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Morneau's Denver destruction
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - You can't blame first baseman Justin Morneau for hightailing it to the Rocky Mountains when he hit free agency this past offseason.

What he dealt with the past four years was enough to make any power hitter yearn for some higher elevation.

After watching countless fly balls die in cavernous Target Field from 2010-13, Morneau was traded from the Minnesota Twins to the Pittsburgh Pirates and had to play at PNC Park, another home-run-depressing stadium, late last season.

Morneau hasn't been an elite fantasy player since 2009 and had borderline usefulness over the past three years, but the 32-year-old Canadian's production is on the upswing again.

In his first 20 games with the Colorado Rockies, the lefty-swinging first baseman has hit .347 with six doubles, four home runs, 15 RBI and a .969 OPS.

He owes plenty to Coors Field for his hot start -- he has batted .368 with two home runs and a 1.050 OPS in 10 home games -- but he's doing damage on the road too. In 10 road games, Morneau has hit .324 with two homers and an .873 OPS.

Left-handed pitchers haven't been Morneau's undoing like they were last season. In fact, he's back to blasting southpaws like it's 2006.

After hitting a paltry .207 with two home runs and a .525 OPS in 178 plate appearances versus left-handers in 2013, he has hit .368 with one homer and a .907 OPS in 21 plate appearances this year. Against righties, he has batted .340 with three home runs and a .992 OPS in 57 plate appearances.

According to FanGraphs, Morneau's chase rate is a career-high 40 percent, but he's also making far more contact on pitches out of the zone than he ever has before. That may have something to do with the tendency for breaking pitches to break less at Coors Field.

As a result, he has struck out in a career-low 11.5 percent of his plate appearances, down from 17.3 percent in 2013 and 15.6 percent for his career.

The first baseman's bat speed has looked very good so far and he has made contact on 90.4 percent of the pitches he's swung at in the strike zone. In 2013, he made contact with 88.7 percent of those pitches.

Even if Morneau had traded Target Field for park that typically ranks as a neutral home-run venue, it would have been a coup.

After all, he has belted just 20 home runs in 203 career games at Target (.099 per game), compared to 205 in 1,120 games everywhere else (.183 per game).

With the Coors-Field factor on his side in 2014, however, Morneau should be a top-15 fantasy first baseman.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas J. Harrigan at tharrigan@sportsnetwork.com.

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