2014 Outlook: Injuries, his advancing age (he'll turn 31 in June) and the perils of the turf in Toronto threaten to keep Reyes in the high-risk bin of fantasy players. That said, despite his lengthy absence in 2013 -- that a product of an awkward slide on a stolen-base attempt in April -- Reyes managed .296/.353/.427 rates and full-season paces of 17 home runs and 25 stolen bases. This is a player with substantial reward, so long as he recaptures the aggressiveness on the basepaths that he showed during the first 10 seasons of his career; much of that is tied to his confidence in the ankle he hurt last summer. Consider Reyes one of the first shortstops to target in any fantasy league, especially points-based formats, in which his high contact rate and top-of-the-lineup role carry added value.
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: The American League's reigning Cy Young award winner, Scherzer wasn't mere traditionalist's choice; in addition to his 21 wins he was a standout in many sabermetric/next-level departments: He finished seventh in the majors in FIP (2.74), second in strikeout rate (28.7 percent), third in swing-and-miss rate (27.9 percent), third in WHIP (0.97) and fifth in weighted on-base average allowed (.257). This transformation, which began approximately the midway point of 2012, was a product of both increased fastball velocity and reliance plus effectiveness of a curveball, which he used particularly to neutralize left-handed hitters. Scherzer is now a four-pitch pitcher with command that ranks among the game's elite, and he's playing for a new deal in 2015. Even if the 21 wins aren't repeated -- experienced owners know how fluky that department -- he could easily repeat as one of the 10 best pitchers in fantasy.
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: After scoring a 2012 Cy Young, Price took a step backwards in overall production in 2013, winning half as many games with an ERA three-quarters of a run higher. A casual glance at his overall stat line, however, does his skills a disservice: He struggled early before requiring a 44-day DL stint for a strained left triceps, but upon his return, he managed a 2.53 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 18 starts, numbers eerily similar to those of 2012. During that hot finish, the primary change was to Price's strikeout rate, which was 20.3 percent (compared to 24.5 percent in 2012), mostly the product of his growing more reliant upon his weak contact-inducing cutter. Any criticism of him, therefore, should hinge upon the injury question, not his skills. Price could easily return to 2012 form, minus approximately 25 K's, but that's still a top-10 fantasy starter.
2014 Outlook: Sale continues to defy the naysayers, who might claim his herky-jerky delivery increases his long-term injury risk or that the elbow issue that haunted him early in 2012 might eventually return. But after two seasons as a top-shelf fantasy starter -- he finished 13th among starters on our Player Rater in 2012 and 11th in 2013 -- Sale has earned our confidence. He has shown no change in velocity, fastball or slider effectiveness, or hints of overusage in two seasons as a full-time starter. Sale has elevated his game to that of an elite fantasy starter, particularly attractive in sabermetric/quality start-oriented leagues, which don't rely on wins (a problem for a pitcher backed by a weak offense such as the Chicago White Sox's).
2014 Outlook: One of these things is not like the others: 33, 32, 37, 21, 42. Have you figured it out yet? That's right, it's Andrus' career-low 21 steals of 2012, which now appear an outlier after he managed 10 baserunning WAR in 2013, best in the majors; he has the third-most baserunning WAR the past five seasons combined (24). Andrus is a speedster, though unfortunately that is all that he is, relegating him to rotisserie-league building block but one much less useful in points leagues. That said, he might score the No. 2 spot in the Texas Rangers' lineup, wedged comfortably between Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder. Andrus could be a two-category rotisserie performer, adding runs scored to his steals prowess, meaning a repeat or increase in value from his 2013 is within reach.
2014 Outlook: It took 330 big-league games spread over a little more than two calendar years, but late last season Hosmer finally developed into the premier hitter scouts forecasted as far back as the time he was picked third overall in the 2008 amateur draft. From June 1 on, he batted .318 with 16 home runs in 109 games, thanks to an all-fields approach that countered some of the defensive shifts he had faced earlier in his career. Hosmer is that rate power/speed first baseman, but he's also one with a lot of batting-average stability; the sum of his parts makes him a much safer investment than it might seem. You'll pay for it on draft day, with perhaps a top-50 pick in a mixed league, but the potential reward is a player who could finally develop the power those same scouts once predicted: Might 25 homers be within his sights?
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: 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: After 12 consecutive seasons of first-ballot Hall-of-Famer statistics, Pujols finally suffered some adversity in 2013. Painful plantar fasciitis plagued him for much of the season, resulting in a partial tear that ended his season in July, and statistics that across the board represented career worsts. Pujols' prognosis for 2014 has improved -- he had resumed taking batting practice in November and was on track for a full spring training -- but at the same time, his home run total, batting average, on-base percentage and OPS have all declined in each season since 2008. He is following the natural downslope of a career that a slugger faces, and the history of comparable Hall of Fame talents isn't positive; at 34 years old, many of them had productive seasons, but hardly numbers worthy of MVP votes. Pujols' power might return -- this bears the closest watching during camp -- but understand that he is not the same player who scored MVPs in 2005, 2008 and 2009. Don't let the name brand cause you to reach in drafts.
Stephania Bell: Pujols says his left foot is much improved compared to last year, but one wonders if wear and tear from so many games over the years is catching up.
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: After a four-year span (2009-12) as arguably fantasy baseball's most consistently productive starting pitcher -- he finished ninth (2009), 10th (2010), first (2011) and second (2012) at the position on our Player Rater -- Verlander endured a tumultuous past calendar year. His velocity was down for much of the early stages of 2013, his statistics suffering for it, and his critics asked whether the 180 starts, 1,243⅔ innings or 20,264 pitches thrown from 2009-12 (playoffs included) -- all major league highs -- might have come back to haunt him. Verlander rebounded late in the season, however, culminating in an October during which he had a 0.39 ERA in his three playoff starts while regaining some of that lost velocity. But he then succumbed to core-muscle repair surgery in January, again casting his 2014 value into doubt. All indications are that Verlander should be ready by Opening Day, if not shortly thereafter, but his spring progress is critical to determining the extent of his bounce-back potential. Stephania Bell: Verlander underwent core muscle repair surgery in January and a month later is throwing off a mound without issue. He continued his strong spring and has been named the Opening Day starter for the Tigers.
2014 Outlook: After many years of chatter that his bat was too valuable to risk having him wear the tools of ignorance on a daily basis, Mauer finally was moved off catcher this winter: He'll be the Minnesota Twins' everyday first baseman in 2014. It took a season-shortening concussion in August to force the Twins' hand, but there are many fantasy advantages that result: Mauer should take less wear and tear at first base, increasing his chances at racking up games and plate appearances, and he'll remain catcher-eligible throughout 2014 in ESPN leagues, while accruing the larger number of PAs typical of a first baseman comparative to a catcher. That's big news for this batting-average/line-drive specialist; a .300-plus hitter, not to mention a .400-plus on-base artist, carries much more weight in those categories the more times he comes to the plate. (Incidentally, Mauer's .323 career batting average is tops among active players.) Take this to heart especially in points-based leagues; the case can be made that Mauer will pace the position in the format. But even in rotisserie leagues, he's one of the best at his "position" ... well, his eligible fantasy position of catcher.
Stephania Bell: Mauer's season ended in August due to a concussion, the result of a foul tip to his mask. He was symptom-free by October, and with the full-time move to first base this year, he should have an easier time staying in the lineup.
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.