Table: Do Not Bench
Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers
Weeks (hand) flashed his potential last year with nine home runs in September but had a disappointing season that included a demotion to Triple-A and a stint on the disabled list. Weeks, a hitter that will most certainly hurt your average, hit just .178 against the Cubs but went for a .429 clip against the Giants. He also smacked two bombs and stole three bases at Wrigley. Weeks missed nearly a week with a sprained hand this spring but has been playing through the injury. He's still an above-average threat on the basepaths and makes for a stable play this week, especially against the back end of San Francisco's rotation.
Kelly Johnson, Atlanta Braves
Johnson was tabbed as the leadoff hitter this year after spending the majority of his time there last season. The entrances of outfielder Mark Kotsay (replacing Andruw Jones) and shortstop Yunel Escobar (for Edgar Renteria) take some power away from the lineup. However, Johnson has been working on being more selective at the plate this spring. Johnson hit only five of his 16 home runs at Turner Field last year, so his power might not be much of a help this week. He might not be quick to run on Mets catcher Brian Schneider, or any catcher for that matter, but Johnson is a great start this week due to his potential contribution in the runs category.
Placido Polanco, Detroit Tigers
Polanco raked against both divisional opponents last year, batting .361 with two home runs and five RBIs against the Royals and .353 with one homer and 11 RBIs against the White Sox. The 32-year-old is coming off a career year where he it .341, with 67 RBIs and 200 hits. He will reportedly hit second in the order and is expected to take on a greater responsibility with outfielder Curtis Granderson starting the season on the disabled list. His matchups look encouraging against the Royals (seventh in the AL in ERA last season at 4.48) and White Sox (12th at 4.77). Polanco is an above-average play for the week.
Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Kendrick contributed too many fantasy teams last year when he returned from a hand injury and posted a .357 average with 21 RBIs after the All-Star break. He is expected to fall into the seventh slot in the lineup, where he hit .349 in 109 at-bats last season. The 24-year-old helps most in the batting average and runs departments, and he should be able to do some damage against the Rangers and Twins rotations. Kendrick stormed out of the gate with a .327 clip in his injury-shortened April last season, and he could make for a solid play this week considering the other options.
Aaron Hill, Toronto Blue Jays
Talk about earning your paycheck! Hill surprised many by hitting .291 with 17 home runs, 78 RBIs and scoring 87 runs last year. The home run totals were almost double what he hit in his two previous seasons. Fantasy owners will also note that he hit .320 after the All-Star break, improving from a .265 pre-break average. Hill was also at his best against these two rivals last year as he hit .329 against the Yankees and .304 against the Red Sox. He should be worth plugging into your lineup this week.
Luis Castillo, New York Mets
Castillo was a much better player after a midseason trade from the Minnesota Twins last year. In just 50 games with the Mets, Castillo hit .296 with 20 RBIs, 37 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. It's good to note that the RBIs and stolen bases were more than he had in 85 games with the Twins. Castillo hit his best at the end of the season, posting a season-high .316 average in September. Castillo will be facing the Marlins, who had the worst rotation in the NL last season (4.94 ERA). He would be a decent start in that series at the very least.
Others to Consider
Jeff Kent, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kent's (hamstring) status remains up in the air for the first week of the season. His hamstring reacted unfavorably to extended rest and a cortisone shot, which has hampered his ability to get the requisite number of at-bats this spring. It would be a big setback for fantasy owners if Kent can't go against the Giants. Last year, Kent raked against them, hitting .366 with three home runs and 12 RBIs in 12 games. He didn't have the same success against the Padres, but still managed to hit .290 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in 17 games. If he plays, he would be worth a start this week.
Freddy Sanchez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Sanchez (shoulder) has been cleared for opening day after being diagnosed with inflammation around his right rotator cuff. He could receive a lollipop for his medical visits: The 30-year-old hit .280 in 25 at-bats against the Braves and .406 against the Marlins in 32 at-bats last season. Sanchez is coming off a career power year (11 home runs), but hit just .224 last April for his worst monthly average of the season. He also has a .272 career average in April - his lowest of any month. Given his injury and his tendency to start slowly, don't expect too much from Sanchez.
Orlando Hudson, Arizona Diamondbacks
Hudson is coming off career highs in batting average (.294) and on-base percentage (.817) while proving that he could be an offensive factor. He suffered a season-ending injury to his left thumb last year that cut off the last 27 games, including the playoffs. He hit .368 in 19 at-bats against the Reds and .296 in 54 at-bats against his NL West rivals last year. Hudson is in a contract year and is expected to hit second in the young D-backs order. The locales of his Week 1 matchups could make him an interesting play this week if you don't have a better option.
