2015 Outlook: Teheran's second velocity drop -- his average fastball lost 1.1 mph last year after having stabilized following a full-point drop from 2011 to 2012 -- is a matter of some question. Was this due to the wear and tear of a long season, one in which he exceeded 200 innings for the first time in his career, was it by design for purposes of longevity and increased control, or is this a warning sign? Along with that drop in velocity came a small drop in Teheran's strikeout rate, from 22 percent to 21 percent, not to mention his FIP, which suggests last year's 2.89 ERA was an aberration. Another point of concern is Teheran's team context -- the Braves traded away two-thirds of their starting outfield in Justin Upton and Jason Heyward, then Evan Gattis, leaving them with an outfield of B.J. Upton, Nick Markakis and a big question mark in left field. The net effect will likely be a decline in outfield defense, which isn't good for a fly ball pitcher like Teheran, and he's likely to see reduced offensive support as well. Pointing out all of these concerns isn't to say you should avoid Teheran, but he might not take the next step in his development in 2015.
2015 Outlook: Wainwright turned in yet another stellar season in 2014, posting career-best ratios despite a strikeout rate that dropped to 19.9 percent. But that drop in strikeouts sometimes worked in his favor, as he needed fewer pitches to get through an inning than his high-strikeout peers. His status should be monitored carefully this spring after he had surgery to trim a piece of cartilage from his right elbow immediately after the playoffs. Another issue popped up in camp, with Wainwright suffering an abdominal strain that could keep him out of spring games until mid-March. His status should be monitored by prospective owners throughout spring training, but this represents a nice buying opportunity for the bold, as he is going at a firm discount in drafts due to his health concerns.
2015 Outlook: Shields turned in another solid performance in his final season with the Royals in 2014, posting a 3.21 ERA over 227 innings. He seemed to trade off a few strikeouts in exchange for better control, walking only 4.7 percent of the batters he faced. Given that he’s a fly ball pitcher who pitched in a park that depresses home runs and had the best defensive outfield in the game behind him, this pitch-to-contact approach made a lot of sense. He will likely deploy a similar strategy once again in 2015, now that he can call Petco Park his home. San Diego is one of the best destinations for free-agent pitchers, so Shields' value will be trending up heading into drafts. The outfield defense could be a bit of an issue, but the Padres have one of the best bullpens in baseball, and will finally field a competent big league lineup, which should allow Shields to win double-digit games for the ninth season in a row.
2015 Outlook: Cole has been a very effective major league pitcher in his first two seasons, but his performance, especially in the fantasy realm, still lags behind the hype that follows the former No. 1 overall pick. He has a 3.09 career FIP in 255⅓ innings, but in his rookie season Cole failed to notch the strikeout totals owners had hoped for, and last season he missed 10 weeks with fatigue and a subsequently diagnosed strain in his throwing shoulder. The big, 6-foot-4 righty possesses a fastball and slider that are among the best offerings in the National League, and while healthy, his strikeout totals finally started to sync up with his elite raw stuff. Cole's 24.2 percent strikeout rate in 2014 was a nice improvement on his 21.3 percent rate from his rookie season, and it does not take much imagination to project further strides in this department in coming seasons. Until he has the 220-inning tour de force campaign most agree he is capable of, Cole's price on draft day will continue to offer room for fantasy owners to profit.
2015 Outlook: Harvey is returning from Tommy John surgery after not throwing a pitch at any point in 2014. The good news is that the success rate of pitchers returning from the procedure, while not uniform, is much better than a decade ago. Moreover, Harvey will be 17 months removed from his surgery by the start of the season, so he might not have some of the growing pains experienced by some of his peers who came back in 10-12 months. His previously elite velocity was already all the way back in early spring outings, but as is the case with most pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery, the return of his command and control will be the key to Harvey achieving his prior level of dominance. The Mets intend to limit Harvey's workload a little in 2015, so he'll probably throw fewer than 200 innings and might skip a start around the All-Star break.
2015 Outlook: Gonzalez missed six starts in 2014 due to shoulder inflammation, which has to be frightening for fantasy owners considering him at the draft table. But when he was on the mound, his results were similar to his career numbers, if not better in some instances. His 24.8 percent strikeout rate was better than his career average, and his 8.6 percent walk rate, while not elite, was still the best of his career. He also was a little bit unlucky, as his strand rate was a tick below average at 70.6 percent. Gonzalez did lose half an MPH off his fastball, however, and that's probably not coming back at age 29. Look for him to receive somewhat improved run and bullpen support, and if he stays healthy, his peripherals suggest he'll improve on last year's 3.57 ERA.
2015 Outlook: Ross has been one of the best success stories on the Padres under manager Bud Black and pitching coach Darren Balsley. After acquiring Ross from the A's before the 2013 season, the Black-Balsley duo changed the righty's mechanics -- giving him a higher leg kick, among other adjustments -- and he paid dividends starting midway through that season. He has one of the best sliders in the game, and he also uses that slider more than nearly every starter in the game. Ross might be paying the bill for that soon, however -- he missed the end of the 2014 season with a forearm flexor strain. The Padres overhauled their roster in the offseason, giving them a much better lineup, albeit at the expense of defense, especially in the outfield. Fortunately, Ross shouldn't be affected as badly as other starters on the staff, given his high strikeout and groundball rates from last season.
2015 Outlook: Arguably one of the best free-agent fantasy pickups in 2014, deGrom wasn't even listed among the Mets' top 10 prospects entering the year, but he excelled in 22 starts, winning nine times while posting excellent ratios and one of the best strikeout rates among starting pitchers. DeGrom's surprising success was credited to him honing his breaking ball and changeup during the spring, as both became above-average pitches to go along with his low-to-mid-90s fastball. That combination worked wonders, as he missed plenty of bats and kept the ball in the park. The 179 innings he worked between Triple-A and the majors represents an increase of 30 over any of his other seasons, but don't think of him as a rookie fluke -- the supporting statistics show that what deGrom did in 2014 was very real.
