2014 Outlook: Kung Fu Panda has shed some pounds! As he enters his walk year, Sandoval spent the winter in Venezuela focusing on getting into shape, easing the San Francisco Giants' seemingly annual preseason concerns with a "svelte" Sandoval entering 2014. We hear the chatter from many players every February -- "I'm in the best shape of my career!" -- but in Sandoval's case, his offseason commitment did answer a key valuation question. Injuries have long held him back, not to mention hindered his speed (and with it, potentially his runs total), but perhaps he'll be able to improve upon his 134-game annual average. He's a handy source of batting average with a bit of pop, and a possible value on draft day should he impress in camp.
2014 Outlook: Middlebrooks' 2013 will surely be characterized as a disappointment for two specific reasons: (1) His batting average plummeted 61 points and (2) he took a seat in favor of Xander Bogaerts for substantial portions of last year's playoffs, casting some doubt upon his immediate future in Boston. When spring training camp opened, however, Middlebrooks stood alone as the Boston Red Sox's projected starting third baseman, with Bogaerts at shortstop, and that should classify him as a possible bargain pick. Middlebrooks is the type of free-swinging, decent-pop bat that has a place in rotisserie leagues, where his streakiness isn't as detrimental to a team. That said, do understand that he has limitations in points-based scoring as a result. He's a value selection if you can lock him into a corner-infield spot in the former.
2014 Outlook: Though he faced an uphill battle in his attempt to crack the Boston Red Sox's lineup last season, Bogaerts eventually succeeded: He moved off his natural shortstop position to third base, emerging in mid-August as an effective utility player, and then elevated himself to the team's hot-corner starter by the World Series. And as spring training dawned, 2013 starting shortstop Stephen Drew remained a free agent; Bogaerts appeared ticketed for regular duty there in 2014. As one of the most polished hitters in the minors -- he was Keith Law's No. 5 prospect overall entering last year -- Bogaerts could thrive in terms of batting average and on-base percentage, and, with a committed role, could also add significant runs, RBIs and a hint of pop. He's an initial third-base-eligible player who should quickly restore shortstop to his list, the dual eligibility another trait to boost his bargain-bet appeal. Don't let Bogaerts slip too far in redraft; plus, he's potentially one of the best youngsters to get in dynasty/keeper leagues.
2014 Outlook: Everyone loves Colorado Rockies hitting prospects, right? Fortunately, Arenado's modest power numbers in Double-A and Triple-A (15 homers in 152 games combined at those levels from 2012-13) haven't caused fantasy owners to embrace outrageous expectations, though he possesses the kind of skills that minimize his downside and could lead to a big step forward in 2014. He's adept at making contact (14 percent strikeout rate last season) despite a tendency to swing at many pitches outside of the strike zone (his 39.2 percent rate was fourth-highest). Arenado batted .298 after the All-Star break, and at the very least should be a must-start in games as Coors Field, something to consider if your league affords a lot of transaction flexibility.
2014 Outlook: Rendon was recalled for good in early June, and he held his own after transitioning to second base. His strong suit is smacking line drives all over the yard, which should help support a useful batting average. The problem from both a fantasy and real-life perspective is that Rendon possesses below-average power and almost no speed while former second baseman Danny Espinosa has some pop and can run, and would love to get his old gig back. Espinosa is going to have to beat out Rendon, just be aware that Rendon's job as the regular second baseman is not set in stone.
2014 Outlook: In 2012, Frazier sported an above-average BABIP fully supported by a high line drive rate. The question coming into 2013 would be whether he could maintain an elevated line drive rate, and the answer turned out to be no. As such, Frazier's BABIP torpedoed, bringing his batting average along with it. Some positive regression should be expected, but even so, a high strikeout rate caps his average. Frazier has the pop to clear 20 homers, so if you can cover his average, he can be a decent source of power for those waiting on a corner infielder. Just realize that he hits lower in the order, so his run production will suffer a bit.
2014 Outlook: After a year experimenting in left field, Castellanos is expected to return to third base this season, where he'll be a candidate to start after Prince Fielder was traded and Miguel Cabrera shifted to first base. The Detroit Tigers' top hitting prospect, Castellanos batted .276/.343/.450 with 18 home runs in 134 games for Triple-A Toledo in 2013, supporting scouts' claims that he should hit for both average and power in the bigs. He'll presumably need time to adapt to the tougher level of competition, but numbers within range of his 2013 are possible should he make the team, making him an AL-only asset worth a look in deeper mixed leagues.
