Fantasy Baseball's All-First-Half Surprise Team

Tim KaranContributor IIJuly 10, 2012

Fantasy Baseball's All-First-Half Surprise Team

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    Maybe our first round fantasy picks aren't quite as important as we think. Actually, maybe the same could be said about pretty much all our picks through, like, Round 13.

    Even if your studs were Jacoby Ellsbury, Tim Lincecum and Mariano Rivera, you might still find yourself atop your league thanks to surprising standouts this season.

    There have been plenty of players producing at an unpredicted rate—and most of them were barely even mentioned in pre-draft guides. 

Catcher: Carlos Ruiz

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    If you've been waiting for the bottom to fall off of Chooch's game, you've been waiting all season.

    Carlos Ruiz was barely a top-20 catcher coming into the spring and went undrafted in more than a few fantasy drafts. But his status shifted with an unexpectedly great March and April (.313 with three homers) and then he became a full-on phenomenon with an amazing May (.418 with 21 RBI). He downshifted in June (back to .337 with three homers) but already has two bombs in July.

    Ruiz has been the undisputed cream of this year's catching crop, at least a notch or two above guys like Joe Mauer and Buster Posey and outright embarrassing Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli.

    Bench: A.J. Pierzynski (CHW), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (BOS)

First Base: Mark Trumbo

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    Although Mark Trumbo has primarily roamed the Angels outfield this season, he's also eligible at first base and DH. And, honestly, he's been just as good if not better than almost everyone who plays any position.

    Trumbo was impressive as a rookie last year (.254 with 29 home runs and 87 RBI) but the offseason addition of Albert Pujols played a part in some spotlight stealing. Trumbo's uncertain role and lack of an extensive track record likely also worked against him in drafts, as he was a late-round sleeper at best.

    But on a team currently overflowing with young talent, Trumbo has maybe been the biggest revelation. Batting .306 with 21 homers and 56 RBI, he might also have been the most valuable waiver wire pickup of the year. 

    Bench: Chris Davis (BAL), Allen Craig (STL)

Second Base: Jason Kipnis

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    The two best second basemen in baseball this season are both in the AL, and Ian Kinsler isn't one of them. If you knew Jason Kipnis would be just about as useful to your team as Robinson Cano, you probably need to find more lucrative ways to benefit from your preternatural gift for prognostication.

    For real, you're a genius.

    Kipnis looked respectable through 136 at-bats last year, posting a .272 average with seven homers and five steals. But that was nothing like now. Kipnis' 11 home runs and 49 RBI are good for second at second and he leads his position with 20 steals. 

    Suddenly, the Indians have a new infield version of Grady Sizemore. The 2008 version.

    Bench: Jose Altuve (HOU), Aaron Hill (ARI)

Shortstop: Ian Desmond

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    Ian Desmond was probably drafted in your league, but most likely by someone who just wanted a backup shortstop and snagged the next best available guy not named Jamey Carroll.

    Desmond probably remained harmlessly on benches until the beginning of May, when he began his gradual ascent to the statistical top of his position. Pre-season projections had him lucky to crack 10 home runs and 50 RBI, but Desmond already topped both numbers (with a shocking 17 homers and 51 RBI) before the break.

    Desmond has been the shortstop most resembling Troy Tulowitzki this year (and that includes Troy Tulowitzki).

    Bench: Alcides Escobar (KC), Jed Lowrie (HOU)

Third Base: Trevor Plouffe

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    It's safe to say Trevor Plouffe is probably the most unexpected slugger in baseball.

    Although he was the Twins' first-round draft pick in 2004, he was almost nobody's fantasy draft pick in 2012. He had shown a respectable degree of pop during 81 games with the big league club last season (eight homers and 31 RBI), but an affinity for strikeouts meant he wasn't guaranteed a starting job. 

    Through the first couple of months, it was Plouffe as usual. But something happened in June. He hit .327 with a ridiculous 11 home runs and 21 RBI. And in July, he's only just cooled off with a .286 clip and three home runs.

    He's a little more valuable to you playing shortstop than third, and a little less valuable as an outfielder. But he's a zillion times more valuable in general than most of us probably thought.

    Bench: Martin Prado (ATL), Pedro Alvarez (PIT)

Left Field: Melky Cabrera

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    Melky Cabrera was something else last year. But he's been something entirely else this one.

    After being unceremoniously removed from the Yankees' future plans, he was shipped to Atlanta before the 2010 season, then let go a year later. But he was rejuvenated last season in a Royals uniform, hitting .305 with 18 homers and 87 RBI. Still, he was traded to San Francisco before this year for Jonathan Sanchez—a trade most leagues wouldn't veto.

    A mid-level fantasy outfield option through April, he found a new gear in May hitting .429 with the most hits (51) in the franchise history of the month—which is a big deal when Willie Mays is in your franchise history.

