Table: Do Not Bench
Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs
If Soto gets the opening day start as expected this week, he will become the first rookie catcher to start the opener since Joe Girardi did in 1989. The team has good reason to start Soto; he hit .353 in the Pacific Coast League last year before winning MVP honors. A slow spring has seen him hit just .222, but he has already proved he can hit big-league pitching with a .389 average in 18 games at the end of last season. With two series in hitter-friendly Wrigley Field, Soto is worth a start this week.
Kenji Johjima, Seattle Mariners
Although top prospect Jeff Clement made strides on the defensive side of the plate, the team still opted to send him to the minors for more seasoning. That should excite Johjima owners, who will see the Japanese catcher reprise his role as the starter while likely hitting near the bottom portion of the lineup. What should also excite Johjima owners is his chance to bat against two of the worst AL pitching staffs this week. The Rangers were 13th in the AL with a 5.19 ERA last year. The Orioles were 12th with a 5.17 ERA. With favorable matchups, Johjima could be a good start this week.
Ramon Hernandez, Baltimore Orioles
Injuries slowed down Hernandez at the beginning of 2007 and were a large part in what was his worst offensive season with the O's. However, Hernandez's 2008 start should be the complete opposite of his 2007 beginning. In his first two series, he will be facing the team with the worst ERA (Rays: 5.53) last year and a staff that ranked just 10th in the AL in team ERA (4.73). Camden Yards has also been a good park to Hernandez as he has hit .298 with 23 home runs in 142 games there. He would be a solid choice in both series this week.
A.J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox
Although not a total disappointment, Pierzynski's home run, RBI and run totals for 2007 were his lowest in the past three seasons. His average also dropped 32 points to .263. The hitting deficiency was a team-wide problem; the White Sox bat .246 - dead last in the majors. Pierzynski was also a better hitter in the second half as he hit .286. These are two big divisional series to begin the season, which should be good for Pierzynski, who has had moderate success in these matchups during his career (.279 average against the Indians, .307 against the Tigers).
Bengie Molina, San Francisco Giants
Molina was one of the few bright spots of the Giants' 2007 season as he played in a career-high 134 games and drove in a career-high 81 runs. Molina will be the new cleanup hitter this year, but don't expect much from a lackluster Giants offense. He would be a good pick for his first series against the Dodgers; he hit .354 with six RBIs in 12 games against them last year. He might not be as good at Miller Park; however, as he has just a .208 average in six career games. He is also raking this spring with a .452 average in 31 at-bats.
Jason Varitek, Boston Red Sox
'Tek has struggled out of the gate with six strikeouts in his first eight at-bats during the season-opening series in Japan. The strikeouts are one more than he had in 25 at-bats this spring. Perhaps it was partly because of jet lag, but you should be wary of him going through another April like he did last year, when he hit just .239 with two home runs. Perhaps the Oakland pitching staff is the reason for his slow start. They had his number last year, holding him to a .217 average. He's a moderate play this week.
Others to Consider
Chris Snyder, Arizona Diamondbacks
Kept up because of his defensive ability, Snyder made some strides at the plate last year. After hitting just .212 before the All-Star break, he came back with a .292 average and 31 RBIs over the second half of the season. The team had talked about having Snyder split time with the young Miguel Montero (finger), but injuries have hobbled the youngster and cleared the way for Snyder. The Diamondbacks offense might have only had 712 runs in 2007, but they are young and should improve with another year of experience. Don't expect the world from Snyder, but he is a solid pick this week as he starts in two of the best hitting parks in the league.
J.R. Towles, Houston Astros
Towles' 14-game stint with the club last year, in which he hit .375 with one home run and 12 RBIs, convinced them to keep him as the starter this year in place of Brad Ausmus. The youngster has rewarded the team with a .385 average this spring and looks set to finally give the Astros some offense at the backstop position. However, he is still just 24, and with matchups against the top two pitching staffs in the NL last year, it might not be a great week to start him. It will also be his first time playing big-league ball when the games matter.
Kurt Suzuki, Oakland Athletics
No matter what else happens this year, Suzuki will be able to say he was tied for the league lead in stolen bases after the first week. Suzuki had a good start to his season in Japan, hitting .375 with one run and one stolen base. It could be tougher for him to continue that start this week as he faces two solid pitching staffs in pitchers' parks. His .233 career average at McAfee Coliseum is also another reason you might want to avoid him this week.
