Their combined bank accounts couldn't rival Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen's. They couldn't strike palpable fear into the hearts of moviegoers like the Grady girls in "The Shining." And neither may harbor hard feelings for one another like Ozzie Canseco does for brother, Jose.
But Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria are unmistakably two of a kind.
Although they're separated in age by two years, have immensely different sprint times and boast nicknames that reflect their contrasting religious denominations (Braun: "The Hammerin' Hebrew," Longoria: "The Crushin' Catholic" – ok, I made the last one up), the corner doppelgangers share many remarkable commonalities.
Both stand at 6-foot-2. Both weigh roughly 210 pounds. Both played high school baseball within 40 miles of one another in the Los Angeles area. Braun was selected third overall by Milwaukee in 2005; Longoria was selected third overall by Tampa Bay in 2006. Both are described by scouts as irregular swingers who generate prodigious power because of accelerated bat speed. Both averaged similar AB/HR marks (Braun 18.2, Longoria 16.7) in nearly the same number of minor league at-bats (Braun 726, Longoria 733). Finally, and most important, both will be perennial .300 BA, 30-35 homer cornerstones for fantasy owners for years to come.
Sure, Braun is strikingly similar to Longoria in several categories, but it doesn't justify vaulting the Tampa Bay prospect up your Draft Day cheat sheets. That is, not immediately. In an eerie twist, Rays management recently decided to apply the Brewers' Braun blueprint from a season ago to Longoria this spring. As Tampa Bay kipper Joe Maddon noted last week in the St. Petersburg Times, "He could come in and hit .500 and that might not make him make the team. It's just going to be how we're seeing it progress, how we feel the whole thing is coming together, a lot of different things."
Considering Japanese import Akinori Iwamura is preparing to transition to second base, Longoria would have to be suffocated by a combative manatee to start the season at Triple-A. Because "sea cows" naturally have a Dusty Baker-like docility, a minor league demotion seems highly improbable.
Even if Longoria emerges from spring training as the Rays' official Opening Day third basemen, it's wise to keep expectations tempered.
What Braun accomplished in his history-making rookie season was simultaneously spectacular and uncommon. After receiving a big league promotion on May 24, the then 23-year-old posted numbers that aroused any spiritless fantasy owner. In 451 at-bats, Braun blasted 34 long balls, drove in 97 runs, swiped 15 bases, tallied a .324 BA and annihilated Mark McGwire's rookie slugging percentage record by 16 points. In Yahoo! leagues, he finished the season as the 18th-best player overall. This century, only Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki's mammoth inaugural campaigns in 2001 were ranked higher in Y! games.
Thus far in early drafts, Longoria is an obscenely thrifty buy. According to MockDraftCentral, his current 245.7 ADP rates him 18th among third baseman behind fragile options Troy Glaus and Hank Blalock. Longoria should be regarded as a tremendous value buy anytime after Round 15 in 12-team mixed drafts given his supreme power upside.
As long as the youngster's fabulous pitch recognition (13.1 BB% in '07) can counterbalance his tendency to be overaggressive on outside sliders, a .280-.290 BA, 22-27 HR, 80-90 RBI, 75-85 R season is achievable in the foreseeable future.
If Longoria reaches those benchmarks, he'll share something else with Braun: a Rookie of the Year trophy.
Changing gears … like its corner counterpart, first base, by in large third is a position characterized by sluggers. However, after an unusual 2006 in which 22 three-baggers crushed 20 or more homers and another 24 surpassed the 70 RBI mark, productivity regressed in '07. Last season, 14 third basemen bashed 20-plus homers and another 18 tallied 70-plus RBI. Although some might perceive third to be a position in transition, the decline in power production was, in actuality, a return to normalcy. From 2001-2005, an average of 14.4 three-baggers blasted 20-homers while an average of 17.0 exceeded 70 RBI.
Juvenile jackhammers Longoria, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Josh Fields, Alex Gordon, Edwin Encarnacion and Andy LaRoche are expected to flirt with or catapult past the 20 homer plateau this year, so a repeat of '06 isn't inconceivable considering the host of seasoned talent the hot corner advertises.
