2014 Outlook: Sit back and enjoy the show. Through parts of three major-league seasons, Trout has 20.8 career Wins Above Replacement (WAR), the most of any player in history through his age-21 season, and in 2013 he became the first player to manage at least a .300 batting average, 50 home runs and 50 stolen bases before his 21st birthday. We are witnessing history -- five-category fantasy stud history -- in the making. What's more, Trout's gains in 2013 eclipse his losses: He cut his strikeout rate by nearly three percent, integral to his keeping his batting average in the .320s, and he walked nearly five percent more often; that should ease the minds of those troubled by his 16-steal decline. Trout is the game's best 30/30 candidate, and a batting-title contender to boot. Feel free to engage the philosophical debate as to whether that, or the .340-39-127 stat line that Miguel Cabrera has averaged the past three seasons, warrants the No. 1 overall pick. You really can't go wrong with either one.
2014 Outlook: In which Ellsbury did the New York Yankees just invest $153 million: The 30/30 man of 2011 who finished second overall on the Player Rater, or the 50-plus-steal, sub-10-homer performer of either 2009 or 2013, both of whom also ranked among the top 10 fantasy players in the game? Ah, that's the grand question, and the gamble owners interested in Ellsbury must take. He has good pop to right field, and Yankee Stadium presents him a more tantalizing, and more importantly shorter, target; at the same time he had more of an all-fields approach that could stabilize his batting average and on-base percentage, therefore fueling his steals and runs totals. Whichever the answer, the sum of Ellsbury's numbers will put him in the top 10 in the game on a rate basis, the more valid concern his propensity for injury: He has missed 273 games combined the past five seasons, though in his defense many of those were the result of fluky, accidental ailments.
Stephania Bell: Ellsbury's past four seasons have alternated between injury-plagued and super productive. If that cycle continues this year, well, it could be tough.
2014 Outlook: For as free-swinging a player as he is, Jones has been remarkably consistent. In the past five seasons, he has swung at a pitch outside the strike zone nearly 40 percent of the time, the eighth-highest rate in the league. And during that same span, he has either matched or increased his home run total, and batted .283 overall and between .277 and .287 in any individual year, while averaging 12 stolen bases per season. He's now 28 years old, in the thick of his prime, and his odds of at minimum a repeat of his 2013 are good. Jones' low walk total might be a problem in leagues that weight that or on-base percentage, but in any traditional Rotisserie scoring system he's a consistently reliable performer who warrants your early-round pick.
2014 Outlook: Once considered one of the more unpredictable fantasy performers, Rios has developed into a remarkably reliable power/speed player: His .278/18/79 per-162-games career rates were spot-on to his .278/18/81 numbers in 2013. The primary difference was his speed: He swiped a career-high 42 bases, 16 of those coming in the 47 games he played following his Aug. 9 trade to the Texas Rangers. Still, even if he regresses on the basepaths at the age of 33, he's a potential 20/20 player who is one of only six in the majors with at least 150 apiece in homers and steals in the past eight seasons combined. This is an early-round Rotisserie performer, one whose only true weakness is a lack of walks; unless your league gives those hefty weight, he's a clear selection in the first four rounds.
2014 Outlook: One of the most disciplined hitters in baseball, Choo chose one of the most offensively advantageous landing spots for his skill set that he could have this winter, agreeing to a long-term deal with the Texas Rangers. Among players with at least 1,000 plate appearances the past five seasons combined, he had the sixth-highest on-base percentage (.392), a substantial gain for a team that had a mere .324 mark from its Nos. 1-2 hitters yet scored the eighth-most runs in the majors in 2013. Choo's gaudy run total of last season therefore has a good chance at being repeated, and he's a 20/20 capable player especially attractive in leagues that reward him for his walks. He's not a player without weakness -- he batted just .220/.333/.293 against lefties from 2011-13 -- but he's well worth regarding as a building block, even in shallow mixed.
2014 Outlook: One of the best raw power hitters in baseball -- his 152 home runs since the beginning of 2010 trail only Miguel Cabrera's 156, and they are 26 more than third place in the category during that span -- Bautista has fallen somewhat into injury-risk territory recently, having appeared in only 210 games combined the past two seasons because of wrist, back, ankle and hip issues. His 2013 represented his second consecutive year ended prematurely in August, this time because of a bone bruise in his hip, though all reports on his health during the winter were positive. Bautista's skills might be slowly declining, understandable for a 33-year-old, but he's still capable of approaching 40 home runs at the expense of a middling batting average; his on-base and slugging percentages, however, should remain good. He's an early-round pick in traditional rotisserie leagues, and a more attractive one, albeit with risk, in more sabermetric scoring formats.
Stephania Bell: Bautista recovered nicely from wrist surgery a year ago but ended his 2013 season early with a bone bruise in his hip. He was healed by November and enters the spring healthy.
2014 Outlook: After a breakthrough 2012 in the States, Cespedes regressed badly in 2013, his strikeout rate rising (23.9 percent, up from 18.9), walk rate dropping (6.5 percent, down from 8.0) and both his batting average and BABIP plummeting by identical 52-point margins. This resulted in a 92-spot decline in Player Rater standing -- 28 spots among outfielders alone -- and a second consecutive season with a DL stint because of a hand injury continued to fuel questions about his long-term health as it relates to his violent swing. Cespedes still has massive power, however, as his isolated power and fly-ball and line-drive rates remained consistent in the two years, and if he enjoys any correction to his BABIP, he could recapture at least some of his 2012 fantasy stock. After all, he did finish 2013 with a .314/.337/.570, six-homer September, and a strong spring could increase his draft stock. It might be prime time to buy a rebound.
