Post-scoring handshakes were common for Carpenter last year. (USAT)
Fantasy is a speculative game. Predict the future, and you look like a genius. Don't, and you're painfully human. Gazing into the crystal ball, here's our view on a dozen middle infield over/unders entering the spring.
One of last summer's biggest breakout stars, Matt Carpenter, who set a blistering pace in runs last year leading the bigs with 126, plate touches in the follow-up 99.5
Brad – OVER. He's a high-contact hitter slated to bat leadoff in a favorable lineup. Only a catastrophic injury would prevent him from sailing over the 100-run mark yet again.
Scott – UNDER, since that's such a huge number. No other second baseman got past 92 runs last year, and it's a position filled with stars and name players. I'm thinking Carpenter scores around 90 runs in 2014, and I'm still bullish on his draft stock.
Andy – UNDER. Hitting triple-digits is no simple feat, you guys. It's hardly a responsible total to forecast for any player, outside the elite hitters. A single short-duration DL stint could put this out of reach.
Top Prospect face-off. Who finishes with more fantasy value come year's end: Xander Bogaerts, Brad Miller or Jurickson Profar.
Scott – MILLER has the best track record from the minors (by far), in part because he's three years ahead of the other two kids. He also has more major-league experience. Dynasty players might feel differently, but for 2014 only, meet me in Seattle.
Dalton – PROFAR. He has the highest pedigree, is the youngest and now has a full opportunity at playing time with Ian Kinsler traded. There’s an argument Miller is readier being older, but he’s also battling Nick Franklin for a starting job and plays in a much tougher hitter’s park. Don’t forget just how highly Profar was regarded entering last year.
Andy – PROFAR. For me, he has the highest ceiling. He also finds himself in an excellent hitting/run-scoring environment, plus he has a clear path to playing time.
Speed demon showdown. What shortstop swipes more bags: Everth Cabrera, Jonathan Villar or Elvis Andrus?
Brandon – CABRERA. He's averaged over 40 steals the past two seasons despite not playing more than 115 games in either campaign. With a full season of playing time ahead of him, he has a very realistic shot at 50-plus steals.
Andy – VILLAR. This battle is awfully close, and all three could easily clear the 40-steal plateau. Really, I just wanted an excuse to link to a clip of Villar stealing home. His wheels are among the very best in our game.
Dalton – CABRERA. He’s stolen 81 bases over the past two years in the major, a span in which averaged just 389.5 at-bats. He really cut down the strikeouts last season, which led to a .355 OBP. Only Billy Hamilton should be considered a bigger favorite to lead MLB in stolen bases in 2014.
Future first-ballot HOFer Derek Jeter, in his farewell tour, 74.5 runs this season.
Andy – OVER, mostly out of hope. I'd love to see Jeter close out his stellar career with a healthy-ish season. If he reaches this total, he'll finish among the all-time top-10 in runs scored, a remarkable accomplishment.
Dalton – OVER. This is obviously betting on Jeter staying relatively healthy, which doesn’t exactly have a great track record when it comes to 39-year-old shortstops. Still, this is a Hall of Famer in a great hitter’s park and a lineup that should be improved. Before last year, Jeter had never scored fewer than 84 runs in a season (and in that campaign he played in just 131 games) during his career.
Scott – OVER. The Yankees are going to keep Jeter at the top of the order somewhere - no matter if he deserves it - and although Jeter had an injury mess last year, he's been relatively durable for most of his career. One last time, with feeling: .277, 79 runs.
Brittle two-baggers. Who plays more games this year: Jed Lowrie or Chase Utley?
Dalton – LOWRIE. He’s four years younger and is coming off a season in which he played 154 games, which is more than Utley has played in since 2009. Admittedly, Lowrie had never played in 100 games before 2013, but part of that was due to opportunity. Still, this is close, and even with my Lowrie prediction here, I’d still take Utley first in fantasy leagues.
Scott – Have to go LOWRIE for the age difference (Utley is older by five years, four months). But I'm not paying for 130 games, not for either chap.
Brandon – LOWRIE. I'll give Lowrie the nod after holding up for 154 games last season, and for also being a half-decade younger than Utley. But I'd wager that both probably take at least one tour on the DL this season.
Jedd Gyorko, who smacked 23 homers in 125 games last year, home runs in 2014 27.5
Brandon – OVER. He pushed this number despite 37 DNPs last season. I think this guy is the real deal and I only expect him to keep taking steps forward for the next few years as he develops into an All-Star. And he didn't seem to have a problem with Petco's dimensions last season, as 13 of his 23 home runs were hit there. I'm putting him down for an even 30 dingers in '14.
Scott – UNDER. I tend to bet against buzzy sophomores, and Petco is still a place where right-handed power dies - it depressed RHB pop by 23 percent in 2013.
Dalton – OVER. PETCO saw a big boost in homers when they moved the fences in last year, but it was almost entirely by left handed batters. Gyorko clubbed 13 of his 23 homers at home last season, when he totaled 15 as a rookie after the All Star break. He’s a good bet to reach 30 bombs in 2014.
