Fantasy Baseball 2013: Top 10 High Risk/High Reward Players
As I put together the Top 150 Fantasy Baseball Big Board, it seemed like every other player had an injury history or a bad season in the past year or two. In other words, most players came with a very big “IF.”
Some of these players’ value had dropped to the point where they could be considered fairly low risk, but with a high reward if everything went right.
Others, such as the 10 on this list, have seen their value drop some, but not enough to make them “low risk." These are high-risk players that come with a high reward if they can stay healthy and have the kind of year they’ve already shown that they’re capable of having.
Be sure to give your picks for best high-risk/high reward players in the comment section.
1. Tim Lincecum, SP, San Francisco Giants
Average Draft Position, according to MLBDepthCharts (38)
OK, let’s get the obvious one out of the way here. Lincecum went from arguably the best starter in baseball to one of the worst. No one really knows why. At times, he appeared on the verge of busting out of it. And it never really happened until he pitched out of the bullpen in the playoffs.
The 28 year-old has had mixed results this spring, allowing eight earned runs in 7.2 innings, although his last start on March 17th went pretty well:
4 IP, 2 ER, 3 H, 3 BB, K
I don’t really know that he’s any less unpredictable than last season.
If you really like to gamble and take risks, this is the guy for you. He’s being taken lower than ever in fantasy drafts, which is tempting. But he’s probably not draft-worthy in any round if you knew you were getting the same guy as 2012.
2. Josh Hamilton, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Average Draft Position, according to MLBDepthCharts (18)
The long-term risks are probably more of a concern with Hamilton. He’s still just 31 years old, played in a career-high 148 games in 2012 and will probably be on his best behavior in his first season with the Angels.
Moving from the hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark in Arlington to pitcher-friendly Angel Stadium, however, is the biggest short-term concern. Hamilton’s overall road numbers were great (.923 OPS), but he was only 4-for-28 with no homers, three walks and nine strikeouts in Anaheim.
And those of you who draft him early need to be warned. He’ll be playing 101 games in ballparks where he hasn’t been a great hitter throughout his career: 81 games in Anaheim (.765 OPS), 10 games in Oakland (.751 OPS), 10 games in Seattle (.746 OPS).
Don’t be surprised if he finished with an OPS in the mid-.800’s, which is still good but not as good as it should be for where he’ll be drafted.
3. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies
Average Draft Position, according to MLBDepthCharts (16)
He’ll drop slightly in fantasy drafts because he missed most of last season and will now be playing with a surgically repaired groin. But not that far. You’ll still need to spend a high draft pick to land Tulowitzki, and you’ll be risking that pick on a player who has played in at least 143 games just three times in six full seasons.
For a player who is known to always play the game with reckless abandon, there’s always an injury risk, especially someone who must move laterally in either direction several times each inning. I’d feel even less confident about saying he’ll get through the season without a disabled list stint for just the fourth time in seven seasons.
Tulowitzki is only 28 years old, so he has a better chance of avoiding a reoccurrence than a player approaching his mid-30’s. And if he stays on the field, he’ll produce.
I wouldn’t count on him being very aggressive on the basepaths, but he’s a .304 hitter over the past three seasons with an average of 30 homers, 97 runs batted in, 31 doubles and 90 runs over that span. Even if he plays 120 games, he’ll give you more production than most shortstops around the league.
4. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Boston Red Sox
Average Draft Position, according to MLBDepthCharts (41)
Just two years removed from a monster season that had him second in AL MVP voting, it’s obvious that the reward is high for the 29-year-old center fielder. But he’s never come close to putting up those kinds of numbers again, even when he has been healthy.
The problem is that he missed most of 2010 and much of last season, and then he wasn’t very good when he returned to action. I’d set expectations somewhere closer to where he was in 2009 (.301 BA, 8 HR, 60 RBI, 27 2B, 10 3B, 49 BB, 70 K) with less stolen bases and a bump in homers to the mid-teens.
That will probably not give you enough value for where he’s drafted, but at least there is the potential that he can go homer crazy again and give you a potentially terrific return.
5. Melky Cabrera, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Average Draft Position, according to MLBDepthCharts (104)
There’s really no way of knowing when Cabrera starting using performance-enhancing drugs or how much they helped him. That’s why he’s a tough guy to figure out. The Blue Jays think he’ll be good, which is why they’re giving him $16 million over the next two seasons.
