2014 Outlook: On a per-game basis, and comparing his numbers to the rest of the shortstop pool, Tulowitzki is one of the most valuable assets in fantasy baseball. In his seven-year career, he has .295/.367/.509 lifetime rates and has averaged 29 home runs, 103 RBIs, 10 stolen bases and 101 runs scored per 162 games played; shortstops as a whole had .254/.308/.372 numbers and averaged 12-60-14-69 numbers per 162 in 2013 alone. That said, during those same seven seasons, Tulowitzki has missed 290 games, or 25.6 percent of his Colorado Rockies' scheduled contests, and made five trips to the DL. If not for his position, he might be regarded more of a headache, but numbers like this are rare from a shortstop. Understand that Tulowitzki is one of the riskiest assets in the game, but he's also one with a potentially high reward. Stephania Bell: Finally recovered from the core muscle surgery of 2012, Tulowitzki showed last year he could return to form. He's still somewhat vulnerable to injury, due to both his history and his position, but the calf bruise this spring isn't his fault (hit by pitch), nor does it appear especially serious.
2014 Outlook: Homers and steals, homers and steals. After a second-half breakthrough in 2012 -- he managed .278/.321/.448 rates, 14 home runs and 26 stolen bases after the All-Star break -- Gomez extended that performance into 2013, hitting 24 homers and stealing 40 bases to become the year's only 20/40 man, as well as only the 10th individual to do so in a single year since 2000. He has done this with a combination of a more aggressive approach early in the count, batting .402 on the first pitch last season, as well as more selectivity, making hard contact more than 25 percent of the time when any pitch he saw was in the strike zone. But Gomez is, and always has been, a liberal swinger; this is the reason for his precariously low 5.3 percent career walk rate, and the resulting .255 career batting average (and .248 from July 1, 2013, through season's end). He has elevated his game to the point he's one of the most attractive homer/steal players in Rotisserie formats, and a case can be made he's a candidate for top-10 overall status in those. In points-based or on-base-heavy leagues, however, he warrants some hesitation, settling in as more of a first-few-rounder. Stephania Bell: Gomez underwent arthroscopic elbow surgery in mid-October to remove loose bodies. He is expected to be a full go this spring.
Addendum (3/12): Gomez has been solid so far this spring and the elbow issues appear to be behind him.
2014 Outlook: Though Kipnis did enjoy a breakthrough in 2012, hitting 14 home runs and stealing 31 bases, he truly arrived as a big-league star in 2013. His underlying numbers showed considerable growth: He batted 93 points and slugged 198 points higher against left-handers than he did in 2012, he increased his overall walk rate from 10.0 to 11.6 percent, and he was the third least-likely to swing at a pitch outside the strike zone in baseball (17.4 percent rate). In the process, Kipnis became the sixth-youngest second baseman in history to manage a 15/30 season, and a viable contender to Robinson Cano for the title of best at his position in fantasy. Kipnis' only legitimate criticism, as he enters the prime of his career, is his two-year history of wide first-half/second-half splits: he batted 42 points higher in the first half, hit 24 of his 31 homers and stole 41 of his 61 bases before the All-Star break. Those could just as likely be the product of a young player adapting to the grueling 162-game schedule as a future trend, and if Kipnis gains more consistency in that regard, he could easily repeat or exceed his No. 18 overall finish on the 2013 Player Rater.
2014 Outlook: One of the most complete Rotisserie performers in baseball -- he has a .301 career batting average and has averaged 26 home runs, 103 RBIs, 22 stolen bases and 101 runs scored per 162 games played -- Wright has but one limitation preventing a run at the very top tier of fantasy studs: His injury history. He has made three trips to the DL in the past five seasons, missing 17 percent of his New York Mets' scheduled games during that time span, making the question valid. Wright's power is also slightly capped as a result of his spacious home ballpark -- that's despite the 2011 fence adjustments -- which keeps him a hair behind more proven third base-eligibles like Miguel Cabrera or Adrian Beltre. But back to that word, "hair": Aren't we splitting them when we're using comparisons to two top-20 overall players to discount Wright?