Many experts believe Segura has a leg up on SS competition. (USAT)
Jean Segura, who slowed down tremendously as the season dragged on last year, combined homers/steals in his sophomore campaign 56.5.
Brad – UNDER. Many will freak out about his second-half nosedive, but he's an extremely talented player entering his Age 24 season. Inexperience always causes some bumps in the road. I'm anticipating roughly 40 steals, but it's unlikely based on his minor-league track-record he'll exceed 17 homers. Still, because he'll provide considerable juice in runs, steals and BA, he remains an elite SS.
Brandon – OVER. This is right at the number he produced last season, his first full season in MLB. With a player of his age and talent, I'm thinking progression, not regression.
Scott – UNDER. The second-half slump (some might call it a correction) worries me, and Segura didn't show a lot of pop in the minors. I don't expect him to fall on his face, but I'm not aggressively targeting him this year, either.
Home-run derby. Who crushes more moonshots this summer J.J. Hardy or Aaron Hill?
Scott – HARDY has proven more durable, and he has the womb of Camden Yards (and the American League) to support the call. He's probably the most underrated fantasy shortstop in the game these days.
Dalton – HARDY. Over the last three years, Hardy has averaged 25.7 homers, whereas Hill has averaged 15.0. To be fair, Hill hit 62 home runs over the previous two seasons and both play in hitter’s parks. But I’ll bet on the more recent track records based on players of the same age.
Andy – HARDY. Nothing against Hill, but I happen to think Hardy is just weirdly under-appreciated. The man has given us five seasons of 20-plus homers, including the last three.
Robinson Cano, who made the biggest free agent splash this offseason switching coasts (New York to Seattle), overall pick drafted in mixed league 12.5. Also include your 5x5 projection for Mr. Mariner.
Dalton – UNDER. I have Cano currently as my No. 11 ranked player, but I’m more likely to lower him than move him up going forward. He’s moving from a home park that has increased HRs by LHB by 33 percent over the past three years – the best in MLB – to one that lowered them by 14 percent last year, even after moving the fences in. My Cano 2014 projection: .301-77-21-90-7
Andy – OVER. I won't be selecting him in the first round in mixers, but that's not to say I think he'd be a wasted pick. It's close. The guy doesn't miss games, he always hits .300-plus, and has generally proven to be uncommonly reliable/durable. Still, he's leaving a better home environment. I'll forecast something like 81-24-88-5-.305, and draft accordingly.
Brandon – UNDER. The top-shelf talent at MI is thin, so Cano definitely earns a premium position bump from me. And you like to look for high floors early, and Cano's consistency and durability gives him one of the most attractive floors among all players. My projection: .294, 24 HR, 93 RBI, 85 R, 6 SB.
Ian Kinsler, always an injury liability but a multi-cat contributor when healthy, combined homers/steals 37.5
Brandon – UNDER. He's failed to reach 140 games played in five of his eight seasons, so health is an obvious concern. And so is leaving Texas, where he owned a career .898 OPS compared to a lackluster .710 road mark.
Andy – OVER, slightly. Health is clearly a huge variable here, no question, but Kinsler is a top-of-the-order hitter who intends to run. He can give us an 18/22 season, even with a brief visit to the DL.
Scott – Have to go UNDER. Don't trust Kinsler's health and I don't like him out of Arlington. The Tigers tend to run significantly less than Texas every year, though I suppose things could change with Brad Ausmus taking over.
Late-round lottery tickets. Who would you go the extra dollar for: Alexander Guerrero, Anthony Rendon or Kolten Wong.
Scott – RENDON is needed more and he's been around the block already. Wong could be hurt by his batting slot and a possible platoon with Mark Ellis.
Dalton – WONG. Guerrero seems like a complete crap shoot, and there’s no question Wong has Mark Ellis as a threat for playing time. But Rendon has an extensive injury history, and the Cardinals have an extensive history of getting the best out of their prospects. But this is close.
Brandon – RENDON. He held his own in his first MLB tour last season, and as a hitter, I don't think the other two (Wong, Guerrero) can match Rendon's ceiling.
What highly publicized prospect gets the call first: Javier Baez, Addison Russell or Francisco Lindor? Also, list your projected date.
Dalton – BAEZ. Russell is probably the best bet long-term, but the Cubs are playing for the future and have second and third base open for competition in 2014. Even a Starlin Castro trade opening up shortstop shouldn’t be ruled out.
Brandon – RUSSELL. A's GM Billy Beane was recently quoted as saying that Russell was "knocking on the door" of making the team. After reaching Triple-A last season, Russell seems only a Jed Lowrie injury away from getting a taste of the big leagues. And, as we know, a Lowrie injury is never too far away.
Andy – BAEZ. It's no lock that he'll stick at short, but his power bat could play anywhere. The Cubs are going to need to give fans a reason (other than Old Style) to attend games this summer, and Baez is a great one. Here's hoping we see him by June 15.