<
>

What to expect when Acuna, Conforto, Samardzija and Bird debut

Michael Conforto is almost ready to return for the Mets, so what should fantasy managers expect from the young slugger? Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The season is underway, but not every player has taken to the field and started collecting fantasy points. Our experts take a look at four players currently away from their big league 25-man rosters and let you know when you're likely to see them in the majors and what to expect once they've arrived.

Ronald Acuna: Can you wait another 10 days for the NL Rookie of the Year? That is when Acuna should be called up by the Atlanta Braves and inserted into the lineup regularly, handling left field and, I think, potentially hitting cleanup. The Braves do not boast any power from the right side but Acuna has it. Regardless of where he hits in the order, he is absolutely worth rostering in every fantasy league right now in advance of the mid-April promotion, for he projects for potential five-category production.

Maybe he doesn't soar past 20 home runs as a rookie -- he is, after all, only 20 -- but he can steal bases and thanks to intriguing plate discipline should hit for a decent average. This isn't likely to be Mike Trout right away, but would I be shocked if Acuna is a top-20 outfielder this season? Nope, it would not be shocking. -- Eric Karabell

Greg Bird: Greg Bird is projected to miss the first 6-8 weeks of the season recovering from surgery to remove a bone spur and calcium deposit from his right ankle. Since that's roughly 37-48 games missed on the New York Yankees' schedule (using exact dates and ignoring the possibility of postponements), it might not seem unreasonable to expect him to, once healthy, appear in 100-110 games and bat .227 with 21-23 home runs (his per-game rate thus far in the majors, scaled to that many played).

Here's the problem I have with that: Bird's injury ties directly to the one that cost him a significant time last year, and tallying all his injuries since his Aug. 13, 2015, big-league debut, he has missed 123 of 217 career games, or more than half. I hate to apply the "injury-prone" label to a player this early in his career, but he has now twice been set back by a right shoulder injury and twice by a right ankle injury in the past two calendar years, so there's far from a guarantee that he'll be able to make it smoothly through whatever remainder of the season that follows his activation.

I still like Bird's immense raw power potential, which is the kind that could fuel 35-plus home runs if he could stay healthy for the vast majority of a season, but a wiser projection at this point has him giving you only about half the remaining schedule, or 81 games, and a .230-.240 batting average and 17-19 home runs. These days, however, that's more of a top-25 than top-15 potential fantasy first baseman. I'd also be much more apt to value him more highly in a points than rotisserie league. -- Tristan H. Cockcroft

Jeff Samardzija: It looks like you're going to have to wait another few days before activating Samardzija. I was talking up The Shark a bunch this preseason as a nice value, but most of the appeal was his durability (five straight seasons with 200 innings pitched). Of the 42 pitchers with at least 500 innings pitched over the past three seasons, there were only five with a worse ERA than Samardzija and those names were rarely on fantasy radars (Wade Miley, James Shields, Kyle Gibson, Bartolo Colon, and Mike Fiers).

That's not to say that Samardzija is a useless fantasy option, but be aware that his greatest asset is no longer an asset. He could strike out a batter per inning and hold value in that regard, but that's about the extent of his upside, as the ratios have never really been there. With 21 wins in 64 starts with the Giants, I'm not counting on consistent victories, either. If you want a value comparison from 2017, I think he can give you something similar to Dylan Bundy. -- Kyle Soppe

Michael Conforto: Last September, Michael Conforto underwent surgery on his left shoulder and was expected to be out until May 1 as a result. So, when the 2018 season got underway, the New York Mets left the outfielder behind in Florida to continue his rehab, while center field in Flushing became a patchwork platoon of Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares. The duo stepped things up in a huge way, batting a combined .467 over the first four games of the season, though with no extra-base hits.

Conforto has since arrived in New York to take part in simulated games and should be activated Thursday in time for the Mets' first road action in Washington. He played in 109 games in both of the last two seasons, improving year over year from .220 and 12 HR in 2016 to .279 and 27 HR in 2017. Expect him to start with no restrictions out of the gate, with Nimmo either getting relegated to the bench (or perhaps even sent down to Triple-A) and Lagares coming into games late for defensive purposes, along with the occasional start against southpaws or simply to give Conforto a breather.

I would not be surprised with a 30-HR season, albeit with a slightly lower batting average than last year. If for some reason he's still on the waiver wire (rostered in 82.4 percent of leagues), this might be your last chance to pick him up before the rest of your league notices he's back. Act quickly, as he'll be worth it. -- AJ Mass