Opening Day is almost here, and fantasy owners need to keep a daily eye on news from around the Majors. With that in mind, here is a recap of the top fantasy-related notes from the past seven days.
Scheppers shuffled to rotation
In an effort to plug one of the many holes in their starting rotation, the Rangers are ready to pull Tanner Scheppers out of the bullpen. The 27-year-old was one of the best relievers in baseball last season, with a 1.88 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 76 2/3 innings. Pitchers tend to see their ERA and WHIP rise when shifting from the bullpen to the rotation, but Scheppers has "electric stuff," according to manager Ron Washington, and he'd be a useful mixed-league starter. During Spring Training, Scheppers has whiffed 14 batters, and walked just four in 14 2/3 innings. The Rangers had great success in 2010 by shifting C.J. Wilson to the rotation, and Scheppers could have a similarly successful change. He is definitely worth a low-cost addition in mixed leagues.
Saves for Soria
The Rangers made a second bold move on Saturday, when they chose Joakim Soria for the closer role over Neftali Feliz. The move was a sensible one, as Feliz threw just 4 2/3 Major League innings last season, and he had inconsistent results this spring. Soria saved 160 games in his five-year career with the Royals, and the 29-year-old has the skills to hold the job in Texas for a long time. Soria can post a high strikeout rate, and he should already be considered as a top-15 closer. His career marks of a 2.50 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP show that he has the skills to keep a ninth-inning gig. Feliz will attempt to get his skills back on track in Triple-A, and he can be released in all mixed leagues.
Matheny moves Martinez to bullpen
Carlos Martinez (1.76 ERA, 0.72 WHIP) outpitched Joe Kelly (6.28 ERA, 1.60 WHIP) in Spring Training, but manager Mike Matheny went with the elder Kelly for the fifth starter gig, citing his effective work in the second half of 2013 as the rationale for the decision. Martinez will work in the bullpen, and he could have a prominent eighth-inning role. Fantasy owners who value holds can stick with Martinez, but those in shallow mixed leagues will likely need to ship the talented youngster to waivers. Setup men have limited fantasy value, and with Jaime Garcia working his way back from injury, the Cards are unlikely to need Martinez in the rotation in the near future. Kelly struck out 79 batters in 124 innings last season, and his mediocre strikeout rate will keep him on waivers in shallow leagues. Those in deeper formats can use him for favorable matchups.
Profar put on shelf
Last season, Jurickson Profar was among the most-hyped fantasy prospects, but a blocked path to playing time squashed all hopes for a monster rookie season. Fantasy owners were hoping for the talented youngster to take a big step forward as the team's starting second baseman in 2014, but those plans will be on hold for approximately half the season, as a shoulder injury is expected to cost Profar up to 12 weeks. The 21-year-old is worth a DL spot in leagues that offer that option. But he needs to be dropped to waivers in mixed leagues where he would need to occupy bench space for three months. Profar could be a useful player in the second half, but bench spaces have massive value early in the season, and there is no guarantee that he will be able to make a real difference after having such a late start to the season.
Houston, we have a committee
Most owners were wary of Chad Qualls and Co. during early 2014 fantasy drafts, but the chances of getting useful production from an Astros reliever got a lot smaller when manager Bo Porter announced that they would share the closer role at the outset of the season. There is a chance that one pitcher emerges from the group, and Qualls may have the best chance. Or veteran reliever Jesse Crain could take over ninth-inning duties once he is ready to return to the active roster. But for now, this hoard of Houston hurlers is strictly for use in AL-only leagues.
Head and shoulders, knees and toes
Indians outfielder Michael Bourn is expected to miss just four games due to a backdated DL stint for a strained left hamstring. The concern of fantasy owners should not be the missed time, but the possibility that a hamstring injury could cause Bourn to take it easy on the basepaths in April. The 31-year-old swiped just 23 bases last season, which was by far his lowest total since his rookie year.
Continuing the theme of speedsters with left hamstring injuries, Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes is listed as day-to-day, with a minor strain. Similar to Bourn, the big issue for Reyes is not the possibility of a short DL stint. The 30-year-old slumped to 15 steals last season, which was primarily due to a serious ankle injury. In order to reward fantasy owners for an early-round selection, Reyes needs his legs to stay healthy this season.
Rangers ace Yu Darvish has been the consensus No. 2 starter in 2014 fantasy drafts, behind Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw. But news that Darvish has been scratched from his Opening Day start because of lingering neck stiffness could move him down late-March draft boards. The main difference between Darvish and fellow aces such as Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez and Adam Wainwright is Darvish's ability to rack up bloated strikeout totals. Any reduction in his projected innings for 2014 would send his strikeout total plummeting back toward the pack, and it would give fantasy owners good reason to wait an additional round before tabbing an ace.
The Padres and right-hander Josh Johnson were hoping to mutually benefit from a career resurrection, but those plans will be on hold for more than a month because of a right forearm injury. Johnson posted a 3.38 ERA in four spring starts before suffering the injury, so there is reason to believe that he could be a useful mixed-league starter once he returns to full health and begins working in pitcher-friendly Petco Park. The 30-year-old has never been known as a quick healer, so fantasy owners should be willing to live without him until the middle of May. Johnson's injury should also bring youngster Robbie Erlin onto the radar of deep mixed-league owners. Erlin owns a promising skill set, and he has a good chance to assume a rotation spot for the first few weeks of the season.
The injury-plagued Mariners are dealing with multiple rotation openings, but that desperation was not enough to cause them to keep hurler Scott Baker on the Opening Day roster. Baker was granted his release, and he should be able to find work since so many teams have rotation holes. Fantasy owners should be excited that Baker's release virtually guarantees James Paxton a spot in the Opening Day rotation. Paxton could struggle to keep his WHIP down during his rookie campaign, but his skill set is strong enough to warrant a waiver-wire addition in deep leagues.
Cubs prospect Javier Baez generated great buzz in Spring Training, but his fantasy value was temporarily muted when he was assigned to the Minors on Saturday. The Cubs will give Baez more time to develop his skills away from the spotlight, but there is plenty of optimism that he will take over a starting job in the Majors at some point this season. Fantasy owners should keep an eye on Baez's Minor League work and pounce on him immediately if he begins appearing as a second baseman, because that would be a sure sign that he is being readied for a promotion.
The Twins traded Vance Worley to Triple-A and sent Sam Deduno to the bullpen, which narrows the fifth-starter competition down to youngster Kyle Gibson and southpaw Scott Diamond. Gibson posted an ugly 6.53 ERA in the Majors last season, but fantasy owners should not let his initial struggles influence 2014 roster decisions. The 26-year-old's 2.92 ERA in 101 2/3 Triple-A innings last season is a strong sign that he is ready for his chance to stick with the big club.
Fred Zinkie is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.