Akinori Iwamura, Tampa Bay Rays
Iwamura presents a tricky lineup proposition because he is not yet eligible at second base in most leagues. He is projected to hit leadoff in the emerging Rays offense and might be asked to run more this season. He had a season-high six stolen base attempts last April; if the Rays want to jump-start him on the basepaths, this could be a good week to do it. He should only be started in deeper leagues that are in dire need of a corner infielder, since Iwamura is likely not yet eligible at his 2008 position.
Tadahito Iguchi, San Diego Padres
Iguchi might find hits harder to come by this year with his offseason move to PETCO Park. He has played just 10 games at this park, although he hit .300 in those games. He should find it tougher to keep that average over a full season in San Diego. Iguchi has hit his best in April, posting a .303 career average in the first month of the season. He might be worth a start in deep leagues as the Astros' pitching staff was one of the weaker ones in the National League last season.
Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians
Cabrera was a late-season spark for the Indians last year and helped the team go 24-6 hitting in the second spot in the lineup. Manager Eric Wedge does not want to put too much pressure on him, although he's expected to continue to use him in that spot this year. Fantasy owners should be happy to hear that! He hit .283 in that position and should be protected quite well in the lineup with Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez and Ryan Garko expected to hit behind him. He has not had much success against either team in his short career, but could be worth a start in deep leagues.
Mark Ellis, Oakland Athletics
Ellis is coming off a year in which he reached career-highs in home runs (19), RBIs (76) and runs (84). He has one home run, one RBI and two runs in two games against the Red Sox already this year. He will have another chance at Boston pitchers again this week, although he might find it tougher to hit in Oakland. Owners should be wary of Ellis due to his .257 average at home last year. McAfee Coliseum was the second worst park to hit in last year, and with five games there next week, it might be prudent to bench Ellis.
Brendan Harris, Minnesota Twins
In addition to a starting right fielder, the Twins picked up their starting second baseman in the Matt Garza deal. Two things will hurt Harris in joining the Twins: The first will be playing his games at the Metrodome, although you won't have to worry about that this week. The second thing will be hitting at the bottom of the Twins' lineup. Carlos Gomez and Adam Everett, who are likely candidates to hit around Harris, might not provide much protection, which could have an impact on his numbers.
Mark DeRosa, Chicago Cubs
DeRosa (sinusitis) has had a rough spring. He underwent a heart procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat; he came down with the flu and more recently has been sidelined with sinusitis. To top it all off, he is hitting just .194 through 12 spring training games. Luckily, this is somewhat expected as his two worst months historically have been April and May, with the exception of 18 at-bats in October. He has never faced the Brewers, but is hitting just .205 in 36 games against the Astros. With his slow start and injury problems, it might be best to leave DeRosa on the bench this week.
Ronnie Belliard, Washington Nationals
Belliard has had a solid spring, placing second on the team in average (.346) among those players with at least 37 at-bats at the time of this article. He is also tied for second on the club with three home runs. Belliard should also benefit from starting the season in a hitters' park this year. Still, the Nationals have one of the worst offensive teams (last in NL with 673 runs scored last year), which takes down Belliard's value. He might be worth a start if he claims the starting role as the starting second baseman.
Jose Lopez, Seattle Mariners
Lopez is likely to begin the season batting second but will need to show a better eye for the ball if he is to remain in that spot. Last year, he was above average making contact with the ball (.878 contact percentage), but will need to improve on his 20 walks. Last April was his best month of the season as he hit .323 with three home runs and scored 12 runs in just 18 games. It will also help that he faces two pitching staffs that ranked in the bottom four in team ERA last year (4.75 and 5.17, respectively). If you are desperate, Lopez has favorable matchups and could be a decent start this week.
Ray Durham, San Francisco Giants
Durham was a fantasy killer last year after he hit just .218 and had only 11 home runs, 71 RBIs and 56 runs scored. Durham will turn 37 this year and appears to be on the downside of his career. At the end of last year, he was happy to let the team work out youngsters ahead of him, although his .165 average after the All-Star break made it an easy decision for the team. The team's offense should again be among the worst in the league (683 runs scored last year). Durham is worth a start only in deep NL-only leagues.
Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox
Imported from Cuba this offseason, Ramirez will have a shot at starting in center field this week in place of the injured Jerry Owens (groin). He has hit well this spring (.355 and 17 RBIs) in his first taste of big-league action, but is an unknown commodity when the games start to matter. He is not guaranteed of regular starts, and once Owens returns, he could be sent to the minors. With two relatively solid pitching staffs in line next week, and a lack of regular season at-bats, Ramirez might be best left on the bench until he wins an everyday job.
Kazuo Matsui (anus), Houston Astros
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.