When the Cardinals failed to do much to upgrade their offense over the offseason, they pointed to expected improvement coming from a full season of Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk, et al. One guy they didn’t mention was Jeremy Hazelbaker.
Hazelbaker was barely on the radar during spring training but wound up making the Opening Day roster after batting .304/.373/.543 with three homers, 10 RBI and four steals during Grapefruit League play. With Grichuk’s swing looking off in the first week of the regular season, Hazelbaker got three starts and picked up six hits – including two home runs – over 15 at-bats while also stealing a pair of bases. That earned him another start Monday, and he responded by going 4-for-4 with a double, a triple, a run scored and an RBI.
As a 28-year-old who is just now getting his feet wet in the majors, Hazelbaker is past prospect status. He was a fourth-round pick by the Red Sox back in 2009 and flashed some promise in his first few years in pro ball, but the outfielder struggled from 2013-14 and was released early on in 2015. The Cards quickly scooped him up and he batted .308/.394/.503 at Double-A and then .333/.403/.594 at Triple-A while popping 13 homers and stealing 18 bases.
The speed with Hazelbaker stands out right away when you watch him, and he once stole 63 bases in a minor league season. He’s also shown a little pop with an average of 13 homers per season in the minors. If he was 24, Hazelbaker would look like a pretty interesting power/speed guy. As it is, it’s tough to know if he’s a Quad-A player getting hot or a late bloomer.
It will be interesting to see how St. Louis handles Hazelbaker’s playing time. He’s been slotted into the No. 2 spot in the lineup each of the last three games and you’ve got to think that’s where he’ll remain while he’s hitting. Even though he was benched a few times in the first week, the guess here is that Grichuk is going to be in the lineup most days. Piscotty isn’t going anywhere. That means if Hazelbaker is going to play, it might mean more Matt Holliday at first base and Brandon Moss and Matt Adams on the bench. Tommy Pham is also going to factor into things again eventually, although his oblique injury could keep him out until May.
It’s obvious that there are lots of uncertainties with Hazelbaker, which is why he’s still currently unowned in three-quarters of Yahoo leagues. He’s in a nice spot, however, and just because he wasn’t a premiere prospect doesn’t mean he can’t help out your fantasy team now.
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Finnegan Flirts with No-No
Brandon Finnegan had an awful spring training that included a 10.05 ERA and 22 hits allowed over 14 1/3 innings. This is why people tell you not to pay attention to spring training numbers.
The young left-hander struck out nine while yielding two runs across six innings of work last week versus the Phillies in his first outing of the season. But, OK, it’s the Phillies, which sports an offense that’s probably better suited for the International League. He had to be in for a letdown on Monday against the Cubs in their home opener, right?
Finnegan kept arguably the best offense in baseball at bay, going 6 2/3 innings before allowing his first (and ultimately only) hit of the game. The southpaw was charged with two runs, as the Reds’ bullpen let both of the runners Finnegan left behind score on a Jason Heyward two-RBI single. That same bullpen ultimately cost Finnegan a win when Jumbo Diaz served up a three-run homer to Addison Russell in the eighth.
However, while he might not have come away with his first victory of the season, Finnegan has certainly looked terrific in the early going. He walked five batters Monday but has yielded just four hits and struck out 14 across 12 2/3 frames in his first two outings. The lefty sports a fastball that sits in the 93-94 range which also generates plenty of groundballs, something that comes in handy when you pitch your home games at Great American Ball Park.
There’s been some debate as to whether Finnegan is better suited for relief, but he’s actually fared better against righties to this point in his career and is incorporating a changeup way more often so far this season than he did as a reliever. The Reds, despite their 5-2 start, aren’t going anywhere in 2016, so they’ll give Finnegan plenty of leash in order to find out whether he can hold up as a starter. That 19 percent ownership rate for Finnegan in Yahoo leagues should be on the rise.
