Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Preseason Power Preview

Good pitching may beat good hitting, and half of baseball may be ninety percent mental, but all fans know the most exciting play on the diamond when they see it -- the home run. Call it a dinger, a tater, a gopher ball, a big fly or a roundtripper, a well-timed homer can make or break a game, and make the fans go wild.

Put another way: Chicks dig the long ball.

So here's a look at an even 20 Hometown heroes who should be putting some charges into the ball in Season 5. Each of these monsters sports a current power rating of 94 or better, and opposing pitchers are already getting in their neck stretches in anticipation. Bombs away!

Damon Gibson - Cheyenne Sandors (94 PWR)

Gibson debuted in the big leagues at the tender young age of 22, and has blasted 75 homers in his two ML seasons. His average leaves a bit to be desired at .241 and he strikes out a bit more than you'd like, but he should gain a bit more consistency as his numbers round out.

Mack Tunkel - Colorado Bombers (95)

Here's a fascinating study in the area of 'all or nothing' hitting -- at 30, Tunkel boasts a 95 power and a 91 batting eye, but a 0 contact. That's right - a 0 contact. How does that translate? Surprisingly (at least to me), to a .277 average at the ML level least year, and (less surprisingly) to 44 HR and 104 RBI. Negligible contact or not, Tunkel looks ready to terrorize pitchers in Season 5, as well.

Bernie Loiselle - Detroit Destroyers (95)

At a mere 22 years old, Loiselle is poised to make his ML debut in Season 5. And with approximately 1 HR per 10 AB at four levels of the minor leagues, his coming-out party should be full of fireworks. Low splits and an average batting eye may keep Loiselle from becoming a superstar, but he should be pounding balls into the stands for many years to come.

Milt Rigdon - Houston Rocket Launchers (95)

Another youngster, Rigdon is only 22 -- but with three prior seasons of ML experience to call upon. In service since he was drafted in Season 2, Rigdon has hit 75 homers in 1162 at bats, with 218 RBI in 312 games to his credit. Still far from reaching his projections, Rigdon is a fearsome foe in Season 5 with a formidable 58/95/68/70/73 line. Cue the fireworks!

Victor Bennett - Oakland Oaks (95)

Let's get this out of the way up front -- Bennett does not belong in the field. With a 44 range, a 23 glove, a 28 arm accuracy and a 20 pitch calling, there's nowhere on the diamond that Bennett could help a team. However. At the plate, Bennett is an Adonis, sporting stats of 68/95/63/74/76 at the tender young age of 22. A DH for the ages, Bennett has yet to play past AAA -- but he's also yet to reach his pitch-pounding prime.

Harry Felix - Syracuse Symbiotes (95)

A slugger close to my heart, Felix has all the tools to be a terror to opposing pitchers for the next decade or so. At 24, Felix has already been elected MVP of the Low-A and AAA levels. In part-time ML service last year, he hit 19 HR in 178 at bats with a .993 OPS, setting the stage for a monster Season 5.

Brian Simms - Toronto FivTs (95)

At 28, Simms has several good years left in him, and can man the hot corner, to boot. At the plate, he's had an interesting path -- in Season 1, he was thrust into the ML lineup full-time, and struggled to a .220/.290/.410 line with 25 homers. After bouncing between AAA and the bigs (and a couple of teams) for a while, Simms returned to full-time duty to the tune of .292/.369/.640 and 53 jacks last season. Expect more of the same north of the border in Season 5.

Benny Wilkinson - Toronto FivTs (95)

Plucked from the Bombers in last year's Rule 5 draft, Wilkinson went from positively obliterating opposing High-A pitchers to somewhat mixed results in Toronto. The 41 HR were a plus, but the .246 average and 129 Ks in 529 at bats may have been a bit of a drag on the offense. Wilkinson's contact (currently 22) will never be much help, but when he does touch the ball... look out in the parking lots.

Rich Pittinger - Atlanta Southern Boys (96)

Pittinger is more than the sum of his power, with a right field assignment -- including a Season 1 Gold Glove -- and an 85 overall rating. With excellent makeup, health and 70-plus splits, there's little to argue with in Pittinger's pedigree. And 203 taters and three All-Star selections in his first four full years in the majors don't hurt, either. Still only 26 years old, look for Pittinger to have another 50+ HR year in Season 5.

Douglas Stafford - Chicago FrozenKoreans (96)

The oldest of the sluggers so far, Stafford clocks in at a still-spry 31 -- and with a pedigree that would turn heads in any league, for a couple of reasons. First, he's been traded three times in five years -- a testament to his desirability, given the power numbers and his ability to man second base (with a 98 glove, no less). Secondly, he's averaged 47 dingers per year in his first four ML seasons, an indication that more round-trippers are in store in the 'friendly confines' very soon.

