2014 Outlook: A multi-category fantasy stud, one of only two players in baseball with at least a .300 batting average, 100 home runs and 50 stolen bases the past four seasons combined (Ryan Braun is the other), Gonzalez enters 2014 with a hint more risk than usual. Though his final stat line was excellent, he missed 49 of the Colorado Rockies' final 73 games due to a sprained right middle finger, batting .291 with only three extra-base hits in his healthy contests. Gonzalez opted against surgery to repair the digit, has no plans to alter his swing to compensate for the injury, and will shift to center field full-time; all of these could put him at greater risk of recurrence. Still, he made significant strides in reducing his home/road split -- he batted .332 with 14 home runs away from Coors last season -- and he's a prime-age 28. If you can appreciate Gonzalez both for his production and his 129-game average from 2010-13, you'll value him correctly: A best-in-fantasy candidate on a per-game basis, but one with a reasonable chance of a month-long DL stint. Stephania Bell: While Gonzalez opted against offseason surgery on his sprained right middle finger, a surprise appendectomy in January may have interrupted his conditioning, but he's been cleared for full activity this spring.
Addendum (3/12): Gonzalez has been hitting well this spring, showing no signs thus far of any lingering issues with the finger.
2014 Outlook: After chiseling a Rookie of the Year award (2007), an MVP (2011), five Silver Sluggers (2008-12) and three top-10 finishes on our Player Rater (second in 2012, third in 2011 and seventh in 2009) onto his career résumé, it all came crashing down for Braun in 2013, as he accepted a 65-game, season-ending suspension for violations of baseball's Basic Agreement and its Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Fantasy owners tend to be quick to judge; they might harshly deflate Braun's draft stock assuming that his post-suspension self might be significantly less in ability. But what right do we have to decide what he did, when he did it and what specific effect it had? Braun, before 2013, had showed an unparalleled combination of hit-for-average, hit-for-power and base-stealing ability, and his critics shouldn't instantly assume he can't again flash .300-hitting, 30/20 skills. He is now more of a guess because of the suspension as well as the thumb injury that cost him 36 games, but fantasy owners -- in any league regardless of format -- shouldn't allow him to slip too far beyond their first round or so, because of what he showed us from 2007-12.
Stephania Bell: Braun has been on the verge of extended injury absence several times, but his first DL stint wasn't until 2013, the same year in which he served a suspension for PED use. Could this be when he starts to break down?
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: 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.
2014 Outlook: Stanton is one of the most powerful hitters in baseball: Since the date of his major league debut in 2010, he has hit the fourth-most homers (117), has the second-highest home run/fly ball percentage (24.3) and the ninth-longest average home run distance (411.7 feet). In addition, historically speaking, the 117 homers are 10th most among any player before his 24th birthday; his .535 slugging percentage through his age-23 season is also 11th best among those with 2,000-plus plate appearances. However, Stanton still falls short of "elite" status -- those with a legitimate stake at first-round status -- because of a checkered injury history at a young age: He has missed 101 of 590 career games, including for foot, shoulder, oblique, knee and hamstring issues. He also suffers somewhat in terms of quality pitches to hit as well as his counting numbers (runs, RBIs) due to his status as a heart-of-the-order hitter for one of the game's weakest lineups, though, in his defense, Stanton's per-game numbers have been quite good. He's a player who could become that superstar/MVP-caliber performer scouts long predicted as he enters his prime, but bear in mind the injury track record.
Stephania Bell: He spent six weeks on the DL in 2013 with a hamstring injury and despite being just 24 years old, Stanton's games played have declined progressively the past two years. Can he reverse the trend?
