Justin Smoak - 1B, TOR
Owned in 1% of Yahoo leagues
Last year, Chris Colabello went to Toronto and shook off an unremarkable career to enjoy a breakout season, posting an 886 OPS with 15 homers in 101 games as a key piece of the Blue Jays' imposing offense.
This week, Colabello received in 80-game PED suspension. His unfortunate turn of events does open the door for another first baseman with a lackluster track record to follow in his footsteps.
Unlike Colabello, who was never drafted and spent time playing independent ball before finally breaking through to the majors, Smoak has a sterling pedigree. He was the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft after starring at the University of South Carolina, and he climbed prospect charts with big numbers in the minors. At the 2010 deadline, he was the big-name young talent sent from Texas to Seattle in the Cliff Lee blockbuster.
Smoak's production the majors has never lived up to the hype -- not yet at least. But with Colabello's suspension opening the door for him to play regularly at first base, the 29-year-old may be poised to turn the corner.
Obviously, playing in Toronto provides an automatic boost, especially compared to his previous home in Seattle. Smoak is now part of a loaded lineup playing in an extremely hitter-friendly ballpark. The benefits were evident last year, his first with the Jays, when he launched 18 homers in 382 plate appearances and finished with a .470 slugging percentage (blowing away his previous career high of .412).
Hitting the long ball has always been an evident skill for Smoak, but at times it's been the only one. His poor strike zone control has always been a major hindrance, resulting in a .224 career batting average and .309 OBP. That's what makes his start to this season so interesting.
The first baseman showed a keener eye in spring training, drawing seven walks against 11 strikeouts, and his improvement in this area has echoed through the early weeks of the season. Through 40 plate appearances, Smoak has struck out 18 times but has also worked 10 free passes. That's a 25 percent walk rate for a guy whose previous career mark was 10 percent. He's already nearly halfway to his walk total from last year (29) and we're not yet at the end of April.
It's a small sample size thus far, obviously, but in combination with his spring training showing, this evolution is difficult to ignore. If Smoak is able to trim down his K/BB ratio his numbers will improve across the board and he has the potential to be one of the better offensive first basemen in the American League, particularly in that ballpark.
Mark Reynolds - 1B, COL
Owned in 3% of Yahoo leagues
Heading into the season, it looked like the Rockies would deploy a fairly even timeshare at first base, with Mark Reynolds mostly starting against lefties and Ben Paulsen mostly starting against righties. However, on Opening Day, it was Reynolds in there against a right-handed pitcher, and the veteran slugger has gone on to start over Paulsen in 14 of Colorado's first 21 games.
With strong early production following an impressive spring, he shows no signs of loosening his grip.
An outsider might be critical of this usage, given that the Rockies are rebuilding and the 28-year-old Paulsen has a far better chance of playing a long-term role in their plans, but for the time being, fantasy owners can take advantage of Reynolds' boosted playing time and his signature pop, which of course plays up at Coors Field.
The 32-year-old is in his 10th big-league season, and over that decade he has amassed 238 home runs. Last year he managed a disappointing 13 homers (his first time under 20 since 2007) with a sub-.400 slugging percentage while appearing in 140 games with the Cardinals, but he's still got power and it's been on display early on this year.
As a pure slugger with historical issues making consistent contact, Reynolds is exactly the kind of guy who profiles to get a big boost from Coors, perhaps explaining why the Rockies targeted him. In his short time playing at the new park he has looked great, going 12-for-32 (.375) with five doubles, a homer, and a reduced whiff rate.
There's not much reason to expect his bat to quiet down in these very friendly confines, so as long as Reynolds continues to receive the lion's share of starts at first base, he's an appealing option in deeper leagues.