One of the best things about baseball is that you never know what to expect from one season to the next.
There are obviously established superstars throughout the league, but every year sees at least a handful of unknowns emerge from the shadows to become household names.
On the flip side of that, a few star players with lofty expectations inevitably come up short and wind up ranking as major disappointments for their respective teams.
At the end of the last season I wrote an article naming the biggest surprise and biggest disappointment for all 30 MLB teams. What follows is my best guess on who will fill those respective roles on each team during the upcoming season, and I look forward to defending my selections in the comments below.
RP Tommy Hunter
Biggest Surprise: RP Tommy Hunter
After trading Jim Johnson to the Oakland A's and seeing their deal with free agent Grant Balfour fall through, it looks as though the Orioles will stay in-house to fill their closer vacancy and turn things over to Tommy Hunter.
The burly right-hander posted a 2.81 ERA in 68 appearances as a setup man last season, and while he does not have prototypical ninth-inning stuff—posted just 7.1 K/9 last year—he doesn't walk hitters and gets a lot of groundballs. That should add up to plenty of saves for the 27-year-old.
Biggest Disappointment: RF Nick Markakis
After injuries limited him to just 104 games in 2012, Nick Markakis managed to stay healthy enough to play at least 157 games for the sixth time in seven seasons in 2013. While he managed to stay on the field, his production was down across the board.
His .271/.329/.356 line all represented career lows, while his doubles (28 to 24) and home runs (13 to 10) both fell off from the previous season despite tallying 214 more at-bats. He's only 30, and entering what could be a contract year if the team declines their $17.5 million option on him for 2015, but he didn't look like the impact player he once was last year.
SP Anthony Ranaudo
Biggest Surprise: SP Anthony Ranaudo
The Red Sox will enter the 2014 season with a veteran rotation, and injuries could play a factor this coming season as a result. The team has some depth with Felix Doubront and Allen Webster waiting in the wings, but 2014 could be the season when top prospect Anthony Ranaudo gets a chance to show what he can do.
After an up-and-down first two pro seasons, the big right-hander was 11-5 with a 2.96 ERA over 140 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season. If the 24-year-old gets an opportunity, he could make some serious noise in Boston this coming season.
Biggest Disappointment: SP Clay Buchholz
It looked like Clay Buchholz was on his way to a Cy Young-caliber season last year, as he went 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA though his first 12 starts. Shoulder and neck problems sidelined him in June, though, keeping him on the shelf until September.
His stuff was not the same upon returning, but he still managed to finish the season 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA in 16 total starts. It's been an up-and-down career for Buchholz, and expecting him to pitch like he did in the first half of last year may be too much for him to live up to.
SP Michael Pineda
Biggest Surprise: SP Michael Pineda
The Yankees shipped highly regarded catching prospect Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Michael Pineda prior to the 2012 season, but he has yet to throw a pitch for the big-league club.
He was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA and 173 strikeouts in 171 innings as a rookie for the Mariners in 2011, but he's been recovering from right shoulder surgery for most of the past two years.
He returned to make 10 starts in the minors last year, going 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA and 9.1 K/9. This spring, he'll be competing for the No. 5 starter spot in the Yankees rotation in hopes that he can get his once-promising career back on track.
Biggest Disappointment: SS Derek Jeter
After his $9.5 million option was declined, the Yankees to re-upped with Derek Jeter on a $12 million deal, despite the fact that he played a grand total of 17 games in 2013.
Expecting the 39-year-old to return to his 2012 form, in which he hit .316/.362/.429 and led the AL in hits, is a long shot. Ankle, thigh and calf issues all cost him time last year, so at this point, getting league-average shortstop production out of him would be a plus.
Expectations will remain high given the fact that he's Derek Jeter, but he could have some trouble living up to them.
SP Jake Odorizzi
Biggest Surprise: SP Jake Odorizzi
The Rays once again have an abundance of pitching talent, likely leaving right-hander Jake Odorizzi on the outside looking in for a rotation spot to kick off the season. That said, he'll likely get a chance at some point, whether it is as a result of David Price being traded or someone going down with an injury.
The 23-year-old was acquired along with Wil Myers in last offseason's James Shields trade, and he was 9-6 with a 3.33 ERA and 9.0 K/9 in 22 minor-league starts last year before holding his own over 29.2 innings in Tampa Bay.
He has the stuff to be the next terrific Rays pitcher, he just needs an opportunity—and it should come at some point in 2014.
Biggest Disappointment: 1B James Loney
Plucked from the free-agent scrapheap with a one-year, $2 million deal last offseason, James Loney benefited greatly from a change of scenery, hitting .299/.348/.430 with 13 home runs and 75 RBI.
With limited options on the free-agent market to replace him, the Rays opted to re-sign him to a three-year, $21 million deal this winter. He's no longer the bargain he was last season, and something like a .270/.320/.400 line may be more realistic for the upcoming year, so for the small-market Rays, he could wind up being viewed as a disappointment after the deal he signed.
