CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Jose Abreu - Jose Abreu is likely the most difficult player to forecast for 2014, with so few Cuban comparables relative to most other foreign countries, a baseball change that likely accounted for a not-so-insignificant portion of his power the past few years, and the sheer difficulty of coming to a country like the USA from a country like Cuba for the first time. Let's separate things into what we know, and what we suspect. We know that Abreu has power, doesn't run all that well, and is limited to 1B/DH on the defensive spectrum. We suspect, from some scouts that have voiced concerns about his bat speed, that he'll have some contact issues. We also suspect that, despite the lingering presence of Paul Konerko, that Abreu is going to be the starter at 1B come Opening Day. I'm certainly curious to see if he's going to be able to make enough contact to be useful in the AVG category..he put up some video game numbers in Cuba, slugging over .800 multiple times, but the talent jump is likely at least the equivalent of A-ball to the majors. I expect him to be an above average source of HRs....anything more than that is mere speculation, but we should be able to get at least a bit of information once the Cactus League games get underway.
Bullpen - The White Sox closing situation is as much of a toss-up as you'll ever see after the trade of Addison Reed, with, by my count, a solid 5 players that have a shot to be the opening day "closer". The two guys that I'd expect the battle to come down to are Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom. Both are fastball/slider guys with plus velocity....Jones bringing it at close to 98 mph while Lindstrom clocks in at closer to 95. Jones in particular made great strides last year in improving his control, and he combined that with a swinging strike% of over 13%, while Lindstrom has clearly been changing his approach the past few years to get more grounders (GB rate up 10% the past two years to 55.6%) at the expense of a few more free passes. I like Jones as the favorite right now by a touch, but as the White Sox have already come out and said that spring training will decide the battle, watching the extremely small sample size performances will be critical. If your league requires relievers and rewards for strikeouts, Jones may be a solid option regardless of whether or not he wins the job....Lindstrom less so.
Brian Dozier - It seems that many people are forecasting Brian Dozier to regress after a very solid first full year with the Twins in 2013, and aside from the fact that he really struggled in 2012, I'm having a hard time figuring out why. He's shown double-digit power in the minors before (41 2B, 12 3B, 12 HR in 2011), and he's consistently been a double-digit base-stealer as well. Maybe 18 homers was a bit more than expected, but 12-15 as an encore isn't out of the question...particularly in an age-27 year coming up. Then you have the AVG, which climbed to a still-disappointing .244 last year. Dozier hit .067 on flyballs and only .650 on line drives, both 8-9% below expectations, although he did hit between 3-4% higher than expected on grounders....something that I would prefer to explain away through his above-average speed. I expect a bit more on the AVG front this year from him...probably a bit over .250. The key for Dozier last year was getting back to an extremely patient approach at the plate, as his swing% dropped to 40% in 2013. The K numbers necessarily increased in concert even though his contact rate improved, but the BB rate jumped back up into the range of his minor league performances. In short, I don't see anything here that looks like a fluke, although the weak offense in total does limit his upside a bit. Dozier was ranked 14th among 2B last season, and I would expect him to slot in somewhere close to there in 2014, making him a viable MIF option in most formats, and a late-game starter at 2B in deeper leagues.
Phil Hughes - There are a lot of reasons to be a bit excited about Phil Hughes and his move to Minnesota this year. His velocity is back to pre-injury levels, his control is as solid as ever (top-10 in strike-throwing percentage in 2013), and most importantly, he's moving from a park that is very punitive to his style of pitching to one that is nearly the exact opposite. Hughes has an HR/9 of 0.86 on the road for his career, compared with a 1.69 figure at home, and his FIP ERA on the road is 3.78 for his career. Again, these are career numbers, not just single-season stats. Granted, the pathetic Twin offense isn't going to do him a lot of favors, but as a back-end option with some upside, I do like Hughes in deeper formats this year.