2014 Outlook: Craig is much more of a risk/reward hitter than fantasy owners give him credit for. Consider that his 134 games played in 2013 represented a career high; he has appeared in only 67.8 percent of the St. Louis Cardinals' scheduled games (playoffs included) in his big-league career, making four trips to the DL in four years. Still, despite his injuries, Craig has the 10th-best batting average (.311) and 17th-most RBIs (189) the past two seasons combined, showing how productive a hitter he is when he takes the field. The RBIs might have been somewhat fluky; keep in mind that the Cardinals managed the highest batting average with runners in scoring position of any team in history, and Craig himself plated 24 percent of his runners on base, tops in the majors. His health might also remain in question as a regular outfielder; he's expected to move to right field to clear first base for Matt Adams. Craig's ceiling is awfully high and he's more reliable (when healthy) than Adams, but be prepared with a contingency plan for the likelihood he misses additional time in 2014.
Stephania Bell: Craig suffered a Lisfranc injury while rounding first base last September but was able to avoid offseason surgery. He expects to be a full participant this spring although the key will be how well he's running.
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: The American League's reigning Rookie of the Year, Myers has long been considered one of the game's best power-hitting prospects, and his chances of a major breakthrough in terms of homers are good entering 2014. As a rookie, he possessed balanced splits -- he hit .292 against righties, .293 against lefties -- and between the majors and minors he belted 27 home runs. If there's a concern, it's his strikeout rate, as he whiffed 24.4 percent of the time, plus struggled to make consistent contact against breaking pitches. Myers' .293 batting average is probably unsustainable, and he might be susceptible to streaks as he fully adapts. Still, he's a possible 30-homer hitter this year, and his upside in the category makes him one of the most attractive investments in dynasty leagues.
2014 Outlook: One of the most successful hitters in postseason history -- he's a .333/.445/.683 career hitter with 16 home runs in 51 such games -- Beltran signed this winter with a team everyone annually assumes is playoff-bound: The New York Yankees. But before you pencil them in again and dream up wild Beltran expectations, remember that the 2013 squad fell short and Beltran, like many of his fellow Yankees, is getting up there in years; he turns 37 in April. He's no longer the base-stealing threat he was during his prime, and his numbers from the right side of the plate have tumbled, though Yankee Stadium coupled with occasional time in the DH spot to ease some of the physical strain might help slow his aging curve. As a middle-of-the-order hitter, Beltran's numbers come season's end might not look much different than they did in 2013. But he's a player with greater odds of regression than progression in 2014.
2014 Outlook: Two straight seasons of a BABIP well above the league norm buoyed Gordon's production, but last season, he failed to maintain that elevated level and his average fell. Fortunately, a spike in his fly ball percentage propelled his homers back to the 20 plateau, so his production did not suffer much. All totaled, Gordon has one of the more stable skill sets in the league. There will be some variance around his batting average, but his consistency and durability are more important considerations. Gordon is falling into the boring stage of his career, but boring can help build a stable, winning foundation. And winning is by no means boring.
2014 Outlook: Injuries, a widening platoon split and a dead-pull tendency have held Jennings back from becoming one of the most attractive picks in fantasy, but as a 27-year-old, he still has time to take another step. Even as is, he is one of only three players to have managed at least 20 stolen bases with double-digit homers, joining Carlos Gonzalez and Andrew McCutchen, and he has a keen enough batting eye to be a sleeper in leagues that reward on-base percentage instead of batting average. Jennings continues to show small gains -- he chased 5 percent fewer non-strikes in 2013 than 2012, and he boosted his walk rate from 8.2 to 10.6 percent -- and he might top the Tampa Bay Rays lineup again. He's an intriguing mixed-league middle-rounder with upside.
2014 Outlook: Don't worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing gonna be all right. Who knew how prescient Victorino's change in walk-up music would be for the soon-to-be playoff hero. But that was then, 2014 is now and the concern with Victorino is health, as he is coming off surgery to relieve pressure in his right thumb and wrist, as well as dealing with other assorted ailments, including back woes that troubled him in the playoffs. On the field, Victorino's numbers improved markedly from 2012, which is even more impressive considering the aforementioned right-hand issues forced him to eschew hitting from the left side. Even without the injury concerns, Victorino's numbers are bound to slide a bit, but if the injury discount is sufficient, he's still a solid source of steals without sacrificing too much power.
Stephania Bell: Victorino dealt with recurrent hamstring and back issues throughout 2013, but he also had a nerve-related thumb problem that lingered into the offseason. December surgery addressed the issue and the team expects him for Opening Day.
2014 Outlook: Hamilton's 2012 and 2013 stat lines show an astonishing level of contrast: He belted 43 home runs and finished in the top five in the MVP race in the former, but his homer total declined by more than half (to 21) and his slugging percentage plummeted 145 points in the latter. Which version will we get in 2014? Somewhere in between is your best bet, although the .304-hitting version of Hamilton we saw during the first six seasons of his big league career isn't especially likely. He's a much more strikeout-prone player these days, and he's declining in terms of plate discipline, whiffing a major league-high 209 times on pitches outside the strike zone over the past two seasons. Hamilton might be more comfortable in his new digs in Year No. 2, and after playing last year at a lower weight than usual, he's back to his traditional 230 pounds entering 2014. There's bounce-back potential here, but it's probably not to his former MVP-candidate form, but to possible top-20 outfielder form. Stephania Bell: Hamilton wasted no time sustaining his first injury, a calf strain in late February which forced him onto crutches for several days. He's returned to running and could play in games the third week of March. If all goes well he can still be ready by Opening Day but this is a reminder of what the risks are with Hamilton.