SP Kyle Drabek
Biggest Surprise: SP Kyle Drabek
A key piece in the trade that sent Roy Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies prior to the 2010 season, Kyle Drabek went a combined 8-12 with a 5.40 ERA in 2011 and 2012 before being shelved with an arm injury that eventually required Tommy John surgery.
The former top prospect is now 26, and he'll be given every chance to win the No. 5 starter spot this spring. He's something of a forgotten man at this point, but he pitched well in the minors after returning last year and could be in a position to surprise in 2014.
Biggest Disappointment: C Dioner Navarro
After watching J.P. Arencibia hit .194/.227/.365 over 474 at-bats last season, it was clear that the Blue Jays needed to make a change at catcher. Arencibia was non-tendered, and the team signed free agent Dioner Navarro to a two-year, $8 million deal to serve as the primary backstop.
Navarro was among the bigger surprises of the 2013 season, as he posted an .856 OPS with 13 home runs in 240 at-bats as the Chicago Cubs backup catcher. Those numbers are impressive, but he hasn't been a starter since his time with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009, and expecting him to produce over extended playing time certainly comes with some risk.
3B Matt Davidson
Biggest Surprise: 3B Matt Davidson
The White Sox have continued to focus on adding young, major-league ready talent to the roster this offseason, pulling off a pair of blockbuster deals with the Arizona Diamondbacks and signing Cuban slugger Jose Abreu. While Abreu is expected to be a significant power source from the get-go, former Diamondbacks third base prospect Matt Davidson could be the biggest surprise.
Blocked by Martin Prado in Arizona, he'll get every chance to break camp as the team's starting third baseman. He's hit 78 home runs over the past four seasons in the minor leagues and has legitimate 30-home-run power thanks to a strong 6'2" and 225-pound frame. In hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field, he could turn in a big rookie season as a 23-year-old and lock down the hot corner for the next decade on the South Side.
Biggest Disappointment: SP John Danks
From 2008-2010, John Danks went a combined 40-31 with a 3.61 ERA, as he emerged as one of the better left-handed starters in the American League. Despite a sub par 2011 season, the team signed him to a five-year, $65 million deal prior to the 2012 season.
Still owed $42.75 million on that deal, Danks made just nine starts in 2012 before undergoing shoulder surgery, and he returned last season to go an unimpressive 4-14 with a 4.75 ERA. The hope is that he'll return to form and perhaps have some trade value this coming season, but the White Sox may very well be stuck with his contract as they continue to rebuild.
SP Danny Salazar
Biggest Surprise: SP Danny Salazar
Not even ranked among the Top 100 prospects according to Baseball America or MLB.com entering last season, right-hander Danny Salazar quickly emerged as the Indians best pitching prospect. Through 21 games (20 starts) between Double-A and Triple-A last year, he was 6-5 with a 2.71 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 93 innings.
He continued to impress in Cleveland, going 2-3 with a 3.12 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 52 innings over 12 starts before taking the ball in the team's Wild Card Round game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
With Scott Kazmir gone and Ubaldo Jimenez also likely to sign elsewhere, the team will be counting on him to step up in the rotation, and he has the stuff to join Justin Masterson atop the staff in 2014.
Biggest Disappointment: SP Trevor Bauer
Acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the three-team trade that sent Shin-Soo Choo to the Cincinnati Reds, Trevor Bauer was the No. 14 prospect in baseball entering last season, according to Baseball America. After going 12-2 with a 2.42 ERA and 157 strikeouts in 130.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A the previous season, he was expected to contend for a rotation spot in camp.
Instead, he opened the season in Triple-A, where he went just 6-7 with a 4.15 ERA over 22 starts. Sprinkled in between, he made four starts in Cleveland, going 1-2 with a 5.29 ERA and 16 walks in 17 innings of work.
He's still just 23, and the stuff that made him the No. 3 pick in the 2011 draft is still there. If he can't reign in his control, though, he could be headed for another disappointing season in 2014.
SP Drew Smyly
Biggest Surprise: SP Drew Smyly
Drew Smyly was relegated to the bullpen last season after the Tigers re-signed Anibal Sanchez, and he thrived as the team's primary setup man, posting a 2.37 ERA and 9.6 K/9 over 63 appearances. With Doug Fister traded to the Washington Nationals this offseason, the door is now open for the left-hander to return to the rotation.
Smyly broke into the league as a starter in 2012, going 4-3 with a 3.99 ERA over 23 games (18 starts), and he actually pitched better as a starter that year with a 4-3 record and 3.79 ERA.
He'll need to stretch things out this spring, and there is no doubt a different mind set to starting than there is to relieving, but there's no reason to think he can't be a plus option at the back of the rotation.
