Fantasy Baseball 2012: Top High Risk High Reward Players

Jay Bruno@JayBrunoSportsContributor IIIFebruary 17, 2012

Fantasy Baseball 2012: Top High Risk High Reward Players

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    They say fantasy championships can't be won on draft day—but they can be lost.

    Balancing risk vs reward is an important consideration in drafting the best team possible. Drafting players who play above their drafted position is a key component of a successful draft, however it is important to understand the risks involved such that you can choose wisely while minimizing the risk of losing the season before it even begins. 

    The following is a compilation of 10 high-risk high-reward players for fantasy baseball 2012. 

    When evaluating draft position, a standard 5x5 10-12 team league is assumed. Each listed player has the potential to play above their drafted position (or give you best-player-in-fantasy stats like Miguel Cabrera), and many have the potential to provide first-round level stats from later rounds in the draft.

    At the same time, each player has areas of concern, which could result in a wasted pick, and a substantial talent gap on your fantasy team.

10. Miguel Cabrera

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    Miguel Cabrera has been one of the most dominant and consistent fantasy baseball players over the past three years, so what's the risk? 

    The risk is that Cabrera is moving to third base with the addition of Prince Fielder. Position switches can have an effect on a player's consistency and overall game, especially when dropping weight is involved.

    Jim Leyland is aware of the concern, and has said  "when you get conscious of your weight, you can lose strength along with weight. You can lose some self-confidence, too, and maybe you don't perform as well. That's no good."

    However, current reports indicate that Cabrera has already lost as much as 20-25 pounds in preparation for the position switch.

    If Cabrera loses power, he might see hits that used to be home-runs in 2011 turning into outs in spacious Comerica Park.

    Cabrera is currently being drafted first or second overall in most leagues. A bad season from a player picked first or second overall can spell disaster for any fantasy team. 


    The high-end for Cabrera this season is AL MVP quality play and career numbers. Career-numbers are a pretty high ceiling for a player who has in the past hit as many as 127 RBIs and 37 home-runs in separate seasons. 

    With the addition of Prince Fielder, Cabrera will have the best protection of his career, and should cross the plate plenty of times with the powerful Fielder batting cleanup.

    Some are suggesting the duo of Fielder and Cabrera could put up historic numbers. However third-basemen have a higher risk of getting injured than first-basemen, and Cabrera is on the hefty-end of the third-basemen spectrum.

    Instead of historic numbers, the risk is that Cabrera gets injured or struggles with slightly reduced power, resulting in a wasted season for Cabrera and a wasted pick for you.  

9. Carlos Gonzalez

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    Carlos Gonzalez is being drafted, on average, early in the second round. Gonzalez has never played 150 games in his career, however came close in 2010 when he played 145 games and finished with 111 runs, 34 home-runs, 117 RBIs, 26 steals and a .336 batting average, while winning the NL batting title. 

    Those are top-five numbers, and its no surprise he was a top-five pick in most drafts in 2011.

    In the 2011 season, Gonzalez played only 127 games, and suffered nagging wrist injuries.

    He still managed to finish as the 26th ranked fantasy hitter, however he could have done much worse if his injury had shut him down earlier in the season. 


    Project Gonzalez's 2011 season over 150 games, and he was on pace for a 109 runs, 31 home-runs, 109 RBIs and 24 steals season. That's pretty much in line with his 2010 numbers, demonstrating he didn't lose anything at the plate while struggling with a hurt wrist at times.

    Given that Gonzalez will only be 26-years-old throughout the season, he should continue to be one of the best players in the game when he's playing, and might even show improvement as he enters his prime. 

    If he stays healthy, you have a five-category top-five player in the second round.

    However there is an injury risk.

    He could be out of your lineup by the all-star break if his wrist acts up again, in which case your team has a huge talent hole and a nullified early second-round pick. 

8. Mike Napoli

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    Mike Napoli is a catcher.

    The risk isn't necessarily that Napoli won't be one of the best catchers in fantasy, rather the risk has to do with opportunity cost.