Taijuan Walker - There's a very good chance that Walker will open the season with the Mariners, possibly even as the #2 starter until Iwakuma's finger heals. Walker is still a bit of a work in progress, possessing an excellent fastball, above-average cutter, and a curve and change that are still inconsistent. His minor league K rates have ranged from solid to outstanding, while his control has been a bit spotty at most of the stops. I'd expect him to provide average to slightly above-average value for a year or two while he finishes harnessing his secondary pitches, and I do think that he's draftable this year in all formats, if only strictly from an upside point o f view. The improved Mariner lineup should be a boost to his value as well.
Logan Morrison - I just can't write Morrison off yet, even after two injury-plagued disappoint seasons in a row. Still just 26, Morrison has hit for average and power at various times in his minor and major league career, and he's heading to a better lineup and, believe it or not, a bit better park (Safeco suppresses homers 20-25% less than Marlins Park). The ability to DH should tax his knees a bit less, and his batting eye has remained sound throughout the struggles the past few years. I don't expect him to have shallow league value, as I think there will be a bit of time-sharing, and he has little speed left from the little that he started with. I do, however, like him very much as a sleeper in deeper formats, particularly leagues that might value OBP, or leagues that are points-based instead of roto-style.
Tommy LaStella - As Dan Uggla's contact rate spirals from "worrisome" to "millstone", his grasp of the 2B job in Atlanta becomes more and more tenuous. Tommy LaStella is a 25 year old that may challenge Uggla for the 2B job this spring. He doesn't have much in the way of power or speed and he's been old for his league every step of the way, but LaStella has managed a .327 career minor league AVG over three seasons, and he's walked more than he has struck out at every level the past two years. He has enough gap power to likely post an ISO of .100-.120, so he shouldn't be a complete power cipher, but the strike zone judgment and ability to spray singles and doubles around will have to carry his value. In the deepest of leagues he could prove to be an interesting MIF sleeper.
Evan Gattis - Gattis appears poised to be the primary catcher in Atlanta this year, and while the contact issues will likely prevent him from posting much of a batting average, 30 homers is certainly a possibility with his raw power. He's also likely to bat cleanup, which should kick in a few RBIs to his tally. The lack of production in other areas hampers his value a bit, but the power is undeniable.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Ubaldo Jimenez - BAL - Pending a physical, it looks like Ubaldo Jimenez will be heading to Baltimore for the 2014 campaign. I would preach caution here for multiple reasons, starting with the move to a more difficult division and a more unforgiving home park (Camden allowe 12% more run-scoring and 20% more HRs last season than Progressive Field). Then you have the eight-start stretch at the end of the year that really boosted Jimenez's stats, a stretch during which he posted a 1.66 ERA and fanned 10 or more 4 times. He faced one healthy, solid lineup over that stretch of starts, posting huge K numbers against teams like the Twins, White Sox, and Astros primarily. Yes, his K numbers were up for the whole season, and he certainly pitched better than he had the two seasons prior, but his xFIP ERA was still 3.62 on the year, and now he's moving to a more challenging environment. I think there is a reasonable chance (say 30-40%) that Jimenez is able to post mid-rotation type numbers, and a slim chance (less than 10%) that he's better than that. I'm too concerned by the continuing velocity drop and the perpetually poor control to do more than take a flyer on him if he falls into my lap as a possible back-end starter.
Dioner Navarro - TOR - Is it possible that Navarro has simply added more power from age 27-29? Since struggling mightily in his third season as the Rays' starting backstop in 2009, Navarro has bounced around from the Dodgers to the Reds, then the Cubs, and now the Blue Jays. The last three years have seen substantial increases in his HR/FB rate, topping out at 18.8% in 266 PAs with Chicago last year. He's also posted fantastic LD rates in limited duty the past two seasons (31% and 25.4%), and he's pretty much always posted solid contact rates and been able to draw a walk. In just those 266 PAs last year Navarro was the 20th ranked catcher, and with a pretty clear hold on the starting catcher's job in Toronto this year, you've got to figure that there will be significantly more playing time in 2014 barring unforeseen circumstances. Navarro is absolutely death on lefties, so if you're able to play the daily lineup change game he's a solid bench player to have around, but I actually think he has a solid shot at providing value in many formats this year. Moving to the league's 3rd-ranked HR park for hitters probably won't hurt, and the better supporting cast should be a boon as well.