2014 Outlook: The Votto debate will be one of scoring format philosophy; his penchant for walks makes him a highly attractive asset in more modern, sabermetric scoring, but the resulting limit on his homer/RBI totals frustrates those in more traditional Rotisserie formats, where his skills don't carry as much weight. He is baseball's most disciplined hitter: He led in walks (135), walk rate (18.6 percent) and lowest swing rate on non-strikes (16.1 percent), and his .431 on-base percentage the past five seasons combined paces the bigs by 12 points. Still, Votto mans first base, one of the easier positions to fill in fantasy, and therefore he's not quite the automatic first-rounder he once was in Rotisserie scoring. There are skills here that bump his value up considerably if your league rewards them; but the upshot is that this is a safe, stable, consistent fella.
2014 Outlook: Few players possess a wider range of potential 2014 outcomes than Harper: He is a 21-year-old, budding MVP candidate, but one who absorbed a slew of injury questions in 2013. To put it simply, he batted .300/.400/.622 with 10 home runs in his first 35 games of 2013 before crashing into the outfield wall at Dodger Stadium on May 13; he played only 83 of the Washington Nationals' next 124 games and batted .262/.356/.433 with 10 home runs thereafter. Harper's all-out style has spawned inquiries about whether the label "risk/reward" player need be applied in fantasy circles, but at the same time, he's a No. 1 overall draftee (2010), a two-time No. 2 prospect in baseball (Keith Law's 2011 and 2012 lists), and a player who had the fourth-most Wins Above Replacement through his age-20 season (9.0) of anyone in baseball history, behind only Mike Trout, Mel Ott and Ty Cobb. At some point Harper the stud will emerge and you'll want to already be on board, but we'd understand if you do so covering your eyes every time he attempts a play with reckless abandon.
Stephania Bell: Harper dealt with chronic bursitis in his left knee last year and had October surgery to address the issue. He should be ready to start the season if he doesn't overdo it this spring.
2014 Outlook: A torn ligament in his left thumb suffered last Opening Day sapped his power, but Pedroia nevertheless fought through, playing a career-high 160 games and amassing 724 trips to the plate in 2013, earning himself a third consecutive season ranked among the top five second basemen on our Player Rater. To put his year into statistical perspective: His per-162-games career averages were spot on in nearly every major category except home runs (nine in 2013, 16 career) and slugging percentage (.415 and .454). Pedroia remains in the prime of his career and again should pace one of the most productive lineups in baseball. He's especially attractive in points leagues, where his high on-base percentage and contact rates carry additional weight, but there's no question that he's an early-round pick in any scoring format.
Stephania Bell: It's no surprise that Pedroia played all season despite tearing his ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb in the very first game. Equally unsurprising is the expectation he'll be ready for spring training after having it surgically repaired in November.
2014 Outlook: Desmond is riding back-to-back 20/20 seasons, a rare feat for a shortstop, illustrated best by the fact that only three shortstops in history -- Hanley Ramirez (4), Jimmy Rollins (4) and Alex Rodriguez (3) -- have had more in their careers. Always a capable base stealer, Desmond picked up the power pace in 2012, utilizing a more aggressive approach in which he improved by leaps and bounds covering the inner third of the plate. He's a bit more strikeout-prone than a points-league owner might prefer, but preferences should be cast aside for a player aged 28 with his recent track record of success. This is an early-round pick, well worth building around in any format.
2014 Outlook: Even the injury-prone can have the most miraculously healthy of seasons, as Longoria did in 2013. He set career highs with 160 games played and 693 plate appearances, despite playing through a case of plantar fasciitis in June. Longoria's 2013 was spot-on to his career rates; he batted .269/.343/.498 with a .355 weighted on-base average and 32 home runs, and he's a career .275/.357/.512 hitter with a .371 wOBA and an average of 33 homers per 162 games played. In short, what you see is what you get, and any hesitation drafting him should be your confidence he can repeat as healthy a year. Nevertheless, Longoria should remain one of the first third basemen off your draft board.
2014 Outlook: And there we go. One year after posting the fewest wins (6) of any pitcher in baseball history who had a sub-4 ERA and greater than 160 strikeouts in the given season, Lee's win total swelled to 14, despite skills that were practically spot-on to those in any of his preceding five seasons. His FIP patterns, working forward from 2008, illustrate this: 2.83, 3.11, 2.58, 2.60, 3.13, 2.82. Lee does this with the most precise command in baseball, his 1.33 walks-per-nine ratio and 3.7 percent walk rate since 2008 both best in the majors, that year coinciding with the addition of a two-seam fastball to his arsenal. Despite his 35 years of age, he's as consistent as anyone in the game, even in years his win total suffers. Make Lee one of the first 10 pitchers off your board, and arguably the first five in leagues that use quality starts instead of wins.
