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Fowler, Rockies off to solid start on road

4/16/2013

The Colorado Rockies enter Tuesday leading the big leagues in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS, and with nine of their 12 games having come on the road, away from cozy and -- this week, at least -- snowy Coors Field, that's quite a treat. The Rockies are bashing and feature five hitters off to terrific starts, with the biggest surprise being center fielder Dexter Fowler, currently 13th on the Player Rater.

Fowler has piqued the interest of many a fantasy owner for years, not only for playing half his games in a hitter-friendly home ballpark. A terrific athlete, he features an enticing combination of power and speed, though he's mainly underachieved in terms of actual home runs and stolen bases at this level. He's hit double-digit home runs once (last year), and since his 27-steal effort in 2009, he hasn't topped 13. He keeps on drawing walks, though, which generally results in higher batting averages and for many, an eventual development of power. Predicting a Fowler breakout since 2010 hasn't been going out on the proverbial limb, nor is it particularly insightful now, but his statistical ceiling doesn't appear as high as his skills suggest.

A switch-hitter with balanced rates from each side at this point of his career (he used to struggle against right-handers), Fowler has hit all six of his home runs, entering Tuesday's home doubleheader with the New York Mets, against right-handed pitchers. Four came in road games, notable because that figure already tops what Fowler did in all of 2012, when he hit three road home runs in 71 games. Like most Rockies hitters, Fowler brings extreme home/road splits throughout his career, and since he hasn't exactly been Carlos Gonzalez in the past, fantasy owners often opt to bench him away from Denver. That would clearly be a mistake now. When it comes to stolen base potential, it looks like Fowler isn't interested in accruing high totals; he attempted only 17 steals in 2012.

It comes down to the power and whether the previous two weeks are a harbinger of more. Fowler's isolated power sits at an unsustainable .426, though it's worth noting he has raised his mark a bit annually. He's obviously more of a triples guy, and while we note that doubles tend to turn into home runs with growth, I can't recall others turning three-base hits into 400-foot blasts consistently. Fowler hit a pair of long home runs Friday night in San Diego, solo shots off right-handers Tyson Ross and closer Huston Street, and while it's a bit easier to go yard in Petco Park than it used to be, Fowler's tools are just so enticing. He also tried to steal a base but was thrown out by catcher Nick Hundley. This should, frankly, be a 20/20 guy at least, and he'd only need two or three home runs per month the rest of the way to reach the power mark.

Still, while 20 home runs seem likely, it's premature to expect the power surge to continue at a strong rate. Fowler's power spiked early last year as well, when he hit four home runs in each of the first two months, then five home runs over the final four months. A 19th-round choice in ESPN average live drafts, his ownership reflects recent interest, and I concur there's every reason to add Fowler in case he's the next Carlos Gonzalez. It's unlikely, though. It's awfully early, but Fowler's fly ball rate is actually lower than normal, with more than half his fly balls leaving ball parks. Fowler did more than triple his HR/FB rate from 2011 to 2012, but this isn't a guy swinging like Mark Reynolds, either. I just don't want to overrate a good two weeks and expect six home runs per month, not yet.

For now, seeing a pattern in Fowler's base stealing the past three seasons (13, 12 and 12 steals, with a below average rate), I think it's more likely he reaches 20 home runs than 20 stolen bases. He should be doing both. Regardless, calling the No. 48 outfielder in ESPN average live drafts a top-20 outfielder from two weeks is premature, so own him but stop short of trading a proven top-50 player to acquire him. He's breaking out to some degree, but temper overall expectations.

Rox talk: Wasn't Michael Cuddyer supposed to be doing this last season (.333, 3 home runs)? Oh wait, he did. Cuddyer hit .299 in April, and had 12 home runs and eight steals by the All-Star break. The issue was an oblique injury shutting him down early. Cuddyer should be owned in all leagues, but beware of a possible trade. He's older, and despite the strong start, the Rockies aren't likely contenders. Plus, I think they want to see what Eric Young Jr. could do regularly, and Tyler Colvin is wasting time in Triple-A. ... Todd Helton launched a pinch-hit game-winning home run Sunday, but he's not worth adding in 10- or 12-team mixed formats. Helton still knows the strike zone, but has been hitting fewer line drives early on, and too many fly balls that aren't traveling far. Be happy if he hits .275 with 10 home runs. ... Third baseman Chris Nelson brings no power, but is really a second baseman. None of his nine hits so far have gone for extra bases. It'd be a bit ridiculous if he's the reason prospect Nolan Arenado can't be promoted. Arenado will get his chance, I suspect, in May. There's little cause to keep a guy hitting .459 at Colorado Springs there much longer. ... If second baseman Josh Rutledge got 500 at-bats, he'd probably hit 15 home runs and steal 20 bases, but it's tough to be impressed with his hacking approach. He swings at everything and has no intention of working a count. Still, own him in all leagues for the counting stats, though I doubt he hits better than .260.