Periodically between now and the start of the regular season I will write about a player (or players) who I think are going to take their game to the next level in 2007. This can be a youngster fresh off the farm or even an old name with new surroundings. Basically it will be anyone (or any group) I think will make both fans and teammates say “wow.”
Now I know you are saying to yourself, “but Berkman and Lee are already great players.” Well yes, this is true, but in Berkman’s case, the difference now is he has a legitimate hitter behind him in the lineup. Last season he had guys like Morgan Ensberg (.235/.396/.463, 23 HR, 58 RBI) and Aubrey Huff (.250/.341/.478, 13 HR, 38 RBI with Houston), who have had good seasons in the past but nothing special recently, hitting behind him. Yet somehow despite having absolutely no protection in the lineup, Berkman was able to put up monster numbers. But in preparing for 2007, the Astros made sure Berkman had protection as they went out and signed a real life clean-up hitter in Carlos Lee. A lot of people shook their heads when the Astros inked the slugger to a 6 year, $100 million contract, but I am one of the few who did not. Sure this is a lot of money over 6 years for a guy in his 30’s, but think about this: over the past three seasons in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Texas, Lee has averaged a .290 batting average, 33 homers, and 109 RBI. That’s pretty impressive for someone you don’t hear much about.
|BERKMAN & LEE 2006 STATISTICS|
So now, the superstar-talent-who-never-gets-enough-credit Berkman will have someone to protect him and not allow pitchers to pitch around him, and Lee (a pull hitter) will be in a stadium that’s not that much deeper to left field (315 feet) than most softball fields I play on. Could we see a set of teammates hit 40-50 homers together? It’s not out of the question.
Needless to say, the Astros will have no problems scoring runs out of the three and four holes this season. The only question now is can the rest of their lineup hit around them. Unfortunately this may be too much to ask.