- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
A year ago I was all aboard the Jake Fox bandwagon, as much as any reasonable person could expect to be. Fox certainly possesses power; fantasy owners and the Oakland Athletics needed some, and naturally I figured the defensively challenged slugger would see ample playing time. It didn't happen, and it wasn't all the team's fault; Fox showed little at the plate and eventually was dumped on the Baltimore Orioles, where he was also largely irrelevant.
As many of you are a bit too much aware, Fox is having a monster spring, with eight home runs and a .860 slugging percentage through Tuesday's games. No other player has hit more than six home runs. I would argue against overrating spring statistics, but this simply means a guy with power is showing it, in part because he's seeing so much playing time. The thing is, I'm seeing Fox start to get selected in drafts that aren't, frankly, deep enough. He's more likely to duplicate his 2010 than suddenly turn into Jose Bautista.
Fox first caught many an eye when he hit .409 and bashed 17 home runs over 45 games with the 2009 Triple-A Iowa Cubs. Upon promotion to the Chicago Cubs, he seemed to hold his own in the power department in sketchy playing time. Of course, neither his power potential nor his spring stats guarantees that Fox will get playing time for the 2011 Orioles. Matt Wieters is the starting catcher and should play in at least 130 games. Craig Tatum is the backup under major league contract. Derrek Lee mans first base, and say what you will about his health and potential, but this isn't a spring competition. Luke Scott's power isn't in question; only three players hit more home runs from the designated hitter role last season, and Scott has averaged 25 home runs the past three seasons. He's manning left field now that Vladimir Guerrero is the designated hitter. Plus, Scott can play first base, and might need to if Lee can't, as well as if a young outfielder like Felix Pie or Nolan Reimold forces the team's hand. Put simply, I just don't see how Fox -- qualified as DH-only in most leagues (19 games at catcher, not the 20 needed to qualify there at the start of the season) -- will see playing time, no matter how he hits in March.
Still, Fox is precisely the type of player fantasy owners in deeper formats should be willing to take a shot on, a "wild-card" type guy with power upside. We don't necessarily have to expect that upside to come to fruition any time soon, but would it totally shock me if Fox hits more than 20 home runs with 400 at-bats? Not really. It would help if he mashed lefty pitchers -- though right-handed, Fox has a career OPS nearly 200 points better against right-handers -- or took the occasional walk or could add anything defensively, but don't expect someone to change at age 28. This is Jake Fox.
Let's highlight a few more potential power bats that I wouldn't call standard league-worthy, but wild-card types that could certainly make an impact.
Mark Trumbo, 1B, Los Angeles Angels: We know he's going to play in April, as Kendrys Morales has a pending disabled list stint, and who's to say Trumbo can't continue to play after that? The Angels could use him or Morales at DH and move Bobby Abreu to left field, switching Vernon Wells to center and costing unproven Peter Bourjos at-bats. Trumbo hit .299 with 36 home runs and 122 RBIs at Triple-A Salt Lake last season -- yes, everyone including Brandon Wood has hit at Salt Lake -- and could certainly reach 20 home runs.
Jerry Sands, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: The NL version of Trumbo, perhaps? Sands hit .301 with 35 home runs across two minor league levels last season, but he hasn't batted yet in Triple-A and he's already been assigned to minor league camp, although he could come back sooner rather than later. The Dodgers could have a need in left field, unless you're confident in the Jay Gibbons-Marcus Thames platoon.
Andruw Jones, OF, New York Yankees: I wouldn't expect anything close to a .300 batting average -- is .250 even possible anymore? -- but he whacked 19 home runs in less than half a season of at-bats last year, and he'd be due for considerable playing time if Curtis Granderson hits the DL, which seems possible after he pulled an oblique muscle Tuesday.
Brad Emaus, 2B, New York Mets: I keep getting this guy in my deeper leagues and simulation formats because, let's face it, he knows the value of taking a walk, he's middle-infield-eligible in most leagues and he's got a job. He's a Rule 5 pick from Toronto, and the Mets seem committed to him as a starter. Don't compare Emaus to fellow Rule 5 pick Dan Uggla, but could he deliver double digits in home runs (and stolen bases)? I could see it.
Mark DeRosa, OF, San Francisco Giants: It doesn't seem like there's room for him to play regularly, but he did hit 20 home runs in 2008 and 2009, when healthy. Of course, Pat Burrell probably belongs in this blog as well.
Rick Ankiel, OF, Washington Nationals: Hard to believe that he is likely to beat out Nyjer Morgan for the starting center-field job -- not because Morgan is so wonderful, but have you seen Ankiel hit the past two seasons? Still, he hit 25 home runs in 2008. I'll take the under.
Eric Karabell notes some wild-card players, or very deep sleepers, who could emerge this season.