Shane Greene - SP, DET
Owned in 12% of Yahoo leagues
When they acquired him from the Yankees as part of a three-team swap in December of 2014, the Tigers saw something in Shane Greene. It wasn't on display during his first season in Detroit, in which the righty scuffled to an ugly 6.88 ERA, but he's showing positive signs here in the early part of his second campaign with the Motor City Kitties.
Greene was far from a lock to make the Detroit rotation out of spring training, but he earned himself a spot with a splendid performance in the Grapefruit League, finishing with a 1.86 ERA and 23-to-4 K/BB ratio over 19 innings. His momentum has carried over to the start of the season.
Over his first couple of outings, the 27-year-old has flashed noticeably improved velocity, pumping his fastball up to the mid-90s after uncharacteristically averaging just 91.7 MPH with it last year. Just as conspicuous as the added heat has been the sharpened movement on his cutter, a key pitch that simply didn't cut it (pun intended) for him in 2015.
Greene's upgraded arsenal was evident in spring and the fact that it seems to be playing here in the regular season is extremely promising. The hope is that he can achieve numbers similar to those he posted as a rookie with the Yankees in 2014, when he registered a 3.78 ERA over 15 appearances (14 starts) while averaging more than a strikeout per inning and generally keeping the ball in the yard.
It bears noting that Greene was excellent for the first couple weeks of 2015 before completely falling apart, but he looks like a different guy this time around. Whether it's improved health or the result of a dedicated offseason, his pitches are coming in with a lot more gas and his results should continue to reflect that.
He makes for a very good early-season flier, especially in AL-only leagues.
Charlie Morton - SP, PHI
Owned in 1% of Yahoo leagues
In 2013 and 2014, Morton was a quality piece in the Pirates rotation, accumulating a 3.52 ERA and 1.28 WHIP while keeping opposing lineups in check with his heavy sinker. He took a step backward last year but remained one of the most proficient ground ball pitchers in the game. Since 2013, his 58.5 percent GB rate ranks second only to Dallas Keuchel among major-league pitchers.
Morton's consistent ability to force hitters to pound the ball into the grass has resulted in low homer totals (only 71 in 892 career innings) and a general lack of loud contact. This might have influenced Philadelphia's decision to acquire him during the offseason, given the offense-friendly dimensions of their home park.
However, Morton's fantasy ceiling has always been capped by his mediocre strikeout and walk rates. It's tough to project a breakthrough in either area for the 32-year-old veteran, but there is reason for optimism that he might be able to miss a few more bats in Philly this season.
Late last season, Morton decided that he wanted to start throwing harder, and so he did. This directive has carried over to the new season, in which the righty is averaging a career-high 94 MPH with his fastball in three starts.
He was shelled on the road in his first turn but has rebounded with back-to-back strong outings, allowing just one run over 12 frames. Notably, he is averaging a strikeout per inning thus far. It's a small sample size, obviously, but Morton has struck out six and seven hitters his last two times out; in 2015, he tallied six or more strikeouts only seven times in 23 turns.
Will the improved velocity continue to result in more whiffs? Only time will tell. Right now, though, Morton is offering more intrigue than he has in years.