2014 Outlook: While his propensity for injury might be here to stay -- he has missed 150 team games combined the past three seasons -- Ramirez's bat showed signs of rebirth in 2013, as he set new personal bests with a .345 batting average, .638 slugging percentage and .435 weighted on-base average (wOBA). On the surface, the gains coincided with Yasiel Puig's ascension to the majors in June, but the truth is they were skills-based: He managed a more-than-100-point wOBA gain against breaking balls (curves and sliders), and returned to his early-career form on pitches outside the strike zone. Puig's arrival, not to mention the mid-2012 acquisitions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, did help Ramirez's runs/RBI case, though, and should continue to do so in 2014. There's as much risk here as with any top-shelf talent, but the potential payoff is massive.
2014 Outlook: On a per-game basis, and comparing his numbers to the rest of the shortstop pool, Tulowitzki is one of the most valuable assets in fantasy baseball. In his seven-year career, he has .295/.367/.509 lifetime rates and has averaged 29 home runs, 103 RBIs, 10 stolen bases and 101 runs scored per 162 games played; shortstops as a whole had .254/.308/.372 numbers and averaged 12-60-14-69 numbers per 162 in 2013 alone. That said, during those same seven seasons, Tulowitzki has missed 290 games, or 25.6 percent of his Colorado Rockies' scheduled contests, and made five trips to the DL. If not for his position, he might be regarded more of a headache, but numbers like this are rare from a shortstop. Understand that Tulowitzki is one of the riskiest assets in the game, but he's also one with a potentially high reward. Stephania Bell: Finally recovered from the core muscle surgery of 2012, Tulowitzki showed last year he could return to form. He's still somewhat vulnerable to injury, due to both his history and his position, but the calf bruise this spring isn't his fault (hit by pitch), nor does it appear especially serious.
2014 Outlook: Desmond is riding back-to-back 20/20 seasons, a rare feat for a shortstop, illustrated best by the fact that only three shortstops in history -- Hanley Ramirez (4), Jimmy Rollins (4) and Alex Rodriguez (3) -- have had more in their careers. Always a capable base stealer, Desmond picked up the power pace in 2012, utilizing a more aggressive approach in which he improved by leaps and bounds covering the inner third of the plate. He's a bit more strikeout-prone than a points-league owner might prefer, but preferences should be cast aside for a player aged 28 with his recent track record of success. This is an early-round pick, well worth building around in any format.
2014 Outlook: After a winter of trade rumors, Phillips thankfully returns to the Cincinnati Reds, with whom he'll once again call a hitter-friendly ballpark his home and will again occupy a premium lineup spot (second, fourth or fifth, in all likelihood). Here's why that's important: Phillips has hit 95 of the 160 homers during his Reds career at Great American Ball Park, and his Reds scored the third-most runs in the National League in 2013. His skills have begun to decline slightly, which is understandable for a player set to turn 33 midseason, but he is also one of only 15 players to have hit at least 75 home runs and stolen at least 75 bases the past five seasons combined. Phillips is one of the most consistent, well-rounded second basemen in fantasy, though his modest walk and rising strikeout rates do make him a slightly riskier early-rounder in points-based or sabermetrically inclined scoring formats.
2014 Outlook: A patient, line-drive hitter with one of the most keen batting eyes in baseball, Carpenter became a fantasy dynamo during a breakout 2013 campaign, finishing third on the Player Rater at his field position (second base) and 34th overall, while also earning high ratings at the three spots at which he carried over qualification from 2012: First base, third base and the outfield. Carpenter remains a dual-qualifying threat in 2014; he retains both second and third base eligibility, but will transition to third base full-time for the St. Louis Cardinals. He's plenty capable of a repeat -- or a season within range of his 2013 -- the primary statistical doubts whether his .359 BABIP might regress, lowering his batting average, or his 126 runs scored, the third-most by any player since 2008, might decline coming off a year in which the Cardinals were amazingly successful in clutch situations. Even with natural regression, however, Carpenter is a clear early-to-mid-round pick, most attractive in walk/on-base and points-based leagues, which reward him for his lofty doubles totals.
2014 Outlook: Few players disappointed their fantasy owners as much as Castro in 2013; this No. 38 overall pick in terms of ADP (third among shortstops) suffered a 38-point drop in batting average, an 83-point drop in slugging percentage and a 14-steal decline comparative to his 2012 numbers. Nevertheless, we're not giving up hope of a rebound in 2014. He's 24 years old, with many productive years in his future, he spent considerable time this winter in the Dominican Republic working with a Chicago Cubs strength coach to improve his speed and agility, and he had underlying 2013 numbers that suggested he was making adjustments, not merely struggling to succeed. To wit: He put 7 percent more balls in play to the opposite field, many of those hard-contact results. Castro remains the potential .300-hitting, 15/20 candidate that he always was, so long as he remains focused on the field. With a new manager aboard, might this be the year he finally breaks through? Stephania Bell: Castro suffered what was described as a mild hamstring strain in early March, but he is still in recovery mode as of late March. The good news is that he is running the bases and is seeing some minor league action and the team believes he will be ready for Opening Day. The problem is the only way to feel confident about his health is if he survives the first few weeks without a setback.
2014 Outlook: Go ahead and ask it: After a sensational 2013 campaign that saw him earn the No. 16 overall spot on our Player Rater, how could Segura earn a ranking more than 50 spots lower for 2014? It's simple: He's coming off one of the most disappointing second halves of any player, as he batted .241/.268/.315 with one home run, and his tendency to chase pitches when behind in the count showed that he still has adjustments to make. Segura isn't the natural power hitter he seemed when he hit 11 homers during the first half of 2013; bear in mind that he has averaged only 10 homers per 162 games played as a pro. He's an attractive source of steals and runs who shouldn't hurt your batting average, but we're concerned that his 2014 ceiling merely isn't as high as his 2013 numbers.
