2014 Outlook: The most alarming number in Lowrie's 2013 stat line is the 662 plate appearances. This was by far a career high and, in fact, only 66 fewer trips to the dish than he amassed the previous two seasons combined. That said, 15 homers was a disappointment considering he swatted 16 the previous campaign in far fewer chances. On the other hand, a drop in strikeout rate in concert with a bump in hit rate helped Lowrie set a career high in average. Lowrie enters 2014 as the Athletics' regular shortstop, but the safe play is to account for some missed time. It's also best to anticipate some regression in terms of batting average on balls in play. Even with the warnings, dual eligibility (second base and shortstop) renders Lowrie a viable candidate to man middle infield assuming you have speed elsewhere.
2014 Outlook: Dozier happened upon the second base job almost by default, then proceeded to hit his way into the spot full-time. He's always been able to run a little, the question will be how much of the power gains he maintains, especially since Target Field depresses right-handed pop by nearly 10 percent. According to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, only one of Dozier's homers was deemed lucky while just three were labeled just enough. However, it should be noted that all 18 of his dingers were pulled, and there are studies that show opposite field power is an indicator that a power spike is more apt to be real. As such, a drop in homers is likely, but not too precipitous. Add in a few more plate appearances from hitting higher in the order and the raw number could be similar. So long as you can absorb the average, Dozier is a quiet multicategory performer.
2014 Outlook: Kendrick was on pace for a career-best season, sporting a .310 batting average with 11 homers and six steals at the All-Star break. Then, a series of injuries -- including a hyperextended knee that forced him to the disabled list for over a month -- interrupted his fine campaign. Kendrick hit only .262 after the break, with a scant two more homers and nary a stolen base. He enters 2014 healthy, thus can again be counted on for his usual batting average between .280 and .300 with double-digit homers and steals. Fear of more injuries and lack of significant upside render Kendrick best slotted at middle infield, but his consistency when on the diamond helps balance risks incurred elsewhere.
2014 Outlook: Rendon was recalled for good in early June, and he held his own after transitioning to second base. His strong suit is smacking line drives all over the yard, which should help support a useful batting average. The problem from both a fantasy and real-life perspective is that Rendon possesses below-average power and almost no speed while former second baseman Danny Espinosa has some pop and can run, and would love to get his old gig back. Espinosa is going to have to beat out Rendon, just be aware that Rendon's job as the regular second baseman is not set in stone.
2014 Outlook: Signed by the New York Yankees as a stopgap solution at either second or third base -- remember that they lost Robinson Cano to free agency and Alex Rodriguez to a season-long suspension -- Johnson is a hitter who fits the confines of Yankee Stadium. He's a left-handed pull hitter who had a 46.3 percent fly-ball rate in 2013, making him quite the attractive daily-league target. Although Johnson lacks the obvious platoon split that would lock him into such a role, the Yankees will more than likely pick and choose his games, most of them against right-handers, so understand that his fantasy potential is probably capped as AL-only or deep-mixed material.
2014 Outlook: Those playing in daily formats take note, from the "How Can That Be" Department: despite being a switch-hitter, since 2011 Walker has smacked 41 of his 42 homers swinging from the left side of the dish. If afforded the luxury -- and the Pirates don't simply do it for you -- Walker should be reserved when a southpaw is slated to start. For the rest, don't put that much into last season's batting average dip. Walker hit into some bad luck, as he hit his usual above-average number of line drives only to be snakebit with his hit rate. Injuries and last season's average slide have pushed Walker off the radar. Mixed leaguers can let him slide while those in deeper formats can look to add a little middle infield pop without hurting their average.
2014 Outlook: A contact-hitting, hit-for-average type, Infante could be a handy plug-in as a mixed-league middle infielder and as a stable mid-roster type in AL-only formats. Last year, he rode career bests in terms of his strikeout (9.2 percent) and contact rates (90.3 percent) into a long-term deal with the Kansas City Royals, who have every intention of playing him regularly at second base and perhaps batting him in the lineup's No. 2 spot. Infante's limited pop might not play as well at Kauffman Stadium as Comerica Park -- he primarily has pull power -- so make sure you're picking him as batting average/on-base percentage support rather than something more.
2014 Outlook: A power/speed prospect, Franklin got off to a hot start for the Seattle Mariners following his May recall but struggled late in the year, batting .172/.274/.264 with a 30.6 percent strikeout rate in 48 games from Aug. 1 forward. As his defense was also mediocre, the Mariners understandably blocked him at second base by signing Robinson Cano this winter, relegating Franklin to either trade bait or a lesser-used utility role. At-bats are critical to this counting-numbers type -- homers, steals and walks are his strengths -- so consider him only AL-only middle infield fodder, and a possible value in on-base percentage leagues, until his 2014 role is known.
