2015 Outlook: Goldschmidt was headed for another MVP-level season before an Ernesto Frieri fastball ended his season. Goldy didn't need surgery, however, which improves his outlook, especially with a more-than-adequate layoff to heal entirely. He maintains first-round value despite the time missed as one of the premier power threats in the game. The speed is likely to continue its slow fade as he gets deeper into his 20s, but as a perennial elite power threat, it's merely the icing on the cake now. He has the one full season of excellence and yet it feels comfortable to bet on a .300/30/100 season, with upside for much more. The 40-homer mark is a distinct possibility, particularly if he can turn the tide on a declining fly ball rate.
2015 Outlook: How do you give back 19 homers and still have a top-15 season? Being Miguel Cabrera helps. He offset the loss with 26 more doubles while also eclipsing the century mark in runs scored and RBIs for the fifth straight season. Cabrera's 2015 outlook has, however, been muddied by a stress fracture in his ankle that was discovered when removing bone spurs in October. The ankle sidelined him here and there in late August -- and he posted a .691 OPS during that month -- but he rebounded with a 1.118 OPS and eight homers in September, so a healed Cabrera should be his perennially excellent self. Short of catastrophic news, he's unlikely to fall from the first round, but anything in the latter half is a discount to be enjoyed.
2015 Outlook: Encarnacion needed only 128 games to put up a full season's worth of numbers, but he no doubt left many wondering what could've been had he not missed 33 games in the middle of the summer. The lack of power in the game as a whole keeps Encarnacion's value extremely high even as he pushes into his 30s and carries an injury history that features seven trips to the DL, including one in each of the past two years. His power plays everywhere, with 58 of his 112 home runs over the past three years coming on the road, but he still leverages his home ballpark for a batting average boost. The Jays' improved lineup could give him another shot at 100 RBIs and a chance at his first 100-run season.
2015 Outlook: Abreu took the league by storm in 2014, hitting 10 home runs in two of his first three months, with an injury to his left ankle seemingly the only reason he didn't complete the feat in May as well. The power faded after the All-Star break, but his production remained strong, as Abreu traded the homers for base hits and walks. Despite just seven home runs in the second half (compared to 29 in the first), his OPS dipped just 24 points thanks to a .350 average and .435 OBP. Was the ankle a cause in this power slide or was it just the regression of his obscene 35 percent HR/FB rate from the first half? The latter seems most likely, but it gave him a chance to show how good he is at hitting. He'll remain a power-hitting force, and when you pair 30-plus homers with an average that should again exceed .290, the result is a truly elite fantasy commodity.
2015 Outlook: Everyone projected Cano's home run output to drop with his ballpark switch, but he ended up hitting 11 fewer homers on the road than he had the year before. However, he still delivered a strong five-category effort that yielded a top-25 ranking among hitters. At 32 years old, there's no guarantee we see a resurgence of the power that gave him a .500-plus slugging percentage for five straight seasons from 2009 to 2013 ever again. There have been only 14 seasons of .500-plus slugging from second basemen aged 32 or older; most recently, Jeff Kent in 2007 during a much different offensive era. This skill set feels like it will age gracefully, however, and the front office's intent on making the lineup deeper will only help Cano's counting stats.
2015 Outlook: Rizzo entered 2014 with a glaring flaw but at an age at which it was hardly set in stone as a known deficiency. He had struggled massively against lefties in his first 356 plate appearances against them, but he unloaded on southpaws for a massive .928 OPS in 171 plate appearances last season. The only impediment for Rizzo in 2014 was a back injury that cost him time late in the season and left him with 20 fewer games played than the year before. His issues with lefties can't be erased completely after the one season, but there is no longer any question he can handle them. The maturation of a youthful lineup will likely be the deciding factor in whether Rizzo can reach 100 runs scored or driven in, but the power and on-base skills are real and spectacular.
2015 Outlook: If your league settings allowed you to turn off injuries, like you can in video games, Tulowitzki would be a top-three pick. Unfortunately, that's not an option. Last season was the ultimate Tulo year, as he put up MVP-worthy numbers (.340/.432/.603) at the plate but managed to step up to bat only 375 times. Despite Tulo's superior skills, fantasy owners have been left scrambling for a replacement more often than not over the past three seasons, as he's missed 222 games in that span. Even with Miguel Cabrera's foot issue in play, Tulowitzki remains the biggest wild card of the first round or big-money players. There's no profit here, but if he breaks down, there can be significant loss because he comes off the board early. Count on one stint on the disabled list; hope it's a short one. A trade is also a possibility, as rumors have swirled around Tulo all offseason, and a move out of the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field likely would sap his fantasy value.
2015 Outlook: An early-season quad strain cost Beltre time in April, but he recovered to log 148 games and eclipse 600 plate appearances for the third time in four seasons with Texas. The spike in his walk rate (9.3 percent) was likely the result of seeing fewer pitches in the strike zone than ever due to the rash of injuries that depleted the lineup around him throughout the year. Beltre continues to put a lot of balls in play (12.1 percent strikeout rate), and while his isolated power slipped for the third year in a row (.168), he's still a very good hitter capable of being an asset in four categories. If the Rangers can keep Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder healthy in 2015, Beltre stands to benefit in a big way. Although he will turn 36 in April, Beltre is aging gracefully, so he remains among the elite options at the hot corner even as he approaches the twilight of his career.