2015 Outlook: The immediate success of recent prospects has made it difficult to realize that many don't follow that linear path. Carrasco is the perfect illustration of a prospect who took a long time to find his way. After being acquired from the Indians in the Cliff Lee trade in 2009, he remained on target for a midseason call-up in 2010, then scuffled in 2011. As it turns out, he was battling elbow problems all season and needed Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss all of 2012. When he returned, Carrasco had the control problems that often accompany a pitcher coming back from that surgery. He finally got it all together last season after getting over some early hiccups and ended up being one of the most dominant pitchers in the final two months. Carrasco is one of the hardest-throwing starting pitchers in baseball, and now he has good enough secondary offerings to accompany that fastball. There are those who might discount Carrasco because of the sample size of his breakout, but his pedigree and velocity should be your controlling factors. Get him, and hope he can put it all together for a full season.
2015 Outlook: Few pitchers are as difficult to evaluate heading into 2015 as Tanaka. He pitched like an absolute ace in the first three months of his debut season with the Yankees, posting a 2.10 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP and 127 strikeouts in 115⅔ innings (16 starts). Then, the calendar turned to July, and he briefly pitched (poorly) through a partial UCL tear before being shut down until late September, when he returned to pitch seven total innings in two appearances. The Yankees are opting to go the nonsurgical route with Tanaka for now, but general manager Brian Cashman openly said the team is keeping its fingers crossed heading into this season. The risk of further elbow issues with Tanaka is undeniable, but so is the upside if he can pitch a full season.
2015 Outlook: Arrieta had one of the biggest breakout performances by a starting pitcher in 2014. He put up a 2.53 ERA, which ranked 10th among pitchers who threw more than 150 innings, yet was largely undrafted in fantasy leagues. While certainly unexpected, it was not an empty or fluky ERA. Simply put, Arrieta was as good as all his numbers indicate. He had a 0.99 WHIP, a sparkling 167:41 K:BB ratio in 156⅔ innings and a 2.26 FIP, which suggest he pitched even better than his ERA indicates. The 6-4 righty was downright untouchable in almost a quarter of his starts. He had six outings in which he went six-plus innings while giving up zero earned runs and allowing four or fewer baserunners. After failing to live up to his impressive numbers in the minor leagues with Baltimore, Arrieta has blossomed under the instruction of Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio and will enter his age-29 season as a legitimate No. 2 starter behind Jon Lester on the North Side.
2015 Outlook: The Angels' playoff demise might have been foretold on Aug. 20, when Richards blew out the patellar tendon of his left knee trying to cover first base against the Red Sox. Once he was lost, the Angels' lack of depth meant they had to start C.J. Wilson in an elimination game. The 26-year-old Richards was having a breakout season prior to the injury, posting a 2.61 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 168 2/3 innings, a great example of why it's often profitable to invest in high-velocity pitchers who haven't yet achieved a high strikeout rate. They can eventually develop adequate or better secondary offerings that make that fastball harder to hit. That was the case with Richards, who went from striking out 16.3 percent of hitters in 2013 to 24.2 percent last year before the injury. It hurts that he won't be ready for Opening Day, but Richards is said be ahead of schedule in his recovery, with the Angels now hoping he'll be ready sometime in April.
2015 Outlook: The only thing holding Cobb back from being a first-tier starting pitcher is health, as he's spent big chunks of time on the DL each of the last four seasons. But is Cobb actually injury-prone? His 2011 shoulder injury and subsequent surgery certainly are part of the job and worrisome, but his more recent injuries have been flukier -- a batted ball off his leg, the scary line drive off his forehead in 2013, and an oblique injury suffered while batting in 2014. He's not a strikeout machine, but he's also not a total void there. Cobb's an extreme ground-ball pitcher thanks to his split-change, so the Rays' switch from Yunel Escobar to Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop might hurt a little bit, but this could be the year that Cobb has a full 33-start season and turns a big profit for his owners.
2015 Outlook: The hype surrounding the young Wacha following a dominant rookie season and an even more impressive showing in the 2013 postseason was so intense that there was no way he could possibly have lived up to expectations. Mix in a stress fracture in his throwing shoulder that forced him to miss about 14 starts, and fantasy owners were left thoroughly disappointed in Wacha's sophomore campaign. Now that expectations have simmered and people are beginning to realize he's a good No. 3 starter with the potential to pitch like a No. 2 at times, his draft-day price tag is much more palatable. The 23-year-old uses an effective four-pitch mix, generating plenty of whiffs with his 94 mph four-seam fastball, which allows his plus changeup to serve as an out pitch. Wacha had a 3.20 ERA (3.17 FIP), 1.20 WHIP and a 21 percent strikeout rate in 107 innings last year -- rates he should be able to replicate in a full season in 2015.
2015 Outlook: It seemed as though Bailey was on the verge of putting it all together after his strong 2013 campaign -- which included the second no-hitter of his career -- but the former first-round pick (seventh overall in 2004) disappointed in his eighth major league season. Less than a month after signing a six-year, $105 million extension with the Reds, Bailey suffered a groin strain during a Cactus League outing, delaying his 2014 debut slightly. He struggled out of the gate, posting a 6.15 ERA in April, and while he did improve gradually in each of the following months, a torn flexor mass tendon in his right forearm forced Bailey out of action in August and ultimately ended his year. The injury required surgery, and manager Bryan Price left open the possibility that Bailey may not be ready to start the year. Keep a close eye on Bailey as he progresses through his throwing program; any setback would impact his draft position considerably.