2014 Outlook: Like a fine wine, Scutaro just keeps getting better with time, having set a personal best in terms of his contract rate in four consecutive seasons. This makes him an extremely valuable asset to owners seeking some stability in terms of batting average and/or on-base percentage in the late rounds; he has minimal downside and plays the tough-to-fill middle-infield spot. Now 38, Scutaro might have a few more seasons in him, although his 2013 campaign showed that he's slightly more of an injury risk than he was at a younger age. Stephania Bell: He must feel like it's deja vu. Last year was injury-laden and now it appears a back issue will keep Scutaro from starting the season on time. It's never the way you want to begin and often a sign of things to come.
2014 Outlook: A lack of viable alternatives plants Gordon in the de facto fallback role should Alexander Guerrero fail to quickly adapt to the U.S. game. The Los Angeles Dodgers dabbled in turning Gordon into a utilityman this winter, so there's a good chance he might make the team and receive enough playing time to fuel his stolen-base numbers. That is his road to fantasy success, as Gordon doesn't walk enough, lacks the power and isn't a good enough defender to develop into much more. He's NL-only roster filler on the strength of his speed, plain and simple.
2014 Outlook: Profar's presence was one of the primary reasons the Texas Rangers traded Ian Kinsler in November; they wanted to clear an everyday role for the 21-year-old, who has long been touted as a future All-Star. A regular gig might do some good, as Profar struggled mightily in separate big league stints in 2012 and 2013 totaling 94 games, though only once during that span did he make more than five consecutive starts at the same position. In the best-case scenario, he might thrive in his new role, hitting for double-digit power with the 20-steal potential he exhibited in the minors, perhaps earning the No. 2 spot in the lineup to fuel his runs total. In a lower-end, albeit not worst-case, scenario, he might struggle to hit much more than he did in 2013, and lock into a PA/counting number-suppressing No. 8 or 9 lineup spot. Profar's range of outcomes are wide, but his ceiling is projected among the 10 best middle infielders in fantasy baseball as early as this year, and that makes him an appealing mid-rounder, not to mention a building block in dynasty/keeper formats. Stephania Bell: Profar entered camp with some shoulder tendinitis but seemed to be moving past it. On March 22, however, Profar suffered a new injury to his shoulder while turning a double play. The team announced Profar will miss 10-12 weeks with a torn muscle in his shoulder, but it's worth noting the recovery time for muscle tears is difficult to predict accurately.
2014 Outlook: Rutledge's slow start last season burned many a fantasy owner, as he teased teens power and speed potential the previous season. Even with his scuffles, when he was with the big club, Rutledge was quietly perfect in 12 steal attempts. Primarily because skipper Walt Weiss favors defense up the middle, Rutledge may again be a reserve or in Triple-A to start the season. But if he somehow manages to beat out DJ LeMahieu for the keystone gig, he still possesses the skills to be a stat-sheet stuffer.
2014 Outlook: Drew's injury history, coupled with his free-agent status being tied to draft-pick compensation, probably had teams hesitant to invest in him this winter, and as spring camps opened, he had yet to pick a team. He's a valuable enough hitter and defender at shortstop to warrant a starting job wherever he winds up, but as he enters his age-31 season, he's a player more likely to hand you 120 to 130 games as opposed to 150-plus, not to mention he has a widening platoon split that makes him look like more of an "onlies" or daily league player. Drew could score one advantage depending on where he winds up: He was talked about as a potential second or third baseman for some teams, and if he shifts positions, he might quickly become a dual-qualifier who has additional value come draft day.
2014 Outlook: Scary fact: Beckham is the only player to have managed four consecutive seasons of at least 400 plate appearances and a sub-.700 OPS. That's how far his stock has slipped, at a stage of his career during which one would expect significant growth. A wrist issue limited him in 2013, and the Chicago White Sox appear to be forgiving enough to grant him their second-base gig again, but there aren't any hints of an imminent step forward. Even worse: Beckham was a more productive hitter against right- than left-handed pitchers, as well as more so on the road than at home, in 2013; though those career splits have been somewhat balanced. That's not a good thing, because it means he's a weak mix-and-match, and therefore more AL-only than mixed commodity.
2014 Outlook: He was the No. 2 overall pick from the 2009 amateur draft, but Ackley's star has faded in four-and-a-half pro seasons since; his .297 career wOBA ranks in only the 12th percentile among players with at least 1,000 plate appearances since his big-league debut in June of 2011. He's also in a fight for at-bats, with Robinson Cano on board to man his natural position of second base, meaning Ackley's best-case scenario has him earning either the starting left or center field job, his more probable role being that of a utility man. That said, Ackley did appear his former disciplined self at the plate following a June stint in Triple-A last season, the result a .304 batting average and .374 on-base percentage after the All-Star break. Should he extend that into the spring, he might land enough playing time to warrant mixed-league middle-infield status -- he'll still qualify at second -- and if he can secure a top-third lineup spot, his on-base percentage might make him an intriguing sleeper in formats that utilize that category or runs scored.