Projecting the season for five hot fantasy baseball starters

Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire

You're going to read plenty of "hot starters to the season" articles that talk about fantasy baseball players who were already picked up days before the articles came out.

Assuming these names were already plucked from waiver wires, this piece is more about what to expect moving forward. There's only so much we can glean from small sample sizes -- it's typically best to wait about a month before considering stats as significant evidence -- but we must try.

So, take a breath. Let's talk realistic upside for these risers.

Kolten Wong
2B, St. Louis Cardinals

9-for-18, 3 HR, 2 SB in 5 games

His scintillating stretch at Miller Park - including a two-homer Opening Day -- might've simply been a result of his environment and Milwaukee's erratic pitching. Or was it a continuation of his .333/.397/.462 triple slash after the 2018 All-Star break?

At 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, Wong doesn't have the build to generate consistent power without a significant change to his swing, but so far, eight of his 13 batted balls traveled in the air (61.5 fly-ball percentage), and his average launch angle of 19.7 has dwarfed his previous high of 11.3 in 2015. (In fact, per Statcast, it had diminished with each season through last year.)

At 28, the former hyped prospect already has 2,300-plus plate appearances, and the steady playing time he received in the second half under then-interim manager Mike Shildt might've allowed him to find a rhythm.

If Wong's run continues, the Cardinals might move him up in the lineup (at least against righty pitching); after all, he's walked in 9.4 percent of his plate appearances in two of his past three seasons, and he'd offer a bigger spark on the base paths than current table setter Matt Carpenter. Wong owns seasons with 12 homers and 20 steals (2014) and 11 homers and 15 steals (2015), so even if he merely gets back to that, he'll make his investors feel OK.

Realistic 2019 Upside: 15 HR, 15 SB, .262-.280 BA, .350+ OBP, R+RBI dependent on where he bats.

Domingo Santana
OF, Seattle Mariners

10-for-33 (.303), 3 HR, 7 R, 11 RBI, 2 SB in 7 games

I featured Santana prominently in my 2019 Rebound Candidates preseason piece, so I'm marginally surprised - mainly with the speed. Though I question how many steals he'll take the rest of the way, he swiped 15 in 2017. Batting Santana second, third and fifth so far, Seattle has proven his shaky defense won't keep him off the lineup card.

The 26-year-old has been held back by strikeout woes and ground-ball rates hovering around 50 percent, but Santana didn't fall below 27.6 percent HR/FB in three seasons before last year. It's not necessarily a bankable skill, but Santana has the thump to make that a pattern. He tied for seventh (with Freddie Freeman) during his breakout year with a 40.9 Sweet Spot percentage, per Statcast.

Entrenched as a piece of the Mariners' immediate future, Santana has a potentially uninterrupted opportunity to launch.

Realistic 2019 Upside: 35 HR, 90+ RBI, .260-.280 BA, 10+ SB

Jake Odorizzi
SP, Minnesota Twins

3/30: 6 IP, 1 ER, 11 K, 2 BB

Odo's diverse pitch mix was on display, with four-seam velocity that was 1 mph faster than 2018, as he carved through a weak Cleveland lineup while tying his career high in K's. His two-seamer looked unstoppable, and he earned 16 swinging strikes overall.

The right-hander had back issues in 2017 and believes he might've picked up bad mechanical habits as a result in 2018, when he walked 70 batters. The 29-year-old spent much of his offseason at the Florida Baseball Ranch using Randy Sullivan's Rapsodo motion tracking technology to break down his delivery. (Kyle Gibson can credit much of his 2018 breakthrough to Sullivan's shop.)

Odorizzi did allow a homer during that gem, reminding us of his past problems (1.88 HR/9 in 2017, 1.39 in 2016) even from his promising years. But sound mechanics and better movement may allow him to pitch higher in the zone with more confidence. Picking on all those rebuilding AL Central opponents probably won't hurt, either; he already caught Cleveland without Francisco Lindor (calf/ankle).

Realistic 2019 Upside: 160 IP, 160-170 K, 3.50 ERA, 1.10-1.20 WHIP, 14 Wins

Corbin Burnes
SP, Milwaukee Brewers

3/31: 5 IP, 4 ER, 12 K, 1 BB ... but 3 HR

The punchouts and excellent control put Burnes on this list, a promising development since he didn't log a start last season, instead breaking through as a bullpen weapon.

Burnes, 24, kept that relief mentality out of the gate, throwing his four-seam fastball 70.1 percent of the time during his debut and only using his breaking stuff sparingly, but he made up for it by generating an absurd 18 whiffs, including nine on his curveball. Perhaps as he digs in as a rotation member, he'll showcase more of his sinker and/or changeup.

He gave up three big flies, however, to the Cardinals, so he'll need more polish on how to navigate the second and third times through the order. Still, the Brewers seem willing to let him learn on the job, and his swing-and-miss stuff alone makes him relevant for mixed leagues.

Realistic 2019 Upside: 150 IP, 180 K, 3.75-3.90 ERA

Sandy Alcantara
SP, Miami Marlins

3/31: 8 shutout IP, 6 K

Among the several Miami starters who've surprised out of the gate -- also Caleb Smith, Pablo Lopez and Trevor Richards -- Alcantara stood out as he dispatched the visiting Rockies, netting 12 ground-ball outs and a 14.1 swinging-strike percentage on a steady diet of sliders (46.7 percent).

Those who scooped him up hope he's a bit more judicious with that number. The former Cardinals prospect has been on the fringe of hype due to an uncertain future as a starter, thanks to weak control and uncertainty over how many trustworthy pitches he carries. In this outing, however, he built on his first-pitch-strike improvements from 2018, getting ahead 0-1 on 63 percent of Colorado's plate appearances, and worked effectively with 92 pitches, recording his final out in the eighth with a whiff on a 96 mph fastball.

At minimum, the 23-year-old could serve as a useful home streamer at pitcher-friendly Marlins Park, and we'll have to deal with erratic walk slumps, but a cheap investment leaves room for him to scrape his ceiling a bit more than we had expected when drafting this spring.

Realistic 2019 Upside: 150 IP, 150 K, 3.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP