2014 Outlook: Although the Pittsburgh Pirates brought back defensive-minded Clint Barmes this winter, Mercer should begin 2014 as their starting shortstop. Simply put, Mercer can do more with the bat, and fantasy owners would much prefer him of the two, even if he receives 100 fewer at-bats. He batted .276 combined between the Double- and Triple-A levels, and .273 in his first two years in the majors, considerably better than Barmes, and he averaged 13 homers and 11 steals per 162 games played in the minors. NL-only owners should consider him a back-of-the-roster type.
2014 Outlook: Hechavarria is a budding defensive whiz who isn't much with the bat, but these days, elite defense at shortstop has value to a big league team. Besides, with his Miami Marlins again a noncontender, they can afford to let him play every day while polishing his skills. Hechavarria's weakness in fantasy is his low walk rate; couple it with his weak offensive skills, and he'll drag your batting average and on-base percentage down, meaning possible double-digit steals are all he'll provide. That's an NL-only player, simply put.
2014 Outlook: After a winter of Stephen Drew rumors, Tejada entered spring training as the favorite to be the New York Mets' starting shortstop; the team reiterated countless times its "comfort level" with him in the role. That's understandable considering his defensive contributions, but his bat is sorely lacking and teetering on the brink of being off the NL-only radar. The most compelling argument for him is as a draft consideration in that format given the chance of everyday at-bats. Tejada makes consistent contact, at least, and he did bat .289 two seasons ago in the majors and .271 during his minor league career. His is empty batting average, though.
2014 Outlook: A breakthrough campaign at Class A Stockton, including a .305/.424/.555 second-half triple-slash line, followed by a productive stint in the Arizona Fall League, has advanced Russell's timetable for arrival in the majors. He'll begin 2014 presumably in Double-A; with continued growth -- or an injury to Jed Lowrie -- he might arrive in Oakland by year's end. Russell is capable enough with the bat not to hurt you in terms of batting average or homers initially upon his arrival, but it's his speed that'll make him worth a pickup in any format once he's promoted.
2014 Outlook: A defensive whiz, Gregorius is unfortunately not much with the stick. Sure, he batted .322 in his first 38 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks, but from that point forward, he hit .202/.294/.284 in 65 contests, unable to do much with anything other than pitches left over the middle of the plate. His defense might be valuable enough to the Diamondbacks that he'll earn the starting shortstop job this spring, and he's knowledgeable enough of the strike zone -- he had a 9.2 percent walk rate in 2013 -- to not be a total liability in on-base percentage leagues. But Gregorius is effectively an NL-only late-rounder, one unlikely to take a big step forward offensively in 2014.
2014 Outlook: On one hand, Lucas can play all over the infield and last year hit lefties to the tune of an .883 OPS. On the other, he's 31 after finally making it to the majors last season. Miami's infield is still unsettled, so Lucas should get some playing time -- especially when a left-hander is on the mound. If you play in a daily league, you may want to check on his availability on travel days. If he's in the lineup against a lefty, chances are you'll have a spot to put him since he totes eligibility at first, second and third base.
2014 Outlook: After three seasons of hefty usage as the St. Louis Cardinals' utility man, Descalso's playing time is at major risk for the first time in his career. Bear in mind that the team now has a packed infield of Matt Carpenter at third base, Jhonny Peralta at shortstop and Mark Ellis/Kolten Wong at second base. Descalso will have to fight for at-bats, and considering his modest .243/.310/.346 lifetime big-league rates, any loss of playing time will make him less attractive even in NL-only formats. He's more in-season pickup than draft target, if an injury opens a regular infield spot.
2014 Outlook: A plus-defender in both the infield and outfield, Amarista should again play all over the diamond this year. Plus, his dual eligibility (with more to come) may aid with lineup flexibility in deeper leagues.
2014 Outlook: Defense matters to major league teams. How else can you explain Barmes' consistent ability to land major league contracts and, at minimum, shares of teams' shortstop jobs? For four consecutive seasons, he has managed positive Defensive Runs Saved at shortstop, but the vast majority of fantasy owners instead must recognize that during that four-year span, he has .231/.287/.344 offensive rates. NL-only owners who pick Barmes are chasing small handfuls of counting numbers (runs, RBIs), frankly to their detriment. Defense fantasy league, anyone?
2014 Outlook: Anna can sure draw a walk: He has a 12.5 percent walk rate and .386 on-base percentage during his minor league career, traits that lured the New York Yankees into bringing him to camp as a dark-horse second base candidate. If he impresses in March, Anna might be worth a look in deep AL-only formats.