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The 'bounce-back' sleepers for 2012

2/28/2012

It seems to me that many fantasy owners -- in all sports -- tend to act like anything that occurred prior to the most recent season just didn't happen. Consider last season's fantasy baseball drafts and the plight of then-new St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman. Most people in the fantasy world thought Big Puma was toast. He was chosen in Round 21 of ESPN average live drafts! Of course, Berkman delivered plenty of the proverbial toast in finishing 2011 as a top-25 hitter. Not bad, not bad at all.

It's not wise to select an entire fantasy team based on the previous year's busts, but there's a valid point to be made that one shouldn't choose solely the previous year's surprises, such as Melky Cabrera and Ryan Vogelsong, either. Seek a balanced team, which includes young and old, healthy and brittle, sure things and risks, as well as those that thrived and struggled last season. Berkman was an extreme example of an older player many fantasy owners wanted no part of.

Let's take a look back at the 2011 ESPN average live draft results and identify 10 hitters in demand from the prior top 100 who will not cost nearly as much this coming season. Are they going to follow Berkman's path and bounce back to previous levels of success? Here are players from last year's top 100 who should not be forgotten, and to make this list they must be outside our current top 100 (read that line again before commenting), which excludes Hanley Ramirez (No. 2 last season), Carl Crawford (he was No. 3) and AL East rival third basemen Alex Rodriguez and Kevin Youkilis (both made the top 25 in 2011, but not anymore).

Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins (2011 ADP 24; current rank 131): I have a presumably healthier Mauer among my top five catchers again, primarily because I don't see why a fourth batting title is out of reach. It's a huge advantage over your competition to have a backstop who can hit .320, even if the power isn't there. I'll include Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants in this space as well, as they're in a similar circumstance in terms of last season's attention and being a mid-round pick now. Like Mauer, Posey is a huge value. It was one injury, albeit a serious one, but he's only 24.

Adam Dunn, 1B, Chicago White Sox (ADP 37; current rank 219): Remember how much everyone loved him a year ago? He was a fourth-rounder! A return to 35 home runs would be far more shocking than what Berkman did. However, let's just say I'm not writing off that possibility. I'd ignore that Dunn hit only .159 and call the 22nd round a glorious time to take the risk. He should be drafted in your league and given April to see what he does.

Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta Braves (ADP 42; current rank 109): He's not being discounted all that much, all things considered, so he doesn't truly fit in the Berkman conversation. Still, what a future he has. He's in my top 100. If he's not in yours, I think you're admitting he was overhyped a year ago.

Alex Rios, OF, Chicago White Sox (ADP 52; current rank 197): Is it any wonder Ozzie Guillen couldn't wait to bolt the South Side after seeing Dunn and Rios underachieve? Laugh if you like, but Rios as a sixth-rounder in 2011 made perfect sense. He hit .284 with 21 home runs, 88 RBIs and 34 stolen bases in 2010. Rios is very talented. I'd consider going as high as the 12th round to take the chance he goes 20/20 again.

Justin Morneau, 1B, Minnesota Twins (ADP 56; current rank 272): Talk about being forgotten. Berkman was at least drafted by 2011 fantasy teams. Morneau's concussion woes might still plague him, but it's worth mentioning he was hitting .345 with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs in the first half of 2010 when he got hurt. If healthy, and admittedly it's a huge if, this is potentially the best fantasy free-agent pickup in April.

Andre Ethier, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (ADP 57; current rank 140): He has hardly been written off but certainly isn't being drafted as a guy who went 31-106 in 2009. As bad as his past two campaigns have been, he did hit .292 each season.

Martin Prado, 3B/OF, Atlanta Braves (ADP 71; current rank 168): What has really changed here? Prado is a perfect example of fantasy owners having short memories. He hit .307 with 15 home runs and 100 runs scored in 2010. Last year he dealt with a staph infection -- hardly a recurring injury -- and he's slated to again bat second for the Braves, where he could supply those stats. Other than losing middle-infield eligibility, this is the same guy you took in the eighth round last year.

Kendrys Morales, 1B, Los Angeles Angels (ADP 82; current rank 248): Well, he certainly taught me to never jump on home plate after a walk-off grand slam, I'll tell you that! Will Morales play 150 games this season? Will he play 100? Um, will he even play? It remains in question, but the Angels say his ankle is progressing to the point he's at least in their plans for April. That's something! Sure, I'd spend a last-rounder on him. He did slug .569 in 2009, after all, and presumably (if healthy) could hit after that Albert Pujols guy.

Delmon Young, OF, Detroit Tigers (ADP 88; current rank 251): Full disclosure, I've never been a big fan of this non-walker and outfield butcher, but again, what has changed? Oh, he's no longer with the Twins. Rather he's with the Tigers, hitting fifth behind Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. A career .288 hitter with a 112-RBI season to his credit, I wouldn't be surprised if he hits .288 and knocks in, well, 112 runs. His rather rank rank has a Berkman/Dunn feel to it, but he's still just 26 years old.

Colby Rasmus, OF, Toronto Blue Jays (ADP 100; current rank 206): And here's my pick to pull a Berkman and shock us all. Well, I personally won't be that shocked. Rasmus is very talented, and he's 25 years old. I blogged about him more in-depth here, so I won't belabor the point, but his current ESPN rank, and perhaps his future ADP, precisely matches Berkman's from 2011. Coincidence? I think not! Target him before Round 20.