2014 Outlook: Hamilton's 2012 and 2013 stat lines show an astonishing level of contrast: He belted 43 home runs and finished in the top five in the MVP race in the former, but his homer total declined by more than half (to 21) and his slugging percentage plummeted 145 points in the latter. Which version will we get in 2014? Somewhere in between is your best bet, although the .304-hitting version of Hamilton we saw during the first six seasons of his big league career isn't especially likely. He's a much more strikeout-prone player these days, and he's declining in terms of plate discipline, whiffing a major league-high 209 times on pitches outside the strike zone over the past two seasons. Hamilton might be more comfortable in his new digs in Year No. 2, and after playing last year at a lower weight than usual, he's back to his traditional 230 pounds entering 2014. There's bounce-back potential here, but it's probably not to his former MVP-candidate form, but to possible top-20 outfielder form. Stephania Bell: Hamilton wasted no time sustaining his first injury, a calf strain in late February which forced him onto crutches for several days. He's returned to running and could play in games the third week of March. If all goes well he can still be ready by Opening Day but this is a reminder of what the risks are with Hamilton.
2014 Outlook: Brown's is a challenging case. After parts of three disappointing big-league seasons, he finally realized his potential in 2013, hitting a professional-best 27 home runs and batting .272, 36 points higher than he did from 2010-12. Now the question: Was it more a product of adjustments to his stance and swing -- he lowered his hands and reduced the motion in his lower body -- or good batted-ball fortune? To the latter point, Brown hit 17 of his 27 homers in a 43-day, 39-game span, and 12 of his 27 homers were judged either "just enough" or "lucky" homers by ESPN's Hit Tracker tool, meaning he hit a fair share of wall-scrapers. Now 26, Brown has room to improve, so perhaps any loss of luck will be mitigated by natural skills growth. However, he has shown a propensity for streakiness, so be careful letting your expectations get the best of you.
2014 Outlook: Prado got off to a sluggish start for his new team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, last season, but come the second half of the year, he looked much closer to his old self. He batted .324/.374/.490 after the All-Star break, en route to a career-low 8 percent strikeout rate, and he logged enough time at three defensive positions -- second base, third base and the outfield -- to carry valuable flexibility into 2014 in fantasy leagues. In defense of Prado's up-and-down year, it was his first in any other organization than the Atlanta Braves in a decade of pro experience, and adapting to the change might have contributed. He's not at a stage of his career where a significant step forward should be expected, but he's a reliable, versatile mid-round bet in any fantasy format.
2014 Outlook: After a late-2012 power surge, Moss truly broke through granted quasi-regular playing time in 2013, maintaining practically identical power rates -- adjusting for natural regression to the mean, that is -- and quietly reaching the 30-homer plateau. His was a stunning effort, considering his power-suppressing home ballpark and his wide lefty/righty platoon split (68 points better in batting average and 164 points better in slugging percentage versus right-handers). Moss returns to a similar role in 2014, presumably pairing with Nate Freiman or Alberto Callaspo at first base, but in exchange for the lost counting numbers (runs, RBIs), his ratios should stabilize as a result. That also means that he's particularly attractive in a daily league, where you can mix and match his lefty/righty matchups. Moss made enough strides making contact -- he whiffed just 23.1 percent of the time in the second half, down from 30.8 percent in the first half -- and has enough of a power-oriented approach -- he led the majors in fly-ball rate -- to make a compelling case for a repeat.
2014 Outlook: Guess who's hit the ninth-most homers in the majors over the past three seasons? At an age where his skills should be declining, Soriano's are remarkably stable. Conventional wisdom suggests it is easy to pick up cheap speed later in drafts, but Soriano is a great source of cheap power. As batting average is dropping across the league, the fact that Soriano's is consistent means it isn't as detrimental as in past seasons. However, a repeat of 18 steals is unlikely, especially considering he swiped a total of just 22 the previous four seasons combined.
2014 Outlook: Don't race to affix the "injury-prone" label to Granderson; recognize that his 101 missed games last season were largely the result of two unfortunate hit-by-pitch incidents, one during his very first at-bat of spring training, the other 31 plate appearances following his return from the DL. Those effectively ruined his year, but not his winter payday, as he hopped aboard the seven train to Flushing to join the New York Mets. It's the ballpark change, not Granderson's health, that warrants greater concern, as he has historically been a feast-or-famine, yank-flies-to-right slugger; that is a style perfect for Yankee Stadium's short porch, but less so with all the right-field nooks and crannies at Citi Field. His power numbers might suffer, his low batting average is a liability in Rotisserie leagues and his high strikeout rate a problem in leagues than penalize for them, but the mere prospect of a 30- even if not 40-homer campaign makes him a modest bounce-back candidate.
2014 Outlook: A free agent until the Baltimore Orioles scooped him up shortly after camps opened, Cruz is a player surrounded by many questions. Draft-pick compensation was one of the initial obstacles standing in his way of a deal, but the 50-game suspension that cost him most of last season's final two months was a more compelling one, as his critics asked how much of his power -- 135 homers the past five years combined -- might have been aided. Cruz's draft stock might be deflated due to the the performance-enhancing drug question, but that could make him a value rather than a bust candidate entering 2014. He remains a powerful hitter, one who will call another hitter-friendly park his home, so mixed leaguers shouldn't let him slip too deep into the later rounds before taking a chance.
