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A little extra flavor never hurts. 

When I’m in the kitchen I make moves. If something aint selling, I take it off the menu. If a staff member isn’t doing their job, they’re gone. That’s how I run my fantasy teams.

Each week I will hit you with the players moving up the rankings that you NEED to know about. I don’t care if it is the No. 8 hitter on the Cubs or the No. 4 starter for the Astros. If they are producing, you’re gonna know about it.

I am big on sample size. And you should be too. It is tough to tell just how a player is going to end up when evaluating such few at-bats or inning pitched for that matter. So in the early going there is going to be a little more speculation than usual. But hey, maybe we will strike gold. Maybe not. There is just no tellin’ where the season will go from here.

Here are the players you should target when hittin’ the wire this week:

The Hackers

Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B (TEX)--Filling in for the injured Adrian Beltre, Kouzmanoff has been nothing but impressive, having recorded a hit in every game since being inserted into the Rangers starting lineup. He is currently sitting on a .414 batting average with a homer and six RBI through 29 at-bats including five doubles. It is hard to be believe at the age of 32 he would resurface as a legitimate fantasy option, but until Beltre returns, he will continue to receive everyday at-bats in one of the better lineups in all of baseball. Those in AL-only and deep mixed leagues will want to consider Kouzmanoff if in search for depth or filling the void left by either Beltre or Ryan Zimmerman at the hot corner.

Conor Gillaspie, 3B (CWS)--Following the acquisition of Matt Davidson this offseason, it was expected that he would be the team’s future at third base, but his much anticipated Major League debut is going to have to wait until the hot-hitting Gillaspie slows down. Through 13 games at the hot corner, Gillaspie is sporting a .314 batting average with nine RBI and has recorded at least one hit in every game except for one. As long as he continues to be productive, there is no reason for the White Sox to take him out of the everyday lineup, so those who are speculating Davidson to be in the starting lineup will have to wait until he hits a wall. And that doesn’t appear to be happening anytime soon.

Danny Espinosa, 2B (WAS)--As discussed in this week’s Chef’s Table column, Espinosa will continue to get regular at-bats with Ryan Zimmerman sidelined with a broken thumb. The injury has pushed Anthony Rendon to third base, opening the door for Espinosa to return to fantasy relevancy. We all know he has an issue with strikeouts, but his new approach at the plate appears to have given him new life. Those in search of help at second base will want to stake a claim on Espinosa, considering he offers owners a power and speed combination that is tough to come by although he has yet to go yard through 37 at-bats this season.

Devin Mesoraco, C (CIN)--The at-bats may be limited at the time being, but when someone goes 11-for-22 to start the year he deserves some attention. The Reds continue to split the backstop duties between both Mesoraco and Brayan Pena but it is only a matter of time before the decision will be taken out of their hands. Through his 22 at-bats this season, Mesoraco has connected for three home runs and nine RBI while recording multiple hits in four of his six starts. That is just crazy. Those who like to speculate should put a claim on this former top prospect before it’s too late.

George Springer, OF (HOU)--Unless you were living under a rock the last few days then you already know that the Astros have promoted All-World prospect George Springer after less than a month into the season. Through his first two games, he has gone 2-for-9 with one run scored, four strikeouts and was caught stealing in his first stolen base attempt. This is certainly not the start we wanted to see, but the sample size is so small that prospective owners should not be overly concerned. I mean, how nervous would you be making your big league debut? Anyway, he was drafted in pure speculation in a lot of leagues, so there is a chance he is already added, but if not,, he is a MUST add now that we know we will receive a lot of big  league at-bats in 2014.

J.B Shuck, OF (LAA)--There hasn’t been a lot to love about Shuck’s early season production (6-for-28 with 1 HR and 4 RBI), but now that he has been implanted in the starting lineup what isn’t there to love about hitting ahead of Mike Trout? When given the opportunity in the past Shuck has taken the bull by the horns and could once again become a great source of runs scored now that Kole Calhoun is out for an extended period of time. Just to put it into perspective, Shuck totaled 60 runs over 129 at-bats a season ago. That is just under one run per every two at-bats. At the very least those lacking in that category should give Shuck a long look before investing in player with a lesser opportunity. Did I mention he is batting ahead of arguably the best hitter in all of baseball?

Eric Young Jr., OF (NYM)--Those in need for speed need don’t need to look any further than the Mets starting left fielder. Through 14 games, Young has swiped nine bags and has yet to get caught in the act, despite a slow start to the season. Over his last 12 at-bats Young has registered six hits (all singles), which has led to three of his stolen bases. You usually want your players to hit extra-base hits, but when in search of stolen bases, it is better to see a lot of singles. In Yong’s case, only two of his 14 hits have gone for extra-bases, which is just what the doctor ordered. Just know what you are picking him up for. You will get stolen bases and runs scored. If you expect anything else you will be sadly mistaken.