    Napoli is currently being drafted near the end of the fourth-round, alongside players like Dan Haren, Elvis Andrus and Nelson Cruz. Alex Avila, on the other hand, is being drafted closer to the ninth-round alongside players like Jason Heyward, Matt Garza and Cameron Maybin.

    In these two examples, would you rather have Andrus and Avila, or Napoli and Heyward? If Napoli reverts to his career average, the answer is almost certainty the former. 


    Catcher is a shallow position, and locking up one of the best fantasy catchers is a luxury.

    If Napoli can manage to have a similar season in 2012 as 2011, except appear in around 140 games instead of 113, his 2011 stats project out to 89 runs, 37 home-runs and 93 RBIs.

    Those counting stats could have come from Joe Mauer in his prime.

7. Brett Lawrie

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    Brett Lawrie will be starting his first full year in the majors in 2012, and is being drafted on average in the fifth round in standard mixed leagues. However in competitive leagues he is more of a fourth round selection.

    That is a high draft pick for a player with 43 major league games under his belt, and he could easily struggle at times. There are also questions about his durability, as his major league debut was delayed due to a broken hand.


    Brett Lawrie's debut at the end of 2011 was incredible.

    Lawrie had 26 runs, nine home-runs, 25 RBIs and seven stolen bases, to go with a .293 batting average in 43 games. 

    Projected over 150 games, that's 91 runs, 31 home-runs, 87 RBIs and 24 stolen bases for a first-year player.

    Although those numbers are a result of projecting a relatively small sample size, Lawrie has the pedigree, and displayed power in triple-A. It is not out the realm of possibility Lawrie improves in 2012 and become a top-three fantasy third-baseman. 

    Lawrie is a potential second-round talent you can get in the fourth or fifth round in most drafts; however young players go through growing pains, and you could find yourself needing to find a replacement third-baseman if Lawrie struggles in his first full year.  

6. Josh Johnson

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    Josh Johnson has pitched at least 30 games in a season only twice in his career, and only once since 2007.

    Johnson was dominant in 2011, posting a 1.64 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

    In 2010 he posted an impressive 2.30 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 28 games before ending the season early with back pain.

    Johnson has demonstrated himself to be one of the best pitchers in the game, and has ace-quality stuff, however spending an eighth-round pick on an injury plagued player coming off of shoulder problems is a significant risk.    


    Johnson is reportedly feeling no discomfort in the shoulder that shortened his 2011 season. That is good news for his fantasy prospects.

    If he can finally put a full season together, Johnson could be a top-ten pitcher.

    That is pretty good production from a pitcher who is currently the 27th starting pitcher off the board on draft day. 

    Additionally, Johnson could set career highs in the win column given the vast improvements made to the Miami Marlins team in the offseason. 

5. Josh Hamilton

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    Josh Hamilton hasn't played more than 133 games since he played 156 games in 2008. Last season he played in 121 games while collecting 80 runs, 25 home-runs and 94 RBIs.

    That was good enough to make him the 47th ranked hitter of 2011—not what you hope to get out of your third-round pick.

    There is additional uncertainty surrounding his unfortunate recent alcohol relapse, and there is no telling how his game will be affected.    


    Hamilton is one of the best hitters in the game.

    Despite only playing 133 games in 2010, he still managed 95 runs, 32 home-runs and 100 RBIs while batting .359.

    That was good enough to be the AL MVP.

    If 2011's numbers are projected over 150 games, he collects 99 runs, 31 home-runs and 117 RBIs—and that's a first-round player drafted in the third-round. 

    If 2012 is another injury-filled season, you will get results similar to 2011. If he manages to stay healthy, he could be the best player on your team despite drafting him the third-round. 

4. Jose Reyes

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    Jose Reyes has a hard time staying healthy—that's the risk.

    Reyes relies heavily on speed, and plays a position often associated with injuries. This means that if he gets nicked up, it could affect his speed and his overall game. 

    Additionally, he has made a habit out of missing time, and hasn't played close to 150 games since 2008.   


    If Reyes stays healthy, he should have a career year and be a first-round talent, which is exactly what you want out of your second-round pick. Runs should come easily in a stacked Miami Marlins offense, and with a team built on speed, he should have the green light to rack up steals.

