Play The All American Home Run Derby This 2009 MLB Season!
First base is a position that can easily be taken for granted due its abundance of power bats. Fantasy owners, however, should be cautioned not to wait too long to secure their first baseman since the elite ones offering more than just homers will be gone in an eye blink.
The other option, of course, would be to invest in a lesser-known name with skills even later in the draft. Here are some of those that people should be keeping an eye on.
Daric Barton (OAK): This classic gap hitter has regularly produced high batting averages and on-base percentages throughout his minor league career, which should give fantasy owners some hope despite his slow start last year in which he often failed to make contact.
The 23-year-old’s numbers markedly improved in the second half of 2008, as evidenced by a rising contact rate (73 percent vs. 84 percent) and a surging home run-per-fly ball percentage, which nearly doubled (4 vs. 7).
If Barton can improve last year’s putrid average against right-handers (.208), he may be on his way to becoming a deep-league fantasy option that can deliver a palatable batting average and on-base stats with about 15 or more home runs.
Travis Hafner (CLE): To say that “Pronk,” has really fallen on hard times during the past two seasons is a gross understatement. In his defense, the former 40-plus home run slugger has been fighting lingering shoulder problems and finally underwent surgery during the offseason to get him back to where he once was.
The big bopper is the ultimate risk/reward pick and at 31, Hafner is young enough to bounce back.
At his peak, 30 percent of his fly balls were clearing the fences. If he comes anywhere near that number in 2009, he could easily end up with 25 dingers and 90 plus RBI in a high-octane batting lineup.
A recent report indicates that the first baseman/designated hitter is feeling better than he has in a while.
Ryan Shealy (KC): The former Rockie is an all-or-nothing power bat with the tools to produce a 30-home run season if a team were to ever give him 500 plus at-bats.
The recent trade acquisition of Mike Jacobs has created a logjam at first base, which significantly increases the possibility of Shealy being moved.
Keep on eye on the 6’5” infielder to see if he lands with an organization that will allow him to put last season’s 48-percent fly ball rate to good use.—just don’t expect a high batting average out of him due to his meager contact levels and his inability to hit a high percentage of line drives.
Travis Ishikawa (SF): The 25-year-old lefty put on an eye-opening display of power in both in the majors and minors last season with an astounding 41-percent fly ball rate in Tripe-A Fresno.
His difficulty in making contact versus left-handed pitching, however, may stand in the way of him ever becoming a full-time player.
Kendry Morales (LAA): All eyes will be on young Kendry this season as he inherits first-base duties from Mark Teixeira.
Morales’ contact numbers are stellar to say the least with 87 and 88-percent rates over the past four seasons in that department.
In addition, the switch hitter should be well equipped to hit the ground running as a full-time starter on the major league level with 1300 minor league plate appearances and a .901 OPS to lean on.
Morales has really been turning it on in winter ball recently by going 9 for 23 and homering in four of six contests in the Dominican Republic.
In time, the 25-year-old should be at the very least be a solid .280/20 home run hitter.
Hank Blalock (TEX): It’s no revelation to say that Blalock is an extremely gifted power bat with .543 and .508 slugging percentages over the past two seasons.
If he ever manages to stay in one piece for, let’s say, 150 games one of these years, he stands a decent chance of being a 35-home-run corner infielder with good-enough speed to swipe 10 bags.
But those who’ve rostered him in the past couple of seasons are well aware of his frequent trips to the disabled list. Shoulder issues, a torn hamstring and even carpal tunnel syndrome have all forced the 28-year-old to spend 215 days on the shelf in 2007 and 2008.
A recent study indicated that players injured in two consecutive seasons are more likely to suffer another physical setback in their third year.
Billy Butler (KC): Exceptional contact percentages of 89, 90, 85 and 88 percent over the past four years along with a 71, 79 and 71-percent batting eye over the past three are strong indicators of future success for the hefty 240-pound first baseman/designated hitter.
Last season’s frustrated Butler owners have to keep in mind that the yet-to-be 23-year-old might still need more time to adjust to the big leagues.
If Butler solves his tendency to hit ground balls, he will eventually become a power-hitting force that can hit .300 as well. Whether he ends up putting it together this year is anyone’s guess, but the future here is certainly bright.
Paul Konerko (ChiSox): As a fading grizzled veteran whose halcyon days are behind him, Konerko won’t generate much interest in fantasy drafts, which makes him someone to target in rounds 12 and beyond.
Wrist, oblique and knee injuries last season all did a number on the Providence, Rhode Island native, who experienced a major dip in home runs, RBI and batting average (22/62/.236).
A closer look at his 2008 numbers reveal that 13 of his homers were hit in the last two months of season, which still makes Konerko a power hitter capable of hitting 30 or more balls out of the yard once you extrapolate the stats.
Additionally, his strong contact and eye rates (both at 80 percent or more) virtually guarantee a much-better batting average providing the avoidance of debilitating injuries.
Dmitri Young (WAS): In many ways, the 35-year-old Young is the older and larger version of Hank Blalock thanks to his remarkable skill level along with his propensity to land on the disabled list.
The Nationals sent the journeyman slugger down to Triple-A Syracuse back in November in order for him to get in shape—which is never an easy task for the 298-pound colossus—and compete for a roster spot during spring training.
When he’s on his game, Young makes contact and also hits the long ball.
Leave him in the free agent pool and be ready to pounce on him if and when he gets some playing time. The well-traveled switch hitter can provide an immediate boost to your numbers over the short term.
Ryan Garko (CLE): The 28-year-old batsman was a real disappointment in 2008 due to paltry home run total of 14 down from 20 and 21 in each of the previous two seasons.
Garko did see the ball much better in the second half of the season by posting a .319 batting average after the All-Star break.
Be ready to add him to your squad if he returns to his previous fly-ball and home-run-per-fly ball patterns of 2007. The skills are there for serviceable batting-average and power totals.