1. Brett Gardner (New York Yankees)- Last season, Gardner was one of a very few Yankees that remained both solid and healthy for the majority of the season. In a season where so many stars went down for the Yankees, Gardner remained solid throughout the year and gave great contributions at the top of the lineup. Coming off an injury-shortened 2012, Gardner played in 145 games and slashed .273/.344/.416 with 24 stolen bases and a league-leading 10 triples. Gardner was also regarded as an excellent defensive center fielder, but will move to left for 2014 due to the signing of Jacoby Ellsbury. If anything, the move to left will represent an upgrade to his defense and he should continue to be a cog at the top of the lineup in New York.
2. Daniel Nava (Boston Red Sox)- It’s quite possible that he is in for some regression in 2014, but Nava was one of the American League’s bigger breakout stars last season. In his first chance at regular playing time in Boston, he slashed .303/.385/.445 with 12 home runs and 66 RBIs in 134 games. He did benefit from a .352 BABIP, but with some regression on batted balls, Nava could still be a quite valuable player. His career walk rate at the MLB level is 10.3%, which has led to a career .369 on-base percentage (well-above average) despite a .274 career batting average. Nava’s defense is subpar, but his offensive output should make him valuable even with some regression.
3. Melky Cabrera (Toronto Blue Jays)- Cabrera has seen his career go on a roller-coaster ride over the past few seasons. He was one of the worst players in baseball in 2010 with the Atlanta Braves, then saw his stock rise in 2012 and 2013 between the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants before seeings it all disappear with a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. Then last season happened, when Cabrera regressed back to his 2010 form in a bad year with the Blue Jays, slashing .279/.322/.360 in just 88 games– worth -0.9 wins above replacement by Fangraphs. However, unlike many of the others later on the list, Cabrera does have some upside. Perhaps his performance a few years ago wasn’t all steroids.
4. David DeJesus (Tampa Bay Rays)- The Rays have a remarkable habit of turning old, broken-down veterans into reliable players. Last year’s specimen was David DeJesus, who was traded to the Rays in August after spending the earlier part of the season with the Chicago Cubs (with a brief overlay with the Washington Nationals). Between all three teams, DeJesus had a decent offensive season which saw him slash .251/.327/.402, placing his OPS+ at exactly the league average. DeJesus, who has significant platoon splits, will likely see the strong side of the left field platoon in Tampa Bay, likely earning plenty of playing time against right-handed pitching.
5. Nolan Reimold (Baltimore Orioles)- After a promising rookie season with saw him slash .279/.365/.466 as a 25-year old in 2009, Reimold is yet to establish himself as an everyday player. A key part of that has been his health, or lack thereof, as Reimold’s season-high in games played since registering 104 in 2009 is 87 games in 2011. Last season, Reimold missed much of the season and only played in 40 games– posting his worst season yet, with a .195/.250/.336 slash line in Baltimore. Still, Reimold is projected to start the year as the primary left fielder and if he can stay healthy, will have his first real chance to prove himself.