2014 Outlook: Few players disappointed their fantasy owners as much as Castro in 2013; this No. 38 overall pick in terms of ADP (third among shortstops) suffered a 38-point drop in batting average, an 83-point drop in slugging percentage and a 14-steal decline comparative to his 2012 numbers. Nevertheless, we're not giving up hope of a rebound in 2014. He's 24 years old, with many productive years in his future, he spent considerable time this winter in the Dominican Republic working with a Chicago Cubs strength coach to improve his speed and agility, and he had underlying 2013 numbers that suggested he was making adjustments, not merely struggling to succeed. To wit: He put 7 percent more balls in play to the opposite field, many of those hard-contact results. Castro remains the potential .300-hitting, 15/20 candidate that he always was, so long as he remains focused on the field. With a new manager aboard, might this be the year he finally breaks through? Stephania Bell: Castro suffered what was described as a mild hamstring strain in early March, but he is still in recovery mode as of late March. The good news is that he is running the bases and is seeing some minor league action and the team believes he will be ready for Opening Day. The problem is the only way to feel confident about his health is if he survives the first few weeks without a setback.
2014 Outlook: Rizzo doesn't garner much attention on a bad Chicago Cubs team, and after a letdown of a 2013 season, he might slide too far in many drafts this season. Though his batting average was destined to regress after his standout 2012, few expected it'd decline by 52 points. That leaves room for improvement, and considering he's now 24 years old with nearly 300 games of big league experience under his belt, not to mention a power hitter in Wrigley Field, Rizzo could be a potential value. He's a smarter hitter than you'd think -- his walk rate soared to 11.0 percent last season -- meaning he's an even more attractive selection in walks/on-base percentage leagues.
2014 Outlook: Straily's peripherals are OK, nothing great. In fact they basically define league average. But so long as your league uses more than half the available players, he has a place on a roster. Then it becomes a matter of upside and growth and that's where the glass is half full. His floor is high, aided by a favorable park, with another level or two before he reaches the ceiling. Therefore, there's decent upside without the risk of Straily killing your ratios.
2014 Outlook: Acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in July, Strop was a sensation for the Chicago Cubs last season, posting a 2.83 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 14 holds in 37 appearances for his new team, fueled by a 7.7 percent walk rate that was a substantial improvement upon his 13.4 percent number up to that point in his career. He put himself firmly in contention for a future closer role, though the Cubs signed successful 2013 closer Jose Veras as a stopgap, albeit perhaps for the early stages of 2014. Strop should begin 2014 as Veras' primary setup man and handcuff, and while his WHIP is a tad risky, he should be of service helping your ERA/WHIP/K's while filling the holds column.
2014 Outlook: Escaping Marlins Park might have been the best thing that could have happened to Ruggiano: Twenty-four of his 31 home runs the past two seasons combined came on the road, and he had a slugging percentage 97 points higher in his road games during that time. He has a clear path to regular -- or near-regular -- playing time with the Chicago Cubs, and will call a more hitting-friendly environment his home. Still, Ruggiano's skills aren't much greater than those of a fringe big league regular, his fantasy appeal greater because of his double-digit potential in homers and steals. Speculate if you wish, but try to limit it to NL-only formats if you can.
2014 Outlook: If you play in a league that rewards quality starts instead of wins, you'll love Wood: He won only nine games last season yet finished sixth in the majors in quality starts (24), 10th in quality start percentage (75.0) and second in non-win quality starts (15). He's a command specialist and a fly-ball pitcher, so his ratios are always at the mercy of both his defenders and the ballpark in which he's pitching. Wood has polished his cutter enough over the years that he shouldn't suffer a steep regression, but his skill set still has the look of an NL-only back-ender or a mixed-league streamer.
2014 Outlook: A converted shortstop, Lake lacks the long-term ceiling of fellow Chicago Cubs Starlin Castro and Javier Baez, which is why he was moved to the outfield when he finally arrived in the majors last summer. Lake got off to a hot start, batting .324 in his first 34 games, but after that, opposing pitchers quickly learned that he was a free swinger who struggled against breaking balls, and he hit just .223/.291/.351 thereafter (30 games). It's the latter stat line that's closer to his true value, as Lake managed pedestrian .271/.322/.411 career minor league rates, as well as 23.5 percent strikeout and 5.9 percent walk rates, that make him look like a streaky bet. NL-only owners can take their chances, but he's a weaker choice for those leagues that use on-base percentage over batting average.
2014 Outlook: For the fourth consecutive season, Jackson did not pitch nearly as poorly as his ERA indicates. In fact, Jackson's xFIP over this stretch has been eerily similar, ranging from 3.71 in 2010 to 3.86 in 2013. But even so, Jackson's WHIP is well above league average. He's best left on the scrap heap unless truly desperate.
2014 Outlook: More defensive- than offensive-minded catcher, Castillo nevertheless showed some promise during the second half of 2013, his first year as a full-time big-league catcher. He batted .288/.388/.475 with six home runs in 44 games after the All-Star break, chasing 6 percent fewer pitches outside the strike zone and hitting 7 percent more fly balls; that gave hope he could, in Chicago, match his .267/.343/.488 rates and 19 home runs per 100 games played at the Triple-A level. He's more of an NL-only than mixed-league asset, but with a hot start to 2014, he could be a handy No. 2 option in the latter, with a tick more value in on-base percentage leagues.
2014 Outlook: A breakthrough campaign at Class A Stockton, including a .305/.424/.555 second-half triple-slash line, followed by a productive stint in the Arizona Fall League, has advanced Russell's timetable for arrival in the majors. He'll begin 2014 presumably in Double-A; with continued growth -- or an injury to Jed Lowrie -- he might arrive in Oakland by year's end. Russell is capable enough with the bat not to hurt you in terms of batting average or homers initially upon his arrival, but it's his speed that'll make him worth a pickup in any format once he's promoted.
2014 Outlook: Once considered a top prospect while rising up the ranks of the Detroit Tigers organization, Turner's stock has slipped in his year and a half with the Miami Marlins, his command numbers tumbling steeply to 1.43 K's per walk in 20 starts for the big club in 2013. Though he's a 22-year-old with plenty of time to elevate his game, at this stage of his career he looks the part of a matchups type: He had a 2.67 ERA against losing teams, 5.00 against .500-plus teams, in 2013, and he had a WHIP 0.14 lower at Marlins Park than on the road. Consider anything more in 2014 gravy.
2014 Outlook: With Emilio Bonifacio in tow and Mike Olt and Kris Bryant looming, Valbuena's days of starting at the hot corner in Wrigley Field could be numbered. Valbuena does have a little pop, as evidenced by his 17 homers in 639 big-league plate appearances the past three seasons, but it comes at the cost of a .218 average over that span. The Cubs may be forced to stick with Valbuena; you have better options.
2014 Outlook: While the axiom about never having too much pitching usually rings true, Boston bringing in Chris Capuano after Ryan Dempster opted to take the year off is a signal that Doubront will not be handed the fifth rotation spot for the world champs. Doubront's 2014 featured a splendid 15-game stint in which he compiled a 2.55 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, so he has the talent, he just needs to be more consistent with respect to throwing strikes. Given that parsing data can be misleading, those 15 tilts should at least put Doubront on your radar in mixed leagues, especially if you can use him mostly at home. This is one of those rare occasions a pitcher may be more mixed-worthy than deep-league worthy, because you'd be more apt to stream him. His walks and penchant for the long ball make him risky in AL-only setups, especially if his punchouts don't rebound.