Here is a preview of the risers, fallers and baby crawlers at the hot corner this season:
Lowdown: In his second full season last year, the then 22-year-old corner anchor experienced a bit of a sophomore slump. A noticeable downswing in LD% ('06: 21.8, '07: 16.9) and upswing in FB% ('06: 35.9, '07: 39.5) caused his batting average to plummet 21 points. Despite the downturn, his '08 outliers are appealing. The Nationals' new stadium showcases shallower power alleys, which should boost the youngster's long-ball totals. Also, the acquisition of Lastings Milledge greatly enhances a lineup that depended upon Nook Logan and his abhorrent .304 OBP to generate runs. Zim suffered a broken wrist in early November, but appears to be back at full strength entering spring training. Buy on the cheap.
Lowdown: After speaking at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes luncheon this winter, Fields' misperceived hints of retirement were wildly twisted by Windy City newspapers. Sure Ozzie Guillen's tongue could probably offend a dirty comedian, let alone a devout Christian, but thoughts of Fields retiring at 25 are absurd. In 373 at-bats last year, Fields impressively tattooed 23 homers and posted a HR/FB% in line with mammoth knockers Adam Dunn and Prince Fielder. His 33.5 K% is troubling, but with more experience his batting eye and plate discipline should improve. Don't overspend thinking he'll approach 20-20 territory like he did at Triple-A in '06, but 30-plus homers and low double-digit steals are attainable. To no one's surprise, Guillen has already labeled Fields the leading candidate to win the third base job this spring over veteran Joe Crede, whose current health status is unknown. With an ADP in the 180s, the South Side slugger is one of the most unheralded sources of power in early drafts.
Lowdown: When Kouzmanoff's name is mentioned in my presence, "Dream Weaver" plays aloud in my head. During the first 45 days of the '07 season, Kouz was more frigid than an exchange of words between Brian McNamee and Roger Clemens. However, after May 14, the Cosmonaut exploded into the cosmos hitting .310 with 17 dingers and 65 RBI. Equipped with a blue collar work ethic, the free-swinging third baseman should build on his sizzling post-May performance batting third ahead of pitcher pounder Adrian Gonzalez. An insane bargain in mixed-league drafts, he will be a fringe top-15 three-bagger – a consistency king flirting with .300. At age 26, Kouzmanoff will take a sizable step forward in statistical maturation.
Lowdown: This will finally be the year deposits stashed in the Bank of Hank will prove profitable, over both halves. Historically, Blalock has suffered from a classic case of fantasy split personality. Repeatedly, he's rocketed out of the gate (career .292 BA pre-ASB), instilling a strong sense of optimism in owners. But by year's end, his second half swoons (career .249 BA Post-ASB) have fostered pessimistic views. After a shoulder injury sidelined him for four months last season, Hammerin' Hank is expected to start the season at full strength. If he can recapture the vigorous OBP (.358), BB% (9.2) and FB% (45.9) numbers he racked early last year, a return to the glory days of '04 (.276 BA, 32 HR, 110 RBI, 107 R) are achievable. Based on his 20th-round ADP in 12-team leagues, he's a minimal risk who could pay Texas-sized dividends.
Lowdown: In the timeless words of early 90s hip-hop trendsetters Kriss Kross, there is nothing "wiggity, wiggity, wack" about Wigginton. Despite seeing a nosedive in LD% ('06: 19.4, '07: 17.7) and sharp rise in GB% ('06: 40.0, '07: 44.0), Wigginton was one of seven second baseman and one of 14 third baseman to eclipse 20 homers last year. Considering his numbers were unspectacular in Houston (169 at-bats, .284 BA, 6 HR, 18 RBI and 24 R), his transition from the pitching-parched AL back to the pitching-rich NL was cumbersome. But his homer stroke shouldn't vanish. Given Wiggs' natural gap muscle and overt aggressiveness at the plate (20.7 K%), he'll again be an undervalued power source in mixed leagues, capable of 22-26 homers. NL-only owners may have to shell out an extra Washington or two because of his flexibility, but Wiggs is worth it playing in a little league park, and with Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee setting the table.
