Moving the Needle
Justin Masterson - After failing to strikeout a batter in his first outing of the year, Masterson struck out nine on Sunday (albeit against the Mariners) and allowed just one run on four hits and a walk. As usual, Masterson keeps almost everything on the ground (3.43 GB:FB this year, 2.74 in 2010), pitches in a division without the Yankees, Red Sox or Rangers and gets to work in pitcher-friendly Progressive Field. While his problem in the past was getting lefties out, eight of his nine strikeouts so far this year are against lefties, though they have fared better in this small sample on balls in play.
Josh Beckett - After laboring through his best Daisuke Matsuzaka impersonation against the Indians, Beckett annihilated the Yankees Sunday night for eight shutout innings with 10 strikeouts, just two hits and one walk. Beckett's fastball reached 94 mph, and he threw all four of his pitches for strikes against arguably the toughest lineup in baseball (minus Alex Rodriguez who was out with the flu). Clearly, Beckett's arm is completely healthy this season, and given his career track record, that's enough to make him a top-25-ish starter with upside.
Dustin Pedroia - With nine hits and two walks in his last 13 plate appearances, Pedroia's sporting a .400/.447/.571 line early on, good evidence that he's completely healthy after a September foot surgery. One of the hardest batters in the game to strike out, Pedroia, at age 27, is among a handful of players - like Ichiro, Joe Mauer and Robinson Cano - capable of being your team's batting average anchor - especially when you consider the second base roster slot he occupies. A healthy Pedroia will score 120-ish runs on this team, and if he hits 15 homers and steals 15 bases (numbers he surpassed in 2008 and 2009 and below his pace before he got hurt last year), he'll be a top-15 overall fantasy player.
Jose Tabata - With a .342/.457/.553 line, two homers and five steals in 38 at-bats, Tabata looks like what the Red Sox had hoped to get when they signed Carl Crawford. While I wouldn't trade Crawford for the 22-year old Tabata just yet, it's worth noting Tabata's 106 hits since last year's All-Star break lead the majors. That Tabata has drawn seven walks against only four strikeouts early on portends further success.