2014 Outlook: One of the most disciplined hitters in baseball, Choo chose one of the most offensively advantageous landing spots for his skill set that he could have this winter, agreeing to a long-term deal with the Texas Rangers. Among players with at least 1,000 plate appearances the past five seasons combined, he had the sixth-highest on-base percentage (.392), a substantial gain for a team that had a mere .324 mark from its Nos. 1-2 hitters yet scored the eighth-most runs in the majors in 2013. Choo's gaudy run total of last season therefore has a good chance at being repeated, and he's a 20/20 capable player especially attractive in leagues that reward him for his walks. He's not a player without weakness -- he batted just .220/.333/.293 against lefties from 2011-13 -- but he's well worth regarding as a building block, even in shallow mixed.
2014 Outlook: His was a tale of two seasons. Upton batted .286/.404/.629 with 13 home runs through his first 40 games for the Atlanta Braves, looking like a surefire MVP candidate after years of such career prognostications but then hit just .256/.335/.409 with 14 home runs in his next 109 games, looking more like a league-average right fielder. (Hey, at least he wasn't the worst Upton.) Justin showed little skills improvement during his "cooling" stage, tempering some of those lofty career expectations as he enters his age-26 season. That said, he's still a player who has flashed occasional MVP talent, and one who, again, at 26, is entering the prime of his career. Could this be the season? Perhaps, but it's no longer worth spending that first-round pick to find out.
2014 Outlook: A power-hitting left-handed bat in a perfect park for that type, Bruce has hit at least 30 home runs in three consecutive seasons, one of only three players who can claim that (Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Beltre are the others). At the same time, Bruce's game has almost entirely moved toward power; this has resulted in rising strikeout rates every year since 2009 and a propensity for streakiness. To the latter point, he batted .246 with one homer in his first 34 games of 2013, .307 with 17 in his next 41. Bruce's power places him in the class of early-round fantasy picks, but his strikeouts are a concern in points leagues, and those who select him need to be patient through his rough patches.
2014 Outlook: One of the best raw power hitters in baseball -- his 152 home runs since the beginning of 2010 trail only Miguel Cabrera's 156, and they are 26 more than third place in the category during that span -- Bautista has fallen somewhat into injury-risk territory recently, having appeared in only 210 games combined the past two seasons because of wrist, back, ankle and hip issues. His 2013 represented his second consecutive year ended prematurely in August, this time because of a bone bruise in his hip, though all reports on his health during the winter were positive. Bautista's skills might be slowly declining, understandable for a 33-year-old, but he's still capable of approaching 40 home runs at the expense of a middling batting average; his on-base and slugging percentages, however, should remain good. He's an early-round pick in traditional rotisserie leagues, and a more attractive one, albeit with risk, in more sabermetric scoring formats.
Stephania Bell: Bautista recovered nicely from wrist surgery a year ago but ended his 2013 season early with a bone bruise in his hip. He was healed by November and enters the spring healthy.
2014 Outlook: Craig is much more of a risk/reward hitter than fantasy owners give him credit for. Consider that his 134 games played in 2013 represented a career high; he has appeared in only 67.8 percent of the St. Louis Cardinals' scheduled games (playoffs included) in his big-league career, making four trips to the DL in four years. Still, despite his injuries, Craig has the 10th-best batting average (.311) and 17th-most RBIs (189) the past two seasons combined, showing how productive a hitter he is when he takes the field. The RBIs might have been somewhat fluky; keep in mind that the Cardinals managed the highest batting average with runners in scoring position of any team in history, and Craig himself plated 24 percent of his runners on base, tops in the majors. His health might also remain in question as a regular outfielder; he's expected to move to right field to clear first base for Matt Adams. Craig's ceiling is awfully high and he's more reliable (when healthy) than Adams, but be prepared with a contingency plan for the likelihood he misses additional time in 2014.
Stephania Bell: Craig suffered a Lisfranc injury while rounding first base last September but was able to avoid offseason surgery. He expects to be a full participant this spring although the key will be how well he's running.