Lowdown: As any venerable ballplayer would tell you, age isn't just a number, it's a virulent menace. For the Waterford crystal-fragile Jones, every step toward 40 increases his chances of logging significant DL time. Last year, Jones eclipsed 500 at-bats for the first time since 2003 and posted estimable fantasy numbers across the board. His career-best .337 BA was second in the NL batting title race. Meanwhile, he reached the century mark in runs and RBI, one of three third basemen to accomplish the feat. Despite having strong vital signs in BB% (13.8 in '07) and LD% (19.2), Jones' plate muscle is slowly regressing, as his four-year decline in HR/FB% indicates. Given his fragileness, selecting him in Round 5 or 6 of 12-team mixed league drafts is a risk. Frankly, the near equal power output and durability of Ryan Zimmerman outweighs the bonus of Jones' .300-plus batting average.
Lowdown: If Lowell's banner '07 season could be summarized in a word it would be, anomalous. The 10-year veteran established new career benchmarks in batting average (.324), RBI (120) and on-base percentage (.378). Playing his second full season in Beantown, Lowell's near six percent jump in FB% and 14 home long balls showed he took advantage of Fenway's band-box measurements. He'll again see numerous oversized pitches hitting fifth behind David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. But don't overpay for a career year. Yes, Lowell will be a sound, consistent corner option this season but, on the backside of the peak bubble at 34, a return to 100-plus RBI doesn't appear likely. The power and speed potential of younger upstarts Josh Fields, Alex Gordon and Edwin Encarnacion, each available some 10-40 picks after Lowell, are more enticing. Expect an above average, not an astounding season from the Sox corner roamer.
Lowdown: Nothing wards off the harmful effects of the injury imp quite like a Budweiser. In Glaus' case, he better empty multiple Anheuser-Busch beer bongs to stay out of the infirmary. Traded from Toronto to St. Louis in mid-January, Glaus hopes to recapture power production lost in '07. Last year, an early-season hamstring and post-break irritated nerve in his left foot plagued him, causing his HR/FB% to spiral downward for the fourth straight season. However, there was a silver lining in an otherwise forgettable season for Glaus. His BB% sustained around his career average of 13.0 and he posted his best LD% (21.2) since 2003. Historically, a Cardinals uniform has had an unexplainable medicinal effect on veterans that have come from different teams (e.g. Reggie Sanders). If Glaus, who was recently cleared to participate fully in spring training drills, can recover completely from September foot surgery, the change in scenery will be beneficial. Don't expect a return to his 37 homer, 97 RBI Arizona days, but 25-plus bombs and 80-90 RBI are in the forecast if you can stomach a .260 BA. We can only hope Tony LaRussa trots him out to shortstop a few times this season …
Lowdown: Due to a vast array of significant injuries, Chavez's contributions to medical study have been invaluable. An animated lab cadaver this past offseason, the 30-year-old corner patroller went through three operations to repair both shoulders and his balky back. Belittled by those injuries last season, the A's three-bagger saw his LD% slide for the third straight year and his K% spike from 20.6 in '06 to 22.3. Once widely believed to be a recurrent source of 30-homer power, the unforgiving effects of his injuries have made Chavez almost undraftable in 12-team mixed leagues. Oakland skipper Bob Geren noted on Feb. 19 that team trainers feel "energized by Chavez's progress." Unless he suffers a setback, it appears he'll be ready for Oakland's Tokyo tussle with Boston on March 25. However, because he hasn't accumulated a .260 BA since 2005, he should be viewed as bench refuse in shallow leagues.
Lowdown: Naive owners who expect Reynolds to smack 30 homers in his first full Major League season are more gullible than Kyle Kendrick. In his rookie campaign, Reynolds barreled out of the gate, emerging as a waiver wire wunderkind. Filling in for the injured Chad Tracy, he slapped 23 hits (.426 BA), cracked four homers and drove in 15 runs in his first 54 at-bats. However, his bipolar plate personality made him erratic and unreliable the rest of the season. In June and July he recorded just 17 hits in 146 at-bats, while in August and September he reversed course by notching a .319 BA with nine dingers and 35 RBI. Despite his prolific production in the final two months, a couple of underlying concerns about his swing were being masked. In his final 250 at-bats, Reynolds registered a lowly contact percentage of 61 percent. And on the year, he posted an obscenely high 35.2 K%. Undoubtedly, the 24-year-old has a bright future as an annual 25-homer crusher, but given his inconsistencies and Tracy's possible return sometime in May, he should only be considered a bench flier in mixed leagues and a $10-$14 bid in NL-only auctions.
