2014 Outlook: After a breakthrough 2012 in the States, Cespedes regressed badly in 2013, his strikeout rate rising (23.9 percent, up from 18.9), walk rate dropping (6.5 percent, down from 8.0) and both his batting average and BABIP plummeting by identical 52-point margins. This resulted in a 92-spot decline in Player Rater standing -- 28 spots among outfielders alone -- and a second consecutive season with a DL stint because of a hand injury continued to fuel questions about his long-term health as it relates to his violent swing. Cespedes still has massive power, however, as his isolated power and fly-ball and line-drive rates remained consistent in the two years, and if he enjoys any correction to his BABIP, he could recapture at least some of his 2012 fantasy stock. After all, he did finish 2013 with a .314/.337/.570, six-homer September, and a strong spring could increase his draft stock. It might be prime time to buy a rebound.
2014 Outlook: Craig is much more of a risk/reward hitter than fantasy owners give him credit for. Consider that his 134 games played in 2013 represented a career high; he has appeared in only 67.8 percent of the St. Louis Cardinals' scheduled games (playoffs included) in his big-league career, making four trips to the DL in four years. Still, despite his injuries, Craig has the 10th-best batting average (.311) and 17th-most RBIs (189) the past two seasons combined, showing how productive a hitter he is when he takes the field. The RBIs might have been somewhat fluky; keep in mind that the Cardinals managed the highest batting average with runners in scoring position of any team in history, and Craig himself plated 24 percent of his runners on base, tops in the majors. His health might also remain in question as a regular outfielder; he's expected to move to right field to clear first base for Matt Adams. Craig's ceiling is awfully high and he's more reliable (when healthy) than Adams, but be prepared with a contingency plan for the likelihood he misses additional time in 2014.
Stephania Bell: Craig suffered a Lisfranc injury while rounding first base last September but was able to avoid offseason surgery. He expects to be a full participant this spring although the key will be how well he's running.
2014 Outlook: Zobrist is a fantasy darling for a variety of reasons: Most obvious is that he qualifies at three different positions in leagues with a 20-game requirement, including the critical middle-infield spots (second base and shortstop) to go along with the outfield. But he's also a category filler with additional value in walks and on-base percentage leagues; he is the only player in baseball to have at least 75 home runs, 75 stolen bases and 400 walks in the past five seasons combined, with his annual averages tallying 18/17 with 86 walks and a .366 on-base percentage during that time. Despite his declining homer and steal numbers in 2013, he is one of the more attractive early-to-mid rounders based upon the flexibility alone.
2014 Outlook: A free-swinging, speedy type with a hint of power, Marte got off to a hot start in 2013, batting .291 with nine home runs and 28 steals in 88 first-half games, defying the scouts who didn't typically rank him among the top prospects in the game entering the year. As expected, his batting average regressed; he hit .254 with three homers and 13 steals in 47 games in the second half, his strikeout rate swelling to 29.7 percent during that time. Still, so long as you neither expect his .290-plus batting average of last year's first half, or the .303 career mark he had in the minors, Marte is an attractive rotisserie-league target thanks to his potential to fill the steals/runs/homers categories. More patience would serve him well, but as a 25-year-old with the prime of his career ahead of him, Marte is well worth the early-to-mid-round pick in that format, though he's somewhat less intriguing in sabermetrically minded scoring.
2014 Outlook: Knock Pence for his unconventional style of hitting; he has defied his critics for years, serving as one of the most consistently underrated players in the game. He is one of only four players to have managed at least 20 home runs, 90 RBIs and 80 runs scored in each of the past four seasons, and in 2013, he was one of only eight 20/20 performers, he and Mike Trout the only ones of those eight to also manage at least a .280 batting average and 90 runs and RBIs apiece. Pence did this by vastly improving his contact rate, and his aggressiveness on the base paths became his path to rejoining fantasy's elite. He might not look the part of a rotisserie-league building block, and his numbers aren't quite those of a top-25 overall pick. But he's also not a far cry from it.
2014 Outlook: Injuries have knocked Kemp from his former first-round fantasy perch; since topping the 2011 Player Rater, he plummeted to 92nd in 2012 and 388th in 2013, missing 56 and then 89 games in those years. Though he's still an attractive option during his healthy games, the injury question remains as valid with him entering 2014 as anyone: He had a surgery to repair the AC joint in his left shoulder in early October, a surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left ankle only a couple of weeks later, and now his status for Opening Day is in doubt. It's that ankle issue that casts doubt upon his fantasy prospects, resulting in his modest ranking, as it threatens his ability to steal bases, which fueled much of his value from 2008-11. Kemp could use some promising news during spring training to improve his draft-day stock; for now, understand that his ceiling is high, but his risk just as high. Stephania Bell: Kemp struggled with multiple injuries last season -- including his hamstring and shoulder -- but the ankle is the worrisome element heading into this year. Still on a modified running program to protect the joint, it's unclear when Kemp's season will start, but it won't likely be in Australia in March.
