2014 Outlook: Arguably the most skilled hitter in the game today, Cabrera in 2013 came within a Chris Davis power surge -- specifically within nine home runs and one RBI of Davis -- of a second consecutive Triple Crown, something no player in baseball history has done. Cabrera's elite and balanced numbers in those three categories, which comprise three-fifths of the standard rotisserie departments, are unrivaled: He has led all major leaguers in batting average in two of the past three years (2011 and 2013), RBIs in two of the past four (2010 and 2012), and home runs in 2012; and in the past five seasons combined he batted seven points higher, hit 17 more homers and drove in 52 more runs than anyone else. What's more, Cabrera's performance last year is all the more remarkable if you consider that he played visibly hurt the final four months, an injury that required "core muscle repair" surgery in October. Despite this, he missed only 13 of the Detroit Tigers' final 89 games (playoffs included), batting .306/.402/.552 with 21 homers and 62 RBIs in that span. If Cabrera has a weakness, it's his defense, but even that might no longer be so damaging to his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) now that he's returning to first base following the Prince Fielder trade. Cabrera makes a compelling first or second overall pick, regardless of format.
Stephania Bell: Cabrera is back on track to start the season despite last fall's surgery, and from a physical-demand standpoint, the move to first base can only help.
2014 Outlook: Now that's a breakthrough. Always a powerful hitter -- and one who planted the seeds in 2012 -- Davis belted 53 home runs last year; only 16 players in history have ever hit more in a single year. He did this in two ways: He improved his plate coverage, hitting 19 of the homers with a .338 batting average on pitches on the outer third of the plate, and extended his 2012 excellence against breaking pitches (curves and sliders), hitting 17 homers off them. But before you start thinking about Davis taking another step, mounting a challenge to the record books, know this: Thirty-seven of his homers came in the first half, backed by a .315 batting average; he hit .245 with only 16 bombs after the All-Star break. That's a regression tale not to be ignored, but even if it means he's more 40- than 50-homer hitter, that's probably still enough for him to pace the majors in the category, and earn your early-round pick.
2014 Outlook: At a position with many popular, occasionally overrated name brands, Beltre is an "old reliable." Fact: He is the only third baseman to have managed at least a .275 batting average, 25 home runs and 75 RBIs in each of the past three seasons, and be aware that he has easily eclipsed those numbers, with a .312-33-100 average stat line during that three-year span. While it might not seem as if he's the class of the position, those statistics should cement it, and despite his 34 years of age he's in a tremendous situation in which to potentially repeat (or exceed) those numbers. Beltre garners a benefit from hitting-friendly Rangers Ballpark -- his wOBA there is 61 points higher there than on the road in his three years with the Texas Rangers -- and the team fortified its lineup by adding Shin-Soo Choo this winter, potentially improving Beltre's RBI stock. Other than his 2004 outlier, it took him 13 seasons (until his 2010 with the Boston Red Sox) to develop into a fantasy superstar, but that's simply what he is today. Stephania Bell: Calf and hamstring injuries have been a theme for Beltre over the past three years. However, he's missed just a handful of games in the past two seasons combined. At 34, can he will his legs through another 150-plus games?
Addendum (3/12): Manager Ron Washington said he plans to use Beltre in a DH role more often, particularly when day games follow night games, to help preserve his health.
2014 Outlook: One of the most complete Rotisserie performers in baseball -- he has a .301 career batting average and has averaged 26 home runs, 103 RBIs, 22 stolen bases and 101 runs scored per 162 games played -- Wright has but one limitation preventing a run at the very top tier of fantasy studs: His injury history. He has made three trips to the DL in the past five seasons, missing 17 percent of his New York Mets' scheduled games during that time span, making the question valid. Wright's power is also slightly capped as a result of his spacious home ballpark -- that's despite the 2011 fence adjustments -- which keeps him a hair behind more proven third base-eligibles like Miguel Cabrera or Adrian Beltre. But back to that word, "hair": Aren't we splitting them when we're using comparisons to two top-20 overall players to discount Wright?
2014 Outlook: Even the injury-prone can have the most miraculously healthy of seasons, as Longoria did in 2013. He set career highs with 160 games played and 693 plate appearances, despite playing through a case of plantar fasciitis in June. Longoria's 2013 was spot-on to his career rates; he batted .269/.343/.498 with a .355 weighted on-base average and 32 home runs, and he's a career .275/.357/.512 hitter with a .371 wOBA and an average of 33 homers per 162 games played. In short, what you see is what you get, and any hesitation drafting him should be your confidence he can repeat as healthy a year. Nevertheless, Longoria should remain one of the first third basemen off your draft board.
2014 Outlook: One of 2013's biggest breakout stories, Donaldson's success dates back to the final month of 2012, a small hint that he might not be mere one-year wonder. From 2010-13, he played a near identical number of games at both the Triple-A (252) and major-league levels (247), and look at how similar his numbers: .270/.354/.486 rates in Triple-A, .277/.350/.460 in the majors. Those batting averages do show potential for regression, but in Donaldson's defense, his walk-rate gains last season give hope it'll be minimal, while his power probably shouldn't suffer. He's a player who succeeded as a result of growth, not some fluky result, and it's time to trust him as a building block in all scoring formats, targeting him in the early rounds.
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: 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: 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: 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: For a little more than a calendar year in the big leagues -- three-plus as a professional -- Machado appeared a youngster with limitless upside; entering last September, he had batted .297/.328/.465 with 46 doubles as a 20-to21-year-old major leaguer (he turned 21 last July 6). Even more remarkably, he appeared in every one of his first 212 scheduled Baltimore Orioles games (playoffs included) through last Sept. 22, sitting only six innings total during that time. Unfortunately, a nasty knee injury on Sept. 23 ended his year prematurely, requiring an Oct. 14 surgery to repair the medial patellofemoral ligament in his left knee and setting a projected six-month rehabilitation timetable that would have placed his return around mid-April. All indications during Machado's winter rehab, however, were glowing, and many hints were dropped that he'd beat that projection and make the Opening Day lineup. His health bears watching during spring training, and a somewhat conservative approach -- in redraft leagues, that is, as his dynasty-league potential remains massive -- to his draft-day stock and early-season expectations is warranted. But considering Machado has already tasted success over an extended big league period, and should only regain strength as the year progresses, he's a possible value due to the injury question. He's a mid-rounder in mixed leagues, and one well worth an in-season trade inquiry if you don't land him on draft day. Stephania Bell: Machado expects offseason's knee surgery to pay off in the long term, even if it delays his 2014 start. Whether it's April or May, he expects to start strong.
Addendum (3/12): Machado continues to exceed expectations. He has added running to first base and his confidence landing on the bag has him closer to game play. The next visit with his surgeon could result in full clearance which will then help determine how far he remains from a return to the lineup.
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.