Lowdown: The Noise's jones for the Rays rookie isn't a man-crush, it's a man-passion. As discussed thoroughly in the introduction, Longoria has the lumber make-up of a fantasy superstar. If his 16.2 HR/AB minor league mark can translate flawlessly to the big league level, he'll be a 30 homer master blaster. Also, his advanced plate discipline (13.1 BB% in '07) should swell his average close to .300. Finally, with speed demons Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and OBP sensei Akinori Iwamura expected to set the table in front of him, 85-plus RBI isn't unfathomable. The Rays could start Longoria at Triple-A to get his glove more seasoning, but he'll be recalled no later than June 1. Obtuse owners unwilling to exercise patience will circumvent him in the middle rounds of most drafts, but don't be that guy. Those in AL-only auctions need to be prepared to slap the wallet for Longoria's services, as he'll likely command a $15-$20 bid.
Lowdown: It's only a matter of time before Alyssa Milano and fantasy owners get all hot and bothered over LaRoche. Younger brother of Pittsburgh's Adam LaRoche, Andy made his MLB debut in May and returned again in September, compiling a .226 BA with one homer and 10 RBI in 93 at-bats. Like Longoria, LaRoche's calling cards are plate patience and all-fields power. Unlike Longoria, his long-ball ceiling is 20-25, but his phenomenal 10.9 BB% and 81 CT% (contact) in over 1,600 minor league at-bats points to healthy future batting average results. With the Dodgers expected to convert perpetually broken infielder Nomar Garciaparra into a super-utility man, LaRoche should easily win the starting job at third this spring. If that happens, he'll be similar in style and substance as Cleveland's Casey Blake.
Lowdown: Through Wood's eyes, every pitch that enters the cross-hairs is the size of Bartolo Colon's head. At 6-foot-3, 185-pounds, Wood is a lanky, lean basher who generates exceptional bat speed. In four separate call-ups last season, the former 2003 first-round pick collected a mere five hits in 33 at-bats and posted a repulsive 12:0 K:BB split. Wood's high whiff rate has stymied his opportunities, but he was able to slice nearly six percentage points of his K rate last season, a positive sign. However, Wood's biggest obstacle appears to be his glove. Scouts have described the converted shortstop's defensive skills at third as rather unspectacular. When the Angels dealt Orlando Cabrera to the White Sox, it cleared a path for Wood to ascend, permanently, to the Majors. However, until his glove work and plate discipline improve, he'll remain entrenched behind Chone Figgins, Macier Izturis and Eric Aybar on the 3B/SS depth chart. The holes in his swing will make his batting average undesirable, but his colossal power and double-digit stolen base upside is titillating.
Lowdown: Because Jose Bautista is about as statistically exciting as former Bucco Sid Bream, Walker should see action on the senior circuit by midseason. Last year, the transposed catcher batted .276 with 13 homers, 66 RBI and 10 steals in 495 at-bats between Double and Triple-A. The smooth-hitting lefty also sharpened his eye, tallying a solid 9.6 BB% in '07. Although scouts have raved about his ability to hit 25-plus homers annually, his defensive inadequacies at the hot corner are troublesome. Until he shows marked improvement in his footwork, his big league-ready bat will waste away in Indianapolis. For now, expect Walker to earn a promotion sometime in July. NL-only owners looking for a viable power crutch should bargain shop for the Pittsburgh native late in drafts.
Lowdown: By now, my stack of Stewart Upper Deck rookie cards were supposed to be worth millions. The 10th overall selection in 2003, Stewart has had a rollercoaster minor league career. After launching 30 homers in 505 at-bats at Single-A Asheville in 2004, it appeared he was on the fast-track to Denver. However, his relatively unexciting 2005 and 2006 campaigns and the presence of Garrett Atkins has shackled Stewart. Still wet behind the ears at 22, the Rockies have begun experimenting with him at second base and outfield in an attempt to increase his chances for at-bats with the senior club. The lefty hitter's ability to crush both righties and lefties (.312 BA vs. LHP in '07) and inborn 30-homer potential should net him ample opportunities at some point this season. At this point, consider him a long shot to break camp with the Rockies. But if he rakes at Triple-A, or an injury afflicts Atkins, he'll surely be promoted. Anticipate Stewart to don purple threads no later than August.