2014 Outlook: Rollins' base skills have been trending in the wrong direction since 2010. In fact, he finished last season with his highest strikeout rate since 2003, and lowest walk rate since 2009. He had been averaging about 20 homers and swiping 30 bases per season. Unfortunately, Rollins ran less last season, and his power not only fell off the table, it dug a hole underneath that table and buried itself. On the plus side, a 14 percent whiff rate is above average, and his stolen base success rate remains strong, so he should be able to snag at least 20 bags again. That's useful, especially since the market sees Rollins as a fall-back middle infielder. If you can buffer a low batting average driven by one of the league's highest number of infield pop outs, Rollins can provide cheap speed with the strong chance of returning to double-digit homers.
2014 Outlook: Villar has two skills that make him an extremely attractive late-round, category-filling target: blazing speed and a keen batting eye that fuels the walk/on-base columns. If your league values either of those categories, as most do, consider that last year he attempted a steal nearly 40 percent of the time he was on base, his rate the third-highest among players with at least 50 opportunities; he also walked 10 percent of the time in the majors, after 8.9 percent during his minor league career. In short, this is a lesser-known version of Everth Cabrera, meaning that he's an on-base percentage/steals sleeper. Note that Villar has his weaknesses: He's a mediocre defender, which somewhat threatens his playing time, and he's not as powerful as his minor league history hints. Those are the reasons he doesn't garner a Cabrera-like ranking.
2014 Outlook: Aybar's production is trending in the wrong direction, which is a little curious considering he turned just 30 in January. His already below-average power is sliding into non-existence, but more disturbing is that he's running less, and last season was only successful on 12 of his 19 attempts after averaging 24 bags the previous three seasons with an impressive 80 percent success rate. Fortunately, Aybar's excellent contact rate is still intact, so he's still an asset in batting average. Steals are fickle, since they are as much opportunity-based as skills-driven. So, giving Aybar the benefit of the doubt and looking for a return to the 20-steal range is reasonable, especially since the cost is nothing more than a late-round flier.
2014 Outlook: The St. Louis Cardinals absorbed a fair share of criticism for signing Peralta to a long-term deal after he had succumbed to a 50-game, late-season suspension for PEDs in 2013. But upon closer inspection, their decision was understandable. The veteran shortstop showed no loss of skills following his return -- granted, it was a minuscule 13-game sample mostly accrued during the playoffs -- and over the past five seasons he has averaged a respectable .267/14/74. Peralta belongs in the middle-infield class of NL-only and deep mixed leagues, although at 31 years old, he's not especially likely to repeat his career-high .303 batting average (fueled by a .372 BABIP).
2014 Outlook: Cozart followed up his rookie campaign with more of the same: poor on-base skills, mediocre power and no speed. His skill set is stable, which leads means he's reliable, but on the flip side, there's no discernible upside. In fact, his value is reliant upon continuing to hit at the top of the Reds' order, and a new manager may think twice before inserting a player with a sub-.290 on base percentage in the two-hole. Mixed leaguers can do better elsewhere but despite his shortcomings, Cozart does accrue a fair number of counting stats for those playing in deep formats.
2014 Outlook: Escobar is quick and smart on the base paths: He has successfully stolen 29 consecutive bases (dating back to September 2012), and took the extra base 57 percent of the time, eighth-best among batting title-eligible hitters, in 2013. That's where the fantasy excitement ends, however. Escobar is a free swinger who rarely walks, resulting in a low batting average and an on-base percentage that costs him steal attempts as well as depresses his counting numbers (runs/RBIs). That he's a shortstop is perhaps his best fantasy asset; he's a mixed-league middle infielder and AL-only starter, but to be clear, this is one-Rotisserie-category chasing.
2014 Outlook: Miller is fortunate to be the better defender and stronger 2013 finisher of the Seattle Mariners' shortstop combatants than Nick Franklin; Miller sure looks like the probable victor now that Franklin has been blocked at second base by Robinson Cano. Perhaps fantasy owners would prefer to see Franklin taking aim at 20/20 numbers, but Miller is a handy AL-only or deep-mixed asset in his own right, capable of cracking double-digits in homers and steals, hitting for greater contact and walking at a similar rate to his competition. He might not have a high career ceiling, but he's well worth a look in the late rounds.
