- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Less than two weeks into the baseball season, leadoff hitters around baseball have been anything but special. Incredibly, major leaguers in the top lineup spot are hitting a cumulative .249 with a .315 on-base percentage; in the American League, thanks in part to highly touted and disappointing Texas Rangers center fielder Julio Borbon, the cumulative batting average is .243 and OBP is .302. Man, it's like watching 30 teams send Corey Patterson out there to lead off!
Borbon didn't lead off Thursday, and let's face it, if he doesn't start hitting, he might not be playing at all with the big club. Since he was a popular sleeper pick in fantasy drafts this preseason, and many fantasy owners possess the patience of a child spotting a cookie jar, Borbon is one of a number of leadoff hitters on ESPN's most dropped list. Are seven games enough to properly evaluate someone? Of course it's not, but this is the worst time for a player to slump, because it's our first impression. And let's face it, leading off brings with it a certain cache that fantasy owners notice.
We at ESPN Fantasy projected Borbon for eight home runs, 50 RBIs, 38 stolen bases, 80 runs scored and a .281 batting average, which are pretty fair numbers for a 24-year-old with 46 major leagues games to his credit. So far, Borbon is hitting .103 with three singles, one run scored and one stolen base -- and nary a walk -- in 30 plate appearances. This week I've been watching I quite a bit of Washington Nationals leadoff man Nyjer Morgan, who found his way on base six times the past two games against the Philadelphia Phillies. Morgan took 29 pitches in Thursday's game alone. Borbon is a similar player, and he needs to start doing this ... and fast.
If he doesn't, we'll see more of shortstop Elvis Andrus leading off, as he did Thursday. Andrus singled and scored in three at-bats, also contributing a sacrifice. Andrus is 21, but soon the Rangers won't have much choice. Leading off would boost Andrus' value, because he would run and score more and get a lot more at-bats. David Murphy has also led off once this season. In theory, Borbon could be reduced to batting ninth, which would hurt his fantasy production, but he might also be minor-league-bound. While I wondered whether the lefty-hitting Borbon would be able to hold his own against same-handed pitching -- career batting average of .133 in 30 at-bats -- it sure seemed as if he'd be fine against right-handers. So far, it's not going well. But I'd be patient a little longer.
Here are a few other leadoff hitters not doing so well:
Chris Coghlan, OF, Florida Marlins: I have this guy on numerous teams. Nobody had more base hits in the second half of 2009 than he did. His slow start -- a .132 batting average and 10 strikeouts in 38 at bats -- is odd because he never really struggled as a rookie. Like Borbon in Texas, the Marlins could go with Cameron Maybin leading off, with catcher John Baker hitting second, so they have options. I really don't want to see Coghlan hitting eighth, in front of the pitcher. It would hurt his numbers.
Juan Pierre, OF, Chicago White Sox: Manager Ozzie Guillen doesn't strike me as a patient man. Pierre is stealing bases and scoring runs, so the only category he's really sputtering in is base hits, and since he's a career .300 hitter (exactly), I wouldn't worry. Of course, he's on ESPN's most-dropped list anyway. Frankly, even if Pierre were dropped to ninth in the order, he'd still run plenty.
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Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B/SS, Cleveland Indians: His breakout 2009 seemed totally legit, as he batted .308 and stole 17 bases, and with multi-position eligibility, Cabrera became a 13th-round pick on draft day. I don't see the Indians having too many choices here, so Cabrera could hit .225 all month and remain in the leadoff slot. However, note that Grady Sizemore led off for this team for years, and could go back to the role. That said, he's struggling out of the No. 2 hole.
Other situations to watch: Someone has to lead off for the Atlanta Braves. Melky Cabrera has been bad, so maybe Nate McLouth gets another chance. ... What if Shane Victorino hits .450 out of the leadoff spot while Jimmy Rollins is out? Just sayin'. That could make things interesting. ... I don't know if Dexter Fowler can handle the leadoff spot regularly if Carlos Gonzalez hits the DL. I think Eric Young Jr. could, though. ... With Brian Roberts on the DL, the door is open for someone to step up. Julio Lugo? Felix Pie? Maybe Nolan Reimold could be a Conor Jackson leadoff type. He does get on base.