2014 Outlook: It took 330 big-league games spread over a little more than two calendar years, but late last season Hosmer finally developed into the premier hitter scouts forecasted as far back as the time he was picked third overall in the 2008 amateur draft. From June 1 on, he batted .318 with 16 home runs in 109 games, thanks to an all-fields approach that countered some of the defensive shifts he had faced earlier in his career. Hosmer is that rate power/speed first baseman, but he's also one with a lot of batting-average stability; the sum of his parts makes him a much safer investment than it might seem. You'll pay for it on draft day, with perhaps a top-50 pick in a mixed league, but the potential reward is a player who could finally develop the power those same scouts once predicted: Might 25 homers be within his sights?
2014 Outlook: Holland's 2013 is all the more remarkable if you consider that this No. 2 relief pitcher and No. 21 player overall on our Player Rater actually lost his closer job for a brief spell early in the season. But even if you account for his rocky early April, since he took over as the Kansas City Royals' closer on Aug. 1, 2012, he ranks second in the majors in saves (63), third in relief ERA (1.43), eighth in WHIP (0.93) and fifth in strikeout rate (37.7 percent). He has a filthy slider that generates many swings and misses, and made huge strides with his control in 2013, his 7.1 percent walk rate a big improvement upon 2012's 11.8 percent. If there's to be any criticism of Holland, it's that he has a 7.04 ERA in his career in the month of April, but both the Royals and his fantasy owners are probably prepared to absorb that and be patient, even through any brief rough patches. He's the sneaky entrant into the four-man, upper tier of fantasy closers, and the only one of that group who hails from the American League. Don't wait on him for long.
2014 Outlook: For three straight seasons now, Shields has been one of the most consistently reliable pitchers in baseball, and in leagues that award for quality starts rather than wins, he's extremely underrated. To that point, he tied for the major league lead in quality starts in 2013 (27), and his 72 quality starts from 2011-13 combined ranked third behind only Clayton Kershaw (77) and Justin Verlander (75). Shields also thrived in an outdoor environment for the first time in his career last season in Kansas City; he had a 3.27 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 32 starts outdoors. (That said, he dominated in his two starts indoors, again supporting his cause as a must-start in dome/retractable roof games.) While Royals pitchers rarely capture fantasy owners' attention, Shields shouldn't be overlooked because of his team's recent history. He's as reliable as they come outside the Cy Young-caliber tiers.
2014 Outlook: Two straight seasons of a BABIP well above the league norm buoyed Gordon's production, but last season, he failed to maintain that elevated level and his average fell. Fortunately, a spike in his fly ball percentage propelled his homers back to the 20 plateau, so his production did not suffer much. All totaled, Gordon has one of the more stable skill sets in the league. There will be some variance around his batting average, but his consistency and durability are more important considerations. Gordon is falling into the boring stage of his career, but boring can help build a stable, winning foundation. And winning is by no means boring.
2014 Outlook: Perez is quickly earning himself a reputation as a risk/reward player. He has .301/.331/.451 lifetime rates and per-162-game career averages of 17 home runs and 89 RBIs, but he has also missed 117 of 370 scheduled Kansas City Royals games since making his major league debut in 2011. Perez is as adept at making contact as any player in the game, with an 11.1 percent career strikeout rate, and he has underrated pop to all fields, including nine home runs hit in his final 46 games of 2013. There's considerable upside in his bat, if you can live with his risk of injury, and his downside is somewhat lesser than his brethren thanks to his contact-hitting approach.
2014 Outlook: Aoki's arrival in Kansas City was one of the more unexpected developments of the winter, and those who align his value with whom he was traded for (Will Smith) shouldn't take it as any knock on his fantasy stock. In two seasons in the States, the Japanese speedster has shown a remarkable level of consistency, his half-season numbers in terms of batting average, on-base percentage and walk rate scarcely showing any variance. Aoki is amazing at putting the bat on the ball; in 2013, he had the majors' lowest strikeout rate (5.9 percent) and second-lowest miss rate on swings (8.1 percent). That results in minimal downside, reliability in terms of his hitting ratios and enough opportunity to drive his steals and runs categories. This is the kind of value selection a mixed-league owner should seek to round out an outfield, especially those in points-based leagues.
