I recently was able to cross something off my "bucket list." I finally read Bernard Malamud's The Natural. It is amazing that it took me this long, because it is my favorite baseball movie.

While reading the book -- but also every time I watch the movie -- I tried to figure out how many home runs Roy Hobbs actually hit that season. We know he misses the first couple weeks. He then becomes the starter and hits home runs at a record pace. Hobbs then goes into a slump that lasts at least a few weeks, only to pull out of his slump by smashing the clock in Wrigley and following that up with a three-homer day. He then continues to murder the ball as the Knights head toward the pennant. Yet every time, I can't figure out Hobbs' HR total. I figure its somewhere between 40 home runs and 60. But I know that's a pretty big gap, and 20 homers is a significant difference.

A score of homeruns can also be pretty significant if you're playing in a HR derby -- a popular alternative to traditional fantasy baseball. So, whom should you take? Like any league, so much depends on the format. However, I don't know what your format is. So, I've hit each position and told you whom you have to take, whom you should avoid, and whom you should take a chance on. All set in the context of The Natural, of course.

"There goes the best that ever was."

Don't get cute. Not choosing Ryan Howard is like not picking Tiger Woods in fantasy golf if you have the first pick. Even if he's not atop the leaderboard, do you really want someone else having him when you could have? I know Howard's batting average is putrid. But this is HR Derby.You don't need the magic eye of Gus Sands (played by the underrated Darren McGavin) to see that.

"You had a good run, slugger."

Yes, I'm going to tell you to leave a player with a three-year average of 36 HRs and a .566 SLG out of your HR Derby lineup. Despite Lance Berkman's torrid start last year, he still only hit 29 HRs, including just seven after the All-Star break. What scares me more, however, is the downward trend of his homeruns the last three years. He hit six less in 2008 than '07, and '07 was a precipitous 11-homer drop from the previous year. At 33 years old, I don't see that trend stopping.

"Pick me out a winner, Bobby."

I talked about Chris Davis in my preseason article, but I've got an even more obvious name for you: Albert Pujols. Of course he's a player "The Judge" would never have had on the Knights that year. But I've seen a number of reputable sites out there that actually have Pujols out of the top five of first base HR totals. Despite his lowest AB totals last year, he still hit 37 HRs -- and lest you forget, he needed surgery! Not to mention that the Cardinals were a little offensively challenged last year. Pujols should get more protection this year and is healthy. How can you not like him to hit more than 40?

"There goes the best that ever was."

Chase Utley and Dan Uggla should both hit the 30 HR mark. I don't think I need sportswriter Max Mercy to explain it to you.

"You had a good run, slugger."

Mark DeRosa has always been the kind of scrappy player I love. But a power hitter? I don't think so. Yes, he hit 21 dingers last year. And that was double what he had the year before. It smells a little fishy to me. I don't suspect PEDs, but lets put it this way, I'll take the under on DeRosa's HRs.

"Pick me out a winner, Bobby."

Sometimes you like a guy, but before you can mention him, he goes off, making you look like you're pointing out the obvious. Aaron Hill has hit two HRs already, which happens to be his total from last year. However, 2008 was an injury-marred season and Hill hit 17 the year before. Don't be surprised if he hits 20 this year.

"There goes the best that ever was."

Sure, David Wright might be the better overall player. But for HR Derby, you can't go wrong with Miguel Cabrera. Wright will top 30 homers, but Cabrera will hit much closer to 40.

"You had a good run, slugger."

There's a little too much hype about Evan Longoria for my tastes. Some projections have him hitting between 35 and 40 HRs. And he will get there, but not in his sophomore season. I think he'll even improve on his 27 HRs from last year. But even a 20 percent jump is asking for a little much.

"Pick me out a winner, Bobby."

One of the things that scared me from drafting Evan Longoria last year was Alex Gordon. But Gordon is the quintessential "post-hype" player. On an improved Royals team with 30-plus HR hitter Mike Jacobs offering protection, I see Gordon finally making a Longoria-like leap.

"There goes the best that ever was."

You have to choose Hanley Ramirez if you have to choose a SS. He's the consensus overall No. 1 pick for a reason and coming off a 31-HR season will do that.

"You had a good run, slugger."

Maybe I'm taking the easy route by telling you stay away from Miguel Tejada. However, we are talking about a shortstop that has hit 30 home runs or more not once, not twice, not three times, but four times! How many guys projected ahead of Tejada can say that? None. Between Tejada's age (he'll be older than Hobbs was in May), legal issues, and um, "vitamin" usage likely to go down, its time to stick a needle, uh, I mean a fork in him.

"Pick me out a winner, Bobby."

Maybe it's the misplaced "h", but I'm not sure why more love isn't going Jhonny Peralta's way. Here's a short-stop that has hit 20-plus homers three of the last four years, is coming off a scorching spring, and is that "magical" age of 27. I actually like Peralta to hit more HRs than "H-Ram" this year.

"There goes the best that ever was."

You could gamble on Pablo Sandoval or even Matt Wieters. But I'll take the guy who is proven, thank you, and Brian McCann's three-year average of 22 HRs is fine by me.

"You had a good run, slugger."

So he hit 23 round trippers last year and 26 at AAA-Iowa the year before. I want to see Geovany Soto do it at least one more time before I take him over McCann.

"Pick me out a winner, Bobby."

So Victor Martinez only hit two home runs last year. Are people forgetting that he hit 25 just a year earlier? With Martinez expected to play a lot of first base this year, he should see nearly 600 at bats. Don't be surprised to see "V-Mart" with 25 before the kids go back to school.

"There goes the best that ever was."

Every time I hear Robert Redford say, "No way. It took me too long to get here", I think of Josh Hamilton. Hamilton, like Hobbs, has too much talent and knows how lucky he is to still have a shot at the record books. He'll hit 30 again easily and could approach 50.

"You had a good run, slugger."

To this day, Ken Griffey, Jr. is still one of my favorite players and I still remember the Sports Illustrated issue with a sepia-colored cover of Junior under the script headline "The Natural". And I'd love to see him hit 30 like he did as recently as 2007. But the head beats out the heart here, as I just don't see it happening. Junior will be 40 this year, has little to no protection in that Mariners lineup, and will play his home games in Safeco, one of the best pitchers parks.

"Pick me out a winner, Bobby."

Here's your HR Derby sleeper: Luke Scott. Between the DH and the fourth OF, Scott should see nearly 600 ABs. Last year he hit 23 HRs in 475 at bats or a rate of a HR about ever 20 ABs. If he gets over 600 ABs, at that rate, don't be surprised to see him hit 30. If your HR derby is a salary league, I strongly recommend you consider Scott.

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