About two weeks ago, I looked at the top fantasy wild cards at pitcher, guys who had the potential to produce at a top level but who were near-impossible to predict. Now, in that vein, I present to you the top five position player wild cards for 2013. These guys could be fantasy stars or they could regress horribly. Tread carefully.
No one knows what to expect from Headley this season. After four seasons of marginal (very marginal) fantasy production and waiver wire familiarity, Headley magically transformed into a full blown fantasy force last season. Gone was the slap-hitting .260 hitter that angered owners so often over the years. Instead, we got a brand new Headley who swung hard and took names. As has been documented ad nauseam, Headley's 31 home runs were four more than he had hit in the previous three seasons combined. He also led the National League in RBIs, and threw in 17 stolen bases. It was one of the more inexplicable monster years in recent memory.
Now he's tasked with doing it again, but the masses are skeptical, to say the least. From a historical standpoint, the smart money would be on Headley finishing in the 15-20 home run range again. However, in 2012 his fly ball rate shot up substantially, and his strikeout rate also went up, so it looks like he was just plain taking harder swings at the ball. If he keeps swinging for the fences, there's no reason he can't keep up the prodigious home run totals, as long as he keeps the whiffs under control. Regardless, he's one of the year's most interesting cases.
Like the second coming of Jose Bautista, Encarnacion suddenly blossomed into a fantasy stud in his age-29 season. Going into 2012, Encarnacion's career-high home run total was 26; last year he bashed 42. It's tempting to think that this is simply a one-year power spike like we've seen with so many hitters over the years (who can forget Brady Anderson?), but perhaps there's just magic in the water in Toronto.
Bautista was able to maintain his home run numbers; it'll be interesting to see if Encarnacion can follow his lead. His fly ball rates were more or less in line with his career totals, but his HR/FB rate was easily a career high. That's the number one indicator that his 2012 power jump might have been a fluke.
Ellsbury was a fantasy monster in 2011, breaking out for a 30/30 campaign, but he was positively underwhelming last season on the rare occasions that he was actually on the field. Ellsbury's OPS tanked at .682, and he only managed 323 plate appearances due to a shoulder injury suffered in the season's first week.
Ellsbury is kind of the ultimate "Who Knows?" player, because fantasy owners were already a bit skeptical about his 2011 power outburst to begin with. Now he's coming off a lost season where his swing was all messed up, and it's anybody's guess if the star from two years ago will ever show his face again. Also, with two injury-marred seasons in the last three, he's earned the dreaded "injury-prone" label. He's as equally likely to be had for a bargain in fantasy drafts as he is to be completely overpaid for, if that makes any sense.
So what contributed more to Cabrera's All-Star four-and-a-half months of 2012? Was it PEDs or a sky-high .379 BABIP? The Blue Jays tossed a two-year deal at Cabrera in the hopes that his production was artificially aided by neither of those things. Cabrera provides fantasy owners with quite a conundrum. The past two years, he's been a terrific five-category producer. However, he's coming off a long layoff and, of course, will be supposedly PED-free for the first time in a few years. If the juice was legitimately behind his breakout, and if the suspension has truly scared him away from the bad stuff, then he might well regress into the pre-2011 Melky who couldn't sniff a 100 OPS+.
Belt has been going all General Sherman on the Cactus League this preseason, and Giants fans and keeper league owners are hoping (praying?) that's it's a precursor to a bust out season. Belt showed all-world hitting ability in the minor leagues, hitting for average, power, and showing patience at the plate. Last year he retained that good plate discipline, but the power was nonexistent, as he hit only seven homers all year, and three of those came during one three-game stretch in June. Some of that is probably attributable to his home run-crushing home ballpark, but he wasn't exactly Babe Ruth on the road, either.
The power is definitely there. Belt demonstrated that much with the awe-inspiring, NLCS-capping bomb he hit off of Jason Motte last season. However, it remains to be seen whether he can consistently display that power to make him an asset in fantasy leagues. He's been a disappointment so far, but at 25 there's still time to develop more, and if he starts hitting more home runs, he could couple that with his double digit stolen base ability to be a fantasy force.