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: While his propensity for injury might be here to stay -- he has missed 150 team games combined the past three seasons -- Ramirez's bat showed signs of rebirth in 2013, as he set new personal bests with a .345 batting average, .638 slugging percentage and .435 weighted on-base average (wOBA). On the surface, the gains coincided with Yasiel Puig's ascension to the majors in June, but the truth is they were skills-based: He managed a more-than-100-point wOBA gain against breaking balls (curves and sliders), and returned to his early-career form on pitches outside the strike zone. Puig's arrival, not to mention the mid-2012 acquisitions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, did help Ramirez's runs/RBI case, though, and should continue to do so in 2014. There's as much risk here as with any top-shelf talent, but the potential payoff is massive.
2014 Outlook: On a per-game basis, and comparing his numbers to the rest of the shortstop pool, Tulowitzki is one of the most valuable assets in fantasy baseball. In his seven-year career, he has .295/.367/.509 lifetime rates and has averaged 29 home runs, 103 RBIs, 10 stolen bases and 101 runs scored per 162 games played; shortstops as a whole had .254/.308/.372 numbers and averaged 12-60-14-69 numbers per 162 in 2013 alone. That said, during those same seven seasons, Tulowitzki has missed 290 games, or 25.6 percent of his Colorado Rockies' scheduled contests, and made five trips to the DL. If not for his position, he might be regarded more of a headache, but numbers like this are rare from a shortstop. Understand that Tulowitzki is one of the riskiest assets in the game, but he's also one with a potentially high reward. Stephania Bell: Finally recovered from the core muscle surgery of 2012, Tulowitzki showed last year he could return to form. He's still somewhat vulnerable to injury, due to both his history and his position, but the calf bruise this spring isn't his fault (hit by pitch), nor does it appear especially serious.
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: Desmond is riding back-to-back 20/20 seasons, a rare feat for a shortstop, illustrated best by the fact that only three shortstops in history -- Hanley Ramirez (4), Jimmy Rollins (4) and Alex Rodriguez (3) -- have had more in their careers. Always a capable base stealer, Desmond picked up the power pace in 2012, utilizing a more aggressive approach in which he improved by leaps and bounds covering the inner third of the plate. He's a bit more strikeout-prone than a points-league owner might prefer, but preferences should be cast aside for a player aged 28 with his recent track record of success. This is an early-round pick, well worth building around in any format.
2014 Outlook: Injuries, his advancing age (he'll turn 31 in June) and the perils of the turf in Toronto threaten to keep Reyes in the high-risk bin of fantasy players. That said, despite his lengthy absence in 2013 -- that a product of an awkward slide on a stolen-base attempt in April -- Reyes managed .296/.353/.427 rates and full-season paces of 17 home runs and 25 stolen bases. This is a player with substantial reward, so long as he recaptures the aggressiveness on the basepaths that he showed during the first 10 seasons of his career; much of that is tied to his confidence in the ankle he hurt last summer. Consider Reyes one of the first shortstops to target in any fantasy league, especially points-based formats, in which his high contact rate and top-of-the-lineup role carry added value.
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: One of these things is not like the others: 33, 32, 37, 21, 42. Have you figured it out yet? That's right, it's Andrus' career-low 21 steals of 2012, which now appear an outlier after he managed 10 baserunning WAR in 2013, best in the majors; he has the third-most baserunning WAR the past five seasons combined (24). Andrus is a speedster, though unfortunately that is all that he is, relegating him to rotisserie-league building block but one much less useful in points leagues. That said, he might score the No. 2 spot in the Texas Rangers' lineup, wedged comfortably between Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder. Andrus could be a two-category rotisserie performer, adding runs scored to his steals prowess, meaning a repeat or increase in value from his 2013 is within reach.
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: Few players disappointed their fantasy owners as much as Castro in 2013; this No. 38 overall pick in terms of ADP (third among shortstops) suffered a 38-point drop in batting average, an 83-point drop in slugging percentage and a 14-steal decline comparative to his 2012 numbers. Nevertheless, we're not giving up hope of a rebound in 2014. He's 24 years old, with many productive years in his future, he spent considerable time this winter in the Dominican Republic working with a Chicago Cubs strength coach to improve his speed and agility, and he had underlying 2013 numbers that suggested he was making adjustments, not merely struggling to succeed. To wit: He put 7 percent more balls in play to the opposite field, many of those hard-contact results. Castro remains the potential .300-hitting, 15/20 candidate that he always was, so long as he remains focused on the field. With a new manager aboard, might this be the year he finally breaks through? Stephania Bell: Castro suffered what was described as a mild hamstring strain in early March, but he is still in recovery mode as of late March. The good news is that he is running the bases and is seeing some minor league action and the team believes he will be ready for Opening Day. The problem is the only way to feel confident about his health is if he survives the first few weeks without a setback.
2014 Outlook: Go ahead and ask it: After a sensational 2013 campaign that saw him earn the No. 16 overall spot on our Player Rater, how could Segura earn a ranking more than 50 spots lower for 2014? It's simple: He's coming off one of the most disappointing second halves of any player, as he batted .241/.268/.315 with one home run, and his tendency to chase pitches when behind in the count showed that he still has adjustments to make. Segura isn't the natural power hitter he seemed when he hit 11 homers during the first half of 2013; bear in mind that he has averaged only 10 homers per 162 games played as a pro. He's an attractive source of steals and runs who shouldn't hurt your batting average, but we're concerned that his 2014 ceiling merely isn't as high as his 2013 numbers.
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.