The Hurlers

Mike Leake, SP (CIN)--Where he isn’t busy shoplifting, Leake can be a solid fantasy contributor at times. This is certainly one of those instances. Through his first three starts, Leake is sporting a 2-1 record with a 2.95 ERA and a very impressive 0.89 WHIP. Although he is known more for being a streaming option most years, the fact that he has allowed seven earned-runs and walked only five batters over 21.1 innings of work is a sign that maybe this time around his fantasy value will be long term. Not to mention he gets two starts on the road next week against two teams prone to the strikeout (Pirates and Braves).

Wily Peralta, SP (MIL)--Once touted as the top prospect in the Brewers organization, Peralta has finally started to show signs of his why he was thought so highly of. Through his first three starts Peralta has allowed only four earned-runs on his way to a 2-0 start. Although his high strikeout ability has yet to translate to the big leagues (13 K through 18.1 innings), the fact that the youngster has yet to allow more than two free passes in a game is actually more impressive this early in his career. Don’t worry, the strikeouts will come. For now enjoy the aid he will give to ailing ERA and WHIP categories until the strikeouts catch up to his solid start.

Jason Vargas, SP (KC)--No matter how much you write this guy off he always finds a way to resurface to make himself fantasy relevant again, this time as a member of the Royals pitching staff. In his first three starts with the Royals, Vargas is 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA and 0.86 WHIP having made it through the seventh inning in every start. He has never been much of a strikeout pitcher (5.85 career K/9), but has be known for saving both ERA and WHIP categories a time or two. He is bound to cool off as the season progresses, so those adding him for what he has given thus far should know he holds a career 4.24 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. All I am saying is maybe at the age of 31 he has figured some things out and pitching in bigger ball parks that are featured in the AL Central should certainly help his case, at least for the time being.

Alfredo Simon, SP (CIN)--It is hard to believe this week’s column features two starters from the Reds rotation, but I guess stranger things have happened. Filling in for injured starter Mat Latos, Simon has done a superb job, posting a 1-1 record with a 1.20 ERA and 0.73 WHIP through two starts. He has only two walks through 15.0 innings of work, which is one of the lowest totals in all of baseball among pitchers who have thrown 15 or more innings. The Reds are unsure when Latos will be back in the mix, but it certainly won’t be anytime soon. So those in either NL-only or deep mixed leagues will want to give Simon a strong look as he continues his hot start.

Kyle Gibson, SP (MIN)--His arrival in the Twins starting rotation may have taken longer than expected, but patience has paid dividends in the early going. Through three starts, Gibson is sitting 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA and 1.09 WHIP as the Twins No. 5 starter and with a few more quality outings should start getting the attention he deserves. His current 1.11 K/BB rate is not appealing to say the least, having allowed nine walks to just 10 strikeouts through his first 19.1 innings of work. Allowing that many free passes is going to lead to trouble down the road if not addressed, but for now he continues to pitch in and out of trouble, which shows good resiliency for a young pitcher. This start is clearly going to fizzle out at some point considering his peripherals, so those in deep mixed leagues will want to ride him out before trouble catches up to him.

Gonzalez Germen, RP (NYM)--Surprise, surprise; Jose Valverde is starting to falter by way of the long ball. Who would’ve ever guessed it? Those who thought his tenure as Mets closer would be long lasting didn’t do their homework. Although he ha yet to be removed from the job, the writing is on the wall, which could open the door for Germen to gain fantasy relevancy. Through 10.1 innings of relief, German is holding a 0.87 ERA, 0.48 WHIP while averaging just shy of one strikeout per inning pitched. He is clearly the best arm in the Mets bullpen so it will be interesting to see if the team will elect to use him in the closer role or continue using him in long relief, which is sometimes more valuable to an organization. Either way he is a guy that you NEED to know about, especially if Valverde continues to struggle.

Pedro Strop/Hector Rondon, RP (CHC)--To put it lightly, the Cubs bullpen situation is a mess. Jose Veras has already been removed from the closer role and now the team will be going with a committee for the time being. Both Strop and Rondon are expected to be used in save situations, although the team has yet to tip their hand as to what situations each player will serve in. The team is also considering former Rangers starter Justin Grimm to be in the mix as well, but I will believe it when I see it. Bottom line is this; although Rondon has been the better pitcher of the two thus far, the Cubs will continue to give Strop every opportunity to take the job. Until this situation is settled, both pitchers are worth owning, but only in desperate situations.

Until next time, study hard and eat plenty!

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