Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
I am a proponent of the theory that spring training numbers mean almost nothing once the regular season begins. That hitting against soon-to-be minor league pitchers and released free agents tells you very little about how a player will fare against the likes of Justin Verlander and Matt Cain. But I also admit to still checking out the leaderboard as part of the preparation for Opening Day.
This year's spring training home run leaders list is an intriguing assortment of youngsters and veterans and many of the preseason's biggest movers up the rankings are among them, so let's look at these guys.
Michael Morse, SEA (.370, 9 HR, 15 RBI, 1.379 OPS) - Morse is a legitimate 30- plus home run hitter, who only posted 18 last season, primarily due to injuries. His nine spring training homers leads the league and is a new Mariners' record. Add in the notoriously pitcher-friendly Safeco Field has moved their fences closer to home plate, particularly in the left field power alley (12-to-17 feet), and Morse should be an excellent fantasy value off his 176 ADP (15th round).
Brandon Belt, SF (.437, 8 HR, 19 RBI, 1.361 OPS) - Belt was a highly-thought- of prospect a couple of years ago, but had not done anything over his first season and a half to warrant attention from fantasy owners, until hitting eight homers this spring. That's one more than he hit in 411 at-bats last season. Even in the minors Belt never hit more than 23 homers, so fantasy owners should probably be skeptical about Belt's ability to be a true power hitter.
Domonic Brown, PHI (.376, 7 HR, 17 RBI, 1.101 OPS) - In three seasons as a part-time player for the Phillies, Brown has hit a total of 12 homers in 433 at-bats. This spring he's blasted seven homers in 85 at-bats. The Phillies desperately need an outfielder with power, so they will give Brown every opportunity to prove this exhibition season isn't a fluke. With an ADP of 253, fantasy owners can take a late-round flier on him and have little risk with a huge upside if he's for real.
Freddie Freeman, ATL (.342, 7 HR, 16 RBI, 1.024 OPS) - Freeman isn't flashy, but makes his at-bats count. Despite a mediocre .259 batting average, he hit 23 homers and knocked in 94 runs last season for a Braves team that finished right at the league average of 4.32 runs-per-game. The addition of Justin and B.J. Upton and the maturation of Jason Heyward and Freeman should turn the Braves' offense into one of the league's better squads. Freeman's numbers should also improve and the spring hot streak only strengthens our expectations. As a seventh-round pick (ADP 79), you will get a solid return for your investment.
Alex Gordon, KC (.431, 7 HR, 16 RBI, 1.265 OPS) - After an impressive 2011 campaign, much was expected of Gordon and he failed to improve in almost every category last season. Look deeper into his statistics, however, and you will see he got off to a horrible start and finished fast, batting .316 after the All-Star break with nine homers, 45 RBI and an .871 OPS. He's continued that hot hitting through the spring and we think he's finally ready to become a member of the 25-25 club.
Ryan Howard, PHI (.338, 7 HR, 16 RBI, 1.030 OPS) - As much as the Phillies need Dominic Brown's spring to be the real deal and not a mirage, they need Howard to be his old self even more. Howard's high batting average is certainly not real, but it appears that the 30-plus home run, 100-plus RBI man has returned to the Phillies No. 4 spot in the lineup. Getting little respect from fantasy owners (82 ADP), the former first-round option is a bargain at this price.
At the other end of the spectrum, here are some of the "power guys" who failed to connect on even one home run this spring: Alex Avila, Jacoby Ellsbury, Chase Headley, Kelly Johnson, Nick Markakis, Brandon Phillips, Trevor Plouffe, Buster Posey, Anthony Rizzo, Drew Stubbs and Mark Trumbo.
Of course, just as I'm not completely sold on those leading the league in spring training homers, those who failed to blast one home doesn't necessarily mean they will have a bad season - only that they are likely to get off to a slow start.