Ronny Paulino, Pittsburgh Pirates
Paulino caused much anguish among the Pirates' faithful with a horrible first half that saw him hit just .234 with seven errors and eight passed balls. However, he put it together in the second half, hitting .296 with 31 RBIs and 31 runs. Although having Ryan Doumit as his backup could worry some owners, Paulino remains the No. 1 catcher in Pittsburgh. Last year's debacle aside, Paulino, who turns 27 this year, has a .324 career average against the Braves and a .256 career average against the Marlins. Paulino is a moderate option this week.
Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies
A converted second baseman, Ruiz has shown improvement this offseason both defensively and in calling games. The next step will be to improve offensively from the .259 average, six home runs and 54 RBIs he had in 115 games last year. Helping matters will be favorable matchups in both series this week. The Nationals pitching staff sported an ERA of 4.58 last year and have not done much to improve that this offseason. The Reds tied for an NL-worst 4.94 ERA last year. Both series will also be in hitters' parks this week, making Ruiz a solid pick to start.
Josh Bard, San Diego Padres
Last year was a tale of two halves for Bard; he improved his average 60 points after the All-Star break while also driving and scoring more runs in the second half. A slow start could be a problem for him again this year as he has hit just .211 this spring. It will also hurt fantasy owners that he opens with seven games at PETCO Park, where the spacious fields make it tough to generate extra-base hits. With poor matchups, Bard is not a great option to start this week.
Yorvit Torrealba, Colorado Rockies
Torrealba has had a great spring, hitting .405 with one home run and eight RBIs in just 35 at-bats. Those numbers should help fantasy owners who are debating whether Torrealba is worth starting after he posted a career-high in home runs (eight), RBIs (47) and runs (47) last year. One thing to note with Torrealba is the Coors Factor. His average at home last year was 84 points higher than on the road. He also hit 75 percent of his home runs and 34 of his 47 RBIs at Coors Field. He is likely worth starting only in the second series this week.
Mike Napoli, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The team's best option at catcher, Napoli will have to hit better than he did last April (.192 average) if he wants to avoid a platoon situation with Jeff Mathis. He has had a decent spring, hitting .281 with one home run, which could be a good sign. Also helping him will be recent success against the Twins. Last year he hit .529 with one home and four RBIs in five games against them. He did not do as well against the Rangers (.208 average). He is worth starting in at least the first series this week in deeper leagues.
John Buck, Kansas City Royals
One wonders what happened to Buck last year. After hitting .245 with 15 home runs in the first half, he managed just three home runs and hit only .194 in the second half of the season. Fantasy owners will be happy to see Buck is hitting .268 this spring, which is a good sign despite his zero in the home run column. He will also be facing two solid pitching staffs this week. Until he gets his power back, Buck is probably best left on the bench unless his matchups are favorable.
Jason Kendall, Milwaukee Brewers
After the offensive-minded Johnny Estrada left town, the Brewers brought in a solid game manager in Kendall to work with their pitchers. Kendall could be a decent play in the latter half of this week due to a weaker pitching staff in San Francisco. He hit .225 in 28 games at Wrigley Field as part of the Cubs roster last year. He has not played in the last two years at Miller Park, but has hit .277 in his career at the park. He should be started only if you are desperate in the second half of the week.
Paul Lo Duca, Washington Nationals
Lo Duca (knee) will be on hand to catch the first opening day pitch at the new Nationals Park after undergoing knee surgery in the offseason. After the one-game opening, Lo Duca will then face two teams that have held him in check recently. Against the Cardinals last year, Lo Duca hit just .250 with one home run in seven games. Against the Phillies he hit just .230 with two home runs and nine RBIs in 17 games. He has been limited to just four spring games but is hitting .308 with six RBIs in those games. Fellow backstop Johnny Estrada (elbow) is starting the season on the disabled list; Lo Duca might be worth a start this week, but don't expect too much from him.
Dioner Navarro, Tampa Bay Rays
Navarro has hit surprisingly well this spring despite arriving late due to personal problems in his native Venezuela. Through 38 spring at-bats, Navarro has a .342 average with two home runs and five runs scored. At 24, Navarro is also still learning the game. He improved in the second half last year when his average jumped 108 points and he had seven more home runs. With two hitter-friendly parks on tap and facing a weak Orioles rotation (as well as the back end of the Yankees rotation), Navarro would be a decent pick this week.
Johnny Estrada (elbow), Washington Nationals