Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
In the fantasy world, as in real life, one of the keys to winning a championship is to keep your guys healthy. It's impossible to hit a home run or strikeout a hitter while you're sitting on the bench in street clothes.
Particularly in a sport like baseball, where it's tough enough to go through the entire 162-game marathon season without a few bumps and bruises, it's important to at least start the season in good health.
Which is why reports about some very good fantasy players from Florida and Arizona who are already hurting have me concerned.
Let's start with Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau. This might be the longest lasting concussion-related injury in baseball history. The Twins cleanup batter was in the middle of a monster 2010 season (18 HR, 56 RBI, .345 batting average, 1.055 OPS through 81 games) when he was kneed in the head while sliding into second base. Here it is, exactly eight months later and Morneau has yet the make an appearance at the plate. In fact, he has yet to be cleared to play in a game.
To choose Morneau at this point in time, with his relatively high ADP of 38, is definitely a high-risk proposition.
Another first basemen, one that I was planning on targeting, is giving me cause for second thoughts. One of my sleepers for 2011 was Angels' slugger Kendry Morales, who was injured in a freak play last season while running around the bases. Morales was coming off an excellent 2009 and 2010 was already shaping up to supply fantasy owners with similar numbers when he got hurt. With just 11 homers and 39 RBIs on his resume, I think many fantasy owners will let him slip lower than they should.
But rumors have surfaced over the past few days that Morales may not be ready to start the season. Though manager Mike Scioscia has denied those rumors, Morales doesn't appear to be ready to go. We'll know more around March 20th when it's expected that Morales would have to start playing games if he's going to be ready for Opening Day. He would certainly be a nice value (ADP 51) if you could get him to play 150 games, but at this point I'd call it a longshot.
Heading to second base, I'm very concerned about Chase Utley's chronic knee problem which the team is calling "patellar tendonitis." The Phillies slugger will cost you a second-round pick and at that level you need to know that he can play a full season. Not only do I doubt that he'll play 150 games, but his knee problem will effect his base running totals, a feature of his game which makes him one of the top second basemen in the game. Utley has averaged 16 SB per season over the past six years, but I question if he will do that in 2011. A "Chase Utley" who doesn't steal bases is really a "Dan Uggla" and is a late third-round value, not a top-15 pick.
Jumping to the outfield I'm worried for Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Corey Hart. Hart is a power hitter (batted .283 with 31 homers and 102 RBI in 2010), but he's got an oblique strain. He's not progressing as expected and could miss the start of the season. It's one of those injuries, that if not completely healed, could easily be re-injured and you have to be very careful in rehab.
He's currently going in the middle of the seventh round, but until I see him take a full cut and not reach for his ribcage, I'll probably stay away from the selection.
Another outfielder, Grady Sizemore of the Indians, was hoping to return to the form that made him a first-round fantasy pick from 2006-2008. It's a longshot for him to be ready for Opening Day after offseason microfracture knee surgery, but at least he's taking part in some spring training drills. He's not as big a gamble as some of the players listed before him due to his low ADP (114), but it's still not a gamble worth taking at this point.
Other hitters already dealing with injuries which are keeping them out of the spring training lineup include; Derrek Lee, Adrian Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer and Miguel Olivo.
It's tough enough to play 150+ games when you start the season healthy and ready to go, but it's almost impossible if you head to Opening Day at less than 100%.
Our job for the remainder of spring training is to watch these guys closely over the next two weeks to determine if they are ready to play ball when the calendar turns to April. If they are not, don't hesitate to go to an alternate strategy.
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