2014 Outlook: Though no longer the top-10-overall fantasy talent he was three short years ago -- he finished eighth on our 2011 Player Rater -- Gonzalez has quietly settled in as one of the more consistently reliable performers at his position. Since he became a regular in 2006, he has appeared in the second-most games (1,274), driven in the fifth-most runs (860), scored the 12th-most runs (716) and produced healthy .296/.371/.505 offensive rates. What's more, Gonzalez has shown a remarkable penchant for exploiting the confines of his ballpark: In Boston, his ability to hit with power to the opposite field helped him boost his batting-average and doubles totals, but in Los Angeles, he has taken somewhat more of a pull approach, knowing that left field is considerably more expansive in Dodger Stadium than at Fenway Park. Gonzalez might no longer be a lock for a .300-plus batting average or 30 home runs, but it's within reason to argue that he'll reach either plateau. And if he's a .295-25 performer in the deep Los Angeles Dodgers lineup, he might be a sneaky value in rotisserie leagues.
2014 Outlook: Though Zimmerman's 2012-13 shows a much more consistent .280/25/85 performer than fantasy owners tend to give him credit for, his critics do raise important points. Injuries have long been an issue -- he averaged 133 games during the past six seasons -- his eroding defense at third base lends legitimacy to chatter that the Washington Nationals might eventually shift him across the diamond to first base and both his strikeout and swing-and-miss rates have risen in back-to-back seasons. For 2014, however, Zimmerman retains his third-base eligibility -- and he'll probably keep it at least through 2015, too -- meaning that, once again, he should settle in as a top-10 mixed-league third baseman and top-75 overall player. At this stage of his career, however, any upside from that status might be gone.
2014 Outlook: After many years of chatter that his bat was too valuable to risk having him wear the tools of ignorance on a daily basis, Mauer finally was moved off catcher this winter: He'll be the Minnesota Twins' everyday first baseman in 2014. It took a season-shortening concussion in August to force the Twins' hand, but there are many fantasy advantages that result: Mauer should take less wear and tear at first base, increasing his chances at racking up games and plate appearances, and he'll remain catcher-eligible throughout 2014 in ESPN leagues, while accruing the larger number of PAs typical of a first baseman comparative to a catcher. That's big news for this batting-average/line-drive specialist; a .300-plus hitter, not to mention a .400-plus on-base artist, carries much more weight in those categories the more times he comes to the plate. (Incidentally, Mauer's .323 career batting average is tops among active players.) Take this to heart especially in points-based leagues; the case can be made that Mauer will pace the position in the format. But even in rotisserie leagues, he's one of the best at his "position" ... well, his eligible fantasy position of catcher.
Stephania Bell: Mauer's season ended in August due to a concussion, the result of a foul tip to his mask. He was symptom-free by October, and with the full-time move to first base this year, he should have an easier time staying in the lineup.
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: 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: Even with the fence adjustments at Safeco Field last season, Seager still couldn't capitalize in terms of power, and it's worth a debate as to whether he'd vault into the upper tier of fantasy third basemen if he wasn't a member of the Seattle Mariners. His road numbers are tantalizing: He's a .289/.345/.491 hitter, including 32 of his 45 career home runs, away from Safeco, but, at the same time, those facts, coupled with his 53-point career wOBA split between lefties and righties (favoring the side against right-handers), seem to place Seager more in the "matchups" than "breakout candidate" bin. That said, he's a fourth-year big leaguer aged 26, meaning his prime years have arrived, and the Mariners' lineup should be better in 2014 than 2013, supporting his runs/RBIs. It's not unthinkable that Seager could gain more consistency with experience. He's an attractive bargain bet.
2014 Outlook: Ah, the possibilities. Santana enters a 2014 of change: He's catcher-eligible in fantasy leagues, but all indications are that the Cleveland Indians will move him off the position -- probably to designated hitter -- though he did dabble in some third base in winter ball. Chances are he'll be a catcher-eligible player who experiences a games played/plate appearances bump as a regular elsewhere on the diamond; such players gain an advantage because of the result on their counting numbers. Santana has made small gains in terms of making contact in each of the past two seasons, and he has always had underrated power. Might a new position help him finally reach the 30-homer plateau? It's that prospect which keeps him high in the catcher ranks, and those in leagues that reward walks or on-base percentage should be especially intrigued.
