2015 Outlook: Bryant enters 2015 atop many prospect rankings, and should be considered an early favorite for Rookie of the Year honors in the National League. The Cubs kept Bryant in the minors for all of last season, splitting his time nearly evenly between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. His plate-discipline numbers were nearly identical at the two levels, as he walked in 14.5 percent of his plate appearances while striking out in just over a quarter of them. With raw power at the top of the 20-80 scale, Bryant makes an overwhelming amount of hard contact and possesses the ability to drive the ball to all fields, a tool that he used to swat 43 home runs over 594 plate appearances in 2014. There are still some questions regarding his ability to stick at third base in the long run, but the Cubs have been adamant about giving him a chance to handle the hot corner before moving him to the outfield. While he'll start his year at Triple-A Iowa, Bryant will likely be called up to serve as the everyday third baseman shortly after April 17, at which point the Cubs gain an extra year of team control over their prized rookie.
2015 Outlook: Duda used to be a poor man's Matt Adams. He was a true platoon player with a modicum of power but marginal batting average upside. But in 2014, he traded the batting average upside for a more explosive power profile. The reliability of that power going forward obviously dictates his value, and it looks solid. He didn't need a huge spike in fly balls or HR/FB rate to fuel this surge; it was just a continued maturation against righties combined with a career high in playing time. He may get even fewer than his 125 opportunities against lefties this year now that Michael Cuddyer is around to spell him at first base, but that could be seen as a boon, given his .516 OPS, with just two home runs and 10 RBI against them last year. His value spikes in leagues that use OBP and/or daily lineups.
2015 Outlook: Hosmer had a nice October, but it can't completely erase the memories of his 2014 regular season. Though he played just 131 games, he wasn't injured until Aug. 1 and had just a .689 OPS through July, so it's not like he had a nagging, lingering injury all season. Righties found reasonable success against Hosmer, holding him to a .732 OPS, noticeably shy of the league's .766 OPS on average for lefties facing right-handed pitchers. He did hit righties to the tune of an .803 OPS in 2013 and .886 in 2011, so there has been good work by Hosmer on that front in the past. The inconsistency is frustrating, but such is life with a young player, as their growth is almost never linear. He's still just 25 years old, so the upside is still there, but we need to temper what that upside looks like considering he's a first baseman who has yet to eclipse 20 homers.
2015 Outlook: Prior to his breakout in 2014, Harrison appeared to be safely entrenched as a quality utility player with the versatility necessary to be an asset in NL-only leagues. For the first time as a professional at any level, Harrison delivered double-digit home runs last season, turning in one of the most surprising performances of 2014 and displacing Pedro Alvarez as the Pirates' starting third baseman in the process. With the move into an every-day role, his strikeout rate ticked up to a career-worst 14.7 percent, but that mark is hardly a concern. Of greater interest is the .353 BABIP that buoyed his .315 batting average, but part of that surge might have been the result of barreling up more pitches, as Harrison dropped his ground ball rate from 46.7 percent in 2013 to 37.3 percent last season while carrying a 24 percent line drive rate. He also wasted fewer at-bats, dropping his infield fly ball rate from 23.1 percent in 2013 to a much more reasonable 7.1 percent. There will be plenty of doubters, but Harrison could end up with a prominent spot in an underrated lineup, and he offers cheap speed as his floor after swiping 18 bags last season.
2015 Outlook: It can be easy to overlook LaRoche, as he has essentially been the same player throughout his career. That isn't said critically, however, as he's been a consistently solid contributor and has remained steady into his 30s. In fact, in the past three seasons, his 79 homers are good for 16th in baseball. LaRoche has always hit better in his home park despite rarely having played in a hitter-friendly yard, but now he moves into U.S. Cellular Field, which has been a homer haven for years. The park was eighth in home runs per game (1.86) in 2014, well ahead of the 1.33 mark for Nationals Park. LaRoche has a pair of 30-homer seasons on his ledger and might be primed for a third, but the safe bet is to expect 25 homers and 90 RBI and take anything else as pure profit.