Gattis to be Activated on Tuesday
The Astros haven’t been hurting for offense so far this season, but they’re about to get one of their sluggers back in the lineup, anyway.
Evan Gattis will be activated from the disabled list prior to Tuesday’s game against the Royals after completing a rehab from hernia surgery. The designated hitter homered in each of his final two games for Double-A Corpus Christi while on his rehab assignment.
Gattis will slide back into the DH spot for the Astros after they used Preston Tucker there for the first five games of the season where they had the DH available. Matt Duffy – not Tucker – has been sent down to accommodate Gattis’ return. Tucker has batted .333/.412/.933 with two homers in the early going, so it will be interesting to see whether Houston makes it a priority to keep getting him some playing time, at least against righties.
Out of the Astros’ regulars, Carlos Gomez has struggled the most other than Jason Castro, going only 5-for-25 with no RBI. Gomez certainly won’t be banished to the bench, but it’s conceivable that the club could give Tucker some starts in left field – particularly against tougher righties – and shift Colby Rasmus to center.
As for Gattis, he should still have a chance to hit 25+ homers this season even after a late start. However, his fantasy value has plummeted since last season since he’s no longer eligible at catcher and is DH-only eligible in many formats.
National League Quick Hits: According to the Associated Press, a Hawaii judge has approved dismissing a domestic abuse charge against Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes ... Michael Wacha struck out seven while yielding just four singles and one walk over six shutout frames in Monday's win over the Brewers ... Addison Russell hit a three-run homer to lead the Cubs past the Reds on Monday ... Steven Matz had a forgettable evening Monday, getting lit up for seven runs over just 1 2/3 innings in a loss to the Marlins ... Giancarlo Stanton launched a two-run homer and scored a pair of runs in Monday's win over the Mets ... Daniel Murphy kept up his hot start Monday, singling and smacking a two-run homer in a win over the Braves ... Mallex Smith had to have five stitches above his eye after suffering a laceration Monday, but he could be back in there Tuesday ... Gregory Polanco went 3-for-5 with an RBI Monday and is now hitting .381/.548/.619 through 32 plate appearances ... Aledmys Diaz went 3-for-5 with an RBI double and two runs scored in Monday's win over the Brewers ... Aaron Nola struck out a career-high nine batters Monday against the Padres, but took the loss after allowing four runs over seven innings ... Curtis Granderson went 0-for-4 with a walk on Monday and now has just one hit in his first 24 at-bats this season ... Zack Cozart left Monday's game against the Cubs with tightness in his right quad ...
American League Quick Hits: Mike Trout ripped his first homer of the season in Monday’s win over the A’s ... Chris Davis launched a go-ahead three-run homer and drove in five runs in Monday’s win over the Red Sox ... Mookie Betts had three hits – including a solo home run – in Monday’s loss to the Orioles ... Michael Brantley (shoulder) will begin a rehab assignment Tuesday with Triple-A Columbus ... Adam Jones (rib cage) missed a fifth straight game Monday but is expected back in the Orioles’ lineup soon ... Nelson Cruz doubled in a run and had a two-run homer in Monday’s loss to the Rangers ... James McCann needs an MRI after suffering a right ankle injury on Monday ... Collin McHugh tossed seven shutout innings in Monday’s win over the Royals ... Colby Rasmus went 2-for-4 and hit his third homer Monday against the Royals ... Lance McCullers (shoulder) allowed began a rehab assignment with Double-A Corpus Christi on Monday ... Jose Quintana spun six innings of one-run ball in Monday's victory over the Twins ... Joaquin Benoit is dealing with some shoulder soreness but is expected to be ready to go in a couple days ... Felix Doubront is scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery on Tuesday ... Justin Verlander was charged with seven earned runs over 4 1/3 innings Monday in a loss to the Pirates ... Colby Lewis struck out six over six frames of one-run ball in a win over the Mariners on Monday ... Nick Tropeano whiffed six over five shutout innings in a win over the A’s on Monday ...