2014 Outlook: While 2013 was not completely injury-free, Utley played in more than 130 games for the first time since 2009. The good news is the missed games were due to ailments other than the degenerative knee condition that cost him so much time in 2011 and 2012. Skills-wise, Utley is still solid, more than capable of delivering double-digit homers and steals, but, at 35 years old, the other assorted ailments are likely to continue, and there's no telling if or when the knee will act up again. The probable injury discount makes Utley a viable play, just have a contingency since you'll likely need it.
2014 Outlook: Injuries, injuries, injuries. Oh, if only Hill could stay healthy like he did in 2009 (158 games) and 2012 (156). Consider his per-162-games averages the past five seasons combined: .266 batting average, 26 home runs, 88 RBIs, 11 stolen bases, 90 runs. Those are star-caliber fantasy numbers from a second baseman, and in his defense, the fractured left hand that cost him more than two months last season was more of the fluke variety. If you're willing to take a chance, Hill is one of the more intriguing mid-round second basemen available, despite his history of injuries and wildly varying BABIPs. Pick him, then cross those fingers.
2014 Outlook: The 50-game suspension that ended Cabrera's 2013 prematurely might tarnish the true value of his statistics; understand that he was a top-five shortstop and top-40 player overall on our Player Rater at the time the penalty was announced. Cabrera did this thanks to two skills that shouldn't change in 2014, regardless of your opinion on the influence of PEDs: He draws walks, with a 9.5 percent career rate and a .355 on-base percentage in 2013; and he steals bases, with the third-most stolen bases the past two seasons combined (81, behind only Rajai Davis' 91 and Mike Trout's 82). Cabrera will be back as the San Diego Padres' regular shortstop and leadoff hitter, and while he'll never be mistaken for a power hitter, he'll be quite valuable due to his position even if he's a mere one-category rotisserie performer. Besides, he might be more: He makes enough contact to not hurt in batting average, he's underrated in on-base percentage leagues and his ability in the latter could drive his runs scored total.
2014 Outlook: Prado got off to a sluggish start for his new team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, last season, but come the second half of the year, he looked much closer to his old self. He batted .324/.374/.490 after the All-Star break, en route to a career-low 8 percent strikeout rate, and he logged enough time at three defensive positions -- second base, third base and the outfield -- to carry valuable flexibility into 2014 in fantasy leagues. In defense of Prado's up-and-down year, it was his first in any other organization than the Atlanta Braves in a decade of pro experience, and adapting to the change might have contributed. He's not at a stage of his career where a significant step forward should be expected, but he's a reliable, versatile mid-round bet in any fantasy format.
2014 Outlook: It was basically the perfect storm for Murphy, as everything went right in 2013. More fly balls in tandem with a modest increase in percentage of homers per fly ball, and Murphy's 13 home runs bested his combined total of the previous two campaigns. After swiping 10 of 12 bags in 2012, Murphy parlayed that excellent conversion rate into a career high 23 in 2013. Something to keep in mind is that last year Murphy was another year removed from a couple of serious injuries while covering second, so not only was he healthier, he was likely more confident as well. Repeating last season will be tough, but another double-digit total in both homers and steals is well within his grasp.
2014 Outlook: As a rookie, Gyorko defied conventional logic when it comes to San Diego Padres hitters: He led his class in home runs (23), the one category that Petco Park tends to suppress. It is for that reason, especially considering 15 of those homers came from Aug. 1 forward, that we have some hesitation simply handing him a far better sophomore-year projection and a ranking that makes him clearly one of the best at his position. We look at Gyorko and see a player with underlying numbers that remind us of Chase Headley's 2012; there's a chance that regression to the mean might bring Gyorko slightly back to the pack. Still, there's plenty of power potential in Gyorko's bat, and further growth is always possible. He'll be a mid-round pick, one who makes a more compelling case in dynasty/keeper formats, and could by all rights be a top-10 second baseman in 2014.
2014 Outlook: Simmons' fantasy owners are probably the very ones who have spent his year-plus in the big leagues lobbying their commissioners to begin rewarding for defensive excellence; he is widely regarded as the game's best defensive shortstop and one of the five best defenders overall in baseball. Though those contributions are overlooked in the vast majority of formats, they do fuel his playing time, which is important for a player with the kind of blossoming power he showed in 2013. Simmons hit 11 of his 17 home runs from July 1 forward; combined with his boost in doubles and triples, that hints at legit growth. He might be a couple steps away from garnering the kind of offensive reputation to match that of his defense, especially since his walk rate detracts from his value in sabermetrically-oriented scoring, but some growth should be expected in 2014.
2014 Outlook: Rollins' base skills have been trending in the wrong direction since 2010. In fact, he finished last season with his highest strikeout rate since 2003, and lowest walk rate since 2009. He had been averaging about 20 homers and swiping 30 bases per season. Unfortunately, Rollins ran less last season, and his power not only fell off the table, it dug a hole underneath that table and buried itself. On the plus side, a 14 percent whiff rate is above average, and his stolen base success rate remains strong, so he should be able to snag at least 20 bags again. That's useful, especially since the market sees Rollins as a fall-back middle infielder. If you can buffer a low batting average driven by one of the league's highest number of infield pop outs, Rollins can provide cheap speed with the strong chance of returning to double-digit homers.