SleepersFebruary 11, 2007

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Sleeper Watch

By Hongfu Chen

Do you remember Erubiel Durazo? The chubby first baseman/designated hitter who used to play for the Diamondbacks and the Athletics? What do you remember about him? His hilariously bad defense or his knack for getting on base? After spending 2006 with three different organizations, he’s back with the A’s, the team he’s had the most opportunity and success with during his career.

This time around with the A’s, his role is a bit different. Instead of competing for the starting designated hitter job, he is set to compete with Dan Johnson for the starting job at first base. Dan Johnson was one of the most disappointing youngsters of 2006. After hitting .275/.355/.451 with 15 HRs in limited action in 2005, he had a disastrous .237/.326/.373 line and various health problems before the All-Star Break, which caused him to be sent down to the minors. He started slow when he got there, but went on a tear as time went on. At the time Oakland called him back up, he was batting a healthy .314/.426/.523 in hitter friendly PCL. But as if a magical switch has been turned off as soon as he was called up, he continued to struggle in the majors, putting up a .222/.309/.422 line after the All-Star Break. His problems could be medical, it could be something about his approach at the plate, or simply his inability to hit major league pitching consistently. 2006 is a year to forget for Dan Johnson, and there’s no telling if he can do better in 2007.

That’s where Durazo comes in. Despite not getting one MLB at bat in all of 2006, he hit for a OPS north of .800 in all three of his Triple-A stops. He may not own an amazing glove (or even a decent one), but he certainly proves time and time again that he can hit. With Oakland’s mediocre and injury prone bats (9th out of 14 AL teams last year in run scored), they need all the help they can get offensively, even if that compromises their infield defense a bit.

There’s no guarantee that Durazo can hit MLB pitching right now, but keep in mind that he’s only 33. There’s a chance he could still be in his prime, not to mention that he owns a career .868 OPS, which would have been the second best OPS on the 2006 A’s behind Frank Thomas and right ahead of Nick Swisher. Not every projection system has run Durazo’s numbers this year, but the two that did (Marcel and Zips), both put him at respectable numbers (see table at bottom) with limited playing time. Of course, there’s no guarantee that he’ll even get one MLB plate appearance this year, but when the competition was as bad as Dan Johnson was last year, he has a reasonable chance to get a big chunk of playing time. Even if the first base job doesn’t work out for him, there’s no telling how current designated hitter starter Mike Piazza will do in his first time around the American League, and Durazo could pick his old designated hitter job from two years ago relatively easily.

Is Durazo a long shot? Yes, but don’t underestimate his ability. Guys with potential to hit 20+ home runs, while scoring lots of runs and knocking in a bunch of runs, don’t grow on trees. Make Durazo your final draft pick and keep an eye on him, because he could open some eyes this year.

SourceAt BatsHitsHome RunsRunsRBIWalksStrikeoutsAverage

(Projection Source: FanGraphs)

Hongfu is currently working towards... an undecided major at Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS. You can find him posting in the Cafe's forums as Playingwithfire
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