2015 Outlook: After consecutive seasons as the runner-up in American League MVP voting, Trout brought home the hardware in 2014. With a bar that was set in the stratosphere following his 30-homer, 49-steal breakout in 2012, the 23-year-old outfielder might always be pressed to meet expectations. After delivering a .310/.400/.606 line and 22 of his 36 home runs in the first half of the season, Trout appeared to be picking up right where he left off in 2013. However, a second-half swoon, including a 30 percent strikeout rate and a .257/.347/.502 line, served as a reminder that even the league's premier talent can struggle for a period. He appeared in all but five games and didn't suffer any reported injuries during that post-break skid, although he had a short absence in early June due to stiffness in his upper back. Trout hit the ball in the air more often last season, hitting fly balls at a 47.2 percent clip and finishing with a career-high 36 home runs in the process. His stolen-base total was cut in half, falling from 33 in 2013 to 16 last season, though that drop may be a tactical adjustment by manager Mike Scioscia rather than an erosion of skills. Even with his career-low batting average (.287) and stolen-base count, Trout still grades out as an elite talent worthy of being the first overall selection on draft day.
2015 Outlook: McCutchen has established himself as a perennial MVP candidate in the National League, contributing in all five rotisserie categories and having played in at least 150 games in four straight seasons prior to a short stint on the disabled list late in 2014. One day after taking an intentional Randall Delgado fastball between the shoulder blades, McCutchen strained an oblique while swinging at a pitch. Upon returning, he showed no lingering effects of the injury, hitting .324/.409/.559 with eight home runs and 16 RBIs over his final 37 games and helping the Bucs secure a playoff berth for the second straight season. At age 28, there's little reason to expect McCutchen to slow down, and it's fair to wonder if he might have another 30-homer season in his bat after he pushed his slugging percentage back to .542, a 34-point increase from his MVP season. Further, his 18-for-21 mark as a base stealer marked a career-high 85.7 percent success rate last season. He'll reprise his role as the Bucs' No. 3 hitter as the franchise attempts to play in October for the third consecutive year.
2015 Outlook: Gomez turned a career-high 644 plate appearances into another 20-homer, 30-steal campaign for the Brewers in 2014, solidifying his status as the team's most valuable position player. Offering a combination of power and speed that very few players can match, Gomez's bugaboo had always been an inability to draw walks. But last season, he earned a free passes in 7.3 percent of his trips to the plate, and that increased patience helped push his on-base percentage to a career-best .356. Thanks to his top-end speed and ability to make hard contact when he connects, Gomez's BABIP baseline (career .316, .339 in 2014) is higher than most, though it remains to be seen whether he can continue to chug along above his career mark, as he's done each of the past two seasons. The Brewers used him as their cleanup hitter for 37 games last year, but he finished the campaign in his typical leadoff role, which suggests he'll be back in that spot to begin 2015.
2015 Outlook: Perhaps Jones isn't the sexiest first-round pick in fantasy, but he's deserving of a top-10 selection in most formats. A four-time All-Star, he's proven extremely durable, appearing in at least 149 games in each of the past five years, with just five missed games over the past three seasons. He's also been about as consistent a producer as anyone in baseball, hitting above .280 with 29-plus homers, 88-plus runs and 82-plus RBI in each of his past three campaigns. Never a particularly patient hitter, Jones saw his walk rate fall to just 2.8 percent in 2014, but he maintained a strikeout rate right around his career norm (19.4 percent) and showed tremendous improvement against left-handed pitching, slashing .344/.399/.604 against southpaws, up from .251/.315/.417 the year before. Jones did finish with single-digit steals for the first time since 2010, and a rebound in stolen bases isn't necessarily a lock entering his age-29 season, but they're really just a bonus for a hitter of his caliber anyway.
2015 Outlook: The lasting image from Puig's 2014 campaign was him on the bench for Game 4 of the NLDS following a 1-for-8 showing in his previous two games, which included a stretch of seven consecutive plate appearances ending in a strikeout. Puig deserved a better conclusion to his first full season in the majors. Sure, he finished three home runs shy of his 2013 total and was only able to match his stolen-base output from his rookie year despite playing in 44 more games (208 more plate appearances), but Puig led the Dodgers with a .296 average, .382 OBP and 92 runs scored. He also fought through various injuries (thumb, hip and hamstring, to name a few) and improved his strikeout and walk rates in the process. Further, his HR/FB rate fell to just 11.1 percent (from 21.8 percent), providing hope that he can easily supply his first 20-homer season if he can maintain his health in 2015. Puig's struggles at the end of last season had a lot to do with pitchers attacking him with fastballs outside, but at 24, he's shown an ability to adjust and should be able to rewrite the book on himself again next season.
