommy Hunter prompted Texas to move Ogando into a starting role for as long as Hunter is sidelined. Ogando oozes upside and finally got to show some when he regained his visa to the U.S. last year. He throws high heat with an impressive slider and didn't need much farm time before fanning 8.42 per nine in 41 2/3 big league frames. He recently added a splitter to his repertoire, too.
He might have a few weeks' worth of starts to show what he can do, even with the multitude of other starter-capable arms in tow. Can you count on Brandon Webb to get healthy soon? Heck, Ogando might provide what they were hoping for from Feliz; he has the talent to do it. Even if and when he returns to a setup duty, his skills still play well in these formats as a low-priced, high-reward dice roll. -Heaney
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.