Tony Cingrani, P, CIN - The warning signs were obvious; extreme reliance on the fastball (81.5 percent), low BABIP (.241) and below average command. Cingrani was, however, outstanding as a rookie, posting a 2.77 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 10.3 K/9 over 18 starts in 2013, while setting a major league record for most consecutive starts with five hits or fewer allowed. He got off to a decent enough start this season, with a 3.34 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 32.1 April innings, but a bout of shoulder tendinitis sent him to the shelf in early May. The 23-year-old would be shut back down in June with what was labeled a shoulder strain, and his attempts to start back up with a throwing program were halted by renewed soreness in the region. Full disclosure, I'm a Reds fan, but I saw Cingrani as a $12-16 player this past spring, putting him in SP3-4 territory in leagues that start nine pitchers. It clearly didn't work out, and long-term, I'm not sure Cingrani is much more than a late-inning reliever, though the team figures to stretch him back out this coming spring given its lack of organizational starting pitching depth. The shoulder remains a concern, and he scrapped his curveball from an already-thin repertoire (0.2 percent), after throwing it 7.2 percent of the time in 2013. Even if he's back at full health and manages to earn a rotation spot in spring training, I would be hesitant to throw more than a couple bucks at him in auction.
Justin Verlander, P, DET - A return to Cy Young form seemed unlikely following Verlander's lackluster (by his standards) 2013 campaign, but I still thought he was a lock for 200+ strikeouts, a number he had reached in five consecutive seasons entering 2014. Verlander finished strong last year, with a 2.27 ERA, .231 BAA and 4.8 K/BB over his final 39.2 regular season innings, and was dominant in the postseason (0.39 ERA over 21 innings), but he disappointed from start to finish this season, averaging 6.9 K/9, his lowest rate since 2006. Still just 31, Verlander has lost a full two miles per hour on his fastball over the past two seasons (from 94.3 to 92.3), and his swinging-strike rate plummeted to 8.7 percent this season, from 10.5 percent in 2013. His line drive rate actually improved this season to 19.8 percent, but he didn't even end up returning positive value according to the RotoWire Inseason Values tool, making the $34 I spent on him in Staff Keeper League 2 (inflation and scarcity people!) seem downright laughable.
Taijuan Walker, P, SEA - Walker came into spring training well behind schedule in his throwing program as a result of shoulder stiffness, and it became clear in the weeks that followed that he would not be ready to start the regular season. The right-hander did, however, seem to be making slow but steady progress throughout March, and even said that he expected to return "sometime in April," leading many, myself included, to invest in him in drafts and auctions. As it turned out, the ailment delayed Walker's 2014 big league debut until June 30, and he made just two starts before the Mariners optioned him to Triple-A. While frustrating, I was adamant that people should pick up and/or hold Walker in deeper leagues, as I was certain he'd be a factor in the second half. Well, he walked six over five innings in a start shortly after the All-Star break and was promptly demoted again, and didn't end up returning until September. He did have a good final month (1.96 ERA, 20 strikeouts over 23 innings), but it wasn't nearly enough to justify drafting Walker or holding him for any substantial period of time. I'm still bullish on Walker's potential, but it would be nice to see him regain confidence in his cutter during the Arizona Fall League after he threw it just 8.5 percent of the time during the major league season.
Hanley Ramirez, SS, LAD - Despite playing in just 86 games in 2013, Ramirez still finished as a top 45 hitter in standard 5x5 mixed rotisserie formats, with a .345 average, 20 homers, 10 steals, 57 RBI and 62 runs scored over 336 plate appearances. While I did not expect him to maintain such a torrid pace, his projected numbers over 135-45 games easily put him in my top 15 entering draft season. Unfortunately, Ramirez was consistently in and out of the lineup due to various injuries, with owners nearly reaching Coco Crisp levels of frustration. Moreover, he wasn't nearly as productive as expected when on the field, totaling 13 homers and 64 runs scored in 128 games, with just two homers and two steals after the All-Star break. Ramirez's future is uncertain, and although he disappointed this season, he still does enough offensively at a premium position to warrant a top 100 draft spot come spring, no matter where he ends up.
Andrelton Simmons, SS, ATL - If fantasy baseball took defensive metrics into account, Simmons would be a top option, but he barely did enough offensively this season to warrant ownership in most formats. A drop in run scoring production was expected, with Simmons having lost his job as leadoff man halfway through the 2013 campaign, but the steep drop in the power department put a lot of owners in a tough spot. Overall, he hit .244 with just seven homers, 46 RBI, 44 runs scored and four steals in 146 games, only good enough to rank 24th among all shortstops in roto value. Some of the shortstops who returned more value: Adeiny Hechavarria, Mike Aviles, Xander Bogaerts and Jed Lowrie. Simmons is just 25 and could still become a major star for Atlanta, but expectations have to be tempered next season.
Jason Castro, C, HOU - Castro, age 26 (entering this season) and having posted a .835 OPS with 18 homers in his first full year as the primary option in Houston, seemed like a potential bargain in 2014 given his ADP (159). He ended up batting just .222 with 14 homers, 56 RBI and 43 RBI, checking in at 25th among all catchers in roto value. Castro hit above .237 in just one month of the season and finished with a .205/.256/.335 batting line in the second half, ultimately playing second fiddle to Carlos Corporan over the final couple weeks of the season. Further, he struck out more (29.5 percent) and walked less (6.6 percent), and while it seems likely the Astros will give Castro another crack at the regular job in 2015, his luster as a former first-round pick (10th overall in 2008) has faded considerably.