2014 Outlook: Don't let winter criticism of the length of his 10-year, $240-million deal with the Seattle Mariners, nor chatter that Yankee Stadium artificially inflated his statistics, inspire panic that Cano's fantasy value will plummet. It's fair to point out that he hit 16 more home runs at home than on the road the past five seasons combined, coinciding with the entirety of new Yankee Stadium's existence thus far, and that the New York Yankees averaged 1.4 more runs per game than the Seattle Mariners during that same five-year span. But in Cano's defense, during the same time he batted four points higher on the road (.316 to .312) and hit 10 more home runs to left and center field (23 to 13) in road games, and that the 2013 Yankees averaged only 0.2 runs per game more than the Mariners suggests that his runs/RBIs might not suffer much by his changing uniforms. Cano's strength is also his durability: He has played the second-most games of any player the past five seasons (behind only Prince Fielder), and he has appeared in at least 150 games at second base in seven consecutive years, a streak exceeded in history only by Nellie Fox (eight straight, 1952-59). He is the class of a weak second base crop, an advantage that still props him up as a first-rounder in any format.
2014 Outlook: Though Kipnis did enjoy a breakthrough in 2012, hitting 14 home runs and stealing 31 bases, he truly arrived as a big-league star in 2013. His underlying numbers showed considerable growth: He batted 93 points and slugged 198 points higher against left-handers than he did in 2012, he increased his overall walk rate from 10.0 to 11.6 percent, and he was the third least-likely to swing at a pitch outside the strike zone in baseball (17.4 percent rate). In the process, Kipnis became the sixth-youngest second baseman in history to manage a 15/30 season, and a viable contender to Robinson Cano for the title of best at his position in fantasy. Kipnis' only legitimate criticism, as he enters the prime of his career, is his two-year history of wide first-half/second-half splits: he batted 42 points higher in the first half, hit 24 of his 31 homers and stole 41 of his 61 bases before the All-Star break. Those could just as likely be the product of a young player adapting to the grueling 162-game schedule as a future trend, and if Kipnis gains more consistency in that regard, he could easily repeat or exceed his No. 18 overall finish on the 2013 Player Rater.
2014 Outlook: A torn ligament in his left thumb suffered last Opening Day sapped his power, but Pedroia nevertheless fought through, playing a career-high 160 games and amassing 724 trips to the plate in 2013, earning himself a third consecutive season ranked among the top five second basemen on our Player Rater. To put his year into statistical perspective: His per-162-games career averages were spot on in nearly every major category except home runs (nine in 2013, 16 career) and slugging percentage (.415 and .454). Pedroia remains in the prime of his career and again should pace one of the most productive lineups in baseball. He's especially attractive in points leagues, where his high on-base percentage and contact rates carry additional weight, but there's no question that he's an early-round pick in any scoring format.
Stephania Bell: It's no surprise that Pedroia played all season despite tearing his ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb in the very first game. Equally unsurprising is the expectation he'll be ready for spring training after having it surgically repaired in November.
2014 Outlook: Kinsler's departure from Texas might fuel fears in his fantasy owners, and to a degree they'd be right: He batted 63 points higher (.294-.231) with 75 points greater wOBA (.377-.302) at Rangers Ballpark comparative to on the road the past three seasons combined. We remind, however, that all players enjoy some degree of home-field advantage, and that Kinsler's road statistics can't be immediately translated to his new home venue; he'd surely perform better at Comerica Park than in his 2011-13 road games. He's leaving one loaded lineup for another, and has already said this winter that his decline in stolen bases was related to an injury, and that he'll be more aggressive on the base paths in 2014. Kinsler remains an attractive power/speed source in fantasy leagues, an on-base specialist better in points-based and walks/OBP leagues, and one of the first second basemen to target on your draft board.
2014 Outlook: After a winter of trade rumors, Phillips thankfully returns to the Cincinnati Reds, with whom he'll once again call a hitter-friendly ballpark his home and will again occupy a premium lineup spot (second, fourth or fifth, in all likelihood). Here's why that's important: Phillips has hit 95 of the 160 homers during his Reds career at Great American Ball Park, and his Reds scored the third-most runs in the National League in 2013. His skills have begun to decline slightly, which is understandable for a player set to turn 33 midseason, but he is also one of only 15 players to have hit at least 75 home runs and stolen at least 75 bases the past five seasons combined. Phillips is one of the most consistent, well-rounded second basemen in fantasy, though his modest walk and rising strikeout rates do make him a slightly riskier early-rounder in points-based or sabermetrically inclined scoring formats.
