Power is a scarce commodity in the post-PED era of baseball. Long gone are the days of 60 home runs and the age when 30 home runs were ho-hum afterthoughts amid peers. Thirty home run seasons now place high on the leaderboard and are practically elite company. But throughout this overall shift in the batting landscape, elite power hitters have remained. The following are the 10 most likely players to lead the majors in home runs throughout the 2016 season.
10. Nelson Cruz – Seattle Mariners
The most well-rounded players in the league tend to have a modest home run (HR) ceiling. Andrew McCutchen has a career-high of 31 HRs and Paul Goldschmidt has a career-high of 36. While you would expect the best players in the league to also have the best power numbers, that is not always the case. In the case of Nelson Cruz, he is certainly not one of the top-10 overall batters in the league, but there are few players more likely to lead the league in HRs than Cruz. His power is now unquestioned, as he’s averaged 42 HRs the past two seasons, tops in the league. Moving from hitter-friendly Baltimore to Seattle’s spacious ballpark had many doubting Cruz, but he managed to set a new career-high with 44 dingers. Cruz will be 35 this season but it doesn’t appear the fade is coming just yet. The expectation is that Cruz can sustain this for at least one more season and compete to lead the league in HRs during 2016.
9. Josh Donaldson – Toronto Blue Jays
2014’s trade that sent Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for Kendall Graveman, Brett Lawrie, Sean Nolin, and Franklin Barreto will haunt the Oakland Athletics for a long time. During an AL MVP campaign in 2015, Donaldson launched 41 HRs as the change in ballparks helped him gain 10 HRs from his already impressive previous career-high. Aside from the being the beneficiary of a hitter’s ballpark, Donaldson also improved his pitch recognition against righties. Always able to mash left-handed pitching, Donaldson became a full-on force last season due to his development against righties. Donaldson also managed to stay consistent throughout 2015, avoiding the prolonged slump period Donaldson was known to have while in Oakland. Improving on a total of 41 HRs seems quite possible as Donaldson enters his age-30 season in the middle of an imposing lineup that looks to be the AL’s best.
8. Jose Abreu – Chicago White Sox
The Cuban defector burst onto the scene in 2014 to smack 36 HRs and become a legitimate MVP candidate. With the White Sox deciding to spend a significant amount of money in order to improve the lineup around him, much was expected of Abreu in 2015. Instead, he took a step back and “only” hit 30 HRs while seeing his OBP dip significantly. Now, Abreu becomes a little more difficult to gauge. He wouldn’t be the first international player to post outrageous numbers during his initial season only to depreciate and allow the rookie year to be the highpoint statistically. On the other hand, the mere fact that Abreu hitting 30 HRs with 101 RBI is considered a disappointment speaks to his capabilities. This is the season we discover if Abreu is a 40 HR bat or merely a very good 30 HR guy. The smart money is on Abreu making the necessary adjustments and surpassing his previous high of 36 HRs.
7. Anthony Rizzo – Chicago Cubs
Rizzo has emerged as one of the best all-around hitters in the entire major leagues. His overall contributions in every aspect of the game are well-respected and it’s difficult to believe Rizzo is only 26 years old. While he’s hit 32 and 31 HRs apiece the last two seasons, there may still be untapped upside. Entering his prime years after having excelled in an all-around fashion, Rizzo is a safe choice to take another step forward this season. Part of a loaded Cubs lineup, Rizzo will also have the bonus of having more pitches to hit than he ever has. In the past, pitchers could attack the Cubs’ lineup and pitch around Rizzo. This year, there will be no empty bases to place Rizzo on and pitchers will need to be more aggressive against him.
6. Kris Bryant – Chicago Cubs
Bryant met the lofty expectations that were placed on him coming into 2015 and will now look to step into superstar status. Bryant hit 26 HRs in 559 ABs, earning NL Rookie of the Year honors and collecting several MVP votes along the way. Bryant, who only just turned 24 years old, looks to continue terrifying opposing pitchers as he develops. Bryant must work on his contact rate in order to fulfill his promise entirely. Bryant struck out too often last season during his rookie year. Plate discipline is a skill that young players can certainly improve, and Bryant will be hoping that the work he puts into his contact rate helps connect on a few more balls leaving the stadium. Unlike on-base skills, generational raw strength can’t be taught. Bryant has the build and the bat speed to surpass 40 HRs this season. With proper seasoning, Bryant should have several 50 HR years in him to come. The question is will that explosion arrive as early as 2016.