2015 Outlook: Freeman's first month looked like a breakout in the making (six homers, .975 OPS), especially on the heels of a huge September in 2013 (six homers, 1.068 OPS), but they actually played out the final five months instead of just extrapolating his April, and he wound up well below the lofty expectations set by his hot start. He wasn't bad by any stretch (.824 OPS), but Freeman clubbed just 12 more homers the rest of the way, leaving him with across-the-board declines in four of the five fantasy categories when accounting for his 15 extra games played. Negativity shan't reign supreme here, though, as Freeman remains a very appealing asset. It's rare to find a 25-year-old with four full seasons of great work already on the ledger. He continues to show incremental improvement, which could lead to a big breakout campaign as soon as 2015.
2015 Outlook: The 2014 campaign was the kind of perfect-world scenario that's always been plausible for Altuve, but also questionable due to his team context. Speed and batting average have always been his game, so the path to a huge season would include an exorbitant BABIP, a ton of infield hits and a career-best line-drive rate. Altuve delivered all of those at age 24 last year while still very much in his speed prime, so the .360 BABIP, MLB-high 31 infield hits, and 22.8 percent line-drive rate yielded not only a .341 AVG, but also a .377 OBP that led to 56 stolen bases -- all career highs. He'll almost certainly regress, but even with drops in average and steals, he'll be one of the more productive second basemen out there.
2015 Outlook: Desmond -- not Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen or Carlos Gomez -- is the only player in baseball to hit at least 20 homers and steal at least 20 bases in each of the past three seasons. His BABIP has remained consistently above league average during this run, but his ability to make contact has not. Desmond's strikeout rate has increased for three consecutive seasons from a near-league-average 21 percent to a much poorer rate of 28 percent in 2014. He does help in all four counting categories, as he was one of just five players in 2014 to go 20/20 while also scoring and driving in at least 70 runs. Desmond is entering the final year of his current deal, and he's looking to cash in his all-around game for a big payday on the free-agent market. There are flashier names at the shortstop position, but this guy has the health to match the production. Invest.
2015 Outlook: Posey's skill set hardly seems like one that should generate wild fluctuations in production from month to month, but even a low-strikeout, 20-homer power bat can run hot and cold for extended stretches. Despite nearly identical plate-discipline numbers between the first and second halves, Posey's OPS was 221 points higher (.978) after the All-Star break than it was before. The final results in 2014 nearly mirror his career line (.308/.374/.487), and the Giants are perfectly content to give him a heavy volume of playing time by getting him regular work at first base when Brandon Belt is injured or in need of a day off. There's a gaping hole in the San Francisco lineup following Pablo Sandoval's offseason departure to Boston, which may chip away at Posey's counting stats and enable opposing pitchers to attack him with more pitches outside the strike zone. But even with a downgraded supporting cast, Posey has earned the position of first catcher off the board in many drafts.
2015 Outlook: There's both statistical and physical volatility associated with Ramirez heading into 2015. Ramirez has played in at least 150 games just twice over the past six seasons, having missed time with oblique, hand and leg injuries. His batting average has ranged anywhere from .243 to .345 in recent seasons. He's hit 20 or more homers many times and stolen that many bases a number of times but has not done both in the same season since 2012. The move to Fenway Park provides Ramirez with the first friendly home ballpark in his career, but the ballparks are not what have hurt his fantasy production in recent seasons. This is a surefire first-round lock if health risks could be removed, but the fact that he's played just one full season in the past four is what keeps him out of the first round and possibly the second, depending on your comfort level.
2015 Outlook: Donaldson followed up his 2013 breakout with improvements in four of the five standard roto categories, setting new career highs in home runs (29), runs (93), RBIs (98), and stolen bases (eight). His plate discipline remained in line with his 2013 numbers, as he had an 18.7 percent strikeout rate and 10.9 percent walk rate to go with his .255/.342/.456 line. A premium defender at third base, Donaldson has missed only eight games over the past two seasons. The A's traded him to Toronto as part of their latest roster reshaping during the offseason, and the move into a more hitter-friendly home park should pay immediate dividends after Donaldson hit .276/.361/.513 and 18 of his 29 home runs away from O.Co Coliseum last season. Of some concern is that Donaldson's splits against righties (.248/.329/.398) were much worse than his numbers against lefties (.275/.380/.627), but he handled right-handed pitching more capably in 2013 (.285/.371/.442). If nothing else, it's an indicator that Donaldson is more likely to carry an average close to his career .268 mark than the .301 from 2013, but his power numbers could improve with the move to Toronto.
2015 Outlook: Longoria played in all 162 games for the Rays last season, helping to ease concerns about his durability after he played in just 207 games between 2011 and 2012. After he eclipsed 30 home runs for the third time in his career in 2013, Longoria hit just 22 last season while his slugging percentage bottomed out at a career-worst .404. A big part of the regression seemed to come from a diminished ability to handle the outside part of the strike zone, which effectively reduced his ability to spray the ball with any authority to the opposite field. In fact, just one of his 22 home runs was hit to right field in 2014; seven of his 32 long balls were hit to the opposite field in 2013. Longo's eye at the plate eroded over the course of the season, too, as he walked at a mere 6.5 percent clip during the second half, well below his career average of 10.4 percent. Without a physical malady to explain the downturn in production, it might be prudent to lower the ceiling even if a rebound is imminent, but the 2014 line appears to be a healthy floor for Longoria at this stage of his career.