2014 Outlook: A lack of viable alternatives plants Gordon in the de facto fallback role should Alexander Guerrero fail to quickly adapt to the U.S. game. The Los Angeles Dodgers dabbled in turning Gordon into a utilityman this winter, so there's a good chance he might make the team and receive enough playing time to fuel his stolen-base numbers. That is his road to fantasy success, as Gordon doesn't walk enough, lacks the power and isn't a good enough defender to develop into much more. He's NL-only roster filler on the strength of his speed, plain and simple.
2014 Outlook: Now 39 years old and coming off the most injury-marred of his 19 big-league seasons, Jeter's downside is growing by the year, and there's a legitimate danger that his name brand will cause him to be overpriced on draft day. He played only 17 games in 2013, unable to fully recover from an ankle injury suffered during the 2012 postseason, though as spring training dawned, he appeared on track to be ready on or soon after Opening Day 2014. Jeter should occupy his usual spot in the upper third of the New York Yankees' lineup, and even at his age he's a capable enough hitter against left-handed pitchers to fuel his run total, not to mention be a handy option for daily-league owners seeking favorable matchups. AL-only owners should still squeeze middle-infield value out of him, but beware overrating him based upon his history.
2014 Outlook: Drew's injury history, coupled with his free-agent status being tied to draft-pick compensation, probably had teams hesitant to invest in him this winter, and as spring camps opened, he had yet to pick a team. He's a valuable enough hitter and defender at shortstop to warrant a starting job wherever he winds up, but as he enters his age-31 season, he's a player more likely to hand you 120 to 130 games as opposed to 150-plus, not to mention he has a widening platoon split that makes him look like more of an "onlies" or daily league player. Drew could score one advantage depending on where he winds up: He was talked about as a potential second or third baseman for some teams, and if he shifts positions, he might quickly become a dual-qualifier who has additional value come draft day.
2014 Outlook: Now 31, Escobar presumably has passed the stage of his career at which he'll develop additional power, meaning that this is what he is: a good glove man who makes contact and knows the strike zone but isn't anything special in any of the counting-number categories. As he is sure to play shortstop regularly again in 2014, he'll warrant AL-only consideration, although he's slightly more appealing in those leagues with daily transactions, due to lefty/righty splits (albeit ones that aren't extreme) that have widened the past three years.
2014 Outlook: After missing the entire 2013 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, Furcal landed a most fortunate deal this winter: A one-year contract with the Miami Marlins to serve as their regular second baseman and leadoff hitter. That means a potential maximum of at-bats, and with it healthy opportunities for runs and stolen bases, big news for a player now 36 years old and with declining speed. Furcal might not be anything special in any one category, but the promise of regular playing time is enough to make him a worthwhile NL-only middle infielder.
2014 Outlook: The Arizona Diamondbacks have themselves quite the dilemma at shortstop this spring: Do they want the elite glove of Didi Gregorius, or could they spare slightly lesser defense (albeit still quite good) in exchange for Owings' more line-drive, doubles-oriented bat? Owings managed a .330 batting average in 125 games in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, but even adjusting that, he should hit for a good mark, though his on-base percentage will be a liability in leagues that instead use it. He'd need to capture the starting gig, however, to be much more than an NL-only stash.
2014 Outlook: A defensive whiz, Crawford's glove is his key to regular at-bats, and with them, the counting stats -- effectively runs scored and RBIs in this case -- NL-only owners so desperately seek with their back-end roster spots. Granted, he more than doubled his home-run output in 2013 (nine, up from four), but in five professional seasons he has averaged 7.4 per year. No matter, as this is all digging deep to find positives. Crawford is a low-average, low-walk player with few hints of improvement, though if your league rewards for defense ...
2014 Outlook: Although the Pittsburgh Pirates brought back defensive-minded Clint Barmes this winter, Mercer should begin 2014 as their starting shortstop. Simply put, Mercer can do more with the bat, and fantasy owners would much prefer him of the two, even if he receives 100 fewer at-bats. He batted .276 combined between the Double- and Triple-A levels, and .273 in his first two years in the majors, considerably better than Barmes, and he averaged 13 homers and 11 steals per 162 games played in the minors. NL-only owners should consider him a back-of-the-roster type.