MLB fantasy roundtable: Harper, Trout dividends need to mature
Mike Trout's speed makes him a safer pickup than Bryce Harper for this year
Jordan Walden, Casey Kotchman among slow-starting vets to consider dropping
Edwin Encarnacion's history shows he may slow down after exceedingly hot start
Each week of the baseball, a committee of SI.com fantasy experts will meet at pitching mound and offer their insights into the most intriguing questions facing fantasy players.
1. Two of the top prospects in the sport, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, were called up to the majors last week. How hard should fantasy owners try to acquire them?
Will Carroll: I'm still unconvinced on Trout. It's not because he's not talented, but I'm not sure how Mike Scioscia will use him. The Angels are a mess right now, and Scioscia tends to have a bias toward older players. They've had a hard time integrating younger players over the years and the one constant is Scioscia. Trout should be good, but I'm not sure about great. Harper looks to be ready. The speed is surprising some and I think how hard he plays the game will be a blessing and a curse. A scout I spoke with said he's heard every comp in the book, but he thinks Harper might end up being Pete Rose with power.
Eric Mack: If they come cheaply off the waiver wire, then fine, but otherwise we shouldn't expect the juice to be worth the squeeze here. Both were rushed to the majors under less than ideal circumstances, and Trout's own struggles last year show how little we might get from them. Prospects are promising and exciting but they are only really valuable to us when they come at little or no cost.
David Sabino: It all depends. In keeper leagues, this should be an all-out assault as both will be huge stars for the next few years and beyond. However, in re-draft leagues, both will have ups and downs as they try to make the adjustment to life in the big leagues, while the big leagues adjust to them. The number of superstars who were lights-out from their first days in the bigs and throughout their careers is infinitesimal, and Trout and Harper will struggle some. For this year, I'd make a bigger push to pick up the faster Trout, because as the adage goes, speed doesn't go into a slump, and stolen bases are at a premium in fantasy baseball.
2. With the season a month old, what slow starters are you ready to cut bait on?
Carroll: It's easy to pick on the Angels and Twins right now, but man, there are some messes out there. If anyone is waiting on Scioscia to start playing the right mix, stop. I'd cut bait on Jordan Walden. Up in Minnesota, the whole pitching staff is a disaster. I guess things can only get better, but Francisco Liriano looks completely lost. Also in the AL Central, the promise of Gordon Beckham might be gone, too. I really liked him and don't know what happened. Is he Alex Gordon or a bust?
Mack: Well, it is a month in, so if you want to send the likes of struggling pitchers like Jair Jurrjens, Francisco Liriano, Heath Bell and Phil Hughes to the waiver wire, by all means. We have given them long enough as middle-to-late round picks. Someone like Bell has more value than the others in larger leagues, though, because of his relatively certain status as a closer.
Sabino: There's no way I'm giving up on slow-starting stars like Albert Pujols, Jose Bautista, Tim Lincecum or Josh Johnson. It is, however, time to clean up your lineup, lick your wounds and cut bait on fringe guys who just haven't performed, and whose teams have other alternatives. Chief among them is Indians first baseman Casey Kotchman, who's riding the interstate to the tune of .149 while Matt LaPorta is tearing up the International League, batting .380 with eight home runs, including two Monday night against Pawtucket. Remember, to win in fantasy baseball it's as important to avoid bad players as it is to have good ones at every position.
3. Though the Astros are struggling, two second-year players, Jose Altuve and J.D. Martinez are not. Do you trust them to keep their hot starts going?
Carroll: Altuve is what he is. He can go on hot streaks and help a team, but he's never going to be consistent enough to do anything but hold a position. He's David Eckstein. Martinez has a bit more upside, but the opportunities make it tough if you're looking for power.
Mack: They are legit talents, so yes, hold them and trust them in mixed leagues. But the Astros' relatively meager supporting cast will make them candidates to slow down as the league's arms catch up and adjust to them. Expect that to happen the second time around the league come June.
Sabino: I liked both Altuve and Martinez to have solid seasons this year, so their fast starts don't come as much of a surprise, especially based on how well they finished up 2011. Neither is going to single-handedly win the pennant for your team, but both are examples of players who contribute in multiple ways and as part of a collective. They certainly have earned their sports as everyday players for a rebuilding club.
4. Edwin Encarnacion has been a beast this season at the plate. Is he due for a fall back to earth or he is he destined to be in the MVP conversation this season?
Carroll: Somewhere in between. Joe Sheehan has loved him for years and he's getting the reward finally. The Jays should be better with the talent they've collected on the cheap, so a bounce like EE's is nice to see. One thing to keep in mind is that Jose Bautista had this kind of jump hold for better than a season. Why couldn't the Jays replicate that?
Mack: He is not an MVP in baseball terms, but he is certainly an MVP in fantasy terms. It has taken him years but his teammate, Bautista, has shown us a late-bloomer can be the real deal. Encarnacion was once an exciting prospect, then a disappointing one. Now he has arrived as a must-have in mixed leagues.
Sabino: It certainly appears that Encarnacion, who has hit home runs in four straight games has stolen Bautista's mojo, doesn't it? However, he's a classic example of someone who's hot and not necessarily as good as his early-season numbers would indicate. He's had great months before his .322, 8 HR, 21 RBI April, most notably in August 2006, when he hit .317 with 7 HR and 24 RBI for the Reds. I could be wrong, but he's also prone to prolonged slumps and usually finds his way into .250 to .270 range with 15 to 25 home runs. Good, but certainly not MVP material.
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