One of the fun ways we all try to outsmart our opponents in fantasy is by searching for hidden value in players who, for one reason or another, we suspect have the ability to outpace their projections (and, relatedly, their draft cost). Our Darkhorses series features staff picks for players who could very well outpace their PECOTA projections for the year and provide the top overall production in one of the standard five-by-five categories. We’ve all picked one player currently projected by PECOTA to fall outside of the top 10 and one longer-shot player currently projected outside of the top 25. We’re taking a look at offense this week and pitching next. To read the earlier editions in this series, click below:

Here are some players who can score with the best of ‘em.


Matt Carpenter, 2B/3B, STL
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone considering he led the league in runs last year. The offense he’ll be hitting atop is a bit different, having lost Carlos Beltran and David Freese, but as bad as Freese was last year, Kolten Wong might represent a small upgrade, and Jhonny Peralta represents a major one. While last year’s 126 runs might be difficult to match, Carpenter hits in front of a deep and talented group of players, boasts a double digit walk rate and rarely strikes out. While I’ve argued against him as a fantasy product due to so much of his value being tied up in a contextual statistic, that doesn’t make him less likely to do well in such a statistic. His combination of opportunity and skills mean he’s probable to score a bunch of runs, whether the Cardinals can repeat their historic batting average with runners in scoring position—or not. —Craig Goldstein

Jason Heyward, OF, ATL
If things do come together as anticipated and Heyward finds himself leading off in front of Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman, there’s going to be ample opportunity for a man with a .352 career OBP to pile up the runs. This goes double for those of us who see big things in Heyward’s immediate future; the just-now-24-year-old could be as close as a fully healthy season away from a monster breakout, and if that happens out of Atlanta’s leadoff spot it could very quickly lead to 110-plus runs and a shot at the league title. —Wilson Karaman

Jason Heyward, OF, ATL
In some ways, Heyward is still searching to get back to his rookie season at the plate, when he had a .393 on-base percentage and a 131 OPS+. Those are the types of numbers that Hall of Famers put up at age 20 (which Heyward was). And despite being one of the best young outfielders in baseball, he's been disappointing from a fantasy perspective, often hitting for low batting averages and having trouble staying healthy. However, being the likely tablesetter for what should be a strong Atlanta offense will allow him to score runs by the bushels if he can get a little luckier on balls in play and push his OBP back around .370. If that happens, watch out 100 runs. —Bret Sayre

Starling Marte, OF, PIT
A full 162 games would go a long way toward getting Marte to the top of the heap, but having McCutchen and Alvarez behind him in the lineup is also a big help. Marte is going to generate a fair share of infield hits and his game is keeping the ball on the ground. Even if the BABIP drops, Marte is going to get on base enough, so the run scoring opportunities will be there. —Mike Gianella

Andrew McCutchen, OF, PIT
McCutchen had a pretty decent year in 2013, hitting .317/.404/.508 with 21 homers, 107 runs, and 27 stolen bases on his way to winning NL MVP. So it's a bit odd that PECOTA projects McCutchen to score just 87 runs next season, good for 13th in the league. It's possible that McCutchen sees a slight drop in runs scored next season, but there was nothing especially fluky about his 2013 performance, the lineup behind him didn't get demonstrably worse and McCutchen will be 28 for all of the 2014 season. McCutchen runs, he hits, he hits for power, and he gets on base at an impressive clip. I can buy that he'll score a bit less next season thanks to attrition and fluctuation, but I don't see a roughly 20 percent drop on the horizon. Ben Carsley

Jose Reyes, SS, TOR
If he plays in 140-plus games, which he has done just once since 2008, he still has a very strong chance of making a run at the runs title. This is a huge if, but he did play in 160 games two years ago, and last year’s ankle injury was more of the fluke variety. —Jeff Quinton

