2/2/2014 1:30 P.M. ET
MLB.com gives fantasy owners a leg up on 2014
Comprehensive guide examines what to expect from more than 800 Major Leaguers
By Zachary Finkelstein / MLB.com
We're less than two months away from Opening Day, when hope will spring anew at a ballpark near you.
Are you ready to swap sweater weather for fitted hats and baseball stats? If so, we have just what you need.
Welcome to MLB.com's Player Preview, your one-stop information shop for the upcoming campaign.
The preview comprehensively chronicles more than 800 Major Leaguers. From baseball's brightest stars to the final man on your favorite franchise's bench, all of the need-to-know info can be found with one click on your computer or mobile device.
Each big league club is covered in the preview, your go-to source for write-ups, rankings, stats and video about your hometown heroes. You'll have to review the preview for the full scoop, but let's break down the top of the list right here.
Just like last year, the No. 1 rank belongs to Mike Trout, whose star is on the rise. The 22-year-old is a multi-faceted talent, a precocious blend of power, speed and on-base ability. The outfielder continued his quest to rewrite baseball's record books in 2013, becoming the second man to end multiple seasons with at least a .320 average, 25 long balls and 30 steals.
But, despite those stats, Trout again finished second in the American League MVP race. The winner both times, of course, was none other than Miguel Cabrera, the No. 2 player in the preview for two years running.
Cabrera continued down the path toward baseball immortality in '13, recording a .348 average to become the first right-handed hitter since Rogers Hornsby with three consecutive batting titles. The AL Triple Crown winner from 2012 also completed the campaign as baseball's runner-up in homers (44) and RBIs (137). And if the aforementioned accomplishments are not impressive enough, bear in mind that the eight-time All-Star played through injuries that required offseason surgery.
A lack of speed is the only thing keeping Cabrera from the top spot, as the slugger stole just three bases last season. Although mashers of Miggy's ilk are not expected to run, some do so anyway. The best example of such a star would be Paul Goldschmidt, the preview's No. 3 player.
The D-backs' slugger swiped 15 bags last season, leading all first basemen in that statistic. Goldy takes the bronze on this list for reasons beyond his legs, though. Arizona's hottest star scorched the baseball in '13, finishing alone or tied atop the National League leaderboard in two of the three Triple Crown categories -- RBIs (125) and home runs (36), respectively. He was so good, in fact, that MLB.com ranks him one spot ahead of the reigning NL MVP Award winner Andrew McCutchen, who in some ways is "Mike Trout lite."
Just one of three Major Leaguers to finish 2013 with at least 20 homers and 25 steals, McCutchen was as responsible as any man for the Pirates' long-awaited return to the postseason. The outfielder excelled across the board with a bat in his hands, finishing among the Senior Circuit's best in most significant statistical categories.
To use a cliché -- but in the best way -- the 27-year-old is consistency incarnate. As such, he should remain a Top 10 mainstay for seasons to come, right in front of fellow outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, the man with a mile-high ceiling and the fifth-place spot on this list.
The 28-year-old outfielder is simply great when healthy, although the injury bug has been his biggest foe. The native Venezuelan has not played in more than 135 contests in any campaign since 2010, making his stats during the span -- 24 homers, 82 RBIs and 20 steals per season -- all the more impressive. As such, CarGo will enter '14 as the biggest boom-or-bust player on this list.
Very few hurlers succeed against this slugger, although rare exceptions do exist. For an example, look west to Clayton Kershaw, the owner of the $215 million arm. That's the value of the southpaw's new record-breaking deal with the Dodgers. However huge that sum may seem, many would agree it was money well spent.
Kershaw completed 2013 with the Majors' lowest single-season ERA (1.83) since 2000 and the NL's best mark since 1995. In doing so, the ace became the first pitcher to post back-to-back-to-back ERA titles since Greg Maddux from 1993-95. Oh, and he led baseball and the National League with a 0.92 WHIP and 232 K's, respectively.
The two-time NL Cy Young Award winner owned left-handed batters, whom he held to a .165 average. By comparison, all pitchers batted a collective .132 in 2013. In other words, Kershaw practically turned half of the game's hitters into hurlers at the plate. To be precise, left-handed batters went 26-for-158 against him, including an 0-fer from new Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano, the top middle infielder on this list and seventh player overall.
Similar to the aforementioned Trout-McCutchen analogy, Cano compares to Cabrera. Neither offers much speed, but they frequently power their way home. Cano has completed five consecutive campaigns with at least 25 long balls and an average over .300 -- with four 100-plus run and three triple-digit RBI efforts along the way. But his departure from the Bronx does not come without questions, as he is set to play half his games in Seattle's pitcher-friendly park.
Cano should continue to excel, but Safeco Field has not always been the friendliest to sluggers. Just ask Adrian Beltre of the Rangers, the eighth-ranked player heading into '14. One of baseball's best third basemen, Beltre has hit at least 28 homers in every season since 2010 and a composite .314 over that span.
Factor in his launching pad of a home park and lineup protection from offseason acquisition Prince Fielder -- No. 16 in the preview, by the way -- and Beltre enters 2014 as an elite option. The hot-corner man even dazzles defensively, just like his former Boston teammate Jacoby Ellsbury, who exchanged red socks for pinstripes in December. Ellsbury, of course, plays in the outfield -- not at third base. And, boy, can this new Yankee run.
The owner of three seasons with at least 50 steals, Ellsbury is the fastest man on this list. As the owner of a career .297 average -- plus a spot atop the Yankees' revamped lineup -- the 30-year-old should be set for another impressive showing.
To those who say Ellsbury is too injury prone, consider this: Sure, he has spent his fair share of time on the sidelines. But upon closer inspection, his most significant health woes -- in 2010 and '12 -- were rather fluky in nature. So can we agree that Ellsbury has been more susceptible to accident than injury?
Now, to temper expectations some, the speedster may never replicate his impressive 32-homer tally from 2011. In fact, Ellsbury has never slugged more than nine in any other season.
That could change during the upcoming campaign, however, as the left-handed hitter will likely belt a few extra long balls, courtesy of Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch. But again, don't expect him to slug as well as someone such as Edwin Encarnacion, who followed up his breakout 2012 campaign with another year of least 36 long balls and 104 RBIs. Factor in some speed -- he's swiped 20 bases across the past two seasons -- a homer-friendly park and a solid supporting cast, and you come out with Canada's premier power hitter.
So there you have it, MLB.com's Top 10 stars entering 2014. That's 10 down with more than 840 to go. Come on, keep reading. There's nothing cooler than baseball acumen.
Please feel free to check back for daily updates at mlb.com/preview, as the living online magazine will be constantly updated until the cry of "Play ball" is heard on Opening Day.
Zachary Finkelstein is a fantasy editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.