Biggest Disappointment: 3B Nick Castellanos
The Tigers were already expected to give Nick Castellanos a shot at an everyday job this spring, but following their trade of Prince Fielder it looks like that shot will come at his original position of third base as opposed to left field were he worked last season.
The 21-year-old has been among the youngest players each step of the way in the minors, and he's coming off of a season in which he hit .276/.343/.450 with 37 doubles, 18 home runs and 76 RBI in Triple-A.
He has the hit tool to contend for a batting title and be a perennial .300-hitter down the line, and he should develop some solid power. However, he still has some growing to do offensively, and it would be best to temper expectations in his rookie season. Something like a .250/.310/.400 line with 12 home runs could be what he puts up as a rookie in 2014.
SP Danny Duffy
Biggest Surprise: SP Danny Duffy
After missing almost all of the 2012 season with Tommy John surgery, Danny Duffy returned in June of last year and rejoined the Royals' rotation in on Aug. 7 last season. He went 2-0 with a 1.85 ERA over five starts before being shut down with a strain in the same elbow.
The former top prospect is still just 25, and he will be two years removed from the surgery in June. Pitchers are generally strongest during their second year back from Tommy John, and as long as he can avoid any further issues with the elbow, he could be a pleasant surprise at the back end of the Royals' rotation.
Biggest Disappointment: SS Alcides Escobar
After hitting just .245/.289/.335 combined in his first two seasons as an everyday player, Alcides Escobar looked to have turned a corner offensively in 2012. In what was his second season with the Royals after coming over in the Zack Greinke trade, Escobar hit .293/.331/.390 with 35 stolen bases as a 25-year-old.
He remains one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, but he took a big step back at the plate last year. His line dropped to .234/.259/.300, and his total bases fell from 236 to 182 despite tallying two more at-bats.
He remains the unquestioned starter thanks to his glove, but this will be a telling year for his bat as he enters his age-27 season.
RF Oswaldo Arcia
Biggest Surprise: RF Oswaldo Arcia
Oswaldo Arcia burst onto the prospect scene in 2012, hitting .320/.388/.539 with 36 doubles, 17 home runs and 98 RBI as a 21-year-old between High-A and Double-A. After tearing up Triple-A pitching to the tune of a .313/.426/.594 line and 10 home runs over 38 games last year, he was called up to Minnesota.
He managed to out-perform fellow rookie Aaron Hicks, hitting .251/.304/.430 with 17 doubles, 14 home runs and 43 RBI in 351 at-bats, though wrist issues plagued him in the second half.
He still has some work to do on his plate discipline, but he'll likely be penciled into the No. 5 spot in the lineup this coming season, and 30 home runs are a real possibility if he can get 550 at-bats.
Biggest Disappointment: SP Ricky Nolasco
Chances are Ricky Nolasco will post similar numbers to what he has throughout his career this coming season, as he'll be good for a dozen or so wins and an ERA hovering around 4.00. Those are solid middle-of-the-rotation numbers, and in today's pitching market, you can argue he's worth $49 million over four years.
However, he comes to a Minnesota Twins club that is starved for better starting pitching after their rotation posted a 5.26 ERA last season. As a result, his deal represents the largest free-agent contract the team has ever given out. He'll likely take the ball on Opening Day and be asked to serve as the staff ace, and all of that added pressure could lead to a disappointing season from Nolasco.
RP Josh Fields
Biggest Surprise: RP Josh Fields
The Astros have been far more active this offseason than they have the past couple seasons, and the bullpen was their biggest area of focus. A trio of veterans in Jesse Crain, Chad Qualls and Matt Albers were signed in free agency in an effort to better protect leads for their young rotation.
As of now, it looks like Crain will get the first crack at the closer job, but incumbent right-hander Josh Fields has the tools to wind up with the job. The No. 1 pick in the Rule 5 draft last year, Fields had a less-than-impressive season on the surface with a 4.97 ERA over 41 appearances. However, he had a 1.62 ERA with four saves and three holds over his final 16 appearances, and the 28-year-old could be poised to make a name for himself in 2014.
Biggest Disappointment: SP Jarred Cosart
On the surface, Jarred Cosart had a dominant rookie season, going 1-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 60 innings of work over 10 starts in his first taste of big-league action. He joined Brett Oberholtzer as a pleasant surprise in the rotation last season and looked to finally be tapping into his vast potential.
However, a closer look at the numbers reveals a 4.35 FIP and .246 BABIP, as he was the beneficiary of some terrific luck in 2013. He also walked more batters (35) than he struck out (33), and his 5.3 BB/9 mark was the second-highest in baseball among pitchers with at least 60 innings of work. As such, some substantial regression can be expected in 2014.
SP Mark Mulder
Biggest Surprise: SP Mark Mulder
Mark Mulder has not thrown a pitch in the big leagues since 2008, and he has not been an effective big-league pitcher since 2005, but the 36-year-old is now on the comeback trail after signing a minor-league deal with the Angels this offseason.
