- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
On Tuesday, I wrote a fun -- well, at least for me -- blog entry about players from last season's top 100 who saw their stock really drop during the 2011 season, for various reasons. We called it the bounce-back sleepers for 2012. Needless to say, in the reactive world that is fantasy sports, none of those players are top 100 players, by most draft day accounts, today. I enjoyed writing about that, but as some of you have noted in the aftermath there must be some other players expected to make the jump to fantasy relevance, those that, unlike a certain forgotten Toronto Blue Jays outfielder, weren't in quite as much demand a year ago.
So here are more hitters who weren't top 100 players in ESPN average live drafts a year ago, and still aren't today, but they had poor seasons and I think they will bounce back to varying degrees. Honestly, part of the impetus for this idea wasn't merely reader comments or tweets; the ESPN crew participated in a mock draft on Monday, and my last pick, in Round 25, was Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Stephen Drew. Wow, talk about a fellow slipping in a draft!
I found it odd Drew was still available that late, even in a standard league and even if you take into account his serious ankle injury and mixed recovery reports. Drew was a top-10 shortstop a season ago, and while I'm past the point of expecting J.D.'s little brother (and former pitcher Tim Drew's brother as well) to become a superstar. From 2008-10 he did average 16 home runs, 64 RBIs, 82 runs and a .277 batting average, and he did this over 146 games per year. That's pretty solid for a shortstop, especially in a relatively watered-down era for offense.
Latest reports on Drew claim he's making progress in his recovery from a fractured ankle, running without a protective brace on his foot and already seeing work in the batting cage. "I have my good days and my bad days," Drew told the Arizona Republic. "Overall, I'm pleased where I'm at."
It's certainly possible Drew will not be ready for Opening Day, but I hearken back to the games played the three years previous to 2011: I'm fine with a shortstop, likely a middle-infield choice rather than a fantasy starter, playing 146 games per season and getting well into double-digit home runs, even stealing the occasional base (he stole 10 bases in 2010). Last season Drew missed a few games in early April, lowering his value some in April drafts, then had a big month, knocking in 22 runs with a .321 batting average, including quite a bit of work hitting cleanup. Drew had 34 RBIs in 54 games batting fourth, easily a 100-RBI pace. Hitting second, he was far less productive.
The bottom line on Drew is that even in a 10-team standard league, even if you have the middle infielders you need, I didn't expect him to remain on the board in the 25th round. My other middle infielders were chosen early (Dustin Pedroia, Dan Uggla,Starlin Castro), but it never hurts to have trade depth (if we were playing the league out). Drew doesn't make my shortstop top 10 this season (he's 14th in ESPN's projections, but if Jhonny Peralta is going 100-plus picks earlier, as he did in the mock, there's major value to be had with the forgotten Drew.
Ike Davis, 1B, New York Mets: Speaking of hitting cleanup, Mets manager Terry Collins is predicting between 30 and 40 home runs for his recovering first baseman. What, why stop at 40, Terry? Can't he hit 50? Is the Barry Bonds record safe? Well, the fences were moved in at Citi Field. Davis was hitting .302 with seven home runs and a .543 slugging percentage through 36 games last season when he injured his left ankle, and the season-long odyssey of when he'd return resulted in him just never coming back. We can't really extrapolate Davis' numbers to 150 games; it doesn't work that way. But he did go 19 home runs and 71 RBIs and hit .264 as a rookie, and using the Peralta-Drew argument I see Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman being chosen a lot earlier in drafts than Ike. Just sayin', I could see Davis and Freeman with similar numbers.
Austin Jackson, OF, Detroit Tigers: I wrote this line a few times Tuesday, but what has really changed with Jackson? As a rookie he overcame his dreadful plate discipline to hit .293 (with a .396 BABIP), and predictably his sophomore year didn't go as well, as he dropped 44 batting average points. Here are some positives: Jackson walked more, doubled his home runs and still swiped 22 bases, and he's working on cutting down his swing, aiming to whiff less. ESPN projects another .249 batting average, but if he hits .270 and runs a bit more, while still reaching double digits in power, that seems like a borderline top-50 outfielder to me. Currently Jackson isn't close to that designation, and he went undrafted in our mock.
Kelly Johnson, 2B, Toronto Blue Jays: A solid contributor with 26 home runs, 13 steals, 93 runs and a .284 batting average in 2010, Johnson struggled this past season, and eventually got traded to Toronto for Aaron Hill (also not a future batting champ). Still, Johnson is likely to bat second in Toronto's order, ahead of some guy named Jose Bautista, and perhaps that will help him get back on track. Even in a rough 2011, Johnson smacked 21 home runs, and a mere six middle infielders managed more than that. Johnson was a 19th-round pick in our mock, which seemed about right. A year ago Johnson, Drew and Hill were all 11th-rounders in ESPN average live drafts.
Eric Karabell identifies four more players who should bounce back from last season's disappointing performance