April's 5 biggest fantasy surprises: Kyle Wright is baseball's newest ace

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We're nearly a month into the fantasy baseball season and it's time to make some bold proclamations. Whit Merrifield is cooked, Jonathan India is a one-year wonder and Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Dillon Peters is the secret relief ace your team desperately needs.

Are all those things true? Probably not.

The close of April marks a convenient endpoint in fantasy baseball. Fantasy managers are tempted to review a month's worth of data and start making big decisions with their teams. Should you put a struggling star on the trade block? Is it time to cut that 11th-round pitcher who had two rocky starts?

A month doesn't mean much over the course of a 162-game season, however. Remember Luis Castillo's awful start last season? After the season's first month, he had a 6.29 ERA. After its second, Castillo had a 7.22 ERA. He then posted a 2.73 ERA the rest of the way.

Fantasy managers who drafted Castillo eventually got a strong performance. Star players usually get it together unless there's a hidden injury lurking underneath the surface.

Talented, established players like Merrifield and India deserve more time to figure things out. That struggling 11th-round pitcher doesn't have the same track record. He's exactly the type of player fantasy managers should evaluate as the first month of the season comes to a close.

Here are some players who opened eyes in April — for better or worse.

Ranks are based on standard Yahoo fantasy leagues

Kyle Wright, Atlanta Braves SP

Fantasy rank over the last seven days: 26

Season-long fantasy rank: 17

Kyle Wright wasn't drafted in the 11th round of fantasy drafts; he wasn't drafted at all. Over his first 70 innings in MLB, Wright — a former first-round pick and top-100 prospect — looked like a bust. He carried a 6.56 career ERA and couldn't break a rotation that featured some weak back-end starters.

Three starts into 2022, and we can confidently say that version of Wright no longer exists. Wright, now 26, either recaptured the skills that made him an elite prospect or completely reworked himself over the offseason. His 4-seam fastball averages 95.3 mph this season, up from 93.6 mph last year. The improved fastball is getting whiffs 32.1 percent of the time, up from just 5.9 percent in 2021.

Kyle Wright has been a fantasy baseball ace so far
Kyle Wright looks like the newest fantasy ace. (Photo by Adam Hagy/Getty Images)

Wright also spent time working on his offspeed stuff. His curveball suddenly looks like one of the best pitches in the game. His velocity on the pitch is up nearly 4 mph, but more importantly, Wright has confidence throwing the pitch now. It's been his most-used pitch in 2022 and for good reason. Wright's changeup also looks different. He added about four inches of vertical movement on the pitch and is getting almost the same percent of whiffs on it as his curveball, though Wright is using the changeup less.

Essentially every indicator suggests Wright completely reinvented himself. Given his prospect pedigree, the sky is the limit as long as Wright can stay healthy.

Trevor Rogers, Miami Marlins SP

Fantasy rank over the last seven days: 330

Season-long fantasy rank: 931

Trevor Rogers had a legitimate shot to win the National League Rookie of the Year award last season, but something has been off about his start in 2022. Rogers has a horrid 6.94 ERA with a much lower strikeout rate and higher walk rate. Is he the actual one-year wonder?

Rogers' start is skewed by one awful performance against the Philadelphia Phillies, in which he allowed seven earned runs over 1 2/3 innings. Rogers walked four batters in that contest, which fueled that high walk rate. Rogers' other two starts have been fine, but not outstanding. It's worth noting he's faced some really tough opponents in the Atlanta Braves, Phillies and San Francisco Giants thus far. All three teams boast strong offenses.

The biggest issue for Rogers is his changeup. Rogers' changeups rated as one of the best in baseball in 2021. Through his first two starts of 2022, Rogers failed to get a whiff with the pitch. His changeup has a different shape to start the season. It isn't dropping as much to open the year.

That issue might already be solved. Rogers acknowledged the changeup was an issue following his disaster start vs. the Phillies. He said he would work with pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. to work through the issue. In his third start of the season, Rogers picked up eight whiffs on 31 changeups.

Rogers already appears to have solved the biggest issue that held him back in his first two starts. If he can carry that over — and face some easier opponents — Rogers should start looking like a dominant pitcher again.

Jorge López, Baltimore Orioles RP

Fantasy rank over the last seven days: 20

Season-long fantasy rank: 68

There's always some risk in picking up a closer from a bad team. That player probably won't get many chances to rack up saves and — given the dearth of talent on his team's roster — might not even be a good player. He might just be the best of a bad bunch.

That doesn't appear to be the case with Baltimore Orioles closer, Jorge López. The transition from the rotation to the bullpen works for López, who gained two mph on his power sinker. López now averages 97.9 mph on the pitch, which is getting more whiffs.

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López is also helped by his starter's arsenal. In addition to his curveball, which has taken a step forward, López can mix in changeups against lefties and sliders against righties. That gives López at least three options to use against every batter. With López being limited to just one inning at a time now, hitters might only see his changeup or slider once per at-bat and won't have time to adjust like they would when López was starting games.

Bobby Witt Jr., Kansas City Royals 3B, SS

Fantasy rank over the last seven days: 571

Season-long fantasy rank: 585

The No. 1 overall prospect in baseball is going through some growing pains to start 2022. Kansas City Royals' future star Bobby Witt Jr. isn't doing much right at the plate to kick off his major league career. Witt is hitting just .185 with poor walk and strikeout rates.

When Witt makes contact, he's not hitting the ball with authority; his 87.9 average exit velocity isn't encouraging. It's also troubling that Witt hasn't been able to pull the ball yet. His balls in play are going to the opposite field 44.7 percent of the time. That's not going to lead to much power.

None of this is to say Witt is already a bust. It's been 14 games. Your fantasy team, however, might need a temporary fill-in while Witt figures things out at the plate.

Bobby Witt Jr. with the Royals.
Bobby Witt Jr. isn't helping fantasy teams right now. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

There are some positives, though. The Royals seem committed to Witt playing and he's been solid defensively, so that should provide Witt with plenty of playing time to make the necessary adjustment. Witt also boasts one of the top sprint speeds in all of baseball, suggesting he can steal a fair amount of bases when he gets on.

There's potential for a great fantasy player here once Witt figures things out. How long can your fantasy team afford to wait for that to happen? Elite prospects are deemed elite because they can adjust to their new levels quickly, but Witt's stats suggest he's lost at the plate right now.

Christian Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks 1B

Fantasy rank over the last seven days: 29

Season-long fantasy rank: 200

Christian Walker's strong ranking over the past week has everything to do with his power. If you hit two home runs in a week right now — especially with humidors affecting offense — you're going to perform well in the weekly rankings.

There's nothing else appealing about Walker's lash line ... yet. Despite the fact he's hitting .172, there's evidence he could be heading for a late-career breakout. Walker's awful average can be chalked up to extremely bad luck. He's among the league leaders in outs on balls hit at least 100 mph. His average exit velocity is up from 88.8 mph to 93 mph this season, yet another sign his .150 BABIP is going to improve.

Getting Walker back to his usual numbers likely won't excite many fantasy managers. Walker hasn't normally been a guy fantasy managers seek out unless it's a deep league. But there's evidence Walker might improve on his old norms. He's showing better command of the strike zone. He's not chasing pitches out of the zone as much. When he does swing at pitches in the strike zone, he's making contact 91.8 percent of the time, a career-high. His swinging-strike rate is also down, suggesting he may strike out less and hit for a better average than normal.

Walker could be a speculative add if you're worried about slow starts from Joey Votto or Yuli Gurriel. At the very least, his early performance is worth monitoring. There are promising signs.

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