After emulating the way Paco Rodriguez breaks his glove near his head as opposed to his waist and seeing impressive results while playing catch with former teammate Kyle Lohse, Mulder decided to try making a comeback, and the Angels saw enough in a workout to offer him a contract.
Considering he had a solid job as a Baseball Tonight analyst, it's fair to assume Mulder would not be trying this unless he really thought he had a chance. It will be a fun story to follow this spring, and I'll certainly be among those rooting for him to pull it off.
Biggest Disappointment: DH Raul Ibanez
While the Mark Trumbo trade brought the Angels some much-needed pitching, it did cost them a guy who led the team with 34 home runs and 100 RBI last season. The hope is that bounce-back seasons from Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton can offset that loss, but it's hard to know what to expect out of those two guys at this point.
The team signed Raul Ibanez to a one-year, $2.75 million deal to replace Trumbo in the lineup, and after he hit 29 home runs last season, there is some hope he can help pick up the slack. However, the 41-year-old hit just .203/.295/.345 with five home runs and nine RBI after the All-Star break last year, and he may be nearing the end of the line.
SP Sonny Gray
Biggest Surprise: SP Sonny Gray
Sonny Gray didn't make his big-league debut until July 10, but by the end of the season, he was the A's best starter. In 12 games (10 starts) during the regular season, he was 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 64 innings of work.
He followed that up by throwing eight innings of four-hit, shutout baseball in Game 2 of the ALDS, though he wound up with a no-decision, as the A's came away with a walk-off victory in the bottom of the ninth.
The 24-year-old will likely open the season as the No. 3 starter behind Jarrod Parker and Scott Kazmir, but by the end of the season, he may very well be the ace of the staff.
Biggest Disappointment: RP Jim Johnson
With Grant Balfour gone in free agency, the A's pulled off a trade to acquire All-Star closer Jim Johnson from the Baltimore Orioles for disappointing second baseman Jemile Weeks. Johnson has led the AL in saves in each of the past two seasons, but his ERA jumped from 2.49 to 2.94 last year, and he also led the AL with nine blown saves.
The A's bullpen is deep, with Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle and Luke Gregerson forming perhaps the best trio of setup arms in baseball. That could mean a short leash for Johnson if he struggles again, and considering he'll have the second-highest salary on the team next year at $10 million, anything but All-Star level production will be a disappointment.
SP James Paxton
Biggest Surprise: SP James Paxton
It's right-hander Taijuan Walker who is receiving all the hype in Seattle and around baseball as the arguably the top pitching prospect in the game, and rightfully so, as he has an incredibly bright future. However, left-hander James Paxton could very well be the better pitcher in 2014.
Walker held his own over three starts down the stretch last year, but Paxton was even better in four starts of his own, going 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA and solid peripherals of 2.6 BB/9 and 7.9 K/9. The 25-year-old has been in the shadow of Walker and Danny Hultzen throughout his development, but he could be the first of the trio to truly break out.
Biggest Disappointment: LF Logan Morrison
After trading for Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse last offseason and seeing mixed results, the Mariners employed a similar strategy this offseason by acquiring a pair of 1B/OF/DH types in Corey Hart and Logan Morrison at the winter meetings.
Add Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero to the mix, and the team is once again overloaded with bats that are limited defensively.
While Hart was a nice buy-low candidate coming off of a lost 2013 season, Morrison has been injury-prone throughout his career and less-than-impressive when he's been on the field. Since hitting 23 home runs with a .797 OPS back in 2011, he's played just 178 total games with a .708 OPS and 17 home runs. He's still just 26, and the Mariners didn't give up much to get him, but expecting him to be a middle of the order run producer may be a little much at this point.
2B Jurickson Profar
Biggest Surprise: 2B Jurickson Profar
After entering the 2013 season as the No. 1 prospect in baseball, some pointed to Jurickson Profar as a disappointment after he hit just .234/.308/.336 as a rookie. While those numbers aren't great, Profar saw just 286 at-bats while playing all over the field, as he was never really able to settle in.
With the offseason trade of Ian Kinsler to the Detroit Tigers, he's now in a position to see everyday at-bats as the starting second baseman. He's still only 20 years old, and his best seasons are still likely well ahead of him. However, he's more than capable of a .270/.325/.400 line with double-digit home runs and steals in 2014, with the potential for more.
Biggest Disappointment: SP Matt Harrison
Matt Harrison was the Rangers best pitcher in 2012, going 18-11 with a 3.29 ERA while making his first All-Star appearance and finishing eighth in AL Cy Young voting. He got the ball on Opening Day last year but made it just two starts before being lost for the season.
He first underwent a pair of surgeries on his back to repair a herniated disk, and then he had surgery on his left shoulder after dealing with thoracic outlet syndrome. His status to start the season is still up in the air, and with Derek Holland lost until midseason, Harrison becomes that much more important to the Rangers. If he winds up missing more time to injury, he could turn out to be a big disappointment in 2014.
