Just when you think they're finished, just when you've written them off as soft, spoiled millionaires, some ballplayers can really surprise.

This year's disabled list becomes next year's short list for the MVP award. Twins followers should take heed: Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is living proof.

That's a familiar name around here because the Red Sox included Ellsbury in various offers for Johan Santana before the Twins traded Santana to the Mets.

Ellsbury, 28, was a World Series hero in 2007. An Oregon native, and the first Indian of Navajo descent to reach the majors, he stole 50 bases in 2008 and batted .301 with 70 stolen bases in 2009. His talent was clear, even if he never showed much power.

But last year, Ellsbury's popularity plummeted when he was limited to 18 games and made three trips to the DL after an April collision with third baseman Adrian Beltre.

Ellsbury had five broken ribs, and his slow recovery frustrated everyone. He had public disagreements with the Red Sox medical staff. Teammates privately criticized him.

"I think it could have been handled better on all fronts," Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein told the Boston Globe this summer. "I think we as an organization could have done a better job supporting him unconditionally across the board."

Like Twins catcher Joe Mauer, Ellsbury is often one of the last players the media sees at his locker after games, even when he's that day's star. Both are plain-spoken, especially when discussing injuries.

When Ellsbury arrived at spring training this year, teammates sensed a chip on his shoulder. He didn't say much, but back at full health, he was clearly on a mission. Sure enough, his past six months have been astonishing.

Entering Saturday, Ellsbury was batting .318 with a .376 on-base percentage, 27 homers, 43 doubles, 36 stolen bases and 94 RBI. All of that production from a leadoff hitter.

"He's been great all year long," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia told reporters. "There's nothing he can't do on a baseball field."

Ellsbury had 20 career homers entering the season, but he doubled that total by mid-August.

"He's always been a guy, even when he first came up, he drove the ball," Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan said last month at Target Field. "You'd see him in batting practice, and he could hit the ball as far as anybody. It just took a little bit of time for it to show up in the games."

Ellsbury made the All-Star team, and now he's is in the American League MVP discussion, along with teammate Adrian Gonzalez, Toronto's Jose Bautista, Detroit's Justin Verlander and the New York's Curtis Granderson.

Ellsbury must feel vindicated after all the questions about his toughness last year.

"It's how you handle it," Ellsbury told the Globe. "In my situation, it could have really brought me down or it could make me better. And that's what I chose. I chose to rise above, to become a better player because of it."

These stories happen all the time. Look at Twins reliever Glen Perkins this year. And the Twins have several candidates for similar turnarounds next year, including Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span, Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker.

So go ahead, write them off. It only makes for a better story.