Fantasy baseball: Three players to pick up now

Chris Paddack has gotten better with each start this season and, most importantly, is set up for a two-start week and favorable schedule ahead. Ed Zurga/Getty Images

As fantasy baseball's Week 4 dawns, one of the hottest teams in baseball is the Minnesota Twins. One of last season's most disappointing squads after finishing in last place in the American League Central and 16 games beneath .500, the Twins have won nine of their past 10 games to take a three-game lead in the division.

As noted in my weekly Forecaster, it's fortuitous timing for a Twins hot streak, as they have one of the softest upcoming schedules in baseball. Week 4 brings a four-game road series against the Baltimore Orioles and three-game home series against the Oakland Athletics, teams that have overperformed on the pitching side but struggled to do much on offense. Beyond that, the Twins have an additional three road games upcoming against the Athletics (May 16-18), eight games against the Detroit Tigers (May 23-25 at home, May 30-June 2 on the road, which includes a doubleheader), seven against the Kansas City Royals (May 20-22 on the road, May 26-29 at home) and three against the Cleveland Guardians (May 13-15 at home), with only a three-game home series against the Houston Astros (May 10-12) rated a highly challenging group of matchups.

There's one name not specifically mentioned in my Forecaster, a player available in 83.2% of ESPN leagues who warrants an immediate add-and-start considering these matchups. He leads Monday's "Three Up" picks:

Chris Paddack, SP, Twins: The team's two-start pitcher for Week 4, Paddack is the Twins' lone starter locked into a two-start week, working Monday's game at Baltimore and Saturday's against the Athletics, though Joe Ryan (Tuesday-Sunday) is currently aligned to join Paddack due to the injury status of Bailey Ober (groin, 10-day IL). Remarkably, Paddack is rostered in roughly 50% fewer leagues than Ober, and 70% fewer than Ryan, despite back-to-back solid outings (5 fantasy points on April 20, 16 on April 26). Paddack should be one of your top Monday add/drop targets, and one well worth keeping around through the month of May, as he's aligned to skip over that upcoming Astros series entirely.

Injuries held Paddack back last season, but among the positives from 2021 is his increasing reliance on a curveball, which he's throwing a career-high 21.2% of the time so far in 2022. Additionally, the right-hander's changeup appears to have more break than usual, meaning that any progress he makes isn't so much a matter of happenstance, but rather a tweak to his pitch selection -- that's almost always a good thing for a pitcher. Paddack was the No. 25 starting pitcher on the 2019 Player Rater, so he has shown in the past an ability to universally help fantasy teams. Considering his upcoming schedule, he's well worth your pickup.

Paul Blackburn, SP, Athletics: OK, I'll bite. Entering this season, Blackburn seemed to be your typical pitch-to-contact, rotation-filler type, getting the chances he did with the Athletics due to a dearth of other big-league-ready starters. Through four starts, however, he looks different -- and different enough that he's worth a speculative add. Blackburn is throwing way more strikes, his 2.7% walk and 69.9% first-pitch strike rates by far his best at any stage of his professional career, his sinker has shown a hint more velocity (career-high 91.7 mph average) and greater extension, and he seems to have a good handle on the curveball that is his go-to swing-and-miss pitch. Athletics pitchers are generally attractive choices in fantasy because of their home ballpark, which has the most foul territory in the game, and while their offense might not make wins an easy thing for the right-hander, he's clearly now in the streaming conversation, if not a pitcher you'll want locked into any lineup of a mixed league of 12-plus teams.

Next up for Blackburn is a Tuesday home matchup with the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that scored a total of 19 runs in six games during the past week.

Taylor Ward, OF, Los Angeles Angels: The most-added player in ESPN leagues during the past week, Ward's roster percentage (75.9%) is still not high enough, considering his year-to-date returns. Moved into the team's leadoff spot exactly one week ago, the 28-year-old outfielder batted .448 (13-for-29) with four home runs, 11 RBIs and 10 runs scored, with the underlying metrics to support the breakthrough. He's recognizing breaking pitches much more effectively, batting .400 with three of his five total homers while lowering his whiff rate against them by 10%, and he has lowered his chase rate by nearly 8%, to what's a career-low 17.3%. Ward, a first-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft, seems another of those late-blooming breakout candidates, and as the leadoff man of a lineup that has Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon batting directly behind him, he might easily surpass 100 runs scored with solid numbers in both batting average and home runs. If you've added him, activate him immediately and keep him around, but consider this last call if he's still out there in your league.

More Week 4 notes

While Julio Rodriguez finally broke through with his first big league home run, fellow rookie phenom Spencer Torkelson had an uninspiring weekend, and saw his called-strike rate swell to 35.1%, much higher than Rodriguez's and 146th out of 175 qualifiers. Torkelson's hard-contact metrics, which I discussed last week, remain solid, and his Tigers do enjoy a favorable part of their schedule upcoming on the hitting side. Remain patient!

The Arizona Diamondbacks placed closer Mark Melancon on the COVID-19 injured list over the weekend, which pushes Ian Kennedy into the temporary fill-in role. While Melancon could be activated at any time, those seeking cheap saves might do well to add Kennedy for the week, considering his team will play three games at pitching-friendly LoanDepot Park and three back home against the Colorado Rockies.