Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
There are a number of positions with limited talent, but outfield isn't one of them.
While Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson got much of the media attention throughout the season, Matt Kemp turned in a stellar performance for a middle- of-the-road Los Angeles Dodgers team that garnered more headlines off the field than on.
Matt Kemp - Coming off a disappointing 2010 season, Kemp fell into the second round on Draft Day (ADP 19) and turned out to be a huge bargain as he regained the form that made him a first-round selection the previous year. He set career highs in runs (115), hits (195), home runs (39), RBIs (126), stolen bases (40), OBP (.399), slugging percentage (.586), OPS (.986) and total bases (353). He'll be a top-five selection in 2012.
Jacoby Ellsbury - His 2011 season was so far above what we've come to expect from the Red Sox center fielder that my first thought was a fleeting glimpse back to Brady Anderson's 1996 season. No where in his past history can we find a reason for Ellsbury's power improvement. He almost doubled his best single- season doubles total, his home run total was four times normal and his OPS jumped 150 points over his previous best full season. The question of whether his season is repeatable will be the No.1 fantasy decision of this off-season.
Ryan Braun - Braun has been a top-10 hitter from the moment he came up in May of 2007 and this year was no different. In fact, the Brewers left fielder joined the 30-30 club for the first time in his career and led the league in slugging and OPS. While not a bargain as the sixth player off the board, he certainly gave you everything you expected from this high a selection. He'll be another key off-season decision because in all likelihood he won't have Prince Fielder protecting him in the order next year.
Curtis Granderson - Diagnosing Granderson's 2011 improvement is as simply as looking at his splits versus left-handers. While his 2011 numbers against right-handers was in line with his career numbers, his statistics against lefties was off-the-charts better. His career statistics against lefties (.226 BA/.396 slugging/.685 OPS) paled in comparison to his 2011 numbers - .272/.597/.944. Given his new and improved approach and his spot in the heart of the Yankees' lineup, 2012 should be more of the same.
Jose Bautista - I'll be the first to admit that I was wrong about Bautista. I assumed we would see a huge drop in his production after a "career year" in 2010. And while his numbers did drop a bit, he was still one of the best power hitters in baseball. He led the league in homers (43), slugging (.608) and OPS (1.056). By mid-season he began to get the "Bonds treatment" and his walk total jumped to 132 with a corresponding drop in RBIs as pitchers took their chances with whoever was behind him in the order.
Justin Upton - Upton continues to improve and his 2011 production will make his a second-round pick in 2012. He cracked the 100-run and 30-home run marks for the first time in his career while still posting a solid .289 batting average and an OPS of .898. Throw in 21 stolen bases and you have another young star just coming into his own.
Carlos Gonzalez - Gonzalez finished with respectable numbers for the year, but nothing like what was expected of him after his monster 2010 season. Worse, he got off to such a slow start that by the time he began to pick it up, many of his owners had either already traded him away or were no longer contenders. He finished down in every conceivable fantasy category, though he still batted .295 with 26 HR, 92 RBIs and 20 stolen bases. Given the disappointing production that will have many owners soured on him, he might end up being a bargain next season.
Lance Berkman - Given up for dead by the Yankees and most fantasy owners, Berkman has to be a contender for Comeback Player of the Year and Best Fantasy Bargain. His 2011 ADP of 278 means he was either a last-round selection or free agent pickup. His 31 homers, 94 RBIs, .301 batting average and .959 OPS gave fantasy owners who took a gamble on him a huge payday.
Melky Cabrera - Another player that was ignored on Draft Day (ADP 369) who provided huge dividends for those who gambled on his early season production being an indicator of a solid season. Playing in a lineup with young, talented but untested hitters, Cabrera provided leadership as well as solid statistics (102 runs, 18 HR, 87 RBI, 20 SB, .305 batting average). The young players around him will only get better which should enhance his value in 2012.
Josh Hamilton - Fantasy owners can only dream at what his production would have been had he not made that foolish April dash for home plate which left his with a fractured right arm and an extended stay (April 13-May 22) on the disabled list. Unfortunately, we've come to expect that from Hamilton who hasn't played more than 135 games in a season since 2008. In 121 games he posted 80 runs, 25 HR, 94 RBI and a .298 batting average. Good, but not up to expectations for the "uber-talented" Hamilton.