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.
By R.J. Anderson //
Given the happenings of the past few days, it’s safe to say most baseball fans are wholly aware of Justin Smoak’s name and new location. The new Mariners’ first baseman is going to have a difficult time making fans forget about just how special Cliff Lee is, but he should do a wonderful job making them forget just how terrible Casey Kotchman was.
Smoak is only 23 years old and a switch-hitter who the Rangers took 11th overall in the 2008 draft. He’s from Goose Creek, South Carolina which is also the birthplace of Orioles catcher Matt Wieters. Rated as the 13th-best prospect in baseball entering this season by Baseball America, Smoak spent only 15 games in the minors during the season, hitting .300/.470/.540 with two homers and six doubles. For his minor league career, which reaches nearly 600 plate appearances, he hit .293/.411/.461.
Not everything is sparkles and giggles however. In nearly 300 major league plate appearances he’s hit .208/.310/.356. That’s not enough time to label a player with his pedigree as a bust, but it’s enough time to make antsier fantasy owners a bit concerned. In down times is when doubts start to creep into people’s minds. Like, maybe Smoak only has warning track power. Or maybe he’s just going to be another Lyle Overbay. You don’t want to trade one of the best pitchers in baseball for a Lyle Overbay.
One projection system, CHONE, had him pegged at .240/.340/.363 this season. Kotchman, for instance, has hit .218/.299/.370 this year and it seems unrealistic to think Smoak would provide less pop than a first baseman who is renowned for his inability to hit his way out of a paper bag.
Still, the reality is Smoak might not contribute much this season. That’s fine, but what about those in keeper leagues who have the chance to add him cheap? That is definitely worth the risk. Even though Smoak will play most of his games in Safeco Field, he will spend most of his time batting from the left-handed batter’s box, meaning Safeco’s constrictor-like death grip on right-handed power won’t affect him as much as, say, Jose Lopez or Adrian Beltre. Of course the same could’ve been applied to Milton Bradley, and he’s got one of the worst slugging percentages of his career.
Bottom line: Stay away from Smoak in standard leagues, grab him in keeper leagues.