- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Adam Dunn is not going to hit 38 home runs this season. Heck, he probably won't even hit half that many, or bat .200, for that matter. But if you're in a deep keeper league, or already planning out your 2012 draft strategy, Dunn is a perfect sleeper candidate. His owners are so angry with him they might never forgive and forget. Perhaps you really think Dunn is "done" at age 31 -- and definitively, he might be -- but let's just say that if he's sitting there in Round 15 of a standard-league draft next March, he's worth the pick
I could make a list of the top 10 fantasy disappointments from this season, and Dunn would be on there. He might even lead the list. I'm not at all interested in adding or trading for Dunn for the rest of this season, because there are no signs that things will be getting better. He's hitting .163 for the season, and he's 3-for-78 against lefties. He's hitting .142 at a home ballpark that so many people figured would be a blessing for his power. But Dunn has admitted lately that his offseason workout program was lacking, and you'd better believe that will change this winter. I believe him. If he can hit .250 with 30 home runs next year, you'd draft that at some point. Five months ago we'd laugh at Dunn hitting only 30 home runs. We figured he'd be closer to 38, a number he reached every season from 2003 to 2010.
So here are some top-100 players from 2011 drafts who become automatic sleepers for 2012 based on the premise that I don't think they're officially "toast." You haven't enjoyed their statistics this season, but I like the possibility of a bounce-back, at least to some degree. I mean, how's Lance Berkman working out for us in 2011? Quite well for a 21st-round draft pick, I'd say. Josh Beckett and J.J. Hardy have been pretty nice as well. One sad season doesn't always mean the end.
Carl Crawford, OF, Boston Red Sox (3rd pick in in 2011 ESPN average live drafts): Sure, pressure is a factor for some players, but Crawford still has the same skills he had in Tampa Bay. Entering Thursday, he's hitting .359 in August, and his meager walk rate is way up. He might not ever swipe 50 bases again, but he can easily get to 30. I'm not picking Crawford in the first round again, but the top 50 range makes sense. He's 31! Remember how far you dropped Jacoby Ellsbury -- the pending AL MVP? -- this season? Crawford can't be this bad in 2012. My projected 2012 draft round: 4th.
Adam Dunn, 1B, Chicago White Sox (37th pick): I'm sure Dunn is more frustrated than you are. Dunn will qualify at first base, and he will work hard this winter. A year ago, Berkman hit .248 with 14 home runs and was anemic against southpaws. When Dunn's focus and confidence return, the power will as well. My projected 2012 draft round: 12th.
Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta Braves (43rd pick): I admit I was wrong in predicting immediate greatness for him. I'm surprised he's hitting only .218 with such a high ground-ball rate that the lack of power makes sense. I do, however, believe that a shoulder injury is the main culprit for why Heyward is hitting poorly and being sat -- and deservedly so -- against southpaw pitchers. He's 21. Perhaps like the rushed Upton brothers, it will take him a few years to figure it out, but Heyward should bounce back when healthy. Do not abandon him in keeper/dynasty leagues. My projected 2012 draft round: 7th.
Jayson Werth, OF, Washington Nationals (47th pick): Perhaps this is proof that a hitter's environment -- both ballpark and lineup support -- is a factor in his performance. Maybe contract drives are as well! I think Werth's skills remain, though, and he might still hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases this season. He's still drawing walks. He's nothing like Crawford tools-wise, but the enormous contract likely played a role. You know, if a 20/20 season comes with a .270 batting average, nobody complains. There's little reason why that cannot happen. My projected 2012 draft round: 9th.
Alex Rios, OF, Chicago White Sox (53rd pick): Well, it's not the first time this fellow took a year off, statistically speaking. We can say the .284 batting average in 2010 was a fluke, but it wasn't. Even including his current .218 mark, Rios sports a career average of .275. And we'd take 15 home runs and 25 steals with a .275 batting average. I won't predict that in 2012, though. Something has always scared me about selecting Rios, or ranking him well, and unlike Dunn, I think he needs a change of scenery. But he's only 30. We can't ignore him. My projected 2012 draft round: 13th.
Other thoughts: Most of the other big-time disappointments from the top 100 did so because of obvious injuries. St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright should be ready to pitch in spring training, and I'll probably make him a top 30 starting pitcher. San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey should still be considered a top-10 catcher, though I'll stop short of top-five. I can't say I'll trust Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, but he's like Dunn; you can't ignore him because there's big upside there. Last year Morneau was hitting .345 with 18 home runs in half a season! Nice 14th-round gamble in 2012, eh? I'd take him over Los Angeles Angels first baseman Kendrys Morales. And Morneau's teammate Delmon Young was also clearly hurt this year. He might never knock in 100 runs again, but the skill set for a decent batting average and occasional power remains.
Eric Karabell examines this season's biggest busts (including Adam Dunn and Carl Crawford) and comes up with at least five names he thinks will bounce back in 2012.