We know he was a decent player in his early 20’s with the Yankees, posting a .718 OPS from 2006-2009. He was bad in his one season with Atlanta, and then he was a very good player with Kansas City in 2011 (.809 OPS). He was of course performing at an All-Star level with the Giants (.906 OPS) before he was suspended.
He’ll still be a great value if he can return to his 2011 form, when he hit .305 with 18 homers, 87 runs batted in, 101 runs, 44 doubles and 20 stolen bases.
6. Carlos Beltran, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
Average Draft Position, according to MLBDepthCharts (121)
Are we supposed to believe that Beltran, a soon-to-be 36-year-old who missed most of 2009-2010 with knee trouble, can have a third consecutive healthy season while playing right field every day? I’m not buying it.
At least the Cardinals have some pretty good fall-back plans if Beltran misses time in 2013. Oscar Taveras, who might be the best hitting prospect in baseball, can probably be a good major league hitter right now. They can also move Allen Craig to right field and have Matt Adams play first base.
I suggest you have a backup plan in place too.
7. Jake Peavy, SP, Chicago White Sox
Average Draft Position, according to MLBDepthCharts (134)
If a guy is injured for three straight seasons with various ailments, he’s labeled as injury prone. So does one healthy season remove that label? Don’t think so.
Peavy made 32 starts and pitched the second highest innings total (219) of his career. The 31-year-old was effective, too, winning 11 games, posting a 3.37 ERA and striking out 194 hitters.
He’s no longer the Cy Young award-caliber pitcher he was with the Padres, but he could still be one of the top pitchers on a good fantasy team if he can stay healthy. That might be the biggest “if” on this list.
8. Brett Lawrie, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
Average Draft Position, according to MLBDepthCharts (75)
The talented 23-year-old had his major league debut in 2011 pushed back after fracturing his hand in the minors just before he was due to be called up, then fractured his finger with a week to go in the season.
In his first full season in the majors, Lawrie missed more than a month with a strained oblique. He’s now questionable for Opening Day with a rib cage injury. Does he deserve the injury-prone label yet? Probably.
But despite a disappointing 2012 season that came with huge expectations after he hit nine homers and stole seven bases in 43 games as a rookie, Lawrie has 20-homer and 20-stolen base potential with the ability to put up good numbers across the board. He’s just not as much of a sure thing anymore because of the injury risk and a so-so first full season in the majors.
9. Chad Billingsley, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Average Draft Position, according to MLBDepthCharts (276)
Tommy John surgery has become so common in baseball, it almost makes sense for a pitcher to just undergo the procedure early in their career to reduce the chances it happens once they’re actually an integral part of a major league team. I kid, of course.
But missing at least one full season while undergoing an intensive rehab program is not something a pitcher wants to deal with during the prime of their career. In some cases, an alternative to surgery is rest and rehab. A newer procedure is a platelet-rich injection that could help to heal the torn ligaments. This is the route Billingsley chose instead of the surgery, which he appeared headed for at the end of the 2012 season.
The 28-year-old hasn’t had any issues thus far and appears to be 100 percent as we approach the start of the season. But just ask Rafael Furcal, who chose rest and rehab this offseason only to discover he really needed to have the surgery once he had elbow pain this spring. In many cases, the injury will rear its ugly head once again.
A healthy Billingsley, however, could give you his typical 13-win season with a 3.60 ERA and 175 strikeouts in 30-plus starts.
10. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers
Average Draft Position, according to MLBDepthCharts (36)
From 2006-2011, Gonzalez was one of the most productive hitters in the game with a .297 BA and a yearly average of 31 homers, 37 doubles, 103 runs batted in, 80 walks and 95 runs. And five of those seasons were played in one of the most extreme pitcher-friendly ballparks in the league.
So what happened in 2012 with the Red Sox and Dodgers? Although he likely wasn’t being pitched around nearly as much as when he was with the Padres, his walks were way down and his home runs dropped to 18 in 159 games.
Gonzalez was actually starting to find his groove as the season went along, however. Over his last 97 games, he hit .324 with 13 homers, 25 doubles and 75 runs batted in.
If he can regain his home run swing with the Dodgers in 2013, he could return to elite status. Or he can be the same guy he was the first two months in Boston last season, which would not be good for you if he’s your first baseman.