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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

2014 FANTASY BASEBALL ISSUES: IS IT SAFE TO TRUST ERIC HOSMER AGAIN???

                                                                  Eric Hosmer

Few players in all of fantasy baseball the last three seasons have seen their stocks fluctuate as wildly from extreme highs to extreme lows as Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer.  Widely considered one of the very best hitting prospects in the game soon after being drafted third overall in the 2008 class, Hosmer rapidly made his way through the team's farm system to the point where he made his debut at the very young age of 22.  It was during that 2011 season where Hosmer put the hype meter into overdrive after hitting .293 with 19 home runs and 11 stolen bases in doing his best Joey Votto impression.  Hosmer seemed liked a natural and since his numbers were already worthy of being a top ten fantasy baseball first baseman as such a crazy young age, the sky was literally the limit.  The next spring saw Hosmer as quite possibly the most sought after sleeper in the game and he would be drafted as high as the fifth round as evidence of this. Expectations went trough the roof as visions of a 30 home runs/20 stolen bases/.300 hitting monster were dancing in his prospective owners' heads.  However like many young players before him, Hosmer crashed and burned to the tune of an ugly .232 average with only 14 home runs in 535 at-bats.  The 16 stolen bases were nice but the overall damage was stark as Hosmer went down as a colossal draft bust.  Just like that Hosmer's once bright future was left in shambles as the fantasy baseball community went to town criticizing the kid and swearing off his name forever.  Despite the fact he was only 23. 

In looking at that crucial and ugly 2012 season, there were a few things to keep in mind.  I noted that season that as disappointing as Hosmer's stats were, the fact he was only 23 was a big deal to keep in mind since he was basically a baby at the major league level.  Opposing pitcher's adjusted to what Hosmer did in 2011 and the kid was struggling to adapt in his own right which is the trend with most young hitters.  A major league hitter usually reaches their prime at around the age of 27 and so Hosmer still had four seasons to go before reaching that point.  However the hype was so great that the reaction was very ugly from the fantasy baseball realm. 

In further diagnosing what went wrong that season, it was clear to see why Hosmer had trouble.  For one, his ground ball rate shot was up from his 2011 debut which is obviously not what you want to see if you expect home runs.  The more balls hit on the ground means the fewer balls that can travel in the air and out of ballparks.  In addition, Hosmer saw a spike in his K rate as he worked on the fly to figure out his issues.  As long as Hosmer kept hitting the ball on the ground, his power upside was limited.  However the speed was still terrific for a first baseman with the 16 steals and there was still pedigree left to his name. 

Thus it was shaping up as a crucial year for Hosmer and his development in 2013 as he needed to do his best to cut into the strikeouts and start elevating more baseballs.  After some more struggles out of the gate as he hit only 1 home run total in April and May, Hosmer seemed to click into something with his batting approach.  A 6 home run June was accompanied by a .303 average and from that point on through the rest of the season, Hosmer was money.  Here is what his production looked like the last three months of his 2013 campaign.

July:  4 HR .324
August:  4 HR .323
September:  2 HR .324

One glance at those numbers are surely going to get the hype meter back into overdrive when it comes to Hosmer this season.  For the season Hosmer would finish with a .302 average with 17 home runs and 79 RBI in addition to 86 runs and 11 steals.  It is obvious there was some major discovery in Hosmer's swing that had him hitting like a batting champ the last three months of last season and that sets the stage for what could be a huge breakout 2014 campaign.  Remember the sky was always the limit for Hosmer and he would be just the latest in a growing class of post-hype sleepers made good such as Homer Bailey, Adam Jones, Alex Gordon, and Matt Wieters.  While Hosmer is likely never going to hit 30 home runs unless he continues to make inroads with his fly ball rate, he absolutely could approach 25 with around 90 RBI and 90 runs scored.  In addition Hosmer is almost a lock for a .300 average and likely more if he can stay on the tear he was in the second half of last season.  Finally Hosmer has speed that only Paul Goldschmidt can match at first base and 15 steals is surely in the realm of possibility from what we have seen.  When you put all the numbers together, the picture actually starts to look a bit like what we saw out of Paul Goldschmidt in 2012. 

All in all, I am ready to go back into the well on Eric Hosmer this season and so should you.  I have shouted out to anyone who would listen about the great values post-hype sleepers habitually are and Hosmer absolutely qualifies under such a heading.  The guy can flat out hit and his ability to contribute across the board is possibly significant.  Be aggressive there.

2014 PROJECTION:  .308 23 HR 88 RBI 96 R 16 SB


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