2014 Outlook: Zobrist is a fantasy darling for a variety of reasons: Most obvious is that he qualifies at three different positions in leagues with a 20-game requirement, including the critical middle-infield spots (second base and shortstop) to go along with the outfield. But he's also a category filler with additional value in walks and on-base percentage leagues; he is the only player in baseball to have at least 75 home runs, 75 stolen bases and 400 walks in the past five seasons combined, with his annual averages tallying 18/17 with 86 walks and a .366 on-base percentage during that time. Despite his declining homer and steal numbers in 2013, he is one of the more attractive early-to-mid rounders based upon the flexibility alone.
2014 Outlook: Knock Pence for his unconventional style of hitting; he has defied his critics for years, serving as one of the most consistently underrated players in the game. He is one of only four players to have managed at least 20 home runs, 90 RBIs and 80 runs scored in each of the past four seasons, and in 2013, he was one of only eight 20/20 performers, he and Mike Trout the only ones of those eight to also manage at least a .280 batting average and 90 runs and RBIs apiece. Pence did this by vastly improving his contact rate, and his aggressiveness on the base paths became his path to rejoining fantasy's elite. He might not look the part of a rotisserie-league building block, and his numbers aren't quite those of a top-25 overall pick. But he's also not a far cry from it.
2014 Outlook: Injuries have knocked Kemp from his former first-round fantasy perch; since topping the 2011 Player Rater, he plummeted to 92nd in 2012 and 388th in 2013, missing 56 and then 89 games in those years. Though he's still an attractive option during his healthy games, the injury question remains as valid with him entering 2014 as anyone: He had a surgery to repair the AC joint in his left shoulder in early October, a surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left ankle only a couple of weeks later, and now his status for Opening Day is in doubt. It's that ankle issue that casts doubt upon his fantasy prospects, resulting in his modest ranking, as it threatens his ability to steal bases, which fueled much of his value from 2008-11. Kemp could use some promising news during spring training to improve his draft-day stock; for now, understand that his ceiling is high, but his risk just as high. Stephania Bell: Kemp struggled with multiple injuries last season -- including his hamstring and shoulder -- but the ankle is the worrisome element heading into this year. Still on a modified running program to protect the joint, it's unclear when Kemp's season will start, but it won't likely be in Australia in March.
Addendum (3/12): Kemp began running on land in early March and progressed to intrasquad games this week. While playing in Australia still appears unlikely, Kemp’s progress is an encouraging sign that he may not be out as long as originally feared.
2014 Outlook: The American League's reigning Rookie of the Year, Myers has long been considered one of the game's best power-hitting prospects, and his chances of a major breakthrough in terms of homers are good entering 2014. As a rookie, he possessed balanced splits -- he hit .292 against righties, .293 against lefties -- and between the majors and minors he belted 27 home runs. If there's a concern, it's his strikeout rate, as he whiffed 24.4 percent of the time, plus struggled to make consistent contact against breaking pitches. Myers' .293 batting average is probably unsustainable, and he might be susceptible to streaks as he fully adapts. Still, he's a possible 30-homer hitter this year, and his upside in the category makes him one of the most attractive investments in dynasty leagues.
2014 Outlook: Hey Jason, we're waiting for that breakout ... A 2007 first-rounder, and Keith Law's No. 1 prospect entering his rookie year of 2010, Heyward has yet to become that MVP-caliber talent many predicted during his minor league days. Injuries have held him back: He made two trips to the DL last season alone, and has missed 17.9 percent of Atlanta Braves games during his four-year career. Heyward's BABIPs, not to mention his steals totals, have been all over the map, meaning that those speculating on his statistical ceiling need to brace themselves for inconsistency. Still, he's 24 years old, made huge strides in terms of his contact rate last season (80.9 percent, up from 74.1 in 2012), and has averaged 22 homers and 13 steals per 162 games played thus far to illustrate his power/speed potential. Don't let Heyward slip too far in your draft, as he's plenty capable at making a run at the top 25 fantasy players overall in any future year. An aside: For category counters, be aware that the Braves plan to bat him leadoff, meaning he's more likely to have a higher runs than RBI total.