2011 was a rewarding year for Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Matt Kemp. Not only did the 27-year-old win a gold glove, silver slugger, Hank Aaron award, and his first All-Star bid but Kemp came just shy of a batting triple crown and NL MVP honors. It's no wonder the Dodgers made the move to keep Kemp in LA for eight more years.
Kemp's 39 home runs led the NL last season but now he's setting his sights on 50 for 2012. If Kemp makes good on his prediction for next season he will break the Dodgers all-time single season home run record of 48 set by Shawn Green in 2001. Whether he reaches his goal or not, Kemp will be in the running for the home run title and he definitely won't be there alone. Here are nine other sluggers who will be competing for baseball's coveted home run title.
If you haven't heard of Toronto Blue Jays slugger José Bautista then consider this your official wake-up call. In 2010 Bautista smashed a franchise record 54 home runs to earn him a spot in the 50 home run club and the title of AL home run champion.
Bautista followed up his record breaking campaign with 43 home runs in 2011 and a consecutive AL home run title making him the first player to do so since Mark McGwire accomplished the feat in 1998 and 1999 as a member of the NL.
Keeping the streak alive will be much harder in 2012 now that Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder have joined the AL. But regardless, if he wins the title Bautista will fall somewhere in the top five among home run leaders.
Maybe Albert Pujols simply wanted a change of scenery when he decided to end his 10-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals. But something tells me that a $254 million contract might have had something to do with it too.
Either way, Pujols is still the best player in baseball and his numbers tell the whole story. Since day one Pujols has been an absolute stud in the majors. As a rookie he hit 37 home runs and never hit less than 32 in his 10 seasons with the team. The real magic happened during the 2006 season when Pujols hit a career-high 49 home runs and led his team to a World Series title.
Pujols is coming off yet another World Series win and expectations couldn't be higher for the champ as he attempts to bring a title to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. At 32-years-old Pujols home run production has dropped slightly for his own standards but his 37 bombs last season was third in the NL. Let's just hope that the pressure under LA's bright lights doesn't get to him in 2012.
Say what you will about Prince Fielder's weight but this slugger is the best left-handed hitter in baseball. Fielder uses all 275 pounds to generate enough raw power to send balls screaming out of the park. As a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, Fielder hit 230 home runs in five seasons including a career-high 50 homers during the 2007 season.
Fielder also just so happens to be a former home run derby champion. There's no denying Fielder is a fan of the long ball, but next season will be a fresh start for the three-time All-Star who joins the AL central champion Detroit Tigers.
Fielder's $214 million contract puts a ton of pressure on him to produce, but his home run numbers should rank near the top in 2012. The big question is - how will he fare in the AL against some of the league's top pitchers?
Since Mark Teixeira joined the New York Yankees in 2009 his home-run production has been consistent with the rest of the league's leading hitters. Teixeira's 39 home runs ranked third in the league and came in just short of fellow teammate Curtis Granderson. Even with hitters Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, and Granderson in the lineup, Teixeira still manages to put up big individual numbers.
Teixeira's career-high for home runs came in 2005 with the Texas Rangers when he hit 43. After that 2005 season his numbers dropped and gradually started to rise again. In his fourth season with the Yankees, Teixeira should feel comfortable in the lineup enough to see a rise in his home run totals next season.
During his tenure with the San Diego Padres, Adrian Gonzalez was a consistent home run hitter. Progressively increasing his numbers with each year, but after a career-high 40 home runs in 2009 Gonzalez's numbers began to drop. Even after a trade that sent the 29-year-old to the Boston Red Sox and home run friendly Fenway Park, Gonzalez only managed to rack up 27 homers.
Last season was a mess for Boston as they failed to get into the postseason and trouble in the clubhouse caused the premature exit of manager Terry Francona. Now that the situation in Boston has been sorted out, 2012 should be a bounce back year for a team that is typically a powerhouse in the AL. Gonzalez will rebound as well and try to match the type of season he had with a much weaker Padres team in 2009.
Miguel Cabrera's production with the Detroit Tigers has been fairly consistent since 2008. In his four seasons with the Tigers, Cabrera has averaged close to 35 home runs. Last season the 28-year-old had only 30 home runs but mainly because he drew 108 walks from opposing pitchers. Teams decided it would be a smarter option to not pitch to Cabrera and instead try their luck against clean-up hitter Victor Martinez.
The acquisition of Prince Fielder in free agency gives Detroit two of the best power-hitters in baseball and a pitcher's nightmare at the top of the lineup. Assuming that Fielder takes over the role of clean-up hitter in 2012, Cabrera may see a lot more pitches than last season which could mean a big year for home runs.
Atlanta Braves second baseman Dan Uggla is just one of those players that doesn't receive as much recognition for his power as he should. In 2011 Uggla hit a career-high 36 home runs and recorded his fifth consecutive season with 30 or more homers.
Uggla is the only second baseman to accomplish the feat in three or more consecutive seasons. Flying under the radar may be an advantage for Uggla who could easily sneak into contention for the home run title. Uggla will be Kemp's biggest competition in the NL with Pujols and Fielder out of the picture.
Curtis Granderson's 41 home runs in 2011 was surprising to say the least. In seven seasons Granderson has never hit more than 30 home runs with either the Tigers or Yankees.
The debate on whether Granderson's career year was just a fluke has already begun, but until the season actually starts we won't know for sure. Yankee Stadium is a very hitter-friendly ballpark so the idea of Granderson coming close to his 2011 totals shouldn't be as bold of a statement as it may sound.
You may be wondering why more proven hitters like Ryan Howard, Adrián Beltré, or Mark Reynolds are not listed at this final spot, but if you knew about the type of power Mike Stanton possesses then you would agree he is a viable candidate for the home run title. At just 22-years-old Stanton is barely coming into his own with the Miami Marlins and the future is looking bright for this young man with tremendous power.
Stanton's 6'5 240 pound frame gives him Howard-like power and makes him a potential sleeper pick for the home run title. In his first full season with the team Stanton crushed 34 home runs despite nagging injuries. If Stanton can stay healthy then the sky is the limit for the type of numbers this guy could put up. Stanton's lack of experience could be the only factor holding him back from having another great year.