A pair of projected division winners off to slow starts get bounce-back opportunities to begin their weeks, as the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros, 6-9 and 7-8 respectively entering play on Monday, face the Kansas City Royals (three home games) and Texas Rangers (four road games) respectively. The latter rosters my top Monday pickup, a rookie should be able to exploit this favorable upcoming schedule.
Jeremy Pena, SS, Astros: Rookie of the Year awards aren't decided after 18 days' action, but if they were, he'd easily be the American League's choice. Tabbed to replace Carlos Correa at shortstop, Pena has been great in all facets of the game, with all of his Statcast metrics backing up his performance. His 17.9% Barrel rate ranks seventh, his 28.8 feet-per-second sprint speed ranks 17th among 281 qualifiers -- important considering that he has yet to attempt a stolen base -- and he's first in the majors with four outs above average on defense. Pena even earned starts out of the leadoff spot in place of the injured Jose Altuve during the past week, having earned the opportunity thanks to a strong spring training and opening regular-season week. Altuve isn't eligible to return before Friday, so Pena might sneak some more starts in atop this productive lineup, including in a pair of games against left-handed starters among the team's week-opening four against the Texas Rangers. But even putting aside the favorable upcoming matchups, Pena is a player who needs to be universally rostered right now, and certainly more than in his current 42.9% of ESPN leagues.
Kyle Farmer, SS/3B, Cincinnati Reds: As mentioned in the Week 3 Forecaster, the Reds' offense is in a rough spot this week due to injuries, an unfortunate break with a three-game, weekend series at Colorado's Coors Field upcoming. The Reds' schedule the next three weeks, in fact, is relatively favorable, as in addition to those three games, 8-of-20 during that span are against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Farmer stands out because of his enhanced role due to said injuries, as he has snuck in leadoff starts in place of Jonathan India, starts in the No. 2 hole in Tyler Naquin's place, and starts in the No. 5 spot with Tyler Stephenson hurt. Naquin has returned to action and India is likely to be back on Tuesday, but Farmer should still see a fair amount of plate appearances at either the Nos. 2 or 5 lineup spots this week, and he'll benefit from what's a three-lefty-starters-in-six-games schedule. Farmer is a .261/.313/.455 hitter against lefties since the beginning of last season, and hey, Coors Field games are Coors Field games.
Josiah Gray, SP, Washington Nationals: The two-start sleeper of Week 3 for those of you in leagues with daily transactions, Gray was pushed back from Sunday's game in order to get two additional days' rest, aligning him for a Tuesday start against the Miami Marlins, followed by a May 1 assignment at San Francisco's Oracle Park. That means a matchup against a beneath-four-runs-on-average, 25%-plus strikeout rate offense, as well as one as one of the majors' most pitching-friendly venues (albeit against an above-average offense). But independent of the matchups themselves, Gray is well worth a universal add based upon his raw stuff, including among the toughest breaking pitches -- both curveball and slider, in his case -- to hit in baseball. Since his July 20, 2021, big-league debut, his curveball has a 20.5% swinging-strike rate and his slider 23.1%, with both of those top-five numbers among pitchers who have thrown at least 250 of either. Gray will have his workload closely managed all year, but in the games he gives you, he should be a solid source of strikeouts.
More notes to tee up your week: With Tanner Houck reportedly unavailable for the Boston Red Sox's week-opening, four-game series at Toronto's Rogers Centre, Garrett Whitlock, the multi-role dynamo, made a spot start on Saturday in order to build up his workload for a fill-in start Thursday against the Toronto Blue Jays. Whitlock has earned universal fantasy appeal, but in weekly leagues, the date of his assignment diminishes his chances at contributing in any other game all week, and the matchup itself is about as tough as he can draw. There might be circumstances where you have a stronger mixed-league choice for Week 3.
Byron Buxton escaped long-term injury during the past week, and in fact returned to his traditional center field and leadoff roles on Saturday. It's perfect timing considering his Minnesota Twins are aligned to play 5-of-6 Week 3 games against left-handed starters. Enjoy the favorable Buxton stats whenever you get them. [e] Speaking of lefty/righty advantages, Joc Pederson earned a Sunday start at leadoff, hit a pair of leadoff homers, and now might ride that streak into what's a six-game week in which his Giants are set to face nothing but right-handed starting pitching. Pederson, available in 65.3% of ESPN leagues, is a .366/.386/.781 hitter with five homers in his 44 trips to the plate against righties so far this season.