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: Stanton is one of the most powerful hitters in baseball: Since the date of his major league debut in 2010, he has hit the fourth-most homers (117), has the second-highest home run/fly ball percentage (24.3) and the ninth-longest average home run distance (411.7 feet). In addition, historically speaking, the 117 homers are 10th most among any player before his 24th birthday; his .535 slugging percentage through his age-23 season is also 11th best among those with 2,000-plus plate appearances. However, Stanton still falls short of "elite" status -- those with a legitimate stake at first-round status -- because of a checkered injury history at a young age: He has missed 101 of 590 career games, including for foot, shoulder, oblique, knee and hamstring issues. He also suffers somewhat in terms of quality pitches to hit as well as his counting numbers (runs, RBIs) due to his status as a heart-of-the-order hitter for one of the game's weakest lineups, though, in his defense, Stanton's per-game numbers have been quite good. He's a player who could become that superstar/MVP-caliber performer scouts long predicted as he enters his prime, but bear in mind the injury track record.
Stephania Bell: He spent six weeks on the DL in 2013 with a hamstring injury and despite being just 24 years old, Stanton's games played have declined progressively the past two years. Can he reverse the trend?
2014 Outlook: When it comes to Strasburg, are you an optimist or pessimist? The optimist could point to his seventh-ranked 26.1 percent strikeout rate or eighth-ranked 1.05 WHIP and claim the right-hander again showed he's one of the best in the game at his craft at the mere age of 25. The pessimist could state that Strasburg's No. 17 Player Rater ranking among pure starters represented a disappointing season comparative to draft-day expectations; he was the No. 17 player (and No. 3 pitcher) off the board going by preseason ADP. Optimists should win this one. Strasburg still averaged 95.3 mph with his fastball, only a small decline in velocity, and it was revealed after the season that he had pitched some of the season in pain, resulting in October surgery to remove bone chips. We might see a better Strasburg in 2014, and any innings limitation should be out the window after he threw 183 frames in 2013. He could mount a challenge at the No. 1 pitching spot in any fantasy league, but, at worst, he looks like a top-10 option in any format.
Stephania Bell: Strasburg underwent arthroscopic surgery in October to remove debris from his elbow, which may have been responsible for his forearm tightness during the season. He is expected to participate in a normal spring training.
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: His was a tale of two seasons. Upton batted .286/.404/.629 with 13 home runs through his first 40 games for the Atlanta Braves, looking like a surefire MVP candidate after years of such career prognostications but then hit just .256/.335/.409 with 14 home runs in his next 109 games, looking more like a league-average right fielder. (Hey, at least he wasn't the worst Upton.) Justin showed little skills improvement during his "cooling" stage, tempering some of those lofty career expectations as he enters his age-26 season. That said, he's still a player who has flashed occasional MVP talent, and one who, again, at 26, is entering the prime of his career. Could this be the season? Perhaps, but it's no longer worth spending that first-round pick to find out.
2014 Outlook: A power-hitting left-handed bat in a perfect park for that type, Bruce has hit at least 30 home runs in three consecutive seasons, one of only three players who can claim that (Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Beltre are the others). At the same time, Bruce's game has almost entirely moved toward power; this has resulted in rising strikeout rates every year since 2009 and a propensity for streakiness. To the latter point, he batted .246 with one homer in his first 34 games of 2013, .307 with 17 in his next 41. Bruce's power places him in the class of early-round fantasy picks, but his strikeouts are a concern in points leagues, and those who select him need to be patient through his rough patches.
2014 Outlook: The 2014 season will represent Bumgarner's fifth as a full-time big leaguer, and in each of his previous seasons he has improved his WHIP, culminating in a 2013 in which he also set personal bests in terms of ERA (2.77), strikeout rate (24.8 percent), total K's (199) and quality start percentage (71.0). Considering his three-year track record of consistent success, it's sometimes difficult to digest the fact he's still only 24 years old. These facts put Bumgarner in the upper tier of fantasy starters, with only a few questions holding him back from a higher rank: One, his win potential on the San Francisco Giants working slightly against him in traditional rotisserie scoring. Two, a heavy reliance upon an arm-taxing slider, as he is one of only four pitchers to have thrown the pitch more than 30 percent of the time in each of the past three seasons. Three, he posted a career-high walk rate in 2013 (7.7 percent). We admit, however, that we're picking nits, but when it comes to top-shelf starters, nits must sometimes be picked.
