Fantasy Baseball: 10 Biggest Surprise Stars of the 2012 Fantasy Season

Tim Karan@timkaranContributor IIOctober 3, 2012

Fantasy Baseball: 10 Biggest Surprise Stars of the 2012 Fantasy Season

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    It's almost more satisfying than actually winning your league.

    While everyone else was auto-drafting or worse—drafting familiar but useless names like Jason Bay—you were strategically using your late-round picks on players with the mythical trait of upside.

    A second baseman who hit 36 home runs just three seasons ago and presented with a much-needed change of scenery? A knuckleballer who has seen his ERA drop four straight seasons? If those were the guys initially on your bench, they inevitably ended up carrying your team.

    Even you probably didn't realize the diamonds you'd unearthed if you ended up with any of these massive fantasy surprises.

10. Jim Johnson

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    Jim Johnson didn't even have a firm grasp on the Orioles closer role when the season started, but he was among the league's elite by the end.

    Brilliant right out of the gate, Johnson converted his first 17 saves, then never recorded fewer than seven saves in any given month for the rest of the year.

    He was so good, in fact, that he became just the 10th pitcher in history to record 50 saves in a season—which is far from shabby for someone who might have inexplicably still been available in your league into May.

9. Austin Jackson

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    There was a lot of hope that Austin Jackson might eventually live up to his potential, but it was dwindling after a dismal sophomore slump in 2011.

    But with rumblings that he wouldn't retain the Tigers leadoff spot, Jackson was a revelation and incredibly consistent all season long.

    Although he took a major step back in the speed department—from 22 steals in 2011 to just 12 in 2012—Jackson handily topped his previous bests in HR (16) and RBI (65) while maintaining an average just under .300, even though he tailed off towards the end.

    While you could argue that Alex Rios or pre-drug tested Melky Cabrera might have put up more surprising numbers, Jackson made among the biggest statistical jump of any outfielder in baseball.

8. Chris Sale

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    Chris Sale seemed a little risky back in March. Relatively dominant as a reliever, the White Sox elected to turn him into a starter.

    While fantasy pundits predicted a decrease in velocity and strikeouts thanks to extended innings, Sale did see his K/9 drop from 10.0 to a still impressive 9.0. But if it weren't for Justin Verlander, he could have possibly started for the AL in his first All-Star Game.

    Sale posted a 17-8 record along with a 3.05 ERA (fourth in the AL) and 1.14 WHIP (fifth), moving him out of the middle draft tiers and into the upper echelon of potential fantasy aces.

7. Ian Desmond

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    A fringe shortstop in most fantasy leagues, Ian Desmond foreshadowed the future at the end of last season when he hit .302 with three homers and four steals that September.

    But he became something else entirely this year, doubling his previous career high in home runs (25) and batting .291, while stealing 21 bags.

    Almost certainly only drafted as a backup, Desmond turned out to be the most valuable shortstop to have aside from Jose Reyes—and even that was a lot closer than you might realize.

6. Kris Medlen

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    Kris Medlen would be higher on this list if he hadn't spent most of the first half of the season in the minors. But since taking over for Livan Hernandez in the Braves rotation in June, Medlen has been arguably the top starter in the NL.

    Doing little else but dominate, Medlen went on a historic run when he went 9-0 in 12 starts with 97 Ks in 99 innings in the second half.

    He was actually so amazing that he ranks among the Top 15 starters on the year with nearly half the starts.

5. Aaron Hill

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    It's not like it's all that crazy to see Aaron Hill perform like a star. After all, he did smack 62 home runs between 2009 and 2010. It's just that nobody really seemed to really think he would be capable of it this year. After all, he did only hit eight in 2011.

    Pretty much a last resort for fantasy owners at draft time, Hill turned out to be among the biggest steals.

    Not only did he bat .300, the power returned to the tune of 25 homers and more than 80 RBI. And best of all, it all came from a second baseman—most likely the second one off the board next year. 

4. Fernando Rodney

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    This was all supposed to be Kyle Farnsworth. 

    But when Farnsworth went on the 60-day DL and missed basically the entire season, Fernando Rodney somehow turned out one of the most dominating years by a closer in recent memory. He put up 47 saves (second to Jim Johnson), but it was the way Rodney did it that makes him a bigger surprise. Five earned runs in 75 games? That borders on ridiculous.

    Even if Mariano Rivera and Brian Wilson had played this year, Rodney probably still would have ended the season as the top closer in fantasy.

3. Edwin Encarnacion

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    True, Jose Bautista plays third base for the Blue Jays—but Edwin Encarnacion was easily and pretty unexpectedly the most productive third base-eligible Blue Jay this year.

    Encarnacion (who was also eligible at first base in most leagues) smashed more expectations than home runs—and he hit 42 of them. Considering the most he had ever hit was 26 back in 2008, there can't be all that many fantasy owners who spent more than a late round flier on what would turn out to be a Top-10 hitter.

2. R.A. Dickey

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    There's just no way anybody would've foreseen a season like this from R.A. Dickey

    While he had always shown flashes of greatness, he'd only had two winning seasons to his name since 2001. Dickey had been on a definite upward swing since 2010, but he was largely undrafted in fantasy leagues this spring.

    It didn't take long for Dickey to become a mandatory free agent pickup and, while skeptics were sure it would stop, he just kept winning. And although he did eventually wind up with a few losses too, there's little arguing with a 20-6 record and 230 Ks. 

1. Mike Trout

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    There would be absolutely nothing shocking about Mike Trout's statistics if it were 2015. But even the most optimistic Angels fan couldn't have imagined those stats would come in 2012.

    While everyone was slathering hype on Bryce Harper, the west coast version turned out not only what's probably the greatest season ever by a rookie, but the best season by anyone in fantasy this year—and his owners got that for next to nothing.

    Trout put up video game numbers of a .325 average, 30 homers, 129 runs and 48 stolen bases—all at age 21. The only possible thing better than having him on your team this year would be having him in your keeper league.