In 2006, Ryan Howard flirted with 60 home runs when he finished the season hitting 58 of them with a .313 batting average and 149 runs batted in. A few years before that, Alex Rodriguez hit 57 home runs in 2002. That is the closest any MLB hitter has come to breaking the single season record for home runs that was set in 2001 when Barry Bonds slammed 73 homers in one of the most memorable seasons in recent baseball history.
Since that record-breaking 2001 season, baseball has not seen too many players even reach the 50 Home Run mark. Over the past three seasons, Major League Baseball's best power hitters have stayed around the 40 to 45 Home Run range and that is just fine because even when one or two players reached the 50, or even 60, Home Run mark, the rest of the league dropped well off the charts.
But that is baseball. As hitters get better, so does pitching, and vice versa. It is a constant chess match between hitting and pitching that can cause a rise in power hitting for a few years before it takes a dip and pitching stats increase, and so on, and so on.
So it goes without saying that a Home Run is still the greatest play in baseball. It is exciting, fun, and, if he can hit enough of them, can lift a player from obscurity into the spotlight.
Let's take a look at the future of the MLB and the top 15 Home Run hitters heading into the 2017 season.
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15 Brian Dozier, MIN: 33
His power was always there but no one expected Brian Dozier to explode for 42 home runs in 2016, breaking an American League record for most home runs by a second baseman in the process. He bounced up from 23 and 28 home runs in consecutive seasons prior to 2016 becoming one of the most sought after second baseman in baseball.
As of a few days ago, several teams are trying to trade for Brian Dozier including the Los Angeles Dodgers, St.Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, and Washington Nationals. At 29 years old, he would be a great asset for any team that is missing that power in the middle infield, something that is rare already.
14 Ryon Healy, OAK: 34
When Ryon Healy got his chance last summer, he did not disappoint the fans. His first game was on July 15th and he ended up earning his spot in the everyday lineup for the final 72 games of the season. He hit 13 home runs in his 269 at-bats. Although that is not the greatest of averages, it was when he hit the homers that matters most.
He hit seven of them in the final 23 games of the season. It was a powerful performance in September that left us all in amazement at what this big power-hitting DH can do this year. Not many critics are going to project a breakout year in 2017 but we noticed something in Ryon Healy that no one else did, his late season explosion. It was only a taste but his mechanics were there and his power was not a fluke.
13 Yoenis Cespedes, NYM: 34
Since 2012, Yoenis Cespedes has become one of the best outfielders in baseball as evident by his constant moving around from team to team. He has played for Oakland, Boston, Detroit, and now, the New York Mets, who he finally might have found a home with after signing a 4-year contract worth about $110 million, or about $27.5 million per season.
After a 35 home run hitting season in 2015, he knocked another 31 last season in 132 games. Yoenis has probably the best arm of any outfielder in baseball and can hit the ball all over the field. Our guess of 34 home runs in 2017 is a modest projection. He could very easily for for 40 or 45 if the Mets can lock-in a power-hitting lineup.
12 Bobby Bradley, CLE: 35
Yep, you are looking at one of the boldest projections of our entire list. Bobby Bradley is a power-hitting prospect that might get a call-up to start the upcoming 2017 season. If he does, it will only be a matter of time before he turns into the power bat that they lost with Edwin Encarnacion this past winter.
Since he has not played in the majors yet, we had to breakdown his minor league hitting first. But that ended up being much easier than we thought and it helped to justify our pick. In his 1,049 minor league at-bats, he has 64 home runs, or one every 16.4 at-bats, which is close to the best in baseball over the past two years. His power is there and he is showing it during his minor league stay. The only problem is, can he adapt to major league pitching?
11 Kyle Schwarber, CHI: 35
In April of 2016, Kyle Schwarber collided with Dexter Fowler in the outfield causing him to tear his ACL and LCL in his left knee and miss the remainder of the regular season. He returned in epic fashion, however, during the World Series, when he got into the game as a designated hitter and played in five games hitting .412, with seven hits, two runs, a double, two RBI, and three walks.
That impressive World Series showing, in the same year he tore his ACL, reminded us just how good of a hitter this guy was before the injury and that he is perfectly fine now that he has had a year to recover from it. The 35 home runs we are predicting is right around what he should have done in 2016 so it would not be very surprising for him to surpass the 35 home runs.
10 Carlos Correa, HOU: 36
Many people get used to seeing these guys play every night and forget that they are still kids. Carlos Correa might seem like a veteran baseball star but he will only be 22 years old this upcoming season and has improved with each month of his career. During his 2015 rookie season, he hit 22 home runs in 99 games before hitting 20 home runs last year in 153 games.
This year, Carlos Correa is going to have a ton of chances to improve on his previous power-hitting totals. The 2017 Astros starting lineup is going to be stacked with hitters like Yulieski Gurriel, Alex Bregman, Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick, Brian McCann, Evan Gattis, George Springer, and Jose Altuve. Pitchers will be forced to throw to Correa or risk facing a powerful hitter with runners on base.
9 Nelson Cruz, SEA: 36
Only one player has hit 40 or more home runs each season over the past three years. It was not Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, or Jose Bautista. It was a man that has been more reliable than just about anyone else in baseball, Nelson Cruz. He continues to produce above expectations and is having his best seasons in his mid-30s.
He is now 36 years old and is going to eventually begin to drop-off but not yet. He still has a great lineup featuring protection on both his front side, Robinson Cano, and his back side, Kyle Seager. The power might stall but the one thing he has done is hit home runs late in the season making him a reliable source of power for 155 games, at least.