2014 Outlook: We'll state the danger of reading too much into Johnson's 2013 success: His .321 batting average was fueled by a major league-leading .394 BABIP, which also ranked as the sixth-highest by any player since the turn of the century. In other words, he is almost assuredly going to experience some regression to the mean, and since his other numbers fall far from being termed "elite," that puts him in danger of being an NL-only option and little more. Given that he's a free swinger, Johnson might even have a steeper basement in leagues that give more weight to walks/on-base percentage, meaning that owners in points-based leagues should approach him with greater caution.
2014 Outlook: Signed by the New York Yankees as a stopgap solution at either second or third base -- remember that they lost Robinson Cano to free agency and Alex Rodriguez to a season-long suspension -- Johnson is a hitter who fits the confines of Yankee Stadium. He's a left-handed pull hitter who had a 46.3 percent fly-ball rate in 2013, making him quite the attractive daily-league target. Although Johnson lacks the obvious platoon split that would lock him into such a role, the Yankees will more than likely pick and choose his games, most of them against right-handers, so understand that his fantasy potential is probably capped as AL-only or deep-mixed material.
2014 Outlook: The Angels are hoping Freese can bounce back from an off year that saw his power and average both take a nosedive. Fueling the power decline was a career high 55 percent ground ball rate more conducive to a speedy middle infielder than a third baseman expected to be a run producer. Freese also incurred some regression to his BABIP, which was not unexpected after consecutive seasons over .350. Freese's history portends a better 2014, but unless he hits fewer grounders, his homer number is capped in the low teens.
2014 Outlook: Moustakas' junior year in the majors was a disaster, as practically every one of his offensive rates suffered a steep decline. He gained in only one regard: His 16.1 percent strikeout rate was a healthy improvement from 2012's 20.2 percent. Unfortunately, that doesn't mount much of a case for a Moustakas rebound, and after a year of struggles against left-handers, he could fall into a straight platoon with winter acquisition Danny Valencia. Moustakas is still a power-oriented bat, and with proper adjustments, he could again post 20-plus home runs. But he's more of a speculative AL-only rotisserie pick than one to target in other scoring formats.
2014 Outlook: More placeholder than long-term chip -- the Minnesota Twins have the high-ceiling Miguel Sano ticketed as the latter -- Plouffe probably deserves a greater shake. Thanks to adjustments to his batting stance in 2012, he has developed modest power, as well as an ability to hit left-handers: He had .269/.353/.517 rates against them the past two seasons combined. He's also capable of playing three positions -- third base and both corner outfield spots -- giving fantasy owners in AL-only or deep mixed leagues an in-season possibility of additional position flexibility (he begins 2014 as third base-only). Plouffe should find his at-bats even if Sano graduates to the majors this season; he's a safe enough pick, though one whose value is maximized by mixing matchups.
2014 Outlook: Saddled with the no-hit, all-glove reputation as he progressed through the minors, Dominguez built upon his brief but promising 2012 debut to smack 21 surprising homers in regular play last year. His .241 average was barely replacement level, but it was depressed due to a BABIP a bit lower than expected. Repeating last season's power output will be tough, but a few more points in average should mitigate that. Dominguez's glove is going to keep him in the lineup, so he'll eventually work his way onto a mixed-league roster when injuries mount.
2014 Outlook: After a miserable 2012 that made him look finished at this level, Uribe bounced back with one of the better years of his career in 2013, particularly on defense. His batting average/on-base contributions, however, were fueled by some good fortune; his BABIP was .322, 40 points higher than his career mark. Nevertheless, Uribe managed to score another deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who effectively lacked an alternative at third base and therefore will allow him to play there regularly again in 2014. His ratios are due to regress, but if you address his shortcomings elsewhere, he's a fine NL-only roster filler in the late rounds.
2014 Outlook: Reynolds, the owner of baseball's single-season strikeout record (223, in 2009) and three of the six instances of 200-K campaigns in history (also 2008, 2010), finds himself in a fight for playing time this spring, a non-roster invitee battling for the Milwaukee Brewers' first-base role. He's plenty capable of swatting 30-plus homers, and hitter-friendly Miller Park would only help his cause, but his fly-ball rate and isolated power have slipped the past two years, to the point that he might find himself in a platoon. NL-only and deep-mixed owners can take a chance on his considerable power potential, but doing so requires them to address his batting-average shortcomings. Know the risks.