The biggest question at second base heading into the 2011 season is: What will fantasy owners get from Phillies second baseman Chase Utley?

When healthy and at his best, Utley is elite. He has posted career highs in the standard five rotisserie categories, as follows: .332-131-33-105-23.

The problem is the health, or lack thereof, of Utley’s knee, which will likely land him on the disabled list to start the season. From a fantasy perspective, the bigger worry is that improvement in his knee seems to be moving at a snail’s pace. How soon will he be back? Will the injury linger and affect his performance when he’s back on the field?

Here are our top 15 fantasy second basemen for 2011:

1. Robinson Cano, Yankees: With the exception of stolen bases, Cano puts up elite stats across the board at a relatively weak position. Cano, who set career highs in home runs (29) and runs batted in (109) in 2010, has the second-most hits in all of baseball over the past two seasons.

2. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox: In addition to hitting over .300 for his career, Pedroia gives fantasy owners the potential for a 15-20 season. Despite missing half of last year, Pedroia ranks 10th in the majors in runs scored (286) from 2008 to 2010.

3. Dan Uggla, Braves: At a position where power hitters are less common, Uggla has been a model of consistency when it comes to power. In each of the past four seasons, Uggla has hit 31-33 home runs and has driven in 90-plus runs including a career-high 105 last season. But will you get his career-low .243 (2009) or career-high .287 (2010) batting average? Although he’s a career .354 hitter in his new home ballpark (Turner Field), the answer likely falls somewhere in between that range.

4. Ian Kinsler, Rangers: The biggest knock on Kinsler is playing time (123.6 games per season over past five years). If healthy, Kinsler has the potential to put up elite numbers. For example, when he played a career-high 144 games (2009), Kinsler hit 31 homers and stole 31 bases.

5. Brandon Phillips, Reds: For the first time in four seasons, Phillips failed to have a 20-20 season. In 2010, he finished with 18 home runs and 16 stolen bases. The majority of Phillips’ at-bats in 2010 came at one of the top two spots of the lineup after mostly batting cleanup in 2009. The effect? His runs batted in dropped from 98 in 2009 to a five-year low of 59 in 2010.

6. Chase Utley, Phillies: Two seasons removed from a 30-20 season, Utley will most likely begin the 2011 season on the disabled list after missing a total of 47 games last year. If he were healthy, Utley would be second on this list.

7. Rickie Weeks, Brewers: Speaking of health, Weeks played an average of 95 games per season from 2005 through 2009 before playing a career-high 160 games last year. Naturally, he set career-highs in runs scored (112), hits (175), home runs (29) and runs batted in (83) in 2010. The only way he approaches those numbers again is if he can stay healthy for two seasons in a row. Before last year, he hadn’t done that for one season in a row.

8. Martin Prado, Braves: Prado, who played mostly second base and some third base last year, is moving to left field for the Braves and soon will be eligible at three fantasy positions. In a career-high 140 games last season, Prado hit .307 and 15 home runs with 100 runs scored.

9. Gordon Beckham, White Sox: After hitting 14 homers with 63 runs batted in over 103 games in his rookie season, Beckham seemed poised for a breakout season last year. The eighth overall pick in the 2008 draft got off to an incredibly slow start in 2010, but he picked up the pace as he hit .310 after the All-Star break. Beckham, who will bat second for the White Sox this season, is a guy I’ve targeted in most of my drafts this year.

10. Ben Zobrist, Rays: Like Prado, Zobrist has multi-position eligibility as a second baseman and outfielder (and first baseman in Yahoo! leagues). After a breakout season in 2009 (.297-91-27-91-17), Zobrist really struggled down the stretch last season. After the All-Star break, Zobrist hit only .177 and hit .200 or lower per month from July to October. On a positive note, Zobrist stole a career-high 24 bases in 2010 and will likely have even more base-stealing opportunities as the team’s leadoff hitter.

11. Aaron Hill, Blue Jays: Not only did Hill have the lowest BABIP (.196) of his career, it was the lowest in all of baseball. Even with the horrible BABIP and batting average (.205), Hill still managed to hit 26 home runs in 2010.

12. Kelly Johnson, Diamondbacks: In his first season with the Diamondbacks, Johnson set career highs in runs (93), hits (166), home runs (26), runs batted in (71) and stolen bases (13) in 2010. Johnson hit .311 with 16 of his 26 home runs at Chase Field last year.

13. Howie Kendrick, Angels: The direction of his batting averages over the past four seasons isn’t what you’d like to see: .322 (2007), .306 (2008), .291 (2009) and .279 (2010). That said, he set career highs in several counting statistics: runs scored (67), runs batted in (75), stolen bases (14) and tied his career high in home runs (ten).

14. Chone Figgins, Mariners: Since 2004, Figgins has stolen 30-plus bases every season. In five of the past six seasons, he has stolen 40-plus bases. Figgins is having a good spring (.349 average and four steals in 16 games).

15. Brian Roberts, Orioles: When healthy, Roberts has provided fantasy owners with lots of runs and stolen bases and a decent batting average. Before missing 100-plus games in 2010, Roberts stole 30-plus bases for four consecutive seasons although he went from 50 (2007) to 40 (2008) to 30 (2009).

Feel free to send fantasy baseball questions to me via Twitter at @EDSBaseball or post them in our fantasy baseball forum.

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