8 Josh Donaldson, TOR: 37
Josh Donaldson benefited from Edwin Encarnacion hitting behind him in the lineup. When Josh arrived in Toronto in 2015, he hit in the second spot, right ahead of Edwin, and proceeded to hit 41 home runs, followed by 37 last year.
This year, now that both Jose Bautista and Edwin are gone, he is expected to take over the third spot in the lineup. This is the year we get to really see what Josh Donaldson can do with not much protection behind him except for Kendrys Morales and Russell Martin. It could be a great year or it could end up being a very disappointing one, either way we still expect him to hit close to 40 home runs this year.
7 Edwin Encarnacion, CLE: 38
Following the 2016 season, Edwin Encarnacion became the most highly-touted free agent hitters in a very long time. His list of suitors reached double-digits, and there were at least ten teams that made an offer worth thinking about. But it was the defending American League champion Cleveland Indians that won him over and signed the power-hitting DH.
Since the Indians biggest issues will be their outfield, adding Edwin did nothing to address that concern but it does not matter because his power gets shoved between Jason Kipnis, or Francisco Lindor, and Jose Ramirez, or Michael Brantley. The list of combinations could turn a 30 home run season into a 50 very quickly if Edwin is surrounded by players that know how to get on-base and score. Pitchers hate giving up free bases to hitters, but they hate it even more when there are runners on base.
6 Manny Machado, BAL: 40
At 19 years old, Manny Machado played in 51 games and hit seven home runs in 191 at-bats while hitting .262 and driving in 26 RBI. It was a huge start for the kid that might be the best third baseman in Baltimore Orioles history, and that includes Brooks Robinson.
After missing most of the 2014 season with an injury, he has been consistent over the past two seasons, playing in 162 and 157 games and hitting 35 and 37 home runs, each season. His totals are the tip of the iceberg for a man that should hit 40 home runs, at least, per season, in Baltimore's loaded lineup. Look for Machado to lead Baltimore and sit near the top of the league in home runs this upcoming season.
5 Kris Bryant, CHI: 42
The Chicago Cubs finally won a World Series after spending 98 years waiting for the chance. It was a relief and it was all thanks to the incredible lineup that features Kris Bryant, the former Rookie of the Year and NL MVP. He is truly an incredible talent that just might send the Cubs right back for a second appearance.
Kris Bryant seems to be the most polished two-year player in the majors, having improved all across the board from 2015 t0 2016. One of the most impressive stats was how many times he grounded into a double play last season. He only did it three times in 2016 when the rest of the league's best power-hitters averaged 20 to 24 times. He was clutch as clutch can get and his 39 home runs were still a teaser for what is to come in 2017. Expect a minimum of 42 home runs from a healthy Kris Bryant.
4 Chris Davis, BAL: 43
It felt like Chris Davis was not going to recover last summer after having such an awful July where the power-hitter blasted only 3 home runs in 23 games that month while hitting .153. It brought his total for the season to 22 home runs on a .222 batting average, which is scary bad for such a great player. But he bounced back and finished the final two months of the season with 16 home runs to bring his season total last year to 46.
But it was his batting average that struggled all year long and his 219 strikeouts were the most in a season for his career. If he continues to swing the bat like he did in 2016, he will have a big drop off this list, but we expect a return to his 2015 stat line where he crushed 47 home runs on a 0.262 batting average. With a rocking lineup of hitters all around him in 2017, he should have little trouble getting pitches and landing bombs.
3 Bryce Harper, WAS: 45
As he heads into his sixth season, Bryce Harper is only 24 years old but plays as though he has been doing it for 15 years. He is a true to form five tool talent that can do anything on the baseball diamond but has failed to reach the max of his potential, yet.
Last year, no one would pitch to him and he battled some injury issues but still hit 24 home runs. The year before, in 153 games, he hit 42 home runs and had his best MLB season to date. After a down year last year, he is not being projected to reach his 2015 numbers by too many, if any, sports sites. However, we see clearly now and think he explodes in 2017, leading the Nationals to a World Series in the process. That's right, the Washington Nationals will play in the 2017 World Series behind Bryce Harper's 45 Home Runs.
2 Nolan Arenado, COL: 48
Because of the high altitude in Denver, Colorado, a baseball travels about 9% farther, on average, because of a reduced drag which is basically saying that their are less air molecules in the air to slow the spinning baseball when it goes flying into the thin air. But that is science and no one needs a lesson on how altitude effects a baseball, right?
We can all see that result just from looking at the Colorado Rockies hitting numbers each season. One of the biggest benefactors of playing half of the season in the mile high atmosphere of Denver, is Nolan Arenado, who is one of the premier 3rd baseman in baseball, regardless of where he plays. Imagine what would happen if Ryan Howard or Barry Bonds would have played in Colorado. That is exactly what is happening with Arenado. He just signed a two-year deal and we can expect him to hit close to 50 home runs each season, over the next two years, as he tries to improve his value when it comes to signing with a World Series contender.
1 Giancarlo Stanton, MIA: 50
A healthy Giancarlo Stanton is a scary thought because he has only played 145 games twice in his career. During those two years, his numbers were nasty with 71 HR, 192 RBI, 168 R, 164 BB, and a batting average of .275. But it was his performance in 2015 that should really scare the rest of the league. In just 74 games, he hit an unreal 27 home runs, or one every 2.74 games, one of the best per game averages in a very long time.
His power combined with his overall hitting ability makes Giancarlo Stanton a candidate for becoming the first 60 Home Run hitter in baseball since 2006. But we are going to be modest and only project him to hit 50, if he plays 150 games that is.
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