Jean Segura, SS, MIL
Segura was one of the league’s brightest breakout stars in 2013, but he was overlooked in the majority of fantasy drafts. The Brewers shortstop was a fantasy MVP, crossing home plate 74 times in 146 contests (with his biggest contribution coming in the form of 44 steals); however, those 74 runs came without full seasons from two of Milwaukee’s most important run producers, Ryan Braun, and Aramis Ramirez. Throw in the offensive emergences of Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy and you have a recipe for triple-digit runs at the top of the order. Segura’s above-average contact rates should allow him to get on base enough even if his walk rates don’t improve dramatically—but any improvement is obviously welcome. If the Brewers’ offensive core can stay intact, Segura is poised for an even bigger year. —Alex Kantecki

Justin Upton, OF, ATL
Runs scored have a little bit more to do with an individual player’s skill than RBI do. Ultimately when I look for guys that can be assets in the RS category I’m looking for players that can get on base and have good power and/or speed. Upton has a lot of offensive upside across four fantasy categories. I don’t think he’ll ever hit for average, but that’s okay, as he has shown a competent command of the strike zone. Upton strikes out a lot, but he also carries an 11.7 percent BB rate, which he should maintain this year. Upton gets on base and has a solid lineup behind him. I think Upton has a good chance at leading the category if everything clicks for him this year. He’s a curious case. The talent is there for him to succeed; we’ll see if he can deliver this year. —Mauricio Rubio

Prince Fielder, 1B, TEX
Fielder’s runs scored counts have been in decline since his 2009 total of 103, save for a slight increase from 94 to 95 in 2011. For someone—even a very slow someone—with a .389 career OBP and four years north of .400 from 2009-2012, he’s deserved a better fate in this category. Now in Texas, Fielder will be batting third, something he’s done only four times in the last two years (and never for 100-plus games in a season). Additionally, the hitters behind him in the lineup are perhaps the best backup he has ever had: Adrian Beltre, Alex Rios, and Mitch Moreland immediately after him, and Geovany Soto, Jurickson Profar, and Leonys Martin rounding out a potent lineup. A return to the .400 OBP level will yield a career high in this category and a run (no pun) at the league lead. —Paul Sporer


Norichika Aoki, OF, KCR
He has been a .355 OBP guy the last two seasons. Now he will be setting the table for what I think will be a very good Royals offense with the addition of Omar Infante, an Eric Hosmer that resembles post-May 2013 Eric Hosmer, and some positive regression from Billy Butler. —Jeff Quinton

Robinson Cano, 2B, SEA
I’ve found that Cano’s stock has taken a hit in some of the drafts I’m in as people are balancing the offensive context he will be hitting with the talent he brings to the table. It’s important to note that there are a lot of question marks hitting behind him so this is as much an endorsement of Seattle’s lineup as it is of Cano’s ability. I think the on-base skills are there for Cano and I also think the guys behind him will hit enough to make him a threat in the R category. The combination of Justin Smoak, Corey Hart and Logan Morrison isn’t exactly inspiring but I don’t think those players will be absolute zeroes this year either. All players have enough power to take advantage of Cano’s on base skills and I think there’s an outside chance that it powers Cano to challenge for the R crown. —Mauricio Rubio

Dexter Fowler, OF, HOU
What’s that you say, Houston’s offense is terrible? Au contraire, my friend. Fowler will bring his career .365 OBP to the top of a line-up that’ll feature the pesky Jose Altuve immediately behind him, followed by Jason Castro, Chris Carter’s biceps, and come late May (probably) George Springer. There’s a lot more firepower there than you might think, especially considering that Altuve, Castro, and Carter are all on the upswing of the aging curve. Get a couple steps in the right direction from two of those three, or better yet all three, and suddenly you’ve got a quietly potent offense capable of taking advantage of Fowler’s on-base prowess. It’s a long shot to be sure, but Fowler’s got the chops to surprise a lot of fantasy owners this season. ­—Wilson Karaman

Billy Hamilton, OF, CIN
Everyone talks about Hamilton’s soar like an eagle or sink like a stone potential in stolen bases, but what about runs? If he gets on base at even a 32 percent clip, his speed combined with Joey Votto behind him in the lineup could lead to a bushel of runs. Other subpar OBP players with speed have historically been among the league leaders in runs scored, and Hamilton’s speed is arguably a cut above anything we have ever seen. —Mike Gianella