SP David Hale
Biggest Surprise: SP David Hale
There remains some question as to who will fill the No. 5 starter spot in the Braves' rotation this coming season, and while Alex Wood and Freddy Garcia are likely ahead of him on the depth chart, David Hale is one guy who could wind up making a surprise contribution before the season is over.
The 26-year-old has nothing left to prove in the minors, and he was 1-0 with a 0.82 ERA over 11 innings of work in two starts for the big-league club last season. That included a terrific 14-1 K/BB ratio, as he has the stuff to be effective as a starter.
In the end, he could wind up in the bullpen this coming season, but expect him to make an impact one way or another.
Biggest Disappointment: 3B Chris Johnson
Few would have guessed Chris Johnson would be in the running for the NL batting title when the 2013 season started, and he nearly won it, as his .321 mark trailed only Michael Cuddyer, who hit .331 for the Colorado Rockies. Johnson added 34 doubles, 12 home runs and 68 RBI to what was an all-around surprise season for a guy who was essentially a throw-in piece in the Justin Upton deal.
It was not his first solid season, either, as he hit .281/.326/.451 with 28 doubles, 15 home runs and 76 RBI in 2012. Those numbers are likely more reasonable expectations for the upcoming season, but after playing so well last year, he has no doubt set himself up to be a disappointment of sorts this year.
CF Marcell Ozuna
Biggest Surprise: CF Marcell Ozuna
Fellow outfield prospect Christian Yelich may have the brighter future ahead of him, but Marcell Ozuna has all the tools to be an impact bat in the Marlins outfield as well. The power potential is certainly there, as he posted three-straight seasons with 20-plus home runs in the minors despite being among the younger players at each level.
He held his own over 275 big-league at-bats last year, hitting .265/.303/.389 with 17 doubles and three home runs before his season ended prematurely with surgery on his left thumb. He should be back to 100 percent this coming season, and with every chance to win a spot in the everyday lineup, a 20-home-run season is not out of the question.
Biggest Disappointment: C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
After selling big again last offseason, the Marlins set to work plugging some holes by signing veteran stop-gap options this offseason. One signing that figures to be part of the long-term picture, though, is Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who cashed in on helping the Boston Red Sox win a title last season, with a three-year, $21 million deal.
The 28-year-old had the best season of his career at the plate in 2013, hitting .273/.338/.466 with 14 home runs and 65 RBI. However, with a .372 BABIP, he is likely in for a decent step back in 2014, and something similar to the .228/.288/.452 line he posted the previous two seasons may be more likely.
SP Jenrry Mejia
Biggest Surprise: SP Jenrry Mejia
Jenrry Mejia has seemingly been a top prospect in the Mets' organization forever, as it was all the way back in 2010 that he made his debut in the team's bullpen as a 20-year-old rookie. The right-hander made 33 appearances that season, pitching to a 4.62 ERA, but that quick bump from the minors seemed to do more harm than good over the long-term.
He missed 2011 due to Tommy John surgery and the first half of last season with elbow inflammation. He returned in July to make five starts, though, going 1-2 with a 2.30 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 27.1 innings, before undergoing surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow in August.
He should be ready to go by Opening Day, and he will have a chance at the No. 5 starter spot. If he can stay healthy and win the job, he could finally be in for a big season in 2014.
Biggest Disappointment: LF Curtis Granderson
The Mets got their man this offseason in their search to improve outfield production, signing Curtis Granderson to a four-year, $60 million deal just before the winter meetings. The 2013 season was essentially a lost year for the 32-year-old, as a pair of hit-by-pitch injuries limited him to 61 games.
Those were freak injuries, and his durability has never been an issue in the past, so health is not what makes him a potential disappointment. Instead, it's how he changed his offensive game during his time with the Yankees that could make for a poor season.
Granderson was a dynamic all-around offensive player when he was in Detroit, but he turned into an all-or-nothing home-run hitter with a low average in New York. He won't have the short porch in right field to use anymore, and if he can't rework his approach, he could be a major disappointment.
SP Miguel Gonzalez
Biggest Surprise: SP Miguel Gonzalez
A highly sought-after arm after defecting from Cuba, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez originally agreed to a six-year, $48 million deal with an option last August, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports. That deal eventually fell apart, though, when concerns over the health of his elbow popped up, and he wound up settling on a three-year, $12 million deal.
It's essentially a roll of the dice for the Phillies, as he has the stuff to be a $10-million-per-year guy but comes with some inherent health risk. If he can stay healthy all season, he could wind up being an absolute steal and a pleasant surprise for a Phillies team in need of some positive breaks on the health side of things.
Biggest Disappointment: RF Marlon Byrd
Despite a clear need to get younger and start rebuilding, the Phillies opted to sign the 36-year-old Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16 million contract after a surprise 2013 comeback season.
