A hip injury and sports hernia limited Kevin Youkilis to 120 games last season. In 2010, a thumb injury restricted the Red Sox third baseman to 102 games, well short of the full 162-game schedule.
As Youkilis turns 33 in March, his durability remains in question. When healthy, Youkilis is an integral piece of the Red Sox offense's production as witnessed by his three All-Star nods. He still tallied 80 RBIs in 2011 despite a shortened season.
But Rays third baseman Evan Longoria and Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez have also proven their worth as elite players. As a rookie last season, Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie showed promise too.
1. Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays
2011: 31 homers, 99 RBIs, .244 average, .495 slugging and .850 OPS (133 games)
Since entering the majors in 2008, Longoria hasn't stopped slugging. While he didn't top his 2009 numbers –– when he hit a career-high 33 homers and 113 RBIs –– he was still in the upper-echelon of hitters in the league. If Longoria can avoid the muscle injuries that plagued him in the last two years, another career year could be in store.
2. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees
2011: 16 homers, 62 RBIs, .276 average, .461 slugging and .823 OPS (99 games)
Despite playing 99 games after battling a right knee injury, Rodriguez still posted solid numbers. Keep in mind the Yankees slugger went to Germany for the knee-spinning procedure, a practice that seemingly rejuvenated Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. It could have a similar effect on Rodriguez and vault him back into 30-homer range.
3. Kevin Youkilis, 3B, Red Sox
2011: 17 homers, 80 RBIs, .258 average, .459 slugging and .833 OPS (120 games)
He's slimmed down this offseason, but the question with Youkilis always revolves around his injuries. A thumb injury, hip bursitis and a sports hernia robbed the All-Star of games over the last two seasons. Youkilis will look to raise his batting average after 2011 snapped his three-year streak with at least a .300 average.
4. Brett Lawrie, 3B, Blue Jays
2011: 9 homers, 25 RBIs, .293 average, .580 slugging and .953 OPS (43 games)
With only 150 at-bats in 2011, Lawrie made quite the debut in the AL East last season. Toronto should be salivating over the 22-year-old's potential over the course of a 162-game season if he maintains that momentum. Lawrie also emerged as a formidable defender, amassing a .963 fielding percentage last season.
5. Mark Reynolds, 3B, Orioles
2011: 37 homers, 86 RBIs, .221 average, .483 slugging and .806 OPS (155 games)
Reynolds is a free swinger. On one hand, he'll always wind up as one of the league leaders in home runs. On the other hand, he'll always wind up as one of the leaders in strikeouts. Reynolds' 26 fielding errors offset his offensive production also, and that's reflected in his 0.3 Wins Above Replacement. His batting average was paltry again –– an improvement over his .198 in 2010 –– and it knocks him down the list.