2014 Outlook: A knee injury held Ramirez back for most of the 2013 campaign, so it'd be understandable if his prospective fantasy owners had some doubts about him entering his age-36 season. That said, following a midseason DL stint for the injury, he managed .301/.387/.528 rates in his final 38 games, restoring hope of another top-10 fantasy season among third basemen. Ramirez enters camp healthier than he did a year ago, so it's fair to grant him a mulligan for his injury-marred 2013. But as he's entering the latter stages of his career, a .290 batting average and 25 homers might be his limit.
Stephania Bell: After spraining his knee in spring training last year, Ramirez went on the DL twice for the injury in April and July, and tweaked it in September to end his season. It's hard to be confident given his age (35) and the lingering nature of his symptoms.
2014 Outlook: If such a thing as a "first-half player" exists -- it's a notion that has been largely overstated during the 30-plus-year history of Rotisserie baseball -- Trumbo would top the list of candidates. Through three big-league seasons, he has hit 60 of his 95 home runs before the All-Star break, his batting average 41 points higher before (.268) than after (.227) it and his slugging percentage 107 points higher before (.517) than after (.410) it. Tuck that away if you're the lucky owner to secure his draft-day rights; ads for your Trumbo sale should run during every commercial break by mid-June. That said, he's still a remarkably powerful slugger, and one surrendering Angel Stadium for the more hitting-conducive dimensions of Chase Field, meaning a fourth consecutive season of setting new personal bests in home runs is possible. To be clear: No double coupons, and no deep Black Friday discounts. (OK, maybe we'll allow it in leagues that penalize for strikeouts or use on-base percentage.)
2014 Outlook: After making substantial gains in terms of his contact rate and ability to drive the ball to all fields in 2012, Lucroy extended those trends into a 2013 that put him in the clear top 10 of fantasy backstops. For the second consecutive season, he boosted his walk rate while cutting his strikeout rate, with the result being career highs in home runs (18) and RBIs (82). What's more, Lucroy continued to contribute a handful of steals, with his nine swipes a personal best and matching his professional high set in 2008. These skill improvements make him one of the safer investments among catchers, even if he has most likely reached his statistical peak.
2014 Outlook: Alvarez is your classic feast-or-famine slugger: He has the capability to lead the majors in home runs, but also in strikeouts, the latter resulting in streakiness and considerable risk in terms of batting average. But don't label this guy a fastball-crushing Pedro Cerrano; Alvarez has belted 15 home runs off curveballs and sliders the past two seasons combined, that particular skills improvement responsible for vaulting him into the upper tier of power hitters in baseball. Owning Alvarez is a matter of balancing your assets, as he'll hurt you in terms of batting average -- or on-base percentage, if you count that instead, as his walk rate isn't as high as your typical all-or-nothing slugger's -- but he'll surely fill your homers and RBI columns. If you select him, understand you'll need to address his shortcomings in other places on your roster.
2014 Outlook: Whoa! Michael Cuddyer, 2013 NL batting champion? Believe it. Now believe this: His .382 BABIP, third-highest among batting-title qualifiers, was 54 points higher than he had previously performed in his career, and 70 points higher than his career numbers in the category (.312). Yes, there's plenty of reason to call his .331 batting average fluky, though in Cuddyer's defense, Coors Field continues to prop up his numbers, and it has historically been one of the best venues in baseball for BABIP. Cuddyer looks much more the part of a .290 hitter, and his penchant for injuries over the years further builds the case for him being overrated entering 2014. Tread carefully.
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: Most everyone expected a decline in homers from Butler's career-high 29 in 2012, but not to the extent that occurred. Last season, Butler's already low fly ball rate dropped even further, so when his percentage of fly balls that leave the yard returned to normal after a big spike the previous season, the result was a precipitous drop in power. Butler's contact skills and patience remained intact, so it was not a completely lost season, just very disappointing for those expecting more production. The good news is last season was likely the floor with respect to power. Don't expect a return to 2012 glory, but a return to the roaring 20s, albeit a low-20s expectation, is most reasonable.
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.