2014 Outlook: Injuries continue to haunt Crawford, as he missed time due to a hamstring issue in June, then scuffled late with a sore back. He's supposed to be healthy entering this season, but for how long? While on the field, a jump in contact rate is encouraging, especially since Crawford's more likely path back to fantasy relevance is via his legs. He's capable of popping double-digit dingers, but a solid stolen base success rate portends to more opportunities. The key is going to be health, but if you prefer to play it safe early and take chances later, Crawford could be your guy.
2014 Outlook: Although delayed, first by the Miami Marlins' conservative approach to his advancement and then by injuries (plantar fasciitis and abdominal ailments), Yelich's arrival in the majors was positive in 2013. Just as he had in the minors, he hit for average with a healthy-enough walk rate to drive his on-base percentage, and he maintained the double-digit speed he had showed over his entire minor league career. The latter is his route to fantasy superstardom; Yelich is capable of 20-plus steals, and adding any batting average points or homers to his totals would drive him up the Player Rater. Still, he's not without weakness: He batted a miserable .165/.245/.231 against left-handers despite playing regularly against both sides, and had a similarly large platoon split in the minors. Yelich must make those adjustments. For the immediate future, that makes him more of a mid- to late-round draft pick in mixed leagues, with greater value in formats with more transaction flexibility. For the long term, though, he could be a five-category stud well worth a greater investment today.
2014 Outlook: Gardner's 2013 batting average was in line with his history, but it took some luck with his hit rate to make up for a marked rise in strikeouts. Even more concerning was the fact that Gardner did not run as much as in the past. This could have been an attempt to keep him healthy, but if he isn't running, he isn't an asset, fantasy or otherwise. Gardner is slated to open the season with a regular job, but his playing time is always a mystery since he could easily fall into a platoon or be banished to the bottom of the order. It's fine to use Gardner to embellish your speed, he's just no longer suited to be a primary source.
2014 Outlook: Fun fact: Among players with at least 150 plate appearances in 2013, the only two with .300-plus isolated power had identically pronounced names, Chris Davis and Khris Davis. That's testament to Khris' sleeper power potential, and while his 11 home runs in limited play were fueled by an unsustainable 28.2 home run/fly ball percentage, bear in mind that he has averaged 28 home runs per 162 games played as a pro. The Milwaukee Brewers recognized this and cleared left field for him, trading Norichika Aoki and moving Ryan Braun to right, and a big spring might vault his draft stock from NL-only starter to viable mixed-league late-rounder. But understand the risks: Davis has many of the traits of the three-true-outcomes slugger (walks, K's and homers), and such players can be streaky or quickly exposed in the majors for the holes in their swings.
2014 Outlook: Eaton hasn't had much luck in the injury department during his young career: His 2012 ended prematurely due to a broken hand, and he suffered an elbow injury during spring training that cost him the first 61 regular-season games of 2013. Last year, he never seemed to be his usual self in terms of power and speed, but he'll get a fresh start this year with the Chicago White Sox, presumably taking over as their regular center fielder. It's a cluttered outfield picture, somewhat threatening Eaton's at-bats, and he needs to improve his walk rate to the 11.5 percent mark in his minor league career or 13.6 percent in his brief 2012 stint, but there's a very real chance he could quickly develop into a 10/30 performer who hits atop the lineup. With a strong spring, he'll surely soar up draft boards.
2014 Outlook: De Aza's first full season as a starter rates a success on the heels of a career-high 17 homers, but closer inspection reveals an across-the-board drop in his slash line spurred by a big jump in strikeout rate. This is even more relevant since De Aza may not have the luxury of full-time at-bats to pump up the counting stats. His present role is in a platoon, as Adam Eaton is slated to take over full-time duties in center field. This renders De Aza an intriguing player in AL-only formats, since a trade or an injury to an outfielder will propel him back to regular status. Just don't assume he'll maintain last season's career-best power pace; some give-back should be expected.
2014 Outlook: If you're looking for reliability and durability, Brantley fits the bill. His skill set is steady but unspectacular. A low fly ball rate depresses any potential power breakout, but a solid line drive rate in tandem with an excellent contact rate offer some upside in average that could result in more steals, especially if he can maintain the improved success rate displayed last season.
2014 Outlook: After pacing the Venezuelan Winter League in home runs (16) and slugging percentage (.595) during the 2012-13 offseason, Gattis parlayed a strong spring performance (6 home runs, ninth-most, and a .368 batting average) into an Opening Day roster spot as a part-timer while Brian McCann recovered from shoulder surgery. "El Oso Blanco" (Spanish for "The White Bear") extended the magic through the subsequent six months; from the seventh inning on in games with the score within one run, he hit seven homers (second-most), slugged .864 (first) and had a .513 wOBA (first). Those "clutch" statistics have a low likelihood of being repeated, but the performance did grant Gattis a future advantage: It made him the favorite to start behind the plate now that McCann is in New York. Gattis' defense might put a cap on his at-bats, and he's more feast-or-famine slugger than balanced hitter, but few catchers possess his power potential. He's a handy No. 2 option in mixed leagues, and a clear starter in NL-only.