2014 Outlook: A contact-hitting, hit-for-average type, Infante could be a handy plug-in as a mixed-league middle infielder and as a stable mid-roster type in AL-only formats. Last year, he rode career bests in terms of his strikeout (9.2 percent) and contact rates (90.3 percent) into a long-term deal with the Kansas City Royals, who have every intention of playing him regularly at second base and perhaps batting him in the lineup's No. 2 spot. Infante's limited pop might not play as well at Kauffman Stadium as Comerica Park -- he primarily has pull power -- so make sure you're picking him as batting average/on-base percentage support rather than something more.
2014 Outlook: Moustakas' junior year in the majors was a disaster, as practically every one of his offensive rates suffered a steep decline. He gained in only one regard: His 16.1 percent strikeout rate was a healthy improvement from 2012's 20.2 percent. Unfortunately, that doesn't mount much of a case for a Moustakas rebound, and after a year of struggles against left-handers, he could fall into a straight platoon with winter acquisition Danny Valencia. Moustakas is still a power-oriented bat, and with proper adjustments, he could again post 20-plus home runs. But he's more of a speculative AL-only rotisserie pick than one to target in other scoring formats.
2014 Outlook: Escobar is quick and smart on the base paths: He has successfully stolen 29 consecutive bases (dating back to September 2012), and took the extra base 57 percent of the time, eighth-best among batting title-eligible hitters, in 2013. That's where the fantasy excitement ends, however. Escobar is a free swinger who rarely walks, resulting in a low batting average and an on-base percentage that costs him steal attempts as well as depresses his counting numbers (runs/RBIs). That he's a shortstop is perhaps his best fantasy asset; he's a mixed-league middle infielder and AL-only starter, but to be clear, this is one-Rotisserie-category chasing.
2014 Outlook: For a significant chunk of the winter, Ventura appeared the odds-on-favorite to win one of two open Kansas City Royals rotation spots; then the team signed Bruce Chen in January, forcing Ventura into a deep fifth-starter race. Though Ventura pitched well in a three-start stint for the big club in September, he could wind up beginning the year in Triple-A, though owners in deeper leagues with the bench space might still stash him even in that event. His long-term ceiling might be lower than that of fellow prospect Kyle Zimmer, as Ventura throws hard (high-90s fastball) with a good curve, but that might be a better combination for short relief than starting. Expect him to get another chance to start sometime in 2014, but don't get overzealous.
2014 Outlook: Knee issues limited Willingham to 111 games last season and perhaps explained his precipitous drop in power production. Entering 2014, he'll return to the Minnesota Twins healthy and hungry as he plays out the final year of his deal. Plus, he still possesses the high walk rate and pop that makes him an especially attractive selection in sabermetric-oriented formats. Bear in mind that Target Field plays better for right-handed power than most think; he did hit 35 homers for the Twins two years ago. Don't forget him as a bounce-back candidate in AL-only and deep mixed formats.
2014 Outlook: The usually durable Vargas missed some time last summer after having a blood clot removed from his arm. That didn't stop Kansas City from signing the soft-tossing southpaw to a four-year contract. The Royals are looking for innings to help extend their rotation and conserve their bullpen while their young arms mature. Fortunately, you don't have the same concern for your fantasy roster.
2014 Outlook: From April 16 through May 19 of last season, Herrera served up eight home runs. The rest of the season he gave up only one. This bad stretch may have caused Herrera the chance to grab the closer reins in Kansas City as Greg Holland was struggling at the same time. Though Holland has a firm grasp of the role, Herrera's excellent strikeout rate is deep-league worthy and the best part is that the price will be low due to last season's inflated ERA.
2014 Outlook: Groin, hamstring and oblique issues have cost Cain considerable time the past two seasons, and as 2014 dawns his playing time is in question following the offseason acquisition of Norichika Aoki. Cain should make the Kansas City Royals out of camp, but his role could range anywhere from a fourth outfielder to their starting center fielder, the former locking him in as a late-round AL-only pick, the latter perhaps putting him on the mixed-league radar. Cain is a capable speedster with a hint of power; he's a possible 10/20 player if he can stay healthy and capture a regular role.
2014 Outlook: Ibanez's 2013 was a tale of two seasons in the power department: He belted 24 homers in the first half, which ranked fifth in the majors, but only five in the second half, which ranked 135th. Most of that could be explained by a ridiculously fortunate 26.1 home run/fly-ball percentage in the first half, followed by a 9.4 percent in the second half, the latter closer to his true value. As was the case last season, Ibanez isn't in a great power environment in L.A., and at 41 he's more likely to decline than progress statistically. Still, he can hit a few out for an AL-only team or be a mixed-league plug-in should he experience a hot spell.