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Josh Hamilton and 10 Sluggers Who Could Challenge Roger Maris' Clean HR Mark

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistMay 9, 2012

Josh Hamilton and 10 Sluggers Who Could Challenge Roger Maris' Clean HR Mark

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    Josh Hamilton wasn't sure that you understood, so he made it crystal clear for you.

    Any doubts you had that Hamilton is the best player in the American League—and arguably the best player in baseball—have been put to rest after his performance against the Baltimore Orioles Tuesday night.

    In case you missed it, Hamilton went 5-for-5 with four two-run home runs, a double and eight RBI.

    Such a power display immediately brings the great sluggers of the game to mind—Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Frank Robinson and fellow center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. to name a few.

    It also brings to mind the single-season home run record.

    Whether or not you believe the rumors that have surrounded Barry Bonds, there's no disputing that for those who played during the "steroid era," where there's smoke, there's fire.

    Many fans and historians of the game still point to Roger Maris's 61 home runs in 1961 as the real single-season mark, just as they point to Hank Aaron's 755 career home runs as the career record.

    But aside from Hamilton, what players today could possibly challenge Maris in the next five to ten years?

    Only a select few have the natural power, skill and sweet swing to even merit inclusion in the conversation.

    Let's take a look at who they are.

Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays

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    No, Jose Bautista had not hit more than 16 home runs in a season from 2004 through 2009.

    Yes, Jose Bautista's power has seemingly come out of nowhere, and yes, the PED question is fair to ask.

    But Bautista has never tested positive for a banned substance, and as he told Yahoo! Sports' Donald Brown, not only doesn't the speculation bother him, but he's been tested 16 times between 2010 and 2011:

    "I don't mind it; it's something that is not going to affect my focus and I'm not going to allow it to affect how I play my game. They are entitled to do whatever they want and test you as many times as they want. If I get picked to be tested a million times, that's fine with me."

    With that out of the way, let's focus on Bautista the slugger.

    No player in baseball has hit more home runs since 2010 than Bautista, who including the five he's hit thus far in 2012 (heading into Tuesday night's game against the Oakland A's), has sent 102 balls deep into the night.

    Not only has Bautista hit more home runs than anyone else over the past two years, but his 54 long balls in 2010 are the closest anyone's come to Maris in the past four years.

    You wouldn't normally say that a 31-year-old is entering the prime of his career.

    Considering that Bautista has only been hitting for power like this since he turned 29, it's fair to say that the window for him to challenge Maris again will remain open for at least a few more years.

Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds

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    Jay Bruce has never hit more than 32 home runs in a season, but I have a feeling that number is going to be surpassed in 2012.

    Bruce, still only 25 years old and in his fifth season, hit his 10th home run of the 2012 season Tuesday night, tying Carlos Beltran of the St. Louis Cardinals and putting him two behind Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League lead.

    An imposing physical presence with a quick swing that generates a ton of power, Bruce is hitting fifth in a potent and talented Reds lineup and playing his home games in Great American Ballpark, one of the most home run-friendly venues in the game.

    Jay Bruce is still getting better—and as he improves, his power numbers will continue to go up.

Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

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    It seems like Miguel Cabrera has been playing forever, doesn't it?

    Entering his 10th season in the majors, the 29-year-old Cabrera entered Tuesday night's game against the Seattle Mariners with seven home runs on the season.

    His single-season high for home runs is 38, which he did in 2010, but with Prince Fielder hitting behind him, teams really can't pitch around the perennial MVP candidate.

    One of the most dangerous hitters in the game, Cabrera is a legitimate threat to go deep every time he steps to the plate.

Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers

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    A big man with an even bigger swing, the only question to ask when Prince Fielder gets a hold of one is how far is the ball going to travel.

    One of the premier power hitters in the game, the 27-year-old Fielder has not hit fewer than 32 home runs in a season over the past five years, including a career-high 50 in 2007.

    Entering Tuesday night's game against the Seattle Mariners, Fielder sat with merely four home runs on the young season, fewer than many had expected.

    But as Fielder continues to get comfortable in his new surroundings in Detroit, the home runs will come, and keep on coming.

    While it may be a stretch to think that Fielder could challenge Maris in 2012, consider that next season, he'll have some added protection in the lineup as he hits between Miguel Cabrera and the currently injured Victor Martinez.

Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees

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    It's only fitting, when talking about challenging a record held by a New York Yankee, that a Yankee be in the discussion.

    Enter Curtis Granderson, who hit his 10th home run of the 2012 season Tuesday night,

    Granderson, 31, is coming off a MVP-caliber 2011 season that saw him hit a career-high 41 home runs.

    With a swing that was seemingly designed for the new Yankee Stadium and seeing the ball as well as he ever has, we can expect Granderson to not only rank as one of the best power hitters in the game, but have as good a chance as anyone to challenge Maris over the next few years.

Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers

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    Josh Hamilton, who after Tuesday's vulgar display of power* (sorry, I couldn't resist) sits with 14 home runs in 27 games this year is seeing the ball as well as anyone in the game right now.

    He's never hit more than 32 home runs in a season, but there's no denying the power that he generates with his swing—take a look at some of the shots he hit during the 2008 Home Run Derby if you need a quick refresher.

    Calling Rangers Ballpark in Arlington home certainly won't hurt his chances, given that since 2002, it has routinely been one of the most home run friendly parks in the game.

    Realistically, there are only three things standing in Josh Hamilton's way of challenging Maris in the next few seasons—his health, other teams pitching around him, and his daily battles with his addictions.

    But when he's on, when he's right, and there's no telling how many times he could go deep.

     

    *Vulgar Display of Power was Pantera's breakthrough 1992 album that is widely regarded as one of the most influential albums of the 90's.

Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

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    Maybe the most hyped prospect the game has ever seen, 19-year-old Bryce Harper has yet to hit his first Major League home run.

    So how can I possibly include him on a list of players who could challenge Roger Maris?

    Harper is the total package.

    A five-tool player in every sense of the word, Harper is still maturing both physically and as a hitter.

    He's going to get bigger, stronger, faster and better.

    With a smooth swing and bat speed that generates impressive power to all fields, it's not a question of if, but when Harper will be included in debate over who the best slugger in the game is.

Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Next to Josh Hamilton, there is no better offensive player in baseball at the moment than Matt Kemp.

    Kemp, who is tearing the cover off of the ball as he begins his journey into the prime years of his career, has a single season high of 39 home runs, set last season.

    Kemp possesses all the natural ability and tools necessary to succeed.

    His swing, one that certainly has been helped along by his manager, Don Mattingly (who had one of the sweetest that the game has ever seen) generates so much force that the ball doesn't fly off of his bat—it explodes.

    Kemp entered Tuesday night's game against the San Francisco Giants with 12 home runs in 30 games. That pace that would see him break Maris' mark, and a few big months could put him in Bonds' territory as well.

    As I said, Kemp is only beginning to enter the prime years of his career, and he's going to get better.

    Scary, isn't it?

Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels

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    It's no secret that Albert Pujols has struggled mightily so far in his first season with the Los Angeles Angels, but reports that Pujols was done were grossly exaggerated and downright absurd.

    One of the great hitters in the history of the game, the 32-year-old finally hit his first regular season home run as an Angel on Sunday, garnering a standing ovation from the Halo faithful and undoubtedly boosting his confidence.

    He's no longer in his prime, and he's six years removed from hitting a career-high 49 home runs. But Pujols hit 47 as recently as 2009, and he is still one of the premier players in the game.

    Pujols is fully capable of challenging Maris in the next few years, and anyone who doubts him is likely to be proven wrong.

Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

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    There might not be a player in the game who has as much raw power as Giancarlo Stanton.

    Coming off his first full season in the Majors, when he hit 34 home runs, the 22-year-old slugger has six home runs in what has been an injury-riddled 2012 season thus far.

    Stanton, who has battled a balky knee since spring training and got off to a slow start in 2012, has made adjustments and is beginning to rake, evidenced by the fact that all six of his home runs this year have come in his last ten games.

    Stanton is still years away from reaching his full potential. As long as he can remain healthy, there's no reason to think that he couldn't challenge Maris for home run supremacy.

Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    One of the great young players in the game (and my choice for 2011 National League MVP), 24-year-old Justin Upton is only getting better.

    While his brother, B.J., is extremely talented as well, Justin is the Upton who has the big-time power and is, at this point, the better player.

    Off to a slow start in 2012, he entered Tuesday night's game with only three home runs on the season.

    Coming off of a season where he hit a career-high 31 home runs, there's no reason to think that Upton isn't capable of flirting with Maris and his 61 long balls.

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