Yesterday I covered the bottom half of the list here, numbers 10 through 6. Some solid speculation on some people’s part in the comments section as to who made the top five, so without further ado…
5. Rickie Weeks, 2B MIL — Fantasy owners’ heads were spinning in 2010 when Weeks finally put in a full season without some catastrophic mishap. The array of injuries throughout his time in the majors had been ridiculous, from a thumb injury to knee surgery to a torn muscle in his hand. And while his offensive potential was huge, fantasy owners started to avoid him like the plague. When the 2010 season wrapped, the second baseman who hit 29 HR and swiped 11 bases was back in everyone’s good graces and even sat pretty high in offseason keeper rankings. Well, two months on the shelf with a sprained ankle last year gave his owners a nice reality-smack in the face and we’re back to more concerns than promise. Yes, the position is getting some depth, but with 20 HR power and the potential for double digit steals, Weeks remains a decent option in spite of the fact that you’re sure to lose him for a few weeks each year.
4. Nelson Cruz, OF TEX — After bouncing back and forth between the minors and majors, Cruz finally hit his stride in 2008 earning PCL MVP honors, a late season call-up and an eventual starting job in 2009. He had a tremendous season, banging 33 HR and swiping 20 bases, but a hamstring problem landed him on the DL in early August, and frankly, his legs have never been the same. He played in 128 games that year, only 108 the following season, and just 124 in 2011, all because of chronic hamstring problems. OK, maybe there was a quad injury in there somewhere too. And who can forget that groin problem that knocked him out of Game 6 of the World Series last year? When he’s in the lineup, Cruz can slug it out with the best of them, but it’s becoming less and less likely that you’re going to see a full year out of him. True, statistically his partial years are pretty damn good, but you take a serious risk in drafting him in that, one of these days, his leg problems are going to cost you more than just 20 or 30 games.
3. Kevin Youkilis, 3B BOS — The daily wear and tear of being a gamer is starting to take its toll on Youkilis who has had quite his fair share of injuries over the last few seasons and the fact that he is now locked in at the hot corner instead of a cushy first base spot certainly doesn’t help his case. He’s missed time in each of the last three seasons and we’ve watched the production steadily decline in that time frame. The HRs have faded, the ISO took a serious hit last year, and both the batting average and OBP have suffered accordingly. The lack of depth at the position and the fact that he plays in such a potent lineup will always mask the potential injury liability, but at 33 years old, the clock is ticking. It’s not like he’s ever going to change his style of play, so his body will continue to take a pounding this year. When you draft him, make sure that you have a respectable back up because Youk will cost you a fairly decent draft pick.
2. Alex Rodriguez, 3B NYY — That’s now four straight seasons of less than 140 games played due to injury and the breakdown became even more evident as he missed 63 games last year due to knee problems. He’ll be 37 years old by the end of July this season so between Father Time catching up, 16 major league seasons of wear and tear, and admitted steroid use (and who really knows for how long), his body has become like an eraser that has been worn down to a nub. Things like his contact%, SwStr% and BB/K haven’t deviated much from his career numbers yet, so that sort of gives a little hope for a rebound, but it’s only a matter of time before his knees (and maybe even his hip) fail him to the point where those numbers do start to suffer. We have seen a rise in his GB% with a significant drop in LD%, so perhaps we’re starting to see his lower leg issues affect his swing in that aspect. But similarly to Youkilis, and even Chipper, the lack of quality third basemen will force people to draft A-Rod at a higher spot, regardless of the fact that his power numbers are falling in direct correlation to his persistent time off due to injury these days.
1. Josh Hamilton, OF TEX — As if anyone else could have been number one on this list, Hamilton is the perfect example of high risk/high reward when it comes to drafting in fantasy baseball. He’s played in more than 150 games just once in five seasons and although he’s technically only been on the DL five times since the 2007 season, he has missed significant portions of the season due to day to day issues as well. And it’s not like it’s any one recurring problem. He’s had problems with his back, his wrist, his knees, his shoulders, his hamstrings, his groin, his hand, and his foot. When he’s healthy….oh mama! This guy can hit. But the problem is that he just can’t stay healthy. People chance it all the time as he’s been a late first/early second round pick consistently, but perhaps this year, folks are starting to wise up. He’s going 27th according to recent ADP rankings. Still a little high for such a high risk player, but again, even squeezing out 120 games from him can match or surpass the production of numerous outfielders. It’s just a matter of what type of gambler you are.
Honorable mention to Chase Utley whose hip problem seems to be curtailing what could have been a long and monstrous career. Both Hanley Ramirez and Ryan Zimmerman came close, but I’m not ready to write them off as injury risks just yet.