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Fantasy Baseball Sleeper: Diamondbacks First Baseman Russell Branyan

A few weeks ago, the Diamondbacks signed first baseman Russell Branyan to a minor league contract. As soon as I heard this news, my initial thought was that the Diamondbacks prospect Brandon Allen will start the season in AAA. With the Diamondbacks rebuilding, this signing doesn't make sense, but then you only have to look at who the new GM is in Arizona to make sense of the move. Kevin Towers likes veteran players and Branyan fits the description.

But should fantasy owners give Branyan a look on draft day? In mixed leagues, maybe not so much. But owners in NL-only leagues should take a closer look at Branyan at the end of their drafts should they miss out on the top first baseman.

Branyan is a cheap source of power playing half of his games at Chase Field in Arizona this year. He has hit 57 HRs in the last two season playing for Mariners and indians. He hits a fly ball in at least half of his ABs. Here are his FB% over the past 7 years, starting with 2004-52.7%, 47.9%, 51.9%, 52.6%, 57.1%, 50.0%, and 52.4%, and his HR/FB rate is usually in low 20% range, but last year it fell to 19.4%.

Branyan will be playing half of his home games in Arizona's Chase Field, with another 9 games at Coor Field, in 2011, so his power numbers could rise in 2011. Branyan's downfall is that he strikes out a ton. His K rates since 2004 are 43.8%, 39.6%, 36.9%, 42.3%, 31.8%, 34.6% and 34.8%. The DBacks got rid of Mark Reynolds and his extreme K rate and added his clone in Branyan. But Branyan does take a walk, as evidenced by his career BB rate of 11.8%.

But, the issue is whether he will get enough playing time with Juan Miranda and Brandon Allen fighting for for the first base job in spring training. Fantasy owners should keep a close watch on the first base battle in Arizona as Branyan could provide a solid and cheap source of power should he win the job.