2014 Outlook: Few players in baseball have done more to boost their stock the past three seasons than Goldschmidt, culminating in a 2013 campaign that placed him within 167 vote points of the National League's MVP award (Andrew McCutchen won, 409-242). Since failing to crack either Keith Law's or Baseball America's top 100 prospect lists entering his rookie year of 2011, Goldschmidt has boosted his batting average, OPS and Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in each year, culminating in 2013 numbers that ranked him 19th, fifth and ninth in the majors in those departments. What's more, he flashed above-average defense and managed a second consecutive season of at least 15 stolen bases, becoming the first first baseman since Derrek Lee (2002-03) to do that. It's Goldschmidt's multi-category contributions that make him so attractive in Rotisserie formats, but even those in points-based or more sabermetric scoring formats should regard him a first-round pick. After all, thanks to substantial skills improvements in terms of his plate coverage, pitch recognition and performance against breaking stuff (curveballs and fastballs), Goldschmidt is no longer the feast-or-famine slugger scouts once witnessed in the low minors.
2014 Outlook: The Votto debate will be one of scoring format philosophy; his penchant for walks makes him a highly attractive asset in more modern, sabermetric scoring, but the resulting limit on his homer/RBI totals frustrates those in more traditional Rotisserie formats, where his skills don't carry as much weight. He is baseball's most disciplined hitter: He led in walks (135), walk rate (18.6 percent) and lowest swing rate on non-strikes (16.1 percent), and his .431 on-base percentage the past five seasons combined paces the bigs by 12 points. Still, Votto mans first base, one of the easier positions to fill in fantasy, and therefore he's not quite the automatic first-rounder he once was in Rotisserie scoring. There are skills here that bump his value up considerably if your league rewards them; but the upshot is that this is a safe, stable, consistent fella.
2014 Outlook: A legitimate contender for National League MVP honors in what was a breakthrough 2013, Freeman enjoyed a 60-point bump in batting average not simply on the strength of BABIP luck (his .371 ranked fifth among qualifiers). He got there with some skills bumps: Both his walk and strikeout rates have improved in each of his three big-league seasons, and he set career bests against left-handed pitchers with a .287 batting average and 8.7 percent walk rate. Freeman's power hasn't yet developed to the extent that scouts once predicted, but if that's a result of trading some homers for batting average points, should fantasy owners complain? He's 24 years old with plenty of productive seasons ahead, and one of the more attractive first basemen regardless of format.
2014 Outlook: Even a down season by Posey's standards was a good one; the perception was that his 2013 was a letdown, if only because it couldn't possibly compare to that of his 2012 MVP campaign or his No. 16 overall ADP last preseason. Still, he improved his contact rate, played 148 games for a second consecutive season and managed the No. 7 spot among catchers on our Player Rater. Posey's statistics also compare favorably to all-time catchers; he ranks fourth in slugging percentage (.486), fifth in on-base percentage (.377) and batting average (.308) among catchers through their age-26 seasons. He's a high-average, good-power hitter, one of the few catchers with legitimate ability for .300/25/100 numbers. Make him one of your first catchers off the board, though not quite as soon overall as that second-round status a year ago.
2014 Outlook: Though no longer the top-10-overall fantasy talent he was three short years ago -- he finished eighth on our 2011 Player Rater -- Gonzalez has quietly settled in as one of the more consistently reliable performers at his position. Since he became a regular in 2006, he has appeared in the second-most games (1,274), driven in the fifth-most runs (860), scored the 12th-most runs (716) and produced healthy .296/.371/.505 offensive rates. What's more, Gonzalez has shown a remarkable penchant for exploiting the confines of his ballpark: In Boston, his ability to hit with power to the opposite field helped him boost his batting-average and doubles totals, but in Los Angeles, he has taken somewhat more of a pull approach, knowing that left field is considerably more expansive in Dodger Stadium than at Fenway Park. Gonzalez might no longer be a lock for a .300-plus batting average or 30 home runs, but it's within reason to argue that he'll reach either plateau. And if he's a .295-25 performer in the deep Los Angeles Dodgers lineup, he might be a sneaky value in rotisserie leagues.
2014 Outlook: If such a thing as a "first-half player" exists -- it's a notion that has been largely overstated during the 30-plus-year history of Rotisserie baseball -- Trumbo would top the list of candidates. Through three big-league seasons, he has hit 60 of his 95 home runs before the All-Star break, his batting average 41 points higher before (.268) than after (.227) it and his slugging percentage 107 points higher before (.517) than after (.410) it. Tuck that away if you're the lucky owner to secure his draft-day rights; ads for your Trumbo sale should run during every commercial break by mid-June. That said, he's still a remarkably powerful slugger, and one surrendering Angel Stadium for the more hitting-conducive dimensions of Chase Field, meaning a fourth consecutive season of setting new personal bests in home runs is possible. To be clear: No double coupons, and no deep Black Friday discounts. (OK, maybe we'll allow it in leagues that penalize for strikeouts or use on-base percentage.)