After settling for a minor-league deal with the New York Mets last winter, Byrd ended up hitting 35 doubles and 24 home runs, finishing the season hitting in the middle of the order for the playoff-bound Pittsburgh Pirates.
As good a story as he was, however, a quick look at his .353 BABIP and 16.45 HR/FB rate shows that he's as good a candidate for significant regression as anyone in the league.
2B Anthony Rendon
Biggest Surprise: 2B Anthony Rendon
With Danny Espinosa struggling mightily, the Nationals turned over everyday second base duties to top prospect Anthony Rendon. Drafted as a third baseman, Rendon was blocked by Ryan Zimmerman long-term, and his offensive tools made him a good bet to emerge as one of the best offensive second basemen in the game.
After hitting .330/.358/.473 in June, his production fell off some, and he finished the year with a .265/.329/.396 line over 351 at-bats. With a starting job entering camp and another season of experience under his belt, he is primed for a breakout year, and a .300 average with double-digit home runs is well within reach.
Biggest Disappointment: C Wilson Ramos
The Nationals appeared to have come away with a steal when they acquired Wilson Ramos from the Minnesota Twins for closer Matt Caps at the deadline in 2010. He hit .267/.334/.445 with 15 home runs and 52 RBI as a 23-year-old the following season, finishing fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting in the process.
Since then, however, he has played in just 103 total games, as injuries have derailed him. It was right knee surgery that cost him time in 2012, and it was issues with soreness in the same knee and a left hamstring ailment that kept him on the sidelines this past year.
He's still just 26, but another injury-plagued season could lead the Nationals to start looking elsewhere for a long-term catching solution.
2B Arismendy Alcantara
Biggest Surprise: 2B Arismendy Alcantara
The Cubs foursome of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler get the bulk of the attention as far as their farm system is concerned, but they are far from the only potential impact players in the system. Arismendy Alcantara boosted his prospect stock as much as any player in baseball last year, and he could challenge for a starting job in 2014.
After a solid season at the High-A level in 2012, Alcantara hit .271/.352/.451 with 36 doubles, 15 home runs and 31 steals as a 21-year-old in Double-A this past year, showing far more power than he had to that point. With light-hitting second baseman Darwin Barney's days as the everyday starter likely numbered, Alcantara could seize the job by midseason and provide a spark similar to what Junior Lake did last year.
Biggest Disappointment: LF Junior Lake
Speaking of Lake, he was perhaps the biggest surprise among Cubs players last year, hitting .284/.332/.428 with six home runs over 236 at-bats. An infielder by trade, he shifted to the outfield and more than held his own defensively as well, setting himself up for an everyday job in 2014.
As good as he was last year, it's hard to ignore the fact that Lake was just a .271/.322/.411 hitter over seven minor-league seasons. He profiled as a fringe big-league regular or solid bench player throughout his development before turning heads after arriving in Chicago last year. A .377 BABIP last year and his minor-league track record point to a step back for Lake in 2014.
C Devin Mesoraco
Biggest Surprise: C Devin Mesoraco
Despite ranking among the top catching prospects in the game, Devin Mesoraco has taken a back seat to light-hitting Ryan Hanigan the past two seasons due to manager Dusty Baker's penchant for going with veterans over young guys. With Baker gone and Hanigan traded to the Tampa Bay Rays, the job is all Mesoraco's in 2014.
Though he hit just .238/.287/.362 last year over 323 at-bats, he did manage 13 doubles and nine home runs. He hit .289/.371/.484 in his last full season in the minors back in 2011 with 36 doubles and 15 home runs. A line somewhere in the middle around .265/.330/.410 with 15-plus home runs is doable this coming season, and that would put him among the more productive catchers in the NL.
Biggest Disappointment: CF Billy Hamilton
With Shin-Soo Choo gone in free agency, the Reds are set to turn center field and leadoff duties over to speedster Billy Hamilton. The 23-year-old made headlines in 2012, when he stole a minor-league record 155 bases between High-A and Double-A while also hitting a solid .311/.410/.420.
He was an impressive 13-for-14 on stolen base attempts for the Reds down the stretch last season, but it's hard to ignore his Triple-A line of .256/.308/.343 prior to being called up. That's an OBP 115 points lower than what Choo posted atop the lineup last season, and it's conceivable that it could drop below .300 at the big-league level.
His speed is an incredible weapon, but as the old adage goes: "you can't steal first base."
LF Khris Davis
Biggest Surprise: LF Khris Davis
The Brewers saw enough from Khris Davis last season to trade Norichika Aoki to the Kansas City Royals this offseason, opening up an everyday job for the 26-year-old this coming season. Davis will man left field with Ryan Braun sliding over to play right field.
