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: 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: 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: 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: 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: A contact-hitting, on-base specialist, La Stella represents a low-risk fallback to Dan Uggla at second base for the Atlanta Braves, whether on Opening Day or in-season. La Stella batted .343/.422/.473 in 81 games in Double-A ball in 2013, then got on base at a .436 clip in the Arizona Fall League, his keen batting eye enhancing his chances at making a quick big-league adjustment. NL-only owners might want to tuck this name away as a late-round sleeper.
2014 Outlook: Acquired during last July's Matt Garza trade, Olt struggled for the Chicago Cubs' Triple-A affiliate late last season, batting .168/.276/.275 in 39 games. That cast doubt upon his role for their big club in 2014, as he's a long shot to make the team out of spring training. Anthony Rizzo has first base locked down for years and Kris Bryant threatens to surge past Olt at third base soon. He could yet emerge with a hot start to 2014 in the minors, but he's more in-season pickup than draft-day consideration.
2014 Outlook: The No. 2 pick overall in the 2013 amateur draft, Bryant managed .336/.390/.688 rates and nine home runs in 36 games across three low minor-league levels, then scored Arizona Fall League MVP honors by batting .364/.457/.727 with six homers in 20 contests, in 2013. He was considered one of the most talented -- and more importantly, polished -- prospects in the draft, and has an outside chance at some time in Wrigley Field by year's end. A big-time power prospect, albeit one who might struggle to hit for a high average initially, Bryant is quite the stash in dynasty formats.