2016 Outlook: Bautista is about to enter the stage of his career where he's the fantasy baseball hot potato. Even as his skills remain steadily excellent, the community as a whole will undervalue him for fear of being caught holding the bag should he collapse. Once a player reaches his mid-30s, there is no guarantee that there will be a smooth decline, as injuries can have a much more severe effect. That said, Bautista has yet to show any signs of decline. He has played 155 and 153 games the last two seasons, going at least 35-100-100 in both while walking more than he struck out. Even with a modest .250 average, he is still a fantastic fantasy option. He is essentially already doing what is constantly projected from Giancarlo Stanton and yet is taken a full round or more later. The age is a factor so Stanton's appeal is very understandable, but at some point the actual performance has to matter, too.
2016 Outlook: Encarnacion has seemingly been around forever (debuted in 2005) and he always seems be nursing some kind of injury (7 DL stints; 150+ games just once), yet since 2012 he is second in home runs (151) and RBI (423), 10th in runs (352), and seventh in OPS (.919). He also has an elite approach with just a 16 percent strikeout rate, atypically low for such a tremendous power hitter. These skills plus a continued dominance of right-handed pitchers should make for a smooth decline for Encarnacion. His .918 OPS against right-handed pitching since 2012 is third-best among right-handed hitters since 2012 behind only Mike Trout (.981) and Miguel Cabrera (.980). It’s not like lefties get a break against him as his .926 OPS is still good for 13th. Just beware that the injuries are already rearing their ugly head; Encarnacion has not played in spring training, as he first dealt with an abscessed tooth then an oblique injury.
2016 Outlook: Those that had Abreu down for significant regression in 2015 were dead wrong. There was some give in his numbers, but he still put up a fantastic effort in his sophomore campaign with the White Sox. In fact, the projections in this very space last year prepared prospective owners for most of the fall off, pegging him for 78 runs, 34 homers, 100 RBI, and a .286 average. It was light on the runs and average, heavy on the homers, and virtually dead-on with the RBI. After just two seasons, Abreu already feels like that reliable rock upon which to build your team. He has a solid foundation of skills while also still holding some upside. If he sold out for more power, he could join the 40-homer club, but likely at the cost of some batting average.
2016 Outlook: An Orioles hitter has led the majors in home runs in each of the past three seasons, and Davis has accounted for two of those crowns, so it was fantastic news when he re-upped with Baltimore on a seven-year deal this offseason. It is debatable how good that deal will look for the club in a few years, but for fantasy purposes, it works perfectly. Park factors suggest Camden Yards is the best hitter's park in the American League, which is one of the reasons Davis has averaged 40 homers a year over the last four seasons. Another reason is that he has exquisite raw power from the left side, which he sells out to get to during games, leading to a 31 percent K-rate both last season and for his career. It is understandable that his all-or-nothing approach won't lead to any batting titles, but he has managed to hit above .260 in three of the past four seasons, which is excellent for a slugger of his ilk.
2016 Outlook: In just 80 games, Sano flashed the skills that matched the hype that chased him throughout the minors, with a .269/.385/.530 slash line in his first exposure to the majors. His 16-percent walk rate is amazing considering his youth and how he was rushed through the upper levels of the Twins' system. The 36-percent strikeout rate is alarming in a vacuum until you realize that Sano skipped right over Triple-A and didn't face any live pitching in 2014, as he missed the year due to Tommy John surgery. He is going to strikeout a fair amount, and that along with his slow foot speed will limit his batting-average upside, but he should be very productive in the power categories. One issue with Sano is that he only qualifies at Utility on draft day, as he failed to play 10 games at any one position in the 2015 season, but his powerful bat is worth plugging into that roster spot early – before you do so with David Ortiz.
2016 Outlook: Cruz doubled down on his improbable 40-homer season with Baltimore in 2014 by doing it again, and then some, in the hostile offensive environment known as Safeco Field in 2015. 2015 was the sixth consecutive season in which Cruz has posted an Isolated Power (SLG-AVG) of at least .200, and lots of hard contact led to a .350 batting average on balls in play. That high BABIP allowed him to hit over .300 for the first time in five seasons despite a 25-percent strikeout rate. Cruz was able to double-up on the 40-homer season thanks to a 30 percent HR/FB, which is well above the 18-percent rate he had posted through his career heading into 2016. If that rate regresses to his career-level, Cruz will have a tough time getting to 30 homers, but the RBI opportunities should be plentiful with the projected lineup in front of him.
2016 Outlook: On the heels of his third consecutive 30-homer, 100-RBI season in 2015 at age-39, Ortiz announced that the 2016 campaign would be his last in the big leagues. Outside of a slight reduction in playing time when the Red Sox face left-handed starters (he hit .231/.277/.426 in 184 plate appearances against southpaws last season), the primary DH role should belong to Ortiz for another year. Since the start of the 2013 season, only five players have amassed more homers than Ortiz (102). With his combination of power (.280 ISO) and plate discipline (12.5 BB%, 15.5 K%), Ortiz remains a hitter to be feared, and he should have plenty of chances to drive in runs again from the heart of the order in Boston if the bats around him stay healthy.