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: A patient, line-drive hitter with one of the most keen batting eyes in baseball, Carpenter became a fantasy dynamo during a breakout 2013 campaign, finishing third on the Player Rater at his field position (second base) and 34th overall, while also earning high ratings at the three spots at which he carried over qualification from 2012: First base, third base and the outfield. Carpenter remains a dual-qualifying threat in 2014; he retains both second and third base eligibility, but will transition to third base full-time for the St. Louis Cardinals. He's plenty capable of a repeat -- or a season within range of his 2013 -- the primary statistical doubts whether his .359 BABIP might regress, lowering his batting average, or his 126 runs scored, the third-most by any player since 2008, might decline coming off a year in which the Cardinals were amazingly successful in clutch situations. Even with natural regression, however, Carpenter is a clear early-to-mid-round pick, most attractive in walk/on-base and points-based leagues, which reward him for his lofty doubles totals.
2014 Outlook: It speaks volumes about the extent of the Houston Astros' rebuilding project that Altuve, a player with two-and-a-half years' service time, is arguably their most recognizable star. In some ways, that distinction has harmed more than hurt him; he was consistently shuffled between the top three spots in the lineup in 2013, and showed more of a propensity to swing at bad pitches out of the three-hole. Altuve should slot into the two-hole this year, and if he's even marginally more patient, he shouldn't have much difficulty matching or exceeding his 2012-13 averages of .285 BA/.323 OBP, 72 runs scored and 34 stolen bases. Those aren't knock-your-socks-off fantasy stats, but from a second baseman, they're certainly worthy of an early-to-mid-round pick, even in a shallow mixed league.
2014 Outlook: While 2013 was not completely injury-free, Utley played in more than 130 games for the first time since 2009. The good news is the missed games were due to ailments other than the degenerative knee condition that cost him so much time in 2011 and 2012. Skills-wise, Utley is still solid, more than capable of delivering double-digit homers and steals, but, at 35 years old, the other assorted ailments are likely to continue, and there's no telling if or when the knee will act up again. The probable injury discount makes Utley a viable play, just have a contingency since you'll likely need it.
2014 Outlook: Injuries, injuries, injuries. Oh, if only Hill could stay healthy like he did in 2009 (158 games) and 2012 (156). Consider his per-162-games averages the past five seasons combined: .266 batting average, 26 home runs, 88 RBIs, 11 stolen bases, 90 runs. Those are star-caliber fantasy numbers from a second baseman, and in his defense, the fractured left hand that cost him more than two months last season was more of the fluke variety. If you're willing to take a chance, Hill is one of the more intriguing mid-round second basemen available, despite his history of injuries and wildly varying BABIPs. Pick him, then cross those fingers.
2014 Outlook: In 2013, Lawrie battled through assorted injuries (ribs, oblique, ankle) as well as a brief position change to second base, yet he managed to improve his skills, albeit marginally. Lawrie fanned less and walked more than 2012, hitting the same number of homers in 78 fewer plate appearances. Still just 24 years old, Lawrie has plenty of time to realize the potential many thought he possessed when he was a top prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers' organization. To do so, other than health, he could stand to take a few more walks and hit a few more balls in the air, as a fly-ball rate below 35 percent caps his homers in the high teens. Injuries may be to blame, but Lawrie's stolen base success rate also needs some polish. The term post-hype sleeper is a bit cliché, but Lawrie fits the profile. The skills are still there, health permitting.
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: It was basically the perfect storm for Murphy, as everything went right in 2013. More fly balls in tandem with a modest increase in percentage of homers per fly ball, and Murphy's 13 home runs bested his combined total of the previous two campaigns. After swiping 10 of 12 bags in 2012, Murphy parlayed that excellent conversion rate into a career high 23 in 2013. Something to keep in mind is that last year Murphy was another year removed from a couple of serious injuries while covering second, so not only was he healthier, he was likely more confident as well. Repeating last season will be tough, but another double-digit total in both homers and steals is well within his grasp.
2014 Outlook: As a rookie, Gyorko defied conventional logic when it comes to San Diego Padres hitters: He led his class in home runs (23), the one category that Petco Park tends to suppress. It is for that reason, especially considering 15 of those homers came from Aug. 1 forward, that we have some hesitation simply handing him a far better sophomore-year projection and a ranking that makes him clearly one of the best at his position. We look at Gyorko and see a player with underlying numbers that remind us of Chase Headley's 2012; there's a chance that regression to the mean might bring Gyorko slightly back to the pack. Still, there's plenty of power potential in Gyorko's bat, and further growth is always possible. He'll be a mid-round pick, one who makes a more compelling case in dynasty/keeper formats, and could by all rights be a top-10 second baseman in 2014.
2014 Outlook: The most alarming number in Lowrie's 2013 stat line is the 662 plate appearances. This was by far a career high and, in fact, only 66 fewer trips to the dish than he amassed the previous two seasons combined. That said, 15 homers was a disappointment considering he swatted 16 the previous campaign in far fewer chances. On the other hand, a drop in strikeout rate in concert with a bump in hit rate helped Lowrie set a career high in average. Lowrie enters 2014 as the Athletics' regular shortstop, but the safe play is to account for some missed time. It's also best to anticipate some regression in terms of batting average on balls in play. Even with the warnings, dual eligibility (second base and shortstop) renders Lowrie a viable candidate to man middle infield assuming you have speed elsewhere.