2014 Outlook: One of the precious few "trustworthy closers," Kimbrel's numbers stack up favorably among history's young finishers: His 1.39 ERA and 43.2 percent strikeout rate were both best all-time among any pitcher through his age-25 season (minimum 200 innings), and his 139 career saves at the time of his 25th birthday ranked second all-time (Francisco Rodriguez, 146). Take that to heart, if you're among the rare critics of Kimbrel's 2013 strikeout-rate drop; his 38.0 percent number, a decline of a little more than 12 percent, was still the 20th-best in any year all-time (minimum 50 innings). In other words, his skills remain excellent, his workload has been managed much more conservatively the past two seasons than in 2011, diminishing any health risk, and his Nos. 30 (2011), 10 (2012) and 14 (2013) Player Rater rankings overall support his candidacy for top-50 draft status even in shallow mixed leagues. Do you pay for saves? This is one of the rare closers worth the hefty price.
2014 Outlook: A late bloomer, Molina has developed into one of the most reliable catchers in fantasy, and frankly the most valuable catcher in the on-field game, where his defensive prowess carries additional weight.
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: Fernandez's 2013 was one of the most unexpected, yet successful, rookie campaigns in baseball history. Undrafted in practically every fantasy league because of his young age and likelihood of a full season in the minors, Fernandez was a surprise inclusion on the Miami Marlins' Opening Day roster, despite his making only one Grapefruit League appearance. From there, he continued to defy the odds: Among rookies since World War I, his 6.3 Wins Above Replacement ranked ninth, his 2.19 ERA ranked fifth and his 0.98 WHIP ranked seventh. What's more, he seemed to only improve as the season progressed, managing 12 quality starts in 13 games from July 1 forward, with eight wins, a 1.43 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and .159 batting average allowed. Fernandez is now one of the most tantalizing picks in fantasy baseball, but our rank provides you some caution (caution that has no place in a dynasty league, that is): His peripheral numbers show that some regression is in order, his pitch efficiency numbers would be difficult to repeat, perhaps capping his innings total at beneath 200, and as a member of the Miami Marlins, his workload might again be conservative (after all, they're not a contender) and he'll struggle in the win column in leagues where that counts. We love the guy, but we'd be amiss if we didn't itemize the risks.
2014 Outlook: It's a legitimate point to make that Greinke has finally found confines that maximize his skill set: His annual FIPs, working forward from 2009, have gone 2.33, 3.34, 2.98, 3.10 and 3.23, which suggest a far more consistent pitcher than a traditional rotisserie owner might believe. Considering that he spent some of that time in the American League, and some in hitter-friendly Miller Park, Greinke warrants some benefit of the doubt. He thrived at Dodger Stadium last year -- he had a 2.11 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in 14 starts there -- and the sum of his past five seasons results in a 3.24 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 66.7 quality start percentage and an annual average of 194 K's, numbers that would place him at or near the upper tier at his position. Long a sabermetric darling, Greinke might be one of the most attractive values in the SP2 class.
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: Though Zimmerman's 2012-13 shows a much more consistent .280/25/85 performer than fantasy owners tend to give him credit for, his critics do raise important points. Injuries have long been an issue -- he averaged 133 games during the past six seasons -- his eroding defense at third base lends legitimacy to chatter that the Washington Nationals might eventually shift him across the diamond to first base and both his strikeout and swing-and-miss rates have risen in back-to-back seasons. For 2014, however, Zimmerman retains his third-base eligibility -- and he'll probably keep it at least through 2015, too -- meaning that, once again, he should settle in as a top-10 mixed-league third baseman and top-75 overall player. At this stage of his career, however, any upside from that status might be gone.
2014 Outlook: Craig Kimbrel might get the press -- he's the one who has held a closer's job for a longer period of time -- but Jansen has skills that place him right up there with the Atlanta Braves' finisher. Like Kimbrel, Jansen possesses three of the 20 best single-season strikeout rates in history (minimum 50 innings), finishing fourth in 2011 (44.0 percent), 12th in 2012 (39.3) and 18th in 2013 (38.0). Frankly, if the Los Angeles Dodgers didn't keep signing lesser-skilled relievers with "closer experience" -- from Brandon League to Brian Wilson to Chris Perez -- Jansen would probably have more faith from fantasy owners. Still, despite the seemingly endless list of closer contenders, Jansen is actually one of the safest save-getters in the game, and following an October 2012 heart surgery, he suffered zero injury setbacks in 2013 to diminish any such future worry. There is a four-man tier of "elite fantasy closers" -- three of whom hail from the National League -- and Jansen belongs squarely in that group.