2016 Outlook: Last year Fielder was one of only three first-base eligible players to hit over .300 with 20-plus homers, 75-plus runs and 80-plus RBI. The other two were Paul Goldschmidt and Joey Votto. Unfortunately, Fielder was not playing much first base, getting 139 of his 157 starts at DH, which eliminates his first-base eligibility in most formats. Additionally, his walk rate dipped to 9.2% -- his lowest such rate in nine years -- and his .323 BABIP was the highest since his rookie season. The good news is he re-established himself as one of the most durable players in the game, and when Fielder stays healthy there are few players more reliable in the four non-speed categories. Even as a player who will be locked into the UTIL spot all season, the 31-year-old slugger makes for an excellent offensive anchor who can be had at a slight discount, relative to his skills, now that he carries the unwieldy DH tag.
2016 Outlook: The biggest concern for Pujols as he enters his age-36 season is health, as the skills remain mostly intact despite last year's dip in both average and on-base percentage. While the walk rate has been backsliding in recent years, Pujols continues to put the ball in play, making contact more than 85 percent of the time and hard contact more than a third of the time. One area of skills regression that does need to be pointed out is against left-handed pitching -- Pujols hit just .219 with 11 of his 40 homers coming against southpaws, marking the second time in three seasons he's hit below .220 against left-handers. Pujols also seemed to wear down during the stretch run, managing a .231/.288/.419 line after the All-Star break with ongoing foot issues seemingly playing a part. He went under the knife to repair the foot in November, and with a four-to-five month recovery time expected, Pujols' availability for Opening Day is very much in question.
2016 Outlook: "The sky is falling" sums up how Dickerson's prospective owners felt about the 26-year-old lefty slugger after he was dealt from Colorado to Tampa Bay in late January. However, there are reasons to pump the brakes on eulogizing his status as a mixed-league outfielder. Coors Field has been only a marginally better place for left-handed power than Tropicana Field over the past three years, and three AL East parks -- Camden Yards, Yankee Stadium and Rogers Centre -- are among the best places in MLB for lefties to hit homers. However, his batting average could see a noticeable dip, as few environments can match Coors Field in that regard. That said, now that he is in Tampa Bay where there are platoon partners at the ready, he will no longer be exposed to many southpaws. His career .261/.297/.442 road slash line against righties may represent a realistic floor, since the Coors Field factor negatively affects hitters on the road, as breaking balls break differently away from Colorado. After a year-long bout with plantar fasciitis, it is impossible to assume he'll be healthy for all of 2016, as that specific ailment can flare up at any moment, and the move from grass to the turf in Tampa Bay probably won't help matters. Assuming he gets platooned, and given the injury concerns, Dickerson has more value in shallower leagues with daily roster moves.
2016 Outlook: The legend of "El Oso Blanco" grew exponentially with the move from Atlanta to Houston last offseason. Gattis powered the Astros with 11 triples (not a typo), 27 homers and 88 RBI (all team highs) en route to the team's first postseason berth in a decade. He continued to walk at a low clip and his hard-hit rate fell by more than seven percent, but Gattis brought his strikeout rate down below 20 percent while maintaining a .217 ISO, the 22nd-best mark among qualified hitters. The days of catcher eligibility are over, and he's utility-only in a lot of formats. Further, he is expected to miss most of spring training after undergoing hernia surgery in February, but Gattis will have the luxury of DH eligibility upon his reutrn, so there is reason to believe he will be a valuable two-and-a-half category producer once again in 2016.
2016 Outlook: Rebounding from a disappointing 2014 season that was split between Seattle and Minnesota, Morales led the eventual World Series champions in RBI and slugging, tying Mike Moustakas for the team lead with 22 homers while adding 41 doubles. He also finished in the top three on the club in hits, runs, walks, and batting average. The 32-year-old spread it around to all fields, and while his contact rate remains below the league average, more than 85 percent of the contact he makes is of the medium or hard variety. It was a kind of perfect storm for run-producing success for Morales in 2015 -- his 161 at-bats with runners in scoring position were the fifth-most in baseball and he capitalized with a 1.012 OPS in those situations. Another top-six finish in the AL in RBI seems unlikely, but his situation remains conducive for fantasy success. The only real drawback in taking Morales is that he clogs up the utility spot relatively early on. That, however, may lead to him falling further than he should.
2016 Outlook: Santana remains a remarkably consistent hitter, as he hit exactly .231, walked at least 100 times and clubbed at least 50 extra-base hits for the second straight season. Unfortunately, Santana also remains a consistent whiff machine, as he struck out 122 times in 2014 after striking out 124 times in 2015, and that places a hard ceiling on his batting average. The real problem for Santana owners is that he has lost his positional eligibility at both third base and catcher after exclusively playing first base and designated hitter in 2015. His warts were manageable at those weak positions, but his power is pedestrian by first base standards, unless he can turn some of his doubles and triples back into home runs in 2016.
2016 Outlook: Trumbo changed teams for the third time in less than two years when the Mariners traded him to the Orioles in December. That came on the heels of a .284/.343/.472 second half for Trumbo, who matched his home run output from the first half (11 homers) in 50 fewer at-bats after the All-Star break. Now he goes from one of the toughest environments for hitters in baseball to one of the most favorable with the trade to Baltimore and can focus almost exclusively on hitting with the DH spot pretty much all to himself. Of course, Trumbo comes with his caveats. He makes contact just over 70 percent of the time, doesn't walk much, and is prone to some brutal dry spells. A return to the 30-homer levels from 2012-13 is not out of the question, but it's wiser to bet on closer to 20 homers, given his limitations. And keep in mind Trumbo gets dinged a bit in OBP leagues.