Greg Rowe - Detroit Destroyers (96)

Here, we return to a player whose value is largely defined by his ability to deposit a baseball over a wall 400 feet or so away from his bat. Rowe has spent parts or all of Hometown's four seasons to date in the big leagues, and has only a .251 batting average to show for it. However! A .515 career slugging percentage and 102 home runs -- including 42 last year, in the prime of his career -- suggests that Rowe's boat is still sailing in Hometown world, and pitchers would do well to steer clear.

Brant Henderson - Houston Rocket Launchers (96)

Henderson broke into the big leagues at age 20, way back in Season 2. Catapulting from the Low-A level (after garnering MVP honors) directly to the big leagues, Henderson slapped 36 home runs that year -- and that was just the start of a beautiful relationship. In the two seasons since, Henderson has popped a whopping 124 home runs, with 314 RBI, earning an All-Star berth and (DH) Silver Slugger in Season 4. With impressive overall offensive ratings (94/96/96/54/80) and a bright future in front of him, Henderson should be a sharp stiletto in the side of pitchers (especially lefties) for the next decade or more.

Darrin Hughes - Seattle Rain Drops (96)

Hughes is listed as a CF, which would be a huge boon for a power-hitting freak of nature. And he's played center field, to be sure -- though 17 errors and 23 (-) plays to 0 (+) plays and a 64/63/70/60 line should probably bring that decision into question. There's no doubting Hughes' power with 74 HR the past two seasons, though his career .214/.264/.444 line in the ML is certainly cause for caution. It will be interesting to see Hughes' role in the Rain Drops' lineup this season.

Lyle Bradford - Vancouver Primetimers (96)

Signed as a free agent in Season 4, Bradford has spent parts of three seasons in the bigs, compiling a .262 average and 74 big flies in a combined 952 at bats. Twenty-seven of those bombs -- and a nifty .593 slugging percentage -- came in part-time duty as a Primetimer last year.

Pepe Perez - Detroit Destroyers (98)

After earning a berth on the AAA All-Star team in Season 3, Perez made the jump to the majors in Season 4, with mixed results. The 39 HR and 98 RBI in 499 at bats were a plus, but the .255 average and .317 OBP had to be disappointing. The good news for Destroyers fans is that Perez is just 23 entering Season 5, with plenty of time to progress from his already-impressive 51/98/41/64/57 offensive ratings.

Mark James - Milwaukee Cervezeros (98)

A two-time ML MVP, James is clearly at the top of his game. The scary thing, given James' 244 taters and 571 RBI in just four ML seasons, is that he's only 24 years old. No matter what your advanced scouting budget, three years' worth of improvements tacked onto a 74/98/84/75/70 line are simply ludicrous. Lord help the NL North.

Eddie Burns - Oakland Oaks (98)

A four-year veteran of ML action, Burns is an established leader in the league, with two All-Star nods, as well as two Gold Glove awards as a celebrated second baseman. Burns isn't too shabby at the dish, either, with 209 big flies and 565 runs batted in in 618 career big league games. What would the Oaks say to another 40+ HR season with great defense at second base from Mr. Burns this year? 'Excellent.'

Matt Wakefield - Philadelphia Fighting Quakers (98)

It's not often that you find a hitter with better-than-passable defense (61/43/62/65/13) and 98 power rated a 51 overall. But that's the case with Wakefield, who sports just a 34 contact, 16/42 splits and 25 batting eye at the age of 28. And while his offensive deficiencies may have kept him at .235/.282/.539 in 1268 major league at bats, Wakefield has also smashed 117 home runs in that span. That bodes well for Philly, should Wakefield garner a full-time role again this season.

Trevor Marshall -- Texas Chili (99)

I can't vouch that they "grow 'em bigger in Texas". But if Marshall is any indication, they certainly grow 'em stronger. Marshall has earned a slot in the Texas lineup for the past year and a half, poking 74 balls over the fence in that time. At 26 years old, he has a bit of room to grow, suggesting his 40/99/46/37/76 will bloom into the something/100/something/something/something that power lovers dream about.

Carmen Carter - Santa Cruz Pumas (100)

Speaking of 100 power, there's exactly one Hometowner who has it -- and his name is Carmen Carter. Sadly for Carter, his contact (35) and eye (21) aren't nearly as impressive, leading him to a .263 average over the past four ML seasons. And at age 30, Carter is unlikely to boost those numbers significantly. Still, 112 gopher balls in 1291 at bats is nothing to sneeze at -- and though Carter has been waived twice, released, had his option declined, and been traded, he's still likely to give opposing pitchers nightmares this season.

So there you have it -- 20 of the most formidable slugging prospects that Hometown has to offer. A few of these behemoths may soon be put to pasture, and other gargantuans may take their place by seasons' end, but one thing is for sure -- the long ball will always draw a crowd. Long live the power men!