Don’t say I’m not a man of the people. The readers have spoken, and spoken with vigor, flooding the mailbox with countless requests for a homer-centric piece before real Opening Day hits later this week. And by “countless,” I mean seven e-mails. (Also, not to offend Seattle, Oakland or our friends in Tokyo, but unless I’m skipping school/work to catch the first slate of games for that glorious spring ritual, it’s not Opening Day in my book, brother. Speaking of which, time to inform my bosses that I’m coming down with a nasty cough that might require medical examination on Thursday…)
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Still, for those searching for extra muscle on their roster, here are some names available in the majority of leagues that can pack a punch at the plate:
C: Geovany Soto, Cubs
Soto’s .228 average from 2011 undoubtedly has scared off owners, as the Chicago catcher is owned in just 21.1 percent of FOXSports.com Fantasy Baseball leagues, yet few backstops brandish Soto’s power propensity, hitting 17 or more homers in three of the past four seasons. An encouraging spring training showing should alleviate these concerns, with the former Rookie of the Year sending three slams over the wall in 15 games this March. At an offensively challenged position, owners can do a lot worse than Soto.
1B: Carlos Pena, Rays
Turning 34 in May, Pena is unlikely to replicate his 46-bomb feat from 2007. However, as Lance Berkman showcased last season, commendable fantasy production is attainable from aging bashers. Pena has hit 28 homers in each of the last two seasons, and his return to The Trop, where he hit 18 of his 28 dingers in 2010, should be conducive to Pena’s output. His putrid average won’t do your team any favors, but for those seeking heavy artillery assistance, one would be hard-pressed to find better suitors than Pena, who’s owned in 21.6 percent of leagues. Also, and I speak as a former Pena proprietor, there’s an underrated joy in watching every Pena at bat, as his “upper deck or bust” mentality is quite the fantasy experience. Granted, his swing, which is reminiscent of a cocky 17-year-old trying to impress his girlfriend by whaling away at the strength tester attraction at festivals, correlates to an abundance of strikeouts and infield pop-ups. But on the occasions Pena does connect? Forget about it.
2B: Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks
Concededly, somewhat of a gamble, as Hill’s homer harvest has spiraled out of control the past two seasons, going from a 36-jack output in 2010 to 26 long balls in 2011 to a meager eight last season. There is reason for hope, as Arizona’s Chase Field surrendered the fifth-most homers on the Senior Circuit last season, and Hill’s hitting vastly improved in 2011 when he was exiled from the ultra-competitive AL East to the more-relaxed (comparatively speaking) NL West. Slotted in the two-hole, Hill’s main objective won’t be aiming for the bleachers, but an enhanced Diamondback lineup should provide the protection to occasionally swing away. Even if Hill maxes out at 15 homers, owners should be ecstatic to get such contribution from a player resting on the waiver wire in most leagues.
SS: Marco Scutaro, Rockies
Sure, Scutaro’s no spring chicken at 36, but leaving Fenway Park, which ranked in the bottom third of ballparks in home runs yielded in 2011, for the friendly confines of Coors Field should add some pop to his bat. The shortstop’s career-best 12 homers from 2009 wouldn’t seem to earn nomination for this spot; alas, the lack of strength available at the position, let alone the free-agent leftovers, appoints Scutaro as an apropos candidate. Plus, did I mention he’s playing in Coors Field?
3B: Pedro Alvarez, Pirates
Yes, the dude has more whiffs more than Ashton Kutcher’s IMDB page, evidenced by 22 Ks in 18 games in the Grapefruit League. Despite this deficiency, as well as a forgettable 2011 campaign, K-dro wields some serious lumber, supported by Alvarez’s 16 home runs in just 95 games in 2010. Pittsburgh’s PNC Park owns one of the more spacious terrains in baseball, but that hasn’t held Alvarez back, with 60 percent of his career home runs coming in Steel City. The gamble works best for NL-only formats, yet few available third basemen possess the upside of Alvarez.
OF: Vernon Wells, Angels
With Bobby Abreu seemingly out the door in Anaheim, it’s now safe to invest in Wells, or as “safe” as someone can trust a player who hit .218 last season. Understandably lost in the uproar over Wells’ lack of plate discipline were the three-time All-Star’s 25 blasts, good for second-best on the team. At 33, Wells isn’t that old, and the arrival of Albert Pujols and return of Kendrys Morales should translate to more ducks on the pond when Wells is at bat. Owned in just 8.2 percent of leagues, selecting Wells isn’t as risky as it appears.
OF: Yoenis Cespedes, A’s
Although you better snatch him up quick, because Cespedes is going like hot cakes after hitting a homer against Seattle in the opening series last week. (By the way, can we find a new idiom to describe a hot-selling item? Don’t get me wrong, I love me some pancakes, but who has time for breakfast nowadays? How about “selling like Jordans” or “going like iPhones” instead? I digress…) Aside from Alvarez, Cespedes is the biggest venture on this list thanks to the unknown factor. Oakland’s O.co Coliseum isn’t doing him any favors either, ranking 26th in home runs allowed in 2011. Yet while Cespedes remains an unpolished and unproven product, everyone can agree the outfielder’s skillset is off the charts. If he’s still available in your league, grab him while you have the chance.
OF: Alex Rios, White Sox
Our colleague John Halpin has been preaching from his pulpit on Rios’ worth in spite of the 31-year-old’s abysmal output last year (13 homers, 44 RBI, .227/.265/.348). Rios did club 21 long balls in 2010, and U.S. Cellular Field gave up the third-highest total of homers in 2011. Rios is available in almost 90 percent of leagues, and while you can hold off on picking him up before Opening Day, keep him on your watch list, along with his partner in crime…
DH: Adam Dunn, White Sox
Five home runs in spring training! That’s nearly half of last year’s total in just 20 games! Dunn allegedly was taking hacks during the offseason, which should be expected out of someone who makes their living, you know, playing baseball, but apparently this occurrence was a first for the Big Donkey. The dividends of this development were illustrated in camp, as Dunn’s five round-trippers accounted for his best spring training since 2007. For what it’s worth, Dunn did average 40 home runs the previous seven seasons, aptitude that’s rarely found in fantasy free agency. If he can post 25 shots, it would be considered a waiver-wire success.