On Thursday Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., speaking with the media, confirmed that Utley will begin the 2011 regular season on the disabled list. Utley has missed the entire spring training schedule while recovering from what doctors have confirmed to be patellar tendinitis in the right knee. Amaro would not speculate on a timetable for Utley's return to the lineup.
With Utley missing so much time in spring training fantasy baseball owners are getting nervous about having him on their fantasy teams this season. Utley has been widely regarded to be one of, if not the, top second basemen in fantasy baseball over the last couple of seasons but recently he was moved down the position rankings for second base on multiple outlets, including Yahoo!'s Scott Pianowski, who dropped Utley to seventh among second basemen and 69th overall. Utley has generally been a top ten caliber player in fantasy rankings.
Utley has undergone three separate surgeries since 2007 so is far from being in 100% health entering 2011 and there is a legitimate reason to be concerned. Utley played in only 115 games last season due to a sprained ligament in his hand, an odd injury that happened while sliding in to second base in a game. Despite his injury this spring Utley is still projected to have a better season in 2011 than he did in 2010 according to FanGraphs. In 2011 FanGraphs is projecting Utley to be counted on for 20+ home runs and almost 100 runs scored and batted in. His walk percentage and strikeout ratio should be improved in 2011 as well according to FanGraphs, but until Utley gets back on the field thee projections should be taken with a grain of salt.
Injury aside, one trend that should be noticed by fantasy baseball players is Utley's declining batting average. Since hitting .332 in 2007 Utley's season batting average has declined each season, culminating with a .275 batting average in 2010, his lowest total since his first full season in the majors (2006) hitting .266. Utley's RBI total has also declined in each of the last three seasons, but injuries have played more of a role in that trend as opposed to ability.
Utley's health is a concern for fantasy baseball owners, but it should not be enough to not draft him in a later round, or mid-round if injured reserve is an option. The Phillies still expect Utley to play this season, and at this point the team believes he wil play most of the season, but nobody knows when Utley's season will get started, and that is what is holding up fantasy owners at this point.
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