To the surprise of nobody, home runs continue to fly at an unprecedented rate. With summer around the corner and an influx of top prospects like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. replacing punchless placeholders, the homer barrage is only going to pick up pace. Already, over 1,000 balls fly over a wall. With well under one-sixth of the season in the books, it’s shaping up to be a record setting campaign.
Shall we dive right in?
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Eddie Rosario, 5 HR
Luke Voit, 4 HR
Nelson Cruz, 4 HR
Renato Nunez, 4 HR
If we expand our vision to Rosario’s last eight games, he’s hit seven home runs. It’s a fiery streak, most of which was compiled against the Baltimore Orioles. There’s probably a lesson here – target the Orioles for home runs. Rosario, of course, is an easy 30 home run threat. He was one of the first players to be featured in the Power Spotlight last year, and he’s already banked 11 home runs this April.
This is what a regressed Voit looks like – a .276/.388/.551 batting line with eight home runs in 116 plate appearances. He’s picked up where he left off in 2018, continuing to compile copious line drive totals with enough fly balls to play as both a decent average hitter and a power source. For any other club, his role would be entirely secure. When at full strength, the Yankees extreme depth may force them to trim a few starts from Voit’s docket.
Cruz is typically among the most likely hitters to launch multiple home runs on any given day. He bookended the last week with two multi-homer games. There’s no sign he’s slowing down.
Nunez, 25, is showing signs of a breakout. However, he faced relatively weak opponents during his hot week so we should still treat this as a small sample fluke. Prior to this season, Nunez featured above average raw power which he struggled to access in games. Serious contact issues were worsened by poor plate discipline. The result, predictably, was oodles of weak contact. This season, despite no change to his discipline, he’s posting a far more robust 42.5 percent hard contact rate. He’s worth stashing in moderately deep formats – just in case.
My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders
Khris Davis, Oakland Athletics: 10 HR, 49 HR projected
Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers: 8 HR, 48 HR projected
Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers: 13 HR, 46 HR projected
Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers: 8 HR, 43 HR projected
J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox: 4 HR, 42 HR projected
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels: 6 HR, 42 HR projected
Pete Alonso, New York Mets: 7 HR, 43 HR projected
Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers: 13 HR, 40 HR projected
Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves: 6 HR, 40 HR projected
Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins: 5 HR, 40 HR projected
Using a home-brewed formula, I project the top 10 power sources by comparing present home run totals with contact, fly ball, and home run rates. At this very early stage of the season, projections are informed almost entirely by past season performances. We’ll discuss any new exceptions. If the numbers look a tad conservative, that’s by design. Most top players are projected for between 600 and 650 plate appearances to account for injuries. In reality, some will exceed 700 plate appearances, providing a substantial boost to their power output.
Bellinger’s fiery month has him surging up the projected and real-world leaderboards. Yelich has kept pace in reality, although he’s more likely to cool off in the power department. A hot week restored Cruz to the top 10. Speaking of heat, Rosario ranks 11th with 11 home runs and a projection to hit 28 more over the rest of the season. All the sluggers who failed to homer – Trout, Martinez, Acuna, and Davis – lost two home runs from their projection.
