Early April, specifically the inaugural week of a baseball season, is not the time to overthink fantasy starting lineups.
Generally speaking, certifiable stars draw starting nods … and middling talents — the pedestrian ones filling out rosters — take a noble seat on the bench and dutifully await their starting turns in a pinch, via travel days (typically Monday or Thursday) or injury-based ascensions for a week or so.
Otherwise, it’s all about giving the lion’s share of playing time to high-round draft picks or established assets with substantial track records.
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However, during this supposed window of pressure-free observation time — when fantasy owners momentarily get to enjoy the fruits of their draft labor — there are always some lineup quandaries to lament, especially for head-to-head (weekly) leagues.
Here are three relatively unsung hitters to target for starts during Week 1 (April 1-7):
1B Paul Konerko, White Sox Skinny: The White Sox open with six straight home games against the Royals and Mariners. And if you can get past the c-c-cold temperatures that typically inhabit Chicago this time of year, please note that Konerko notched five homers, 13 runs, 15 RBI, a.383 batting average and 1.123 last April. (He would open the 2012 campaign with back-to-back OPS months of 1.000.)
From a career standpoint, Konerko (five homers, .338 batting during spring training) has averaged one homer per every 18.3 at-bats in April.
OF Melky Cabrera, Blue Jays Skinny: The reconstituted Blue Jays, the early favorites for the American League East title, can look forward to six straight home sellouts this week.
That bodes well for Cabrera, the former disgraced star with the Giants (50-game drug suspension), who’s out to prove last season’s .346 batting average wasn’t the, uh, sole result of PED enhancement.
As part of that disenfranchisement, Cabrera typically didn’t get taken until Round 9 or 10 of March fantasy drafts.
For what it’s worth, Cabrera hit .348 with three homers and 15 RBI during Grapefruit League play with Toronto; and to help get reacquainted with the American League — Melky amassed 18 homers, 87 RBI, 102 runs, 20 steals and a .305 batting average with the Royals in 2010 — Cabrera faces two of the Junior Circuit’s shakiest pitching staffs this week (Indians, Royals).
OF Matt Joyce, Rays Skinny: Ideally, on-the-fence hitting candidates would have the dual luxury of avoiding bone-chilling temperatures and ace pitchers in early April. Tampa Bay’s Joyce fulfills that short-term prerequisite, drawing the Orioles and Indians at home for the first week.
In April 2012, Joyce produced five home runs and five multiple-hit games. Plus, 10 of his 61 career homers have come against Baltimore and Cleveland, which should mollify the fantasy owners clamoring for top prospect Wil Myers (minor wrist injury) to make the Rays out of spring camp.
On the flip side … here are three second-rung hitting assets who might struggle in Week 1, due to pitching pairings or other factors:
OF Justin Ruggiano, Marlins Skinny: Ruggiano (13 homers, .313 batting in just 91 games last year) is primed for a solid season, if healthy. But with matchups against Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann (Nationals) and Jon Niese and Shaun Marcum (Mets), I’m not expecting any first-week magic from the Miami outfielder, who turns 31 in a few days.
OF Drew Stubbs, Indians Skinny: Welcome to the American League, Drew.
Stubbs (51 combined homers, 100 steals the last three seasons with Cincinnati) kicks off his time in Cleveland with five presumed encounters against R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle (Blue Jays) and David Price and Alex Cobb (Rays).
That’s two matchups with reigning Cy Youngs in a six-day span.
C Salvador Perez, Royals Skinny: It’s easy to appreciate the 22-year-old backstop’s potential for 20 homers and .300 batting; but Perez is also a notorious first-pitch swinger, an impatient asset who might incur some difficulties against the likes of Chris Sale, Jake Peavy (White Sox) and Cole Hamels (Phillies) this week.
On the positive side, the biting-cold temperatures Perez and the Royals will experience in Chicago should subside when the club visits Philadelphia for the weekend. Plus, Kansas City draws only one-third of Philly’s ace trio (Hamels).