It looks like there are likely to be some high-profile 2023 debuts on fantasy baseball's Week 5 slate.
Bryce Harper, who had Tommy John surgery 159 days ago, could be given the OK to rejoin the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, setting him up to play the final two games of the team's three-game road series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Unfortunately for fantasy managers, however, it's unlikely that a call on his status will be made before the week formally begins, as he'll be examined by Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who performed the surgery, on Monday -- a day in which games begin at 1:10 p.m. ET.
Meanwhile, Justin Verlander is expected to make his New York Mets debut on Thursday on the road against the Detroit Tigers, the team that originally drafted him. He most recently threw 4 2/3 innings and 69 pitches of shutout baseball for Double-A Binghamton on Friday. It was a performance strong enough that, coupled with the favorable matchup against the light-hitting Tigers, should earn him an immediate start in any fantasy league.
Verlander's rotation-mate, Max Scherzer, also becomes eligible to rejoin the Mets rotation on Tuesday, following the expiration of his 10-game suspension. Scherzer will be aligned for a pair of extremely favorable matchups, first against the Tigers and finally on Sunday back home against the Colorado Rockies. There's little doubt that Scherzer should be in every fantasy lineup for those games as well.
It's those Mets, and their eight-game week -- they had their Sunday game against the Atlanta Braves postponed to Monday as part of a split doubleheader -- of generally soft matchups, who sport the top name on this week's list of recommended pickups. As you gear up your Week 5 lineups, add the following three first:
Three to add
Brett Baty, 3B, Mets: Although it took until April 17 for the Mets to give him his chance, since the beginning of spring training he had shown that he was more than ready for the majors. Baty batted .325/.460/.425 in 50 Grapefruit League trips to the plate, was among the team's final cuts, then clobbered Triple-A International League pitching to the tune of .400/.500/.886 rates and five home runs in nine games to begin the regular season. Kiley McDaniel's No. 52 prospect entering 2022 and No. 20 entering this year, Baty has already batted .333 while generating hard contact on 9-of-19 balls in play in his 10 games since his recall, proving his worthiness of taking over the team's everyday third base job for the duration.
Most notably, he picked up his first start of the season against a lefty on Friday, the Mets' most recent game, after had begun the team's previous three games against left-handed starters on the bench. Baty is regarded as a 60-grade power prospect, meaning potentially a 30-HR bat, and his Mets are set to feast on some pretty bad pitching through the first half of May. After the Tigers and Rockies, they visit the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals.
Tanner Bibee, SP, Cleveland Guardians: Speaking of plenty-ready prospects, Bibee finally got his shot with the Guardians this past Wednesday, and he proved to be up to the hype, striking out eight Rockies on his way to his first big-league victory. A 2021 fifth-rounder who has seen his prospect stock spike as a result of a sizable boost in average fastball velocity last season -- he earned McDaniel's No. 93 ranking in the preseason and had even better rankings offsite -- Bibee tore through both Double- and Triple-A this and last season with a combined 1.82 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 28.9% strikeout rate over 16 starts.
That he averaged 95 mph with the fastball while generating a 39% whiff rate (percentage of hitters' misses when they swing) with his slider demonstrates that he has the stuff to replicate the effort, and the Guardians appear set to keep him in the rotation for now. Bibee is next set to pitch on Tuesday at the New York Yankees, which seems like a scary matchup until you consider that they could still be without Aaron Judge (hip strain) and have been held to three runs or fewer in eight of their last 10 games. From there, Bibee would then draw matchups against the Tigers (May 8) and Los Angeles Angels (May 14).
Bailey Ober, SP, Minnesota Twins: The Twins certainly seem to be churning out solid pitcher after solid pitcher this season, which has been a big help with Kenta Maeda (triceps) and Tyler Mahle (elbow) now sidelined and likely to miss at least the next two weeks (a minimum of four in Mahle's case). Ober has long seemed like the team's unofficial "sixth starter," though over the past three seasons, he has performed like a pitcher who would be a lock for most other rotations.
Thanks to his sizable frame (6-foot-9) that gives him good extension, his polished control and plus slider, Ober has posted a 3.86 ERA, a 1.14 WHIP and a 24.2% strikeout rate over 33 career big-league starts. Expect similar rates to that, along with nearly a strikeout per inning for the foreseeable future as he fills in for the Twins.
Through one month of the season, the Chicago Cubs have the league's fifth-best rotation ERA (3.41), thanks primarily to the outstanding pitching of Justin Steele and Marcus Stroman. It has been a team effort, however, and the good pitching numbers should only continue as the team faces some of the best Week 5 matchups. The Cubs begin their week with four games at the Nationals and conclude with three at home against the Miami Marlins, with those opponents ranking 27th (3.85) and 28th (3.41) in runs per game thus far.
Both of the Cubs' scheduled two-start pitchers are well worth the pickup and start in any fantasy league as a result of both their strong starts and these matchups.
Drew Smyly: A recent-years sabermetric darling who has had difficulty staying healthy, Smyly demonstrated his upside in an April 21 masterpiece against the Los Angeles Dodgers, tossing seven perfect innings and finishing with a personal-best 34 fantasy points. He has become one of the better pitchers in the game at reining in hard contact, affording an 85th-percentile 86.7 mph average exit velocity last season, and he has a 3.87 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP over his last 60 starts. Smyly is aligned to pitch for the Cubs on Monday and Saturday.
Hayden Wesneski: A popular preseason sleeper -- through perhaps more in leagues larger than ESPN's standard offering -- Wesneski has followed up a strong spring in which he posted a 2.12 ERA over five starts with a shakier start-over-start pattern during the regular season, his ERA 5.24 over five turns. Nevertheless, he has allowed only five runs over 16 1/3 innings in his last three starts, two of which were against considerably more potent offenses (Dodgers, San Diego Padres) than the two he'll face this week. Wesneski is scheduled for Tuesday and Sunday starts.