2014 Outlook: Wainwright's recovery from Tommy John surgery has been effectively seamless: He finished second in the National League Cy Young balloting, and second among starting pitchers, on our Player Rater in 2010; he went under the knife on Feb. 28, 2011; and in his second full season back he finished second again in the NL Cy Young balloting, third among starters on our Player Rater, in 2013. What's more, while his 2010 and 2013 numbers -- even the underlying ones -- looked practically identical, since his surgery he has polished both his four-seamer and cutter, to the point he now has five reliable pitches from which to draw. There's nothing in Wainwright's recent profile to suggest he's anything but the ace-caliber fantasy starter we witnessed in 2013.
2014 Outlook: Few players enjoyed as immediate a big league splash as Puig; he batted .436 with seven home runs and 16 RBIs in 26 games during his debut month of June 2013, his numbers ranking among the greatest of any player during a debut month in history. Even after opposing pitchers familiarized themselves with his free-swinging ways, however, Puig continued to thrive, batting .284 with 12 home runs in his next 88 games (playoffs included), a testament to his immense talent. He's not a player without questions: His aggressive approach could lead to streakiness and liability in walks/on-base percentage leagues, not to mention make him more susceptible to injury than an average player, and, occasionally, he has lapses in judgment. Still, Puig's ceiling is as high as anyone's, especially in traditional Rotisserie scoring, in which he makes a compelling case to be one of the first 25 names off the board.
2014 Outlook: Few pitchers boast Darvish's diversity of arsenal: He throws as many as eight different pitches, only his fastballs (two- and four-seamers) registering beneath major-league-average statistical performance, and yet those fastballs generated 65 of his 277 K's and limited opponents to a .223 batting average in 2013. Darvish is one tough cookie for opposing hitters to pick up, particularly his curveball and slider, and the total package has resulted in a strikeout rate that has risen in every one of his four half-seasons in the U.S. (pre- and post-All-Star break, 2012-13). There is no better bet to lead all of baseball in strikeouts, a skill that will drive his value in practically every fantasy format, and he has shown nothing but increasing mastery of the U.S. game as he approaches his prime years. Make Darvish one of the first pitchers off your draft board.
Stephania Bell: Darvish dealt with a nerve issue in his lower back late last season, even receiving an injection in October. The Rangers say he was pain-free by November and expected a normal offseason, but back problems can be recurrent.
Addendum (March 26): Forget the low back; Darvish's neck has been the source of his spring woes. Stiffness led to a visit with spine specialist Dr. Drew Dossett. No structural damage was reported and Darvish can resume throwing on March 29 but he has been scratched from his Opening Day start. He may not miss much time but the bigger concern is the proximity of this episode to the lower back episode from last year, especially in a high volume thrower.
2014 Outlook: Hernandez absorbed some criticism early last season for a dip in fastball velocity, but come year's end he had the same old, consistent numbers he always has had, and he set new career highs in terms of strikeout rate (26.3 percent of batters faced) and K's per nine innings ratio (9.51). The reason is that he is a pitcher who relies more upon command and keeping hitters off balance, and keeping the ball on the ground as evidenced by his 51.9 ground-ball rate the past four seasons combined, rather than sheer velocity. Hernandez is as consistent as they come; both his 124 quality starts and 75.2 quality-start percentage lead all major leaguers the past five seasons combined. That is his strength, but his difficulty winning games is an unfortunate factor in traditional Rotisserie leagues. If not for that, he'd make a compelling case to be the second starting pitcher off the board. It's your call: how much do those wins matter to you?
2014 Outlook: Once considered one of the more unpredictable fantasy performers, Rios has developed into a remarkably reliable power/speed player: His .278/18/79 per-162-games career rates were spot-on to his .278/18/81 numbers in 2013. The primary difference was his speed: He swiped a career-high 42 bases, 16 of those coming in the 47 games he played following his Aug. 9 trade to the Texas Rangers. Still, even if he regresses on the basepaths at the age of 33, he's a potential 20/20 player who is one of only six in the majors with at least 150 apiece in homers and steals in the past eight seasons combined. This is an early-round Rotisserie performer, one whose only true weakness is a lack of walks; unless your league gives those hefty weight, he's a clear selection in the first four rounds.