Of all the eight participants in Monday night's Home Run Derby, I have to think Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Corey Hart is the most unlikely entrant. Hart was terrible in 2009, and his starting job was in serious jeopardy for this season. I mean, the Brewers didn't officially drag Jim Edmonds out of retirement because he wanted to play again, instead knowing that he was an April timeshare. That's how far Hart had fallen.
Fast forward to July, and the guy has hit 21 home runs, one off the National League lead, and he's tied with first-round fantasy pick Matt Kemp as the No. 19 hitter for the season on the ESPN Player Rater. Talk about unexpected.
Hart gets to compete in the Home Run Derby because he was deservingly named to the All-Star team, and he's one of the few honorees willing to participate in the event. Why would someone not want to compete? It's no secret we've seen quite a few Derby options putting on a show in front of a worldwide audience, and then disappointing their teams and fantasy owners with a drop in performance the final two-plus months (Bobby Abreu, David Wright, etc.). Is Hart next?
I'm sure the demands of the Home Run Derby and how it can infringe on a player's swing will get blamed for a few of these players not being able to continue their power pace, but I don't really buy it as a trend. Regardless, let's look at the eight home run hitters for Monday night and look ahead for power purposes.
Corey Hart, OF, Milwaukee Brewers: He's only three home runs off tying a career-best, and at this rate, he should get there this month. Some would view that as a clear reason to sell high. However, I'd argue previous performance with him means little. He used to steal bases, too. He never struck out like this. Hart's trying to hit home runs, and torching fastballs (17 of his 21 homers, .663 slugging percentage). Despite this all-or-nothing approach he's somehow hitting .288. In a few years he might be Bill Hall -- check out his 2006 work, and since -- but in 2010 he's looking good for power.
Current HR: 21; Projection: 34
Chris Young, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks: Another fellow who resurrected his career, Young is slugging a full 100 points less than Hart, but I also don't consider the power a fluke. Young hit 32 home runs as a rookie. If anything, he's safer than Hart. Young's best power months for his career have easily been August and September. He's hit all but one of his home runs off right-handers, a good sign he's grown as a hitter. He's running. I'm still buying.
Current HR: 15; Projection: 32
Vernon Wells, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: Lest you think all my opinions are going to be positive, I don't see Wells staying on pace. Hey, his shoulder was mush last year and most fantasy owners would have been happy with 19 home runs this season. He's already there. However, his batting average has dropped each month, from .337 to .278 to .240 to its current .094 in July. The Blue Jays face a tougher schedule the rest of the way, and better pitching. I could see Wells hurting fantasy teams.
Current HR: 19; Projection: 27
Nick Swisher, OF/1B, New York Yankees: Swisher smacked 29 home runs a season ago, his first in Yankees pinstripes, so I wouldn't call his current pace for 28 a big shock. He'll just make a lot more outs than his first half, since he's a career .250 hitter who is currently sitting at .298. But the power is legit; note that Swisher has hit 29 of his 44 home runs with the Yankees on the road.
Current HR: 15; Projection: 28
Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers: Now we get to the not-so-surprising entrants, starting with the eventual AL Triple Crown winner. Nothing to worry about here. He's no Jose Bautista.
Current HR: 22; Projection: 40
Matt Holliday, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: If I had written this a week ago, it would have looked a lot different for Holliday. But five home runs in the final week change the big picture some and remind us that this guy has more power than he was showing. He is inconsistent, though. I don't view him as a power hitter per se; he hit 24 home runs a year ago, though 13 came in the final two months as a Cardinal. I doubt he does that again.
Current HR: 16; Projection: 25
Hanley Ramirez, SS, Florida Marlins: Also not a typical home run hitter, Ramirez is on pace for 24 home runs and 99 RBIs, which is about where he ended up in 2009. Ramirez's swing should result in some power, but I doubt he'll ever hit close to 40.
Current HR: 13; Projection: 25
David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox: We end with Big Papi. He was a terrific second-half player last season, though I don't see quite the same dramatic change happening in 2010. Ortiz bashed 10 home runs this May. He's capable of doing this in any month, but erratic enough to slump again. Still, he seems capable of consistently hitting six home runs per month.
Current HR: 18; Projection: 33