There was a lot to like about what Davis brought to the table last year, as he hit .279/.353/.596 with 10 doubles and 11 home runs in just 136 at-bats. Obviously, those numbers won't project over 550 at-bats, but he seems like a safe bet for 25-plus home runs and 80-plus RBI, as he could be the next breakout star in the Brewers' lineup.
Biggest Disappointment: SS Jean Segura
Jean Segura was among the biggest surprises of the first half of the season last year, as he hit .325/.363/.487 and had a whopping 121 hits at the break, including 30 of the extra-base variety. That earned him a trip to the All-Star Game in his first full season, and he made the Brewers look like geniuses for the Zack Greinke trade.
He fell off significantly in the second half, though, hitting just .241/.268/.315 with 12 extra-base hits. That still left him with an impressive final stat line, and expectations remain high for the 23-year-old entering his second season. He may not be as bad as his second-half numbers indicate, but he's also not as good as his first-half stats either, and that could lead to some disappointment.
SP Charlie Morton
Biggest Surprise: SP Charlie Morton
While Francisco Liriano gets the bulk of the attention for his part in helping the Pirates reach the playoffs last year, right-hander Charlie Morton was just as important in shoring up the staff. He didn't make his season debut until June while recovering from Tommy John surgery the previous year, but once he did, he was among the team's most consistent starters.
All told, he finished the year 7-4 with a 3.26 ERA and 1.28 WHIP over 20 starts, and his return came just as first-half breakout star Jeff Locke began a steep fall off. The performance earned Morton a three-year, $21 million extension, and he could be in for a big season in his second year back from Tommy John.
Biggest Disappointment: SP Edinson Volquez
The Pirates struck gold on a one-year, $2 million flier they gave Francisco Liriano last offseason, and they appear to be looking to do the same with Edinson Volquez this time around, signing the right-hander to a one-year, $5 million deal.
Volquez has some of the best stuff in baseball when he's on, but he's struggled with his command throughout his career (4.8 BB/9), and he failed to miss bats far too often last year (10.2 H/9) to be an effective starter.
After taking the ball on Opening Day for the San Diego Padres last year, the pressure will be down in 2014, as he'll be asked only to fill the No. 5 starter spot for the Pirates. Still, unless something clicks in terms of his command, it's hard to imagine things will be any different in Pittsburgh.
CF Peter Bourjos
Biggest Surprise: CF Peter Bourjos
Before Mike Trout arrived in Los Angeles, it was Peter Bourjos who had people talking after he hit .271/.327/.438 with an AL-best 11 triples and 22 steals in 2011. He's seen a grand total of 343 at-bats in the two seasons since, though, as he was relegated to the bench in 2012 and missed time with a wrist injury last year.
The Cardinals shipped David Freese to the Angles in a four-player trade in which they acquired Bourjos this offseason, and he'll supplant Jon Jay in center field. With decent on-base skills and plus speed, he could get a crack at the No. 2 spot in the order. And with a terrific lineup around him, a breakout season is a very real possibility.
Biggest Disappointment: 2B Kolten Wong
The trade of Freese allows the Cardinals to move Matt Carpenter to third base in order to open things up for prospect Kolten Wong to step into the everyday second base job. Wong has done nothing but hit since being drafted in 2011, and he posted a .303/.369/.466 line in Triple-A last year.
He struggled after being called up in August, though, going just 9-for-59 down the stretch. The team signed veteran Mark Ellis to a one-year, $5.25 million deal as insurance, as it could be an up-and-down first full season for Wong.
He still profiles as the long-term answer at second base, but he may not be able to hold the job down everyday in 2014.
SP Brandon McCarthy
Biggest Surprise: SP Brandon McCarthy
After going 17-15 with a 3.29 ERA in 43 starts with the Oakland A's the previous two seasons, the biggest question surrounding Brandon McCarthy was whether or not he would stay on the field. Still, the Diamondbacks took a chance on him with a two-year, $15.5 million deal last offseason.
The right-hander stayed healthy enough to make 22 starts, but he was just 5-11 with a 4.53 ERA and ranked as one of the bigger disappointments on the team. That said, he finished the year strong, going 3-3 with a 2.94 ERA in his last seven starts. The Diamondbacks staff lacks a true frontline arm, and if he can pitch like that over 25 starts, it would be a huge boost for them.
Biggest Disappointment: SP Patrick Corbin
There were questions as to whether Patrick Corbin would even make the Opening Day roster last spring, but he edged out Tyler Skaggs for the No. 5 starter spot and quickly emerged as the team's top starter. At the All-Star break, he was legitimately in the running for NL Cy Young, going 11-1 with a 2.35 ERA in his first 19 starts.
Things unraveled from there, though, and he went just 3-7 with a 5.19 ERA in 13 second-half starts. The 24-year-old should still be an above-average big-league starter moving forward, but he's more of a No. 3 starter type than a Cy Young candidate, and that could leave some fans disappointed in 2014.