2014 Outlook: After making substantial gains in terms of his contact rate and ability to drive the ball to all fields in 2012, Lucroy extended those trends into a 2013 that put him in the clear top 10 of fantasy backstops. For the second consecutive season, he boosted his walk rate while cutting his strikeout rate, with the result being career highs in home runs (18) and RBIs (82). What's more, Lucroy continued to contribute a handful of steals, with his nine swipes a personal best and matching his professional high set in 2008. These skill improvements make him one of the safer investments among catchers, even if he has most likely reached his statistical peak.
2014 Outlook: Whoa! Michael Cuddyer, 2013 NL batting champion? Believe it. Now believe this: His .382 BABIP, third-highest among batting-title qualifiers, was 54 points higher than he had previously performed in his career, and 70 points higher than his career numbers in the category (.312). Yes, there's plenty of reason to call his .331 batting average fluky, though in Cuddyer's defense, Coors Field continues to prop up his numbers, and it has historically been one of the best venues in baseball for BABIP. Cuddyer looks much more the part of a .290 hitter, and his penchant for injuries over the years further builds the case for him being overrated entering 2014. Tread carefully.
2014 Outlook: Rizzo doesn't garner much attention on a bad Chicago Cubs team, and after a letdown of a 2013 season, he might slide too far in many drafts this season. Though his batting average was destined to regress after his standout 2012, few expected it'd decline by 52 points. That leaves room for improvement, and considering he's now 24 years old with nearly 300 games of big league experience under his belt, not to mention a power hitter in Wrigley Field, Rizzo could be a potential value. He's a smarter hitter than you'd think -- his walk rate soared to 11.0 percent last season -- meaning he's an even more attractive selection in walks/on-base percentage leagues.
2014 Outlook: Adams' bat packs a wallop: His 17.4 at-bats-per-home-run rate was 16th-best among players with at least 300 trips to the plate last season. He also showed the St. Louis Cardinals his capabilities as a regular at a critical time, batting .283 with nine home runs and a .500 slugging percentage from Sept. 4 onward (playoffs included), that marking the date Allen Craig sprained his left foot, an injury that limited him to only one start at first base the remainder of the year. Now here's the problem: A winter's respite has presumably healed Craig's foot, casting Adams' playing time somewhat in doubt, though there's little question that he's deserving of regular use. The Cardinals can slot Craig at an outfield corner, but will they, knowing his propensity for injury? It's that question which depresses Adams' draft stock, though as a potential 30-homer power source, albeit one with some batting average risk, he's an intriguing mid-rounder in any format.
2014 Outlook: Both the San Francisco Giants' conservative approach to his role and his lefty-power-suppressing home ballpark have caused Belt to fall beneath the radar in many fantasy leagues his first three seasons, though he showed many signs of growth in 2013 that could portend greater things ahead. Besides setting career highs in many offensive categories -- hits, doubles, home runs, batting average and slugging percentage, to name a few -- he finished the year with impressive .326/.390/.525 triple-slash rates and a lowered 19.8 percent strikeout rate in 61 games after the All-Star break. The Giants finally made Belt a lineup fixture, only benching him against the toughest lefties or when Buster Posey needed a breather from playing catcher. Belt is still 25 years old and could develop more power with experience, making him one of the more intriguing first-base bargains once the big boys are off the board.
2014 Outlook: In 2012, Frazier sported an above-average BABIP fully supported by a high line drive rate. The question coming into 2013 would be whether he could maintain an elevated line drive rate, and the answer turned out to be no. As such, Frazier's BABIP torpedoed, bringing his batting average along with it. Some positive regression should be expected, but even so, a high strikeout rate caps his average. Frazier has the pop to clear 20 homers, so if you can cover his average, he can be a decent source of power for those waiting on a corner infielder. Just realize that he hits lower in the order, so his run production will suffer a bit.
2014 Outlook: With only 609 plate appearances the past two seasons combined, Howard is the modern day Forgotten Man. Howard's 2013 was ended prematurely in July after surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee. Now healthy, Howard will look to regain the power stroke that made him one of the league's most productive hitters prior to rupturing his Achilles tendon. Perhaps due to dealing with knee soreness most of last season's first half, Howard hit only 11 homers, though he did swat 20 doubles to provide hope. As always, expect Howard to do the bulk of his damage versus right-handers.
2014 Outlook: Since arriving in Washington, LaRoche has had a career year sandwiched between a pair of clunkers. Offseason surgery to clean loose bodies from his left elbow may be at least in part related to LaRoche having his home run per fly ball rate drop to one of its lowest levels of his career. LaRoche's contact rate didn't suffer, so assuming his power drop was induced by his elbow woes, there's a good chance of a bounce-back. The best part is it won't cost very much on draft day to test this theory.
2014 Outlook: After spending his entire career in power-suppressing parks, Morneau must be licking his chops, since he'll play half his games a mile high. That said, it would behoove the new Rockie to reverse his recent trend of an increased groundball rate. Another concern is that Colorado has hinted that Morneau could lose some at-bats when a left-hander is on the hill, which makes sense, since his OPS versus southpaws the past three seasons is a paltry .520. A return to the 20-homer level is well within Morneau's grasp, just temper greater expectations despite the move to Coors Field.