2015 Outlook: Morneau was expected to improve with his move to Coors Field, and while he did just that, it wasn't in the way most expected. Instead of adding to his 17 home run total from 2013, he boosted his average by 60 points en route to a National League-best .319 mark. Of course, the only reason he didn't top that 2013 home run figure is the time he missed to a neck injury. Morneau has missed time in five of the past six seasons, so betting on a repeat of his 152 games from 2013 is dangerous. Instead, enjoy the fact that with him playing in Coors, you can get his typical counting production and a boosted batting average despite the games he sits out due to injury.
2015 Outlook: After he turned 36 years old in June, Ramirez's power disappeared during the second half of last season. He hit just four home runs in his final 63 games in the second half after putting himself on track for another 20-homer season with 11 long balls in the first half. Rather than push for a multiyear deal in free agency during the winter, Ramirez exercised his side of a mutual $14 million option to remain with the Brewers for 2015. On the health front, a recurring hamstring injury was the primary culprit for Ramirez's lost time in 2014, but he still managed to push his way into 133 games. The red flag in his profile is a diminished walk rate, as Ramirez drew free passes at a four percent clip, the lowest mark of his career as a full-season player. The wear and tear caused by a 162-game season might lead to regular preventative maintenance at this stage of his career, but Ramirez continues to put a lot of balls in play, and the Brewers have limited depth behind him at third base, which should enable his gracefully aging skill set to take another 500 trips to the plate in 2015.
2015 Outlook: The Pirates moved Alvarez off of the hot corner last season after his defense eroded to the point where he was a regular liability to the team's pitching staff. That Josh Harrison was having a breakout season at the plate and needed a regular defensive position certainly contributed to the decision, but there had long been questions about Alvarez's ability to handle the rigors of third base. In addition to his woes in the field, Alvarez didn't display his typical level of power, slugging a career-low .405 despite improvements to his walk (10.1 percent) and strikeout (25.4 percent) rates. His splits against righties were still acceptable, as he put up a .245/.330/.440 line against them, but his HR-to-FB ratio against righties tumbled from 29.7 percent in 2013 to 17.6 percent last season. Alvarez's batted-ball profile was largely unchanged in 2014, offering a glimmer of hope that he could make a push back toward the 30-homer plateau after reaching that level in 2012 and 2013. A fractured foot cut Alvarez's season short in September, but he was cleared to begin his regular offseason program in December. He's expected to open the year on the larger side of a platoon at first base with Corey Hart.
2015 Outlook: Perhaps it was the small-sample success Bogaerts had during Boston's run through the World Series in 2013 that set such high expectations for the kid in 2014. He became the latest chapter in the book about overdrafting young players based on early success, as Bogaerts finished with a disappointing line overall. The double-digit homer total and 60 runs scored were respectable, but his batting average was below par and he struggled to get on base and drive the ball consistently. He also failed to show much statistical growth as the season went on, as his first- and second-half splits are near mirror images of one another from a rate level. Like Starlin Castro last year, the talent is there and could easily bubble back to the surface with more realistic expectations in 2015.
2015 Outlook: Year 2 of Prado's four-year, $40 million pact with the Diamondbacks was going worse than the first when he was traded to the Yankees for Peter O'Brien in July. In 37 games after the trade, Prado hit more homers (seven) than he did in his first 106, and his .316/.336/.541 line to close out the season in the Bronx was unlike any full-season body of work he's amassed in six full big league campaigns. Prado offers versatility and the ability to make contact reliably, as he's been able to play in at least 125 games for six straight seasons while providing double-digit home runs annually during that span. The Yankees traded him to the Marlins in December as part of a deal to acquire Nathan Eovaldi, putting Prado in his fourth uniform in as many years. With newly acquired second baseman Dee Gordon in the fold in Miami, Prado will serve as the Marlins' regular third baseman. Now 31, he should be capable of piling up plenty of RBI and runs scored with a prominent role in the improving Miami offense.
