I don't put too much stock in spring stats, but several twenty-somethings have been swinging a hot bat in Florida and Arizona this month. Chances are they'll be able to carry some of that momentum into the season.
Cincinnati third baseman Edwin Encarnacion (six homers, 18 RBIs) and Philadelphia first basemen Ryan Howard (nine homers, 18 RBIs) have turned a lot of heads and raised their draft stock considerably. Encarnacion's homer binge is a bit misleading -- he doesn't crush the ball like Howard -- but he should be good for 15-20 homers and a .275 average. Howard, on the other hand, is a good bet to hit 40 homers.
Detroit's Curtis Granderson (five homers, five steals) has all but locked up the Tigers center field job with his strong spring, beating out Nook Logan in a battle that really hasn't been all that suspenseful. Kevin Mench (.429, 14 RBIs), meanwhile, has made a strong case for regular playing time in the Texas outfield, where he has to content with Brad Wilkerson, Gary Matthews and David Dellucci.
A pair of AL West first basemen -- Oakland's Dan Johnson (.362, 13 RBIs) and Anaheim's Casey Kotchman (.441, 14 RBIs) -- have also impressed. Johnson is the better power hitter, having totaled 79 homers over the past three seasons between the majors and minors. Kotchman, 23, might need some time to find his power stroke, but he batted well above .300 at several minor league stops before joining the Angels in the second half last season.
Lastly, Colorado's Ian Stewart (five homers, 13 RBIs) is forcing his way into the Rockies short-term plans. Stewart, 20, the club's top hitting prospect, is heading to the minors to start the season, but he could press incumbent third baseman Garrett Atkins by midseason. He's certainly someone worth stashing, particularly in keeper leagues. Seems like he's almost ready for the show, though he hasn't yet played above Single-A.
A shoutout to loyal reader Ross for throwing in his two cents on the draft question I posed last week. He liked Felix Hernandez and Brad Lidge from a long list of possible picks. Ross, judging by the number of responses I received (uh, one), you're my biggest fan. Thanks, dawg.
For what it's worth, I went with Derek Jeter and Grady Sizemore.
I like Jeter because of consistency and position scarcity. With Miguel Tejada and Michael Young protected, Jeter and Jimmy Rollins were the best shortstops left on the board. I looked at both closely but ultimately took Jeter based on his ability to contribute in every offensive category, and the fact that he's consistently performed at a high level. Rollins could end up having a better year if he hits like he did in the second half last season, but Jeter was the safer pick.
Sizemore's a bit of a gamble, but, again, I like his balance. He'll help in average, homers, RBIs, runs and steals, the kind of guy you can build around. Some have concerns that expectations are too high for Sizemore, but I'm not among them. I can see him putting up 30 homers and 30 steals this season, and even if he doesn't, he's not going to hurt me. Or else he is going to hurt me, and I'm going to regret writing that last sentence.