2015 Outlook: Among hitters, only Mike Trout and Jose Altuve returned more value in standard rotisserie leagues than Brantley last season. With a .327 average, which ranked third among qualifying hitters, 45 doubles, 20 home runs and 23 stolen bases, Brantley earned his first All-Star bid and finished third in the American League MVP vote. His BABIP jumped nearly 30 points, from .304 to .333, and his HR/FB rate of 12.7 percent was nearly double his 2013 mark (6.8 percent), but he also struck out just four more times than he walked and finished with a 91.3 percent contact rate, trailing only Victor Martinez in the AL. Brantley was one of six players in baseball to drive in 90 or more while scoring 90-plus runs, and he made major strides against left-handed pitching, slashing .307/.378/.449 against southpaws, up from .276/.325/.339 a year before. It's understandable to be a bit skeptical, and some regression has to be expected, but Brantley should continue to be a five-category fantasy anchor while batting third for the Indians.
2015 Outlook: Ellsbury might have fallen a bit short of expectations in his first season in pinstripes after inking a seven-year, $153 million contract with the Yankees, but he still finished as a top-20 hitter in 5x5 rotisserie formats. Predictably, Ellsbury saw his BABIP crash back to Earth (from .341 to .296), resulting in a nearly 30-point drop in batting average, but his line-drive rate actually improved to a career-best 24.7 percent. Although his OBP fell to just .298 in the second half of the season, he smacked 10 of his 16 homers and was a perfect 15-for-15 in stolen-base attempts after the All-Star break. Ellsbury offset the overall dip in stolen bases and runs scored with more power and RBI production, a result of seeing the majority of his at-bats (365 of 575) in the 3-hole. The 31-year-old did slash just .258/.316/.395 against right-handed pitching, a troubling decline from 2013 (.328/.374/.489), but Ellsbury appeared in 149 games, the third-highest total of his career, marking the third time he has reached at least 134 games in the past four years. He should once again make for a strong value at the end of the second round.
2015 Outlook: Marte was looking like one of the bigger busts in fantasy after the season's first month, as he was sitting with just a .229/.308/.305 batting line and one homer when the calendar turned to May. We hope you were patient. A move down to seventh in the batting order helped Marte get back on track, and while his run and steal totals suffered as a result, his improvement in batting average and RBI made up for it. Following a stint on the DL with a concussion shortly after the All-Star break, Marte returned with a vengeance, finishing with a spectacular .348/.408/.567 line in the second half. The 26-year-old still needs to work on cutting down his strikeouts (24 percent last season), but he was able to draw walks at an improved clip (6.1 percent), and his great speed should afford him the luxury of maintaining high averages in the years ahead. The steals should be there no matter where he's batting in the order, and there's still room to grow from a power standpoint.
2015 Outlook: Nobody was hotter than Kemp after the All-Star break, as he slashed .309/.365/.606 with 17 homers and 54 RBIs in just 263 second-half trips, which more than made up for the .269/.330/.430 line, eight homers and 35 RBIs he supplied over the first 3½ months. The lackluster numbers in the first half can be attributed in part to inconsistent playing time, with manager Don Mattingly platooning Kemp for a period and even benching him for a brief stretch in late May before ultimately moving him to the corners. Kemp's HR/FB rate more than doubled from 2013, going from 9.1 percent to 20.0 percent last season, but he finished with a career-best line-drive rate (25.9 percent) and a 30.0 percent rate of swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, the second-lowest mark of his career. Now the anchor of a revamped Padres lineup, Kemp could be in danger of seeing his homer total slip in the spacious confines of Petco Park, and his days as a double-digit steals contributor are likely behind him, but Kemp should benefit from having a more defined role, and his blistering run down the stretch provides hope that he can still provide top-50 production if he can stay healthy.
2015 Outlook: Many owners had their finger on the panic button early in 2014, with Hamilton managing just a .140 average and two steals in the first two weeks of play, but he slowly started to come around. Things really seemed to click in June, as Hamilton hit .327/.348/.500 with 14 steals during the season's third month, numbers buoyed by a whopping 10 multihit efforts. At the All-Star break, Hamilton was hitting .285/.319/.423 with five homers and 38 steals in 53 attempts. As was the case with many of his teammates, Hamilton began to unravel in August and completely fell apart in September until a concussion put a premature end to his rookie campaign. The overall numbers were slightly disappointing, especially his conversion rate on the basepaths (56-for-79) and walk rate (5.8 percent), but there's reason for optimism entering his age-24 season. The returns of Joey Votto and Jay Bruce to full health should ease the burden on Hamilton and afford him more run-scoring opportunities, and his steal total, which was good enough for second in the NL last season, should only improve as he learns how to get better jumps and avoid pickoffs.
