With the 2012 MLB season upon us, that means fantasy baseball is kicking into high gear. Last season is done, and 2012 is a chance at redemption. A chance for you to show your league that you are better than your last-place finish in 2011.
Maybe you had a barrage of players get hurt early. Maybe your pitching didn't pan out. Maybe your go-to-guy had an off year.
Whatever the case, 2012 marks a fresh start—a new beginning.
There will be, as there are every year, breakout stars in fantasy baseball this year. There will be huge flops, and there will be injuries.
Here are five players poised to come back to fantasy-stud status in 2012.
Joe Mauer's 2011 season got off to a bad start early. He was suffering from leg problems that kept him out of the lineup most of the first half of the season. Fans and media asked why his legs were in pain and what exactly was the problem.
The Twins gave vague responses, and no one really knows why he suffered the injury right before the season got underway. Some speculated he was not in shape, and that was the true reason for his absence.
Mauer prides himself on being a blue-collar kind of player. A guy who outworks the next guy every day. The proverbial first guy there, last one to leave kind of thing.
Around Minneapolis, Mauer's popularity took a serious hit. Joe took these things personally a bit as well. He is from St. Paul, Minnesota, a working town if there ever was one. He does not want to be viewed as a lazy player; that's not his background.
Mauer has never looked better in a spring training than he did this year. He is swinging for opposite-field power again and is even turning on some balls. With Justin Morneau still suffering concussion-like symptoms, he will get some time at first base this year consistently. That will give his legs and knees a bit of a break.
Mauer is going late in fantasy drafts. If you can grab him after you've solidified a lineup, do so. He will hit over .325 this season and should be back around 90 RBI and possibly 20 HR.
We know what Johan Santana brings to the table when he is pitching at 100 percent health. He has a live fastball and a devastating change up. Since coming to the Mets from the Twins, Santana has been injured most of the time.
This spring training, he is fully recovered from surgery and looking to get back to his old form. He has thrown several intense bullpen sessions with no setbacks.
The Mets named Johan the Opening Day starter for this Thursday's game.
If you're looking for a solid pitcher on the cheap, check Santana out. If he can stay healthy, and I know it is a big if, he can dominate again. Pitching is unlike any other position in baseball. Guys can get older, miss time and still dominate when they return.
Johan has not lost his game. That change up is so nasty it often leaves players smiling after they've been rung up, not quite knowing how it happened.
Pick Santana up for one of your starters this season, you won't be disappointed.
Jayson Werth signed a huge free-agent deal with the Washington Nationals, leaving the friendly confines of Philadelphia. He was a fan favorite in Philly, always getting big ovations.
Much of that stemmed from Werth getting big hits for the Phillies when they mattered most.
Sometimes a player doesn't handle the change well right away. Werth is one of those cases.
He hit just .232 with 20 homers and 58 RBI in 2011. Werth never looked very comfortable at the plate. Baseball is a confidence game, and Werth just slid down into the lack of confidence that comes from lack of success at the plate.
Werth should be much more comfortable this year, and get back to his winning ways. Teams rarely give away $126 million contracts to players they aren't pretty sure will play well.
Werth will be back around 35 homers this season, and I'd expect him to hit over .300 with over 75 RBI. If you can nab him to help your outfield with a later pick, he will be well 'Werth' it.
Perhaps no one will benefit more from the Angels signing Albert Pujols than Vernon Wells. Is there anyone in baseball you'd rather hit behind than "The Machine?"
Wells was a similar case to Jayson Werth in that he also had a poor season in his first year with a new team. Wells was a home run machine while in Toronto, but his numbers dipped a bunch in 2011.
Wells only hit .219 in 2011, a number he'd just as soon forget. His homers went down to just 25, and RBI dropped to 66.
The RBI number is shocking, particularly given that he managed to hit 25 homers.
Wells has done some work on his swing this offseason, and is eager to start fresh in 2012. He has been a very consistent player over his career, minus 2011, so I expect him to be back in the 30 home run, 90+ RBI and should be able to keep his average up around .285.
If you can steal him, pull the trigger.
Is there another MLB team that underwent as many changes as the Marlins did? Changing names from Florida to Miami, a brand new stadium, a new All-Star shortstop, a fiery, vulgarity-driven manager—all in one offseason.
Hanley Ramirez has been one of the best offensive shortstops we've ever seen. In 2011, along with many other things going wrong in Florida, Ramirez put up his worst season to date. He hit a meager .243 with just 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases. At the very least, the stolen bases number should have been higher.
Ramirez is a career .300 hitter and averages over 30 stolen bases a season. With help arriving in the form of former Mets' star Jose Reyes, Ramirez will be back in a big way this year. Having Reyes in the lineup to help protect him will give him more fastballs to crush.
Ramirez is also switching to third base this season, since Reyes is the better defensive shortstop. Many former shortstops have thrived after making the switch. Think A-Rod and Cal Ripken Jr.
Don't be afraid to leave your third base slot open for a few more rounds than normal to pick up Ramirez later on. He will bounce back from his 2011 campaign in a big way. A player as supremely talented as Ramirez is doesn't stay down long.
These five players will help any fantasy owner this season. All of these players should be available later than they normally would be, so don't be afraid to take them.
We know baseball is a long, grueling season, and players can sometimes have a down year.
All five of these guys have been working very hard this offseason to make sure they don't have a repeat of their 2011 campaign.
Of all these guys, my pick for the biggest improvement is Joe Mauer. The Twins won't be very good this year, but Mauer should be a lone bright spot.
Enjoy the 2012 fantasy baseball season, I know I will.