Addendum (3/12): Kemp began running on land in early March and progressed to intrasquad games this week. While playing in Australia still appears unlikely, Kempís progress is an encouraging sign that he may not be out as long as originally feared.
2014 Outlook: Consistency has been the name of Holliday's game. He and Miguel Cabrera are the only two players to have batted at least .290 with 20 home runs in each of the past eight seasons, and during his four full seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, he has averaged .301-25-94 numbers. Even at age 34, Holliday is one of the more reliable early-round selections among outfielders, though his odds of a small step backward remain greater than one forward. He has made trips to the DL in two of the past three seasons, plus has battled minor bumps and bruises, and he's beginning to show weaknesses on pitches up in the zone, batting .105 on those the past two seasons combined. We're splitting hairs, yes, but with name brands like Holliday's, we need to outline causes for caution.
2014 Outlook: The American League's reigning Rookie of the Year, Myers has long been considered one of the game's best power-hitting prospects, and his chances of a major breakthrough in terms of homers are good entering 2014. As a rookie, he possessed balanced splits -- he hit .292 against righties, .293 against lefties -- and between the majors and minors he belted 27 home runs. If there's a concern, it's his strikeout rate, as he whiffed 24.4 percent of the time, plus struggled to make consistent contact against breaking pitches. Myers' .293 batting average is probably unsustainable, and he might be susceptible to streaks as he fully adapts. Still, he's a possible 30-homer hitter this year, and his upside in the category makes him one of the most attractive investments in dynasty leagues.
2014 Outlook: Hey Jason, we're waiting for that breakout ... A 2007 first-rounder, and Keith Law's No. 1 prospect entering his rookie year of 2010, Heyward has yet to become that MVP-caliber talent many predicted during his minor league days. Injuries have held him back: He made two trips to the DL last season alone, and has missed 17.9 percent of Atlanta Braves games during his four-year career. Heyward's BABIPs, not to mention his steals totals, have been all over the map, meaning that those speculating on his statistical ceiling need to brace themselves for inconsistency. Still, he's 24 years old, made huge strides in terms of his contact rate last season (80.9 percent, up from 74.1 in 2012), and has averaged 22 homers and 13 steals per 162 games played thus far to illustrate his power/speed potential. Don't let Heyward slip too far in your draft, as he's plenty capable at making a run at the top 25 fantasy players overall in any future year. An aside: For category counters, be aware that the Braves plan to bat him leadoff, meaning he's more likely to have a higher runs than RBI total.
2014 Outlook: One of the most successful hitters in postseason history -- he's a .333/.445/.683 career hitter with 16 home runs in 51 such games -- Beltran signed this winter with a team everyone annually assumes is playoff-bound: The New York Yankees. But before you pencil them in again and dream up wild Beltran expectations, remember that the 2013 squad fell short and Beltran, like many of his fellow Yankees, is getting up there in years; he turns 37 in April. He's no longer the base-stealing threat he was during his prime, and his numbers from the right side of the plate have tumbled, though Yankee Stadium coupled with occasional time in the DH spot to ease some of the physical strain might help slow his aging curve. As a middle-of-the-order hitter, Beltran's numbers come season's end might not look much different than they did in 2013. But he's a player with greater odds of regression than progression in 2014.
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: Don't let the constant criticism of his bloated contract dissuade you from drafting Werth, as, despite an up-and-down three seasons with the Washington Nationals, he has averaged .277/23/77 numbers with 17 stolen bases per 162 games played. His 2013 was particularly productive: He set a career high with his .318 batting average and finished the season with .339/.432/.600 second-half numbers, including 15 home runs in 65 games. Werth's speed has been in decline for a couple of years, and he has missed enough time in his Nationals career to be of concern in the injury department -- there's a reason they signed Nate McLouth as their fourth outfielder -- but he's also a solid early-to-mid round pick with upside in leagues that use on-base percentage.
2014 Outlook: Two straight seasons of a BABIP well above the league norm buoyed Gordon's production, but last season, he failed to maintain that elevated level and his average fell. Fortunately, a spike in his fly ball percentage propelled his homers back to the 20 plateau, so his production did not suffer much. All totaled, Gordon has one of the more stable skill sets in the league. There will be some variance around his batting average, but his consistency and durability are more important considerations. Gordon is falling into the boring stage of his career, but boring can help build a stable, winning foundation. And winning is by no means boring.
2014 Outlook: Injuries, a widening platoon split and a dead-pull tendency have held Jennings back from becoming one of the most attractive picks in fantasy, but as a 27-year-old, he still has time to take another step. Even as is, he is one of only three players to have managed at least 20 stolen bases with double-digit homers, joining Carlos Gonzalez and Andrew McCutchen, and he has a keen enough batting eye to be a sleeper in leagues that reward on-base percentage instead of batting average. Jennings continues to show small gains -- he chased 5 percent fewer non-strikes in 2013 than 2012, and he boosted his walk rate from 8.2 to 10.6 percent -- and he might top the Tampa Bay Rays lineup again. He's an intriguing mixed-league middle-rounder with upside.
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.