    Given the relatively shallow pool of shortstops who provide elite counting numbers, Reyes could be one of the most valuable players in fantasy this year.

    That is, of course, if he stays healthy. And that's a big if.

    The risk is a bit diluted by the fact Reyes is still a second-round talent playing 120 games a year, as evident in 2011. Reyes finished 2011 as the 16th best fantasy hitter and top-rated shortstop despite appearing in only 126 games. 

    However if Reyes misses time and has any problems at all adjusting to a new team and new ballpark, Reyes could quickly turn into a 2012 fantasy baseball bust.  

3. Ryan Braun

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    Ryan Braun could miss 50 games to start the season as a result of his suspension for testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone. 

    It makes sense to buy low on Braun and stash him for when he returns, however you won't be able to place him on your disabled-list, meaning he will take up a valuable bench spot for about a third of the season.

    When he does return, its not clear how long it will take him to get back into game-shape, what his state of mind will be after an embarrassing suspension, or how he will perform without Prince Fielder batting behind him. 


    Braun is coming off an MVP season, and there is no reason he can't play MVP caliber baseball when he returns.

    If you are in a rotisserie league, it might not make sense to risk a third-round pick on a player who will miss 50 games while taking up a bench spot; however if you are in a head-to-head league, and have confidence you can stay in the hunt with Braun on the bench, he has the potential to put your team over the top when he returns.

    For those in a keeper league, drafting Braun in the third-round could also pay dividends next year when he could be a first round pick.  

    UPDATE: Now that Braun won't face a suspension, consider the reigning MVP a low risk top-five pick.

2. Curtis Granderson

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    Curtis Granderson's average draft position indicates he is being valued as a mid-second round pick.

    That may seem like a bargain for a player who, according to the ESPN player rater, finished the 2011 season as the 6th best fantasy performer. However at the start of the 2011 season he was more of a tenth-round pick.

    So what happened?   

    There are two simple explanations relevant to fantasy owners: he either broke out, or got lucky. 

    There are indications luck played a factor.

    For example, Granderson's fly-ball-to-home-run percentage was 20.5%, significantly higher than the 14.5% he put up in 2010. If Granderson performs closer to 2010 than 2011, you have just used your second-round pick on a tenth-round player.


    It is possible that instead of being lucky, Granderson broke out in a big way.

    In a potent Yankees offense, 100+ runs is certainly a possibility for any player batting near the top of the order. If he can also get back to 30+ home-runs, then 100+ RBIs is also reasonable.

    Add in his speed, and you have a five-category, top-ten player in the middle of the second round.   

1. Hanley Ramirez

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    The risk is abundant.

    Hanley Ramirez has seen two straight years of diminished production, is coming off the worst season of his career complete with season-ending shoulder surgery and is facing a position switch he reportedly isn't happy about following the acquisition of Jose Reyes.

    It is not hard to imagine this trend of decreasing production continuing, especially if he is disgruntled about the position switch.

    If Ramirez has a year resembling a combination of his previous two seasons— inconsistent play and nagging injuries—you have just squandered a second round pick. 


    Between 2006 and 2009, Ramirez was on of the best fantasy players in baseball, and at a relatively shallow shortstop position to boot.

    Over those four years, he averaged 154 games, 117 runs, 26 home runs and 78 RBIs.

    Hanley has an opportunity to set career high numbers in 2012 given the Marlins' lineup. With Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio and Ramirez at the top of the order, the Marlins may have the fastest first three hitters in baseball

    That spells RBIs.

    With Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez batting behind him, Hanley will get plenty of runs as well, if he can stay healthy. 

    All in all, Ramirez is entering his age 29 season, and has an excellent chance to bounce back from last year's campaign in an improved offense.

    His current average draft position is about 18th, which means you could end up with a top-five player in the middle of the second round.

    Or, you could end up with a slumping, unhappy and injured player who was drafted too high to drop, but doesn't have enough value to justify trading. 

    At least one good sign is that he seems motivated, and is keeping track of all his detractors.


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