Billy Hamilton, OF, CIN
The prevailing wind around Hamilton this spring is focused on what he can't do. Hamilton CAN'T get on base at better than a 30 percent clip. Hamilton CAN'T hit for any power. Hamilton CAN'T be anything but a batting average drain. Well guess what, there are plenty of things that Hamilton can do as well. And one of them, amazingly enough, may be to get on base at a reasonable clip. After all, this is a guy who is just one season removed from a .410 on-base percentage between High-A and Double-A. It's not impossible that he could reach base at a 35 percent clip, and if he does that, his catalytic speed will lead to many, many runs scored. One-category contributor, my Anthony Bass. —Bret Sayre

Austin Jackson, OF, DET
It was only a year ago that Jackson was coming off a .377 OBP, 12 stolen bases and an 11 percent walk rate. Put that player, with Jackson’s speed, atop the Tigers potent lineup and you have a threat to lead the league in runs. Obviously things were less ideal in 2013 as Jackson fell to a .337 OBP, eight stolen bases and an 8.5 percent walk rate, but he still scored 99 runs, only four fewer than in 2012, highlighting the variable nature of such a contextual stat. If Jackson can return to his 2012 form and retain his leadoff spot, he should have no trouble coming close to triple digits in runs scored, which should put him near the top of the league. While Prince Fielder’s departure is a significant loss, Ian Kinsler should make up some of the slack, as should Nick Castellanos. Craig Goldstein

Ian Kinsler, 2B, DET
A lot depends on where Kinsler hits in the Tigers’ lineup, and it’s still unclear who’s batting first for first-year manager Brad Ausmus. Austin Jackson is the other obvious candidate, but for the sake of this argument, let’s go ahead and assume that Kinsler is batting leadoff. The 31-year-old played in 136 games in 2013, breaking a streak of two straight seasons of 155-plus appearances. Since 2009, Kinsler has averaged 97 runs per season, including 121 in 2011, 105 in 2012, and 101 in 2009. In 2012, the Tigers scored the second most runs (796) in baseball largely behind the bats of Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Gone is Fielder, but a full season of Victor Martinez is a nice replacement in the cleanup spot. Kinsler should have a fair chance to approach 100 runs in this re-loaded Tigers’ offense. Quite frankly, I’m surprised he’s getting the cold-shoulder treatment among some fantasy pundits, as he’s still capable of producing a line of 90 runs, 15 home runs, and 20 steals—but that’s an argument for another day. —Alex Kantecki

Dustin Pedroia, 2B, BOS
Despite playing 159 games with an injured thumb, Pedroia hit .301/.372/.415 last season, scoring 91 runs as a part of what was baseball's best offense. While the Red Sox have lost some thump they still figure to be one of the best seven-or-so hitting teams in the league in 2014, and Pedroia should be in the middle of it all once again. PECOTA projects Pedroia to score 78 runs next year, tied for 37th overall, but that would represent his lowest total since his injury-shortened 2010 season and the lowest total in any full season in his career. Pedroia's days scoring 120-plus runs might be over, but I feel confident penciling him in for the 90-100 range once again, with the upside remaining to net even a few more. —Ben Carsley

Brett Lawrie, 3B TOR
This is a pretty big bet on the breakout we’ve been waiting for since he dazzled in his 150-AB debut. It will require not only health but also an improvement in skill. If the former stays intact and the latter comes along, Lawrie should move up in the lineup (which he’ll have to do, since he won’t win the runs title from the seven spot). C’mon, Brett, swig some Red Bull. It’s time. —Paul Sporer

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If AJax hits 5th as rumored I'd put him on the RBI list.
And Kole Calhoun batting leadoff for the Angels deserves mentioning.
I love Astros and Fowler. But I seriously picture he was walked, on 2B with Altuve's single, and may take third on fielder's choice, then watch Carter and Springer strikeout to end the inning.