***Austin Meadows, Tampa Bay Rays (right thumb sprain, late-May return)
***Matt Kemp, Cincinnati Reds (broken rib, late-May return)
***Clint Frazier, New York Yankees (left ankle sprain, mid-May return)
***Aaron Judge, New York Yankees (left oblique strain, late-May retun)
Rougned Odor, Texas Rangers (right knee sprain, late-April return)
Christin Stewart, Detroit Tigers (right quad strain, early-May return)
Greg Bird, New York Yankees (left plantar fascia tear, early-June return)
Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks (Grade 2 quad strain, mid-May return)
Corey Dickerson, Pittsburgh Pirates (right shoulder strain, early-May return)
Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees (Grade 1 biceps strain, unspecified shoulder injury, early-May return)
Miguel Andujar, New York Yankees (small right labrum tear, early-May return)
Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels (Tommy John surgery, mid-May return as hitter)
Justin Upton, Los Angeles Angels (turf toe, estimated 10 weeks recovery)
Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics (broken hamate, early May return)
Steven Souza Jr., Arizona Diamondbacks (multiple knee ligament tears - out for season)
Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets (heel calcification, midseason return)
Mark Trumbo, Baltimore Orioles (knee surgery, late-May return)
Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates (shoulder surgery, April return)
Scooter Gennett, Cincinnati Reds (groin strain, estimated 8-12 weeks recovery)
Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins (flesh wound, May return)
Didi Gregorius, New York Yankees (Tommy John surgery, June return as hitter)
Aaron Hicks, New York Yankees (back stiffness, May return)
*** denotes new injury
The Yankees get two paragraphs this week. Their injury nightmare continues. First the good news. Gary Sanchez returned from the injured list and made a couple starts. Andujar has progressed to rehab games and could be back very soon. Hicks is making progress too, although the details of his injury (back stiffness) have always been nebulous. My guess – and this is truly just a guess – is he has a stress fracture to his L4 or L5 vertebrae. It’s a fairly common and not usually serious injury, but it can take some time to address if it flares up. Players and teams almost never admit when this is the issue – probably because it sounds scarier than it is. Stanton is also on the mends. His biceps strain is healed. He’s not working through a reportedly minor shoulder injury. The funny thing about biceps strains is they’re often secondary to a shoulder issue. Hmm…
While some Yankees near their return, Frazier and Judge hit the shelf. For Frazier, it should be a brief rest from a minor ankle sprain. A few years ago, he would have wrapped his ankle and played through the injury. The sport has come a long way in following proper treatment protocols. Judge could be sidelined for awhile with an oblique strain. These sometimes heal cleanly in a short period of time or linger for months and months.
Also returning from injury are Tyler O’Neill, Todd Frazier, and Daniel Murphy. O’Neill pinch hit on Friday night. Frazier immediately took over as the Mets regular third baseman. Murphy is already on fire, having hit 4-for-9 since his activation. New injuries to Meadows and Kemp will sideline them until late-May.
Shohei Ohtani is targeting the Angels Mexico Series on May 4 and 5 for his return as a hitter. Dickerson is aiming to return on May 3. Olson is making rapid progress in his recovery and may soon go on a rehab stint. Remember, surgery for a broken hamate can sap power for several months.
Today’s spotlight focuses on a player who would rank among the top 10 projected home run leaders if not for a roster crunch. The aforementioned crunch is the Padres outfield. The player: Franmil Reyes. Over a new 650 plate appearance season, Reyes projects to hit 48 home runs. His current totals would put him on pace for… 48 home runs.
There are a few flies in the ointment. Reyes’ starts have to come at the expense of Hunter Renfroe and Wil Myers – two solid veterans. The Padres, however, are not blind to Reyes’ special potential. That’s why they’ve handed their unestablished slugger 79 plate appearances. He’s hitting .200/.266/.486 with six home runs. A .163 BABIP makes the line look uglier than it truly is.
Reyes’ big breakout came last season. Between Triple-A and the majors, he hit 32 home runs over 535 plate appearances. Although he’s a visibly poor defender (a designated hitter future feels likely), Reyes’ hulking size and power plays up at the plate. He has enough plate discipline to pick out the pitches he can square up. This manifests in a top hard contact rate along with plenty of line drives and fly balls. This year, he’s hitting more fly balls than ever. It’s still too soon to definitively say this is due to an adjustment rather than a small sample fluke. His power can be expected to play similarly to that of Stanton, Judge, or Martinez. A home run to fly ball ratio near 30 percent is not out of the question.
His present BABIP woes and in-house competition make this the best time to buy Reyes. He should be priced rather affordably in most leagues. The upshot is comparable to Khris Davis.