Long before July brings the yearly whirlwind trade speculation and months before the first crop of premier prospects debut in the ides of May, there is Opening Day.
This is a date that clears the slate for last year’s underachievers, the injured and the belittled, and opens the door to another year.
With each new season begins the expectations and with each first pitch a city’s hope hinges.
Opening week may not be enough of a sample size to convince even the most buoyant of fans that the remaining six months of the season will follow script, but baseball’s first week can serve as a harbinger of the summer to come.
Milwaukee’s headline move this summer was the acquisition of Zack Greinke, whose Cy Young credentials give the front of the Brewers' rotation an anchor to navigate the mess of contenders that reside in the NL Central.
The Brew Crew will make due without their newest star as Greinke recovers from a basketball induced rib injury, but Milwaukee’s early season pitching fate will rest on the shoulders of Shawn Marcum, an under-the-radar offseason addition who by season’s end will contend for the title of Brewers’ ace.
When Marcum takes the mound for Milwaukee this week, he won’t be greeted with the same fanfare of incumbent star Yovani Gallardo or even newly proclaimed ace Zack Greinke. But, when the calendar turns to October, one can be sure that Marcum will be named among one of the year’s best.
Projecting a season with less than 15 wins for Marcum would be a disappointment following his success in the offense heavy AL East. According to FanGraphs, Marcum’s 3.54 2011 ERA will boast markedly higher than his 2010 numbers which were a career best (13-8, 3.64).
It was 1999 the last time the Atlanta Braves had a power hitting second baseman and now newly acquired Dan Uggla will complete the right side of Atlanta’s infield next to rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman.
While Uggla has shown far greater power numbers than Atlanta’s last slugging second baseman Bret Boone, Uggla has struggled in recent years to impress with his batting average, a fault he will look to correct in 2011.
A near guarantee entering 2011 will be Uggla’s power hitting—an attribute that should remain a strongpoint again this season. Turner Field has seen Uggla blast the most home runs of any ballpark (12) other than Sun Life Stadium in Florida.
The Braves’ lineup isn’t one that can afford a slow start from Uggla following the departure of established first baseman Derek Lee and sweet-swinging infielder Omar Infante.
Uggla brings legitimate power potential to a team that will put runners on base with Martin Prado, Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and Jason Heyward who will place added emphasis on Uggla’s ability to hit low in the order and take advantage of plentiful RBI opportunities.
Like Uggla, the Angels’ Bobby Abreu will have numerous opportunities this April to prove he’s capable of playing a vital role at the plate.
Unlike Uggla, Abreu is coming off a disappointing 2010 season that saw the veteran right fielder dip in nearly every statistical category. It was 1997 when Abreu hit .250 or below, thus making his 2010 season one to forget after batting .255 through 573 at-bats.
The Angels find themselves in the precarious position of relying on the declining Abreu for significant contributions—a role that manager Mike Scioscia may need to address should Abreu struggle early.
At 35, Abreu enters into possible further regression considering a recent decline in defensive range, factors which amount to making the Angels’ right field job one to keep a close eye on in April.
There isn’t much incentive these days for Kansas City Royals’ ticket holders to get excited considering the teams’ third starter is sojourning veteran lefty Bruce Chen.
The season might as well begin sometime in late May when Royals’ star rookie Mike Moustakas hits the big league scene. The only lingering question is whether the 2007 first round draft pick will call third base home at the major league level.
Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper has doubts about the young Moustakas defensively as a debut date nears: “Some scouts are skeptical that he can stay at third base because his hands are only adequate, his footwork is still raw and his body has thickened, costing him agility.”
The young California native has shown the ability to hit at every minor league level, although the Royals have doubts about his batting eye which manifested a meager .297 OBP in 2009 at High A level Wilmington.
It’s difficult to ignore what Cooper calls “obvious raw tools: his power and his arm”—although, at only 22, another year of minor league seasoning may not be out of the question.
Kansas City does figure to be in sell mode by early June and thus allow them the possible flexibility of shedding off spare parts that may block Moustakas’ progress as the Royals’ newest star.
Written by Conor Gereg exclusively for www.thefantasyfix.com
Follow The Fantasy Fix on Twitter @thefantasyfix
Check out some of our other NEW Fantasy Baseball articles
2011 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Mr. 52 Pick Up's Weekly Big Board & Auction Values
2011 Fantasy Baseball Team Preview: LA Angels (of Anaheim) Projections & Auction Values
2011 Fantasy Baseball Team Preview: Chicago White Sox Projections & Auction Values
2011 Fantasy Baseball First Base Showdown: Joey Votto Vs. Adrian Gonzalez
2011 Fantasy Baseball Team Preview: Oakland Athletics Projections & Auction Values