5. Edwin Encarnacion – Toronto Blue Jays
Encarnacion’s fantasy owners should receive a flashing light reminding them not to panic about Edwin after the first month. Indeed, Encarnacion has had pitiful starts to the MLB campaign two years running. Last year, he turned in a ghastly .205/.258/.352 line in April and only rebounded somewhat in May to post a .225/.333/.510 line. He finished the season at .277/.372/557, a slash line that includes those difficult first two months, showing just how good he was the rest of the way. Encarnacion always starts cold before erupting during the summer. If he could ever manage to avoid the icy start to the season, Encarnacion could show that he is one of the most powerful bats around and can rival anyone. Encarnacion has also had an issue with injuries the past several seasons. He always seems to avoid catastrophe but spends just enough time on the DL to suppress his overall yearly HR total. A few things need to break right in terms of health and a hot start, but Encarnacion is a very smart pick to lead the league in HRs, especially during his contract year.
4. Bryce Harper – Washington Nationals
It was obvious that Harper’s talent was greater than the statistics he had been putting up. Then, in 2015, Harper arrived and became the superstar he was destined to be. Harper hit 42 HRs which tied for first in the NL and was third overall in the majors. The sky seems to be the limit with Harper who may not be done growing in the power department. His 41 percent hard contact rate is absurd; none of his 2015 stat-line appears to be luck-driven. An increased walk rate allowed Harper to see better pitches, and an increase in his fly ball rate legitimizes the power spike. In simple terms, Harper put the ball in the air more often during 2015 and that led to more HRs. It would not be surprising to see Harper reach 50 HRs, which is a feat only seen once in the last five years (Chris Davis, 2013).
3. Mike Trout – Los Angeles Angels
The Trout vs Harper debates are being cued yet again, as these intertwined superstars are once again worth comparing. In the case of power, they are neck-and-neck, but Trout remains the safer choice. Trout hit 41 HRs during 2015 and should be capable of topping that mark this season. His 2015 season was hampered by a nagging wrist injury that contributed to a lowly month of July where he only hit one HR. Entering his age-24 season, Trout seems to have a floor of 40 HRs, and the upside is still even more exciting. The remarkable transformation in Trout as a player is astounding. Entering the league as a defense-minded speed demon, Trout hardly steals at all anymore and is suddenly one of the biggest power threats in the game. There’s no doubting Trout, who still seems capable of taking it to another level.
2. Chris Davis – Baltimore Orioles
A lot was made of Chris Davis’ off-season market and the Orioles seemingly bidding against themselves. Not many teams seemed interested in taking on his contract demands, when conventional wisdom shows a flawed player like Davis who doesn’t possess skills that age particularly gracefully being a huge red flag. That being said, Davis is only 29 to begin 2016 and is still in his peak power years. While the contract may look like an albatross by 2019, for this season Davis is a very safe and reliable bet in the power department. “Crush” Davis has a 47-homer and a 53-homer campaign to his credit in two of the last three seasons. These rockets are doing more than clearing the fence as Davis ranks among the leaders in batted ball distance. His HRs are hit well out of there. The chances he can maintain this pace for 2016 appear likely and he grades as potentially the best power bat in today’s landscape.
1. Giancarlo Stanton – Miami Marlins
The story with Stanton is obvious. Stanton possesses historically impressive raw power, but his yearly campaigns always end up asking “what-if” situations. An injury or two always seem to get in his way, and the noncompetitive Miami Marlins always seem to shut him down for the year when the season begins to wind down. The good news is that all signs appear positive on Stanton this time around with him entering the season in full health. Now with one fewer hamate bone left to shatter, Stanton can stay healthy and deliver that 50-homer season we all expect. There’s no doubting Stanton’s raw power; even in a pitcher’s park amidst a very lukewarm batting lineup, nobody can match him in slugging. With his elevated power stroke, Giancarlo Stanton is the most likely bat to lead the Majors in HRs this season.