Tyler Skaggs - LAA - Skaggs has the inside track on the 5th starter's spot for the Angels this year, and the move from the NL may actually be a bit of a help to him, as the long ball has been one of the biggest issues preventing him from sticking in the majors to this point, and Arizona did him no favors there. Skaggs has managed excellent K rates throughout his minor league career on the strength of excellent offspeed pitches to offset a fairly pedestrian fastball. His lack of velocity and top-echelon control likely limit his ceiling to that of a 3rd or 4th starter, but the solid K potential from the secondary pitches does offer the hint of some upside here. He's a deeper league speculative play only at this point.
Kole Calhoun - LAA - I'm going to keep talking about this guy until I think his value is where it should be. Calhoun is a 26 year old that didn't reach A-ball until he was 23, and was pretty much an afterthought in all discussions of the Angels farm system even as recently as last year. His AAA performance in 2013 (354/431/617 in 240 ABs) earned him a call-up, after which he proceeded to post a solid 282/347/462 line over 195 ABs. Calhoun offers you a little bit of everything, making solid contact (22.8% LD rate last year), showing good plate discipline (9.5% BB rate), and exhibiting enough power and speed to make you think that 20/10 in homers and steals isn't out of the question for a full season. There has also been some rumbling that he may bat leadoff this year, and hitting in front of Trout, Hamilton, Pujols, etc. should do wonders for his run totals, even if the latter two are in decline. I am very high on Calhoun this year, and expect him to be a viable starter in just about all formats, offering value across the board regardless of your scoring system.
Chad Qualls - HOU - With Bo Porter already voicing a preference for "a guy that can get weak groundballs" out of his closer, Chad Qualls has to be considered the frontrunner for Houston's saves in a tight battle with Jesse Crain and Josh Fields, among others. Qualls returned to his pre-2009 delivery last season with excellent results, posting a 63% GB rate and a 2.61 ERA (3.32 FIP ERA). The Astros won't give you a ton of save opportunities and Qualls doesn't fan enough batters to be really interesting otherwise, but as a late-game cheap saves option he's worth a look if needed.
Corey Dickerson - COL - Dickerson is a name to watch this spring, as if he can hold off Drew Stubbs and Charlie Blackmon for the LF job he's likely to be the leadoff hitter for the Rockies this year. Dickerson has done nothing but hit since starting his pro career in 2010, hitting for at least a .229 ISO at every level above rookie ball before breaking into the majors last year with a 263/316/459 line in 194 ABs. He runs a little and hits the ball hard, posting a 26% LD rate last season, and 15-20 HRs and 10 SB wouldn't be unreasonable to expect if he does indeed win the job this spring. He could provide value across the board in most formats with the necessary playing time.
Josh Johnson - SD - The move to Petco is obviously a huge potential positive for Johnson if his elbow is healthy, and the funny thing is, his xFIP ERA was still only 3.58 last season even with the completely miserable performances seemingly every outing. Johnson was still getting the K's even pitching through bone spurs, and with a HR/FB that was more than twice his prior career worst, you've got to think that improvement is on the horizon. I would try to take a chance on Johnson in any format that I could this spring, as he has always been at least solid (and occasionally outstanding) when healthy.
Emilio Bonifacio - CUB - The Cubs signed one of the best baserunners around in Bonifacio over the weekend, and with Darwin Barney still getting worse at the plate (beyond the point that I thought it was possible), Bonifacio may get more playing time than it first appears. He's always a threat to steal 30 bases, and since he logged innings everywhere but 1B and C last year, his positional eligibility comes in pretty handy as well. He doesn't offer much besides the steals, so he's more of a single-league guy than a mixed-league option, but steals are always at a premium.