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: 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: 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: 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: 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.
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: The most alarming number in Lowrie's 2013 stat line is the 662 plate appearances. This was by far a career high and, in fact, only 66 fewer trips to the dish than he amassed the previous two seasons combined. That said, 15 homers was a disappointment considering he swatted 16 the previous campaign in far fewer chances. On the other hand, a drop in strikeout rate in concert with a bump in hit rate helped Lowrie set a career high in average. Lowrie enters 2014 as the Athletics' regular shortstop, but the safe play is to account for some missed time. It's also best to anticipate some regression in terms of batting average on balls in play. Even with the warnings, dual eligibility (second base and shortstop) renders Lowrie a viable candidate to man middle infield assuming you have speed elsewhere.
2014 Outlook: Dozier happened upon the second base job almost by default, then proceeded to hit his way into the spot full-time. He's always been able to run a little, the question will be how much of the power gains he maintains, especially since Target Field depresses right-handed pop by nearly 10 percent. According to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, only one of Dozier's homers was deemed lucky while just three were labeled just enough. However, it should be noted that all 18 of his dingers were pulled, and there are studies that show opposite field power is an indicator that a power spike is more apt to be real. As such, a drop in homers is likely, but not too precipitous. Add in a few more plate appearances from hitting higher in the order and the raw number could be similar. So long as you can absorb the average, Dozier is a quiet multicategory performer.
2014 Outlook: Kendrick was on pace for a career-best season, sporting a .310 batting average with 11 homers and six steals at the All-Star break. Then, a series of injuries -- including a hyperextended knee that forced him to the disabled list for over a month -- interrupted his fine campaign. Kendrick hit only .262 after the break, with a scant two more homers and nary a stolen base. He enters 2014 healthy, thus can again be counted on for his usual batting average between .280 and .300 with double-digit homers and steals. Fear of more injuries and lack of significant upside render Kendrick best slotted at middle infield, but his consistency when on the diamond helps balance risks incurred elsewhere.
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: A contact-hitting, hit-for-average type, Infante could be a handy plug-in as a mixed-league middle infielder and as a stable mid-roster type in AL-only formats. Last year, he rode career bests in terms of his strikeout (9.2 percent) and contact rates (90.3 percent) into a long-term deal with the Kansas City Royals, who have every intention of playing him regularly at second base and perhaps batting him in the lineup's No. 2 spot. Infante's limited pop might not play as well at Kauffman Stadium as Comerica Park -- he primarily has pull power -- so make sure you're picking him as batting average/on-base percentage support rather than something more.
2014 Outlook: A power/speed prospect, Franklin got off to a hot start for the Seattle Mariners following his May recall but struggled late in the year, batting .172/.274/.264 with a 30.6 percent strikeout rate in 48 games from Aug. 1 forward. As his defense was also mediocre, the Mariners understandably blocked him at second base by signing Robinson Cano this winter, relegating Franklin to either trade bait or a lesser-used utility role. At-bats are critical to this counting-numbers type -- homers, steals and walks are his strengths -- so consider him only AL-only middle infield fodder, and a possible value in on-base percentage leagues, until his 2014 role is known.
2014 Outlook: Profar's presence was one of the primary reasons the Texas Rangers traded Ian Kinsler in November; they wanted to clear an everyday role for the 21-year-old, who has long been touted as a future All-Star. A regular gig might do some good, as Profar struggled mightily in separate big league stints in 2012 and 2013 totaling 94 games, though only once during that span did he make more than five consecutive starts at the same position. In the best-case scenario, he might thrive in his new role, hitting for double-digit power with the 20-steal potential he exhibited in the minors, perhaps earning the No. 2 spot in the lineup to fuel his runs total. In a lower-end, albeit not worst-case, scenario, he might struggle to hit much more than he did in 2013, and lock into a PA/counting number-suppressing No. 8 or 9 lineup spot. Profar's range of outcomes are wide, but his ceiling is projected among the 10 best middle infielders in fantasy baseball as early as this year, and that makes him an appealing mid-rounder, not to mention a building block in dynasty/keeper formats. Stephania Bell: Profar entered camp with some shoulder tendinitis but seemed to be moving past it. On March 22, however, Profar suffered a new injury to his shoulder while turning a double play. The team announced Profar will miss 10-12 weeks with a torn muscle in his shoulder, but it's worth noting the recovery time for muscle tears is difficult to predict accurately.
2014 Outlook: Scary fact: Beckham is the only player to have managed four consecutive seasons of at least 400 plate appearances and a sub-.700 OPS. That's how far his stock has slipped, at a stage of his career during which one would expect significant growth. A wrist issue limited him in 2013, and the Chicago White Sox appear to be forgiving enough to grant him their second-base gig again, but there aren't any hints of an imminent step forward. Even worse: Beckham was a more productive hitter against right- than left-handed pitchers, as well as more so on the road than at home, in 2013; though those career splits have been somewhat balanced. That's not a good thing, because it means he's a weak mix-and-match, and therefore more AL-only than mixed commodity.