By R.J. Anderson //
Replacing Adrian Gonzalez’s production is nearly impossible, because the population of ballplayers who can hit like him is limited. Replacing Adrian Gonzalez’s body at first base is not as difficult, since just about any player can play first. With newly-acquired first base prospect Anthony Rizzo not yet ready for the big leagues, the Padres took a step to sure up their first base vacancy over the holiday weekend by signing Brad Hawpe.
What Hawpe does is this: He walks (12.9% career, 12.1% last year), usually hits for power (four straight seasons of 20-plus home runs until last season), and strikes out a lot (career 26.8%, 28.5% last season). What Hawpe does not do is field. That’s less of an issue with a move from the corner outfield to first base (and a non-issue in fantasy), but something to keep in mind nonetheless, as Hawpe attempts to adjust to the new position full-time, for the first time in his career.
The biggest difference between last year and the ones before was Hawpe’s home run per flyball percentage. In 2010, it plunged to 10.5%; from 2007 to 2009, it ranged from 17.6% and 17.9%. His career average is 16%.
The biggest obstacle for a Hawpe comeback is his home park. Petco Park is extremely pitcher-friendly, and it’s notoriously difficult on left-handed sluggers like Hawpe (which amplified Gonzalez’s accomplishments even more).
At least Hawpe is guaranteed the lion’s share of playing time at first base, but don’t necessarily bank on 600-to-650 plate appearances. The National League West is loaded with southpaws, and the Padres might add a right-handed option at first base too to form a platoon, or at least a semi-platoon. Late-inning pinch-hit appearances by right-handed bats are also possible.
Hawpe is unlikely to reach his career slash line of .279/.373/.490, but he has a chance to top last season’s meager .245/.338/.419. From a fantasy perspective, though, he’s still a batting average risk, and expecting a bunch of home runs in that park is asking a lot. Draft Hawpe in NL-only and deep mixed league, but stay away in standard, 12-team mixed formats.