2015 Outlook: Belt has a dedicated fan base within the fantasy community. Chances are, one guy in your league has continued to go back to the well with Belt and at least had him for three of his four seasons. He keeps doing something to tantalize. His full season in 2013 looked like just the beginning, then he opened the 2014 season with seven home runs in April before a broken thumb limited him to just eight games over the next two months. A concussion all but washed out the second half, necessitating two DL stints and limiting him to just 54 plate appearances in the final two months of the season. The proponents are going to see a fast start that had him pacing toward 30 homers, while the detractors will be leery of what the power spike did to the rest of his numbers, not to mention his 18.2 percent HR/FB ratio, which was well above his previous marks.
2015 Outlook: Mauer burned a lot of owners in 2014, as the move from catcher (while remaining eligible at the position) to first base was supposed to drive up his production by keeping him healthier and adding volume. Unfortunately, he logged a whopping 10 more plate appearances than 2013. No one was expecting the 2009 power to miraculously come back, but at the very least he was supposed to be a lock for .300-plus AVG; even that fell short. Now he has become a 32-year-old eligible only at first base who has averaged just 10 homers per 162 games played over the last five years. Yes, that's per 162, and of course he never plays 162. If you're power-heavy early in the draft with a star first baseman in place, he might be a useful corner infielder.
2015 Outlook: Pearce lived his early MLB life as a short-side platoon player on the four corners (first, third, left and right), but a surge against righties resulted in a nice, career year at age 31. He had six homers against right-handers in 488 plate appearances prior to 2014 but hit double that number in just 272 plate appearances while continuing to be a lefty-killer too. The ride appeared over in July, when he managed just a .681 OPS and two home runs, but he caught fire again and closed with a 1.040 OPS and 10 homers in the final two months, despite a lack of full-time play. However, this is his first run of real success against right-handers, and he's too old to map out a legitimate growth pattern. Trusting post-30-year-old breakouts is a fast track to a fifth-place finish, but Pearce should get enough at-bats at DH, with some starts sprinkled in at first base and the outfield corners, to be worth monitoring in deeper formats in 2015.
2015 Outlook: The Tigers committed to Castellanos as their every-day third baseman in 2014, and he proved relatively equal to the task, playing in 148 games while providing 11 homers, 50 runs and a surprising number of RBI (66). For what it's worth, his. 259/.306/.394 slash line closely resembled the numbers he posted during his first taste of Double-A during the second half of 2012. Castellanos has been young for his level everywhere he's played in the Tigers' system, and the move back to third base after he spent 2013 in left field with Triple-A Toledo might explain the poor grades he received as a defender last season. As he's turns 23 years old in March, Castellanos still has projection remaining as a hitter, which should enable him to improve upon his 24.2 percent strikeout rate from 2014 and push his power production closer to the 18 home runs he launched for Toledo as a 21-year-old. The Tigers have little to push him on the organizational depth chart, offering up plenty of leash for Castellanos as he begins 2015 as the team's No. 6 or No. 7 hitter.
2015 Outlook: Grandal was getting some sleeper love prior to the trade to Los Angeles, and the move to the Dodgers only makes him more desirable. He had a near-equal strikeout-to-walk ratio in his first two seasons (57 strikeouts and 49 walks), but it was only an 88-game sample, and the strikeout rate specifically ran counter to what he had shown in the minors. He continued to take walks in his first full season of play last year, but the strikeout rate jumped from 17 to 26 percent. His real level probably remains unknown at this point, but at least he is still drawing walks, even with the elevated strikeout rate. After hitting half his homers in the pitcher-friendly Petco Park, he should enjoy the boost Chavez Ravine offers as goes from the 24th-best home run park to the fifth best, according ESPN's Park Factors page.