What to do with Chase Utley?

Chase Utley

All 2009 Fantasy Articles | 2009 Position Rankings

While Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler both broke out in a big way last year, there is no second baseman I’d rather own than Chase Utley. That said, Utley is one of the toughest players to get a read on heading into draft season. There’s no doubting the Philly slugger’s studliness — his average season since 2005 is a cool .305-29-103-110-13, and there are few cushier gigs in baseball than hitting third in Philly’s stacked lineup. But after belting 25 homers before the break last season, Utley’s power evaporated in the second half thanks to a hip injury that required offseason surgery. He says he’ll be back in time for Opening Day and early spring training reports have been positive, but owners are still understandably concerned. When healthy, Utley is not only a surefire first-round selection but, considering the lack of depth at second base, he’s also a likely top-five pick in most drafts. How dramatically should the injury concerns affect his draft stock? I suppose that depends on how lucky you feel. Punk.

Albert PujolsThis situation is reminiscent of the cloud that hung over Albert Pujols last spring. News that the slugger was one errant throw or swing away from blowing out his elbow sent Pujols’ stock plummeting to the point where some owners were able to snag arguably the game’s best hitter in the second or even third round. Six months later, Pujols claimed his second MVP award after going .357-37-116-100 and playing 148 games. This year, Pujols is a consensus top-three pick.

Utley, meanwhile, has been going in the second or third round in most drafts despite the fact that his rehab to this point has been smooth and he’s still on target to start on Opening Day. Obviously, if he suffers a setback before the start of the season, then it’s time to worry, but at this point, all the talk of him missing some, most or even all of April seems to be overblown. All of which presents you, the informed fantasy owner, with a golden opportunity.

If you happened to be one of the millions of people who passed on Pujols last year, you were likely kicking yourself at the end of the season. Don’t make the same mistake again. My second base preview examines the position in more detail and shows just how little depth there is behind the top-tier performers. In fact, once you move past the top-five second basemen, things get pretty hairy. Sure, promising youngsters like Alexei Ramirez will still be on the board and Dan Uggla offers some serious power, but like just about everyone else at the position, Ramirez and Uggla come with their fair share of warts. All of which makes Utley that much more valuable.

We’re talking about a guy who hasn’t driven in fewer than 100 runs since 2004, a career .292 hitter who will fill up your power categories and also swipe 15 bags. There aren’t very many guys on draft day who can give you that kind of all-round production, and at second base, Utley stands alone.

So pay close attention to the reports coming out of Phillies camp this spring and, as long as everything remains positive, get ready to pounce when the best second baseman in the game falls into your lap much later than he should.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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