2015 Outlook: A middle infielder by trade, Betts made his first professional start in the outfield with Double-A Portland in mid-May. By late June, he was manning the outfield for the Red Sox. Although there were certainly growing pains defensively, Betts fared well against big league pitching as a 21-year-old, finishing with a .368 OBP and an exceptional 88.3 percent contact rate. He struck out just 10 more times than he walked and smacked five homers, giving him a career-high 16 for the year across three levels. With Rusney Castillo expected to serve as the primary option in center and Shane Victorino (back) expected to be healthy for spring training, Betts' role in the field heading into 2015 is uncertain. However, manager John Farrell said in December that Betts was the leading in-house candidate to bat leadoff for the team this upcoming season, which helps ease concerns about his playing time. The spot atop the order should prove fruitful for stolen bases and runs scored.
2015 Outlook: Owners may have been slightly disappointed with Martin's production last season, as he finished one home run and five stolen bases shy of his 2013 totals despite logging 75 more plate appearances, but he still finished with useful numbers across the board. Martin improved his strikeout and walk rates to 19.6 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively, which resulted in an uptick in average and OBP. While the Cuban posted just a .581 OPS against left-handed pitching -- which could result in fewer chances against southpaws this season -- he once again played outstanding defense in center field, and those abilities figure to keep him on the field nearly every day. A move back down in the batting order is likely with Shin-Shoo Choo expected to be healthy for spring training, but the lineup around him will be improved and Martin remains the top candidate to lead off if anything happens to Choo. Just don't overpay, as Martin's fantasy value remains largely limited to his speed contributions.
2015 Outlook: A wrist injury sapped Ozuna's power in 2013, but with a return to full health last season, he was able to supply the type of home run production many were hoping he would after three 20-plus-homer campaigns in the minors. Ozuna set the tone early, smacking a solo shot in the Marlins' opener, and he went on to hit 22 more before a right ankle sprain ended his season a bit prematurely. He doesn't run much for a center fielder -- and likely won't do so while in a key run-producing spot in the lineup -- but Ozuna's contributions in three categories and ability to capably handle right-handed pitching make him worthy of serious fantasy consideration regardless of format. Be aware that a batting-average regression is possible -- and perhaps likely -- after Ozuna struck out in 26.8 percent of his plate appearances last season. His contact flaws (70.6 percent) were masked by a .337 BABIP, though he has had a relatively high BABIP at each stop in his career.
2015 Outlook: A poor month of September (.167/.208/.278), the result of trying to play through a core-muscle injury, hurt Gardner's final numbers, but fantasy owners had little else to complain about with regard to his 2014 campaign. Gardner surprised everyone by blasting 17 home runs, more than double his previous career high and more than he had hit in his previous three seasons combined, while also reaching the 80-run, 20-steal and 50-RBI thresholds for a second straight year. Of course, a repeat of the power production can't be expected -- his HR/FB rate of 11 percent was nearly five points above his career mark of 6.5 percent -- but the 31-year-old Gardner should continue to provide quality numbers across the board while serving as the Yankees' leadoff hitter. That is, as long as he's able to maintain his health throughout the year. He underwent surgery to repair the core issue in the offseason, but it was reportedly a very minor procedure.
2015 Outlook: It's pretty easy to poke holes in Blackmon's offensive game relative to his overall numbers from 2014. He was much better at home; he was significantly worse against lefties; he underwhelmed after May 10; he posted an OPS below .800 despite playing in Coors Field. These are all facts. Still, the 28-year-old finally got a full season's worth of at-bats, and he exceeded everyone's expectations. Fortunately, most are aware of the cautionary signs, so his draft-day price will not be a direct reflection of his production last season. There's likely some regression coming for Blackmon now that opposing pitchers are aware of the fact that he swings at 55 percent of breaking balls and off-speed stuff out of the zone. However, valuable counting stats should still be there if he can hold the every-day job. Despite slashing just .268/.318/.389 after May 10, Blackmon still hit 11 homers with 20 steals in that span. Extrapolate those numbers out over a full season and a 15-homer, 25-steal campaign is not an unreasonable expectation.