- Dan Szymborski, ESPN Insider
A prime-age superstar having a huge season is very rarely a shocker. Sure, Ryan Braun and Justin Verlander had career-year seasons in 2011, but was anyone really floored that either player had an MVP-type season in them? At the start of the year, everyone who paid attention expected star play, and both stars were taken early on fantasy draft days nationwide, almost always long before the beer supply ran out. If Braun or Verlander or any of baseball's glitterati have a bad 2012, they'll have plenty more chances to turn things around.
For mere mortals, however, opportunities to shine are fewer. While you're a top prospect, people talk about your upside, but when you don't have that label and the chances it comes with, the book on you tends to be difficult to rewrite. Nobody gets starry-eyed thinking about the possible upside of a 29-year-old veteran role player or a 24-year-old missing from all the top prospect lists.
But despite the odds, there are players who do find themselves in the right place at the right time and establish a new level of play. Jose Bautista is the best and most famous recent example, but here are five more players who have also drastically changed their career outlooks. Some people may still think they are flukes based on one good season, but their numbers suggest they are here to stay.
Before 2011, Morse was primarily known from his days as a good-hit, poor-field shortstop for the Seattle Mariners and his apparent misfortune of getting suspended twice for the same drug infraction. Morse missed most of 2008 with a torn labrum and went unclaimed on waivers in 2009 despite an apparent recovery and a .300/.365/.397 career line in the majors. He was traded to the Nats in June of 2009 and hit .303/.360/.550 with 31 homers and 95 RBIs in 2011, making Nats fans forget about the existence of Adam LaRoche, signed to a two-year, $16 million contract before last season.
Dan Szymborski of Baseball Think Factory writes about five players who have shaken the perceptions of their careers and established higher expectations going into the 2012 season.