Welcome to Vlad Jr. Day, as baseball's top prospect and favorite son makes his MLB debut for the Toronto Blue Jays. If you're in one of the 3 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues in which Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is available, what are you waiting for?
Friday's schedule also features some of the strongest pitching of the season with 23 of the 30 starters checking in with a projected game score of 50 or higher. It will be interesting to compare the home run total to that of other full slates thus far.
The quality of arms renders finding favorable bats a little tougher, but they're available, as are some hurlers suitable for streaming. Here's what you need to start the weekend on the right track, with all options available in at least half of ESPN leagues.
Tyler Skaggs (L), rostered in 45 percent of ESPN leagues, Los Angeles Angels at Kansas City Royals: Just as Skaggs appears ready to go on a roll and realize the potential commensurate with the 40th overall pick in 2009, an injury derails his progress. At least the early 2019 injured list visit was due to an ankle sprain and not related to his arm. Skaggs returns in a favorable spot, drawing the Royals' offense, though to be fair, Kansas City is off to a surprisingly productive start. That said, most of the damage has been done with a righty on the hill, as the Royals sport a .294 weighted on-base average (wOBA) and 25.4 percent strikeout clip facing left-handers.
Jerad Eickhoff (R), 8 percent, Philadelphia Phillies vs. Miami Marlins: The usual "stream everyone against the Marlins" comes with an asterisk. While the Miami offense is the least productive in the league, they're mid-pack on curveballs, Eickhoff's bread and butter. Still, with so many quality arms on the docket, trusting Eickhoff to navigate through a poor Marlins lineup makes sense.
Daniel Norris (L), 2 percent, Detroit Tigers at Chicago White Sox: Like Skaggs, Norris has had a promising career interrupted by injury. The retooling Tigers plan on extending Norris a long look this summer, provided his health cooperates. In his first start, Norris stymied the White Sox, tossing five scoreless frames, allowing just two hits with six whiffs and one free pass. The South Siders get another crack at Norris, this time in the Windy City. Home field may help, but for the season, the White Sox are below average facing southpaws.
Martin Perez (L), 1 percent, Minnesota Twins vs. Baltimore Orioles: Velocity has never been an issue for Perez. In fact, since returning to the rotation, he has maintained the extra ticks gained as a reliever. The problem is Perez has yet to translate this to strikeouts, in large part due to spotty control. Like the Royals earlier, the Orioles have hit better than expected, but they've also dipped with a lefty on the hill, toting a .308 wOBA and 24.9 percent strikeout rate against lefties into Target Field.
At least temporarily, there's a change at the back end of the Angels' bullpen, as free-agent signee Cody Allen has pitched poorly despite saving four games in as many chances. Call it a preemptive strike, as a 9:7 K:BB ratio in 8 1/3 innings doesn't bode well for future success. Ty Buttrey has been the Halos' best reliever, but if Wednesday night's deployment is foretelling, new manager Brad Ausmus plans to use Buttrey in the highest-leverage situation, with Hansel Robles as the beneficiary when Buttrey is used earlier than the ninth inning.
Projected game scores
Tucker Barnhart (S), 18 percent, Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals (RHP Miles Mikolas): Mikolas is coming off his best start of the season, an eight-inning effort against the Mets, but he fanned only four. Barnhart sports one of the better contact rates for a backstop and thus should be able to put the ball in play, something that can't be said for most of the available receivers.
C.J. Cron (R), 34 percent, Minnesota Twins vs. Baltimore Orioles (RHP Alex Cobb): While neither career is long enough to qualify either as "reverse split," Cobb has been more susceptible to right-handed batters than lefty swingers, while Cron has smashed 35 of his past 49 homers off a righty offering, including all three this season.
Chris Owings (R), 1 percent, Kansas City Royals vs. Los Angeles Angels (LHP Tyler Skaggs): Despite batting just .157, Owings has a productive two homers, four steals with eight runs and the same number of RBIs. He has been slotted in the juicy fifth spot of the lineup with a southpaw on the bump.
Renato Nunez (R), 16 percent, Baltimore Orioles at Minnesota Twins (LHP Martin Perez): Nunez has registered an impressive .894 OPS to open 2019, which includes six long balls. Perez does a good job keeping the ball in the yard. However, when he does allow an opposing batter to go deep, it's usually a righty swinger.
Eric Sogard (L), 3 percent, Toronto Blue Jays vs. Oakland Athletics (RHP Mike Fiers): If you're not lucky enough to have Guerrero Jr. on your team, the next best thing is grabbing Sogard, who has been inserted into the leadoff spot against right-handers. With a .406 OBP in his first seven games, Sogard has done exactly what the Blue Jays desired.
Albert Pujols (R), 7 percent, Los Angeles Angels at Kansas City Royals (LHP Danny Duffy): For the younger crowd not fortunate enough to have witnessed Pujols in his salad days, you missed out. You'd never know it today, but he was arguably the most feared hitter of his generation. Now, he's a matchup play, primarily when facing lesser left-handers. Duffy is making his 2019 debut, following a season in which he surrendered a generous 23 homers in 155 frames.
Ronny Rodriguez (R), under 1 percent, Detroit Tigers at Chicago White Sox (LHP Carlos Rodon): After excelling in both ends of a twin bill earlier in the week against the Red Sox, Rodriguez appears to have earned more playing time as the Tigers continue auditioning youngsters for the future. The 27-year-old infielder probably isn't destined to be a regular, but his defensive versatility puts him in the mix for a utility role.
Dexter Fowler (S), 3 percent, St. Louis Cardinals vs. Cincinnati Reds (RHP Anthony DeSclafani): In a rare instance of writing in first person, I admit it, I was wrong, at least so far. I expected Fowler to cede playing time to Jose Martinez and Tyler O'Neill. Not only has Fowler been slipping at the dish, his defense, even after shifting to right field, has eroded. Through Wednesday's action, Fowler is slashing a rejuvenated .333/.350/.722
Carlos Gonzalez (L), 3 percent, Cleveland Indians at Houston Astros (RHP Collin McHugh): Exit velocity has become one of the current buzz phrases, discussed in fantasy and mainstream circles. However, exit velocity is only part of the picture, as launch angle matters too. A great example is Gonzalez. In his short stint with the Indians, he has recorded what would be a career-best 91.0 mph average exit velocity. The problem is, this is in concert with a -4.4 degree launch angle. That is, CarGo is hitting a bunch of hard ground balls. While he's never been an extreme fly ball hitter, Gonzalez should begin to loft more batted balls with an increase in power.
Jarrod Dyson (L), 2 percent, Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Chicago Cubs (RHP Kyle Hendricks): Historically, Dyson is exposed as a regular. Maybe that will be the case down the line, but early on, the speedster is getting on at a 40 percent pace, swiping three bags in four tries.
Hitter matchup ratings
Hitter ratings account for the opposing starting pitcher's history (three years' worth) as well as ballpark factors. "LH" and "RH" ratings account only for left- and right-handed batters, respectively.
Weighted on-base average (wOBA) is the primary statistic used in the calculation. Ratings range from 1 to 10, with 10 representing the best possible matchup, statistically speaking, and 1 representing the worst. For example, a 10 is a must-start rating, while a 1 should be avoided (if possible).