    And now, at least in fantasy, you'd probably need a far better pitcher than Sanchez to pry Cabrera from his current team.  

    Bench: Josh Willingham (MIN), Jason Kubel (ARI)

Center Field: Mike Trout

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    It wasn't that Mike Trout wasn't expected to be amazing; it was that it wasn't expected to happen so fast.

    While he'll forever be linked to initially more heralded center field phenom Bryce Harper (who debuted on the same day), Trout has been better in fantasy—by far. Although Harper brings with him an undeniable amount of intangibles, Trout has those and adds very tangible numbers. He's batting an AL-best .341 with 12 homers, 40 RBI and 26 stolen bases—compared to Harper's .282, eight homers, 25 RBI and 10 stolen bases.

    But Harper shouldn't really feel bad. During the first half, Trout has been better than everyone not named McCutchen or Hamilton. And if he keeps up this pace, there's a solid chance you're looking at next year's overall No. 1. 

    Bench: Austin Jackson (DET), Alejandro De Aza (CHW)

Right Field: Alex Rios

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    Throughout his nine-year career, Alex Rios has been largely synonymous with inconsistency—and mostly disappointment.

    For three years with the Blue Jays, he was a perennial 20-20 threat. But for three years with the White Sox, he was more of a threat to your fantasy team. Once hovering as a .300 hitter, he spiraled into the depths of a .227 average last year.

    This season however, he looked to be back on the right track early, then went airborne in June when he hit .346 with six home runs, 16 RBI and eight steals. Now he's batting above .400 in July.

    Does he keep it going? He's notoriously streaky. But there's no disputing he's done it most of the year.

    Bench: Hunter Pence (PHI), Josh Reddick (OAK)

Designated Hitter: Edwin Encarnacion

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    Edwin Encarnacion is awarded the DH spot here because it's where he's taken the majority of his at-bats this season, but even at first or third, he would have just as easily made this list.

    It's been a little bit of a long time coming with Encarnacion, a once-promising Reds prospect who found himself very nearly out of a job in 2010. But not even his encouraging second half with the Blue Jays last year could foretell his monster 2012. Encarnacion had 42 RBI before June 1, then hit .322 that month. Now he's hitting .400 in July.

    His .296 average seems bound to fall closer to his normal .264, but you try and tell him that. 

    Bench: Billy Butler (KC)

Starting Pitcher (AL): Chris Sale

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    There was a lot of speculation that Chris Sale couldn't make the transition from the bullpen to the rotation. Conventional guessing was that the change would come at the expense of his velocity and strikeouts—and only if he successfully settled into the role.

    But Sale shot out of the gate straight from spring training and has been arguably the best starter in the AL all season. He's among the top five in the league in wins (10), ERA (2.19) and WHIP (0.95), and 10th in Ks (98).

    Considering he's now pitched more than 100 innings this year after only 94 in the previous two years combined, we'll probably see if there was ever reason to worry about his stamina.  

    AL Bench: Jake Peavy (CHW), Matt Harrison (TEX), Jason Hammel (BAL), Jason Vargas (SEA) 

Starting Pitcher (NL): R.A. Dickey

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    You've got to wonder if even R.A. Dickey would have drafted himself in fantasy leagues this season. Don't get me wrong: He had started to be intriguing since turning to the knuckleball in 2006 and significantly more during his recent few years with the Mets. But an 8-13 record in 2011 didn't look great on draft day worksheets.

    Hopefully Dickey had a second to pick himself up off waivers at some point.

    He's been the top pitcher in fantasy and (maybe) reality while leading the NL in wins (12), WHIP (0.93), win percentage (.923) and complete games (three). He's also top five in Ks (123), innings pitched (120) and ERA (2.40).

    And that's all from a guy you might have dropped Carl Pavano for. 

    NL Bench: James McDonald (PIT), Chris Capuano (LAD), Lance Lynn (STL), Wade Miley (ARI)   

Relief Pitcher: Fernando Rodney

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    Always the bridesmaid in Anaheim, Fernando Rodney started 2011 as the Angels' closer but only needed a few days to be replaced by Jordan Walden.

    So the Rays provided a fresh start as an understudy to Kyle Farnsworth. But when elbow issues sent Farnsworth to the DL in April, Rodney ran right off with his job. 

    Although Baltimore's Jim Johnson has one more SV than Rodney's 25, Rodney has more Ks (38), a better ERA (0.93) and fewer walks (5). Besides, Johnson was actually a trendy sleeper pick in the pre-season while expectations for Rodney were practically non-existent. 

    Now he can fill a Mariano Rivera-sized hole in your lineup.

    Bench: Jim Johnson (BAL), Kenley Jansen (LAD), Aroldis Chapman (CIN), Ernesto Frieri (LAA), Rafael Soriano (NYY)