3B Nolan Arenado
Biggest Surprise: 3B Nolan Arenado
Nolan Arenado's glove ranked as probably the biggest surprise for the Rockies in 2013, as he captured the NL Gold Glove at third base and was far and away the best fielder at the position. It's his bat that could surprise in 2014, though, as he looks to take the next step forward.
He held his own at the plate last season, hitting .267/.301/.405 with 29 doubles and 10 home runs over 486 at-bats. This is also a guy that flashed plus power while hitting .299/.345/.473 during his time in the minors, and with his glove, he could emerge as one of the best all-around third basemen in the game next season.
Biggest Disappointment: SP Brett Anderson
Looking to improve their rotation behind the trio of Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood, the Rockies shipped Drew Pomeranz and Chris Jensen to the Oakland A's for 2013 Opening Day starter Brett Anderson.
Anderson broke into the league in 2009, going 11-11 with a 4.06 ERA as a 21-year-old, as he looked like a future star. He's made just 54 total appearances (43 starts) in the four years since then, though, as injuries have sidelined him time and again.
He has shown flashes of brilliance at times, but until he proves he can stay on the field, disappointment seems like the most likely outcome here.
SP Josh Beckett
Biggest Surprise: SP Josh Beckett
Josh Beckett made just eight starts for the Dodgers last season, going 0-5 with a 5.19 ERA before thoracic outlet syndrome and subsequent right shoulder surgery ended his season. He's expected to be healthy for Opening Day, and with a $15.75 million salary, he'll get every chance to land a rotation spot.
It's easy to forget just how good Beckett was at times in Florida and Boston—and even when he first came to the Dodgers in 2012, as he posted a 2.93 ERA in seven starts down the stretch. The 33-year-old is no longer asked to be a staff ace, but he could very well be the best No. 5 starter in baseball if he can stay healthy.
Biggest Disappointment: 2B Alexander Guerrero
The Dodgers struck gold with their signing of Yasiel Puig, and they will be looking to do the same with another Cuban defector this season after signing Alex Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million deal to serve as their everyday second baseman.
With the likes of Mark Ellis, Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto gone, the team has no clear backup plan in place, so they are relying heavily on Guerrero to hold down the job.
After not being named to Team Cuba for the WBC, Guerrero was upset, and he sat out the regular season as a result. That could mean shaking off a decent amount of rust this season, and while he is supposed to be a plus defender, his offensive game is far less refined than that of Puig and other recent Cuban defectors.
He'll be out there to open the season for lack of a better option, but whether or not he's big-league ready remains to be seen.
2B Jedd Gyorko
Biggest Surprise: 2B Jedd Gyorko
Blocked by Chase Headley at his natural position of third base, Jedd Gyorko slid over to second last season and immediately became one of the best power threats at the position as a rookie. He finished the year with 26 doubles and 23 home runs in 486 at-bats, though he hit just .249/.301/.444 in the process.
He stepped up his production over the final two months of the year, tallying nine doubles, 15 home runs and 37 RBI over his final 52 games. That could be a preview of what's to come in 2014, as he has legitimate 30-home-run power and should see his average climb into the .270 range before too long.
Biggest Disappointment: 3B Chase Headley
After a monster second half in 2012 in which he hit .308/.386/.592 with 23 home runs and 73 RBI, Chase Headley was a hot commodity on the trade market last offseason. The Padres opted against dealing him, though, hoping instead that he would repeat those numbers and the two sides would come terms on an extension.
Fast forward one year: with Headley is coming off a disappointing season, the two sides have yet to come to terms on an extension and his trade value is a fraction of what it once was. The plan now appears to be to hold onto him until July in hopes that he regains some value. But if that doesn't happen and the team winds up selling low on him, it would be among the biggest disappointments in franchise history.
3B Pablo Sandoval
Biggest Surprise: 3B Pablo Sandoval
Having lost a reported 42 pounds this offseason and entering a contract year in which he could potentially be the biggest bat on the market next winter, all signs point to a big year from Pablo Sandoval.
He stayed healthy last season and posted respectable numbers with a .278/.341/.417 line to go along with 14 home runs and 79 RBI. That's a far cry from where he was expected to be as a 26-year-old, though, given how well his career started out. This is his chance to silence the critics and fulfill his potential, and a .300 BA/30 HR/100 RBI season is not out of the question.
Biggest Disappointment: CF Gary Brown
The Giants' first-round pick in 2010, Gary Brown burst onto the scene the following season by hitting .336/.407/.519 with 61 extra-base hits and 53 steals in High-A. That shot him up from unranked in 2011 to No. 38 in 2012 on the Baseball America prospect list.
Things have been a struggle since, though, as he hit just .231/.286/.375 at Triple-A last season and has yet to make his big-league debut. This could very well be a make-or-break season for Brown in his second go-around at the Triple-A level, and if he doesn't take a big step forward, his stock will continue to plummet.