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: Ramirez had stolen 20 or more bases before, and he had homered at least 15 times in a season before, but until 2014 -- his age-32 campaign -- he hadn't done both in the same season. In doing so, he was a top-five fantasy shortstop in standard mixed leagues. Despite his free-swinging ways, Ramirez was able to produce in each of the counting categories while hitting for a decent average. Even as a free swinger, he hits for good average and has shown little volatility in that department thanks to a consistently league-average BABIP. At age 33, it is going to be tougher for him to continue stealing 20-plus bases a year, but manager Robin Ventura has given Ramirez the green light to take bases when opportunities are there.
2015 Outlook: Gordon may not truly stand out in any one statistical category, but he does enough across the board to warrant consideration as a second or third fantasy outfielder. Prospective owners will, however, want to keep a close eye on Gordon's health and production during spring training, as he underwent surgery on his wrist in late December. The expectation is that he will be ready for Opening Day, but wrist injuries have been known to sap power, and that's especially troubling for a player who possesses relatively modest pop for a corner outfielder to begin with. Assuming he is truly healthy to start the year, Gordon should once again occupy a spot in the heart of the Royals' lineup, providing useful RBI and run production in addition to double-digit steals and home runs. Some batting-average growth is possible, but should not be expected as Gordon enters his age-31 season.
2015 Outlook: Gordon is a great example of how much fantasy and real-life values can differ. In fantasy, he's a fantastic asset thanks to his overwhelming speed, which can be turned into stolen bases, runs and even batting average (by way of infield hits). A shift to spacious Marlins Park gives Gordon a great chance to repeat as baseball's triples leader, and while few leagues count triples directly, a boatload of them can only help him repeat or improve upon his 92 runs scored. The downside is that any sort of lower-body injury saps all of his value in an instant. Without any pop to speak of, his batting average must stay high, as it constituted nearly 90 percent of his OBP in 2014. This kind of player also puts a larger burden on the rest of your team, so you'd better have a substantial power base before adding Gordon to your squad.
2015 Outlook: Although Rosenthal's walk rate more than doubled last season, going from 2.4 BB/9 in 2013 to 5.4 BB/9, he was able to hold onto the Cardinals' closer job the entire year. The right-hander blew six opportunities, but still finished with 45 saves, second in the NL behind Craig Kimbrel. While his swinging-strike rate fell by close to two percent and his opponents' line-drive rate jumped by nearly six percent, Rosenthal allowed just two home runs in 70.1 regular-season innings and finished the year with just three earned runs allowed in his final 15 appearances (including the postseason). Jordan Walden, whom the Cardinals acquired from the Braves in the offseason, has closing experience and will be waiting in the wings in case Rosenthal falters, and Carlos Martinez could be a ninth-inning option as well if he fails to maintain a rotation spot, but as long as Rosenthal has manager Mike Matheny's trust, he will see plenty of chances and thus warrant consideration as a first closer
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: Mesoraco suffered an oblique injury late in spring training that forced him to begin the year on the disabled list, but he hit the ground running upon returning to the lineup soon after Opening Day before a hamstring injury put him back on the DL in late April. Even with the lost time, Mesoraco led all catchers in home runs (25) and was on plenty of championship teams last season, while his breakout happened in a year in which the Reds' offense struggled as a whole, with Joey Votto and Jay Bruce missing significant time. There were signs of fatigue in the second half, or perhaps the league started to put together a book on him, as he hit just .237/.341/.446 after the All-Star break while hitting just nine of his 25 homers over the final 54 games. Further, his 20.5 percent HR/FB mark was nearly double his previous career level, which suggests that a slight drop in long balls might be on the horizon even if he avoids injuries and takes on a larger workload in 2015. That loss may, however, be offset by gains in the RBI and runs-scored categories if the Reds' offense rebounds with better health from Votto and Bruce.
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: 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: 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 pressure of trying to fill Mariano Rivera's shoes in the country's biggest media market could have easily gotten to Robertson, but the right-hander proved poised and plenty capable in the ninth-inning role in his first season as a closer. A groin injury forced him onto the DL just a week into the season, but Robertson returned after the minimum 15 days and remained healthy the rest of the year, converting 36 of his first 39 save opportunities and improving his strikeout rate from 2013 by three per nine innings. Thanks to an anomalous 15.6 percent HR/FB rate (career 9.4 percent) and a pair of disastrous outings, Robertson finished with an ERA more than a full run above his 2013 mark, but his xFIP actually dropped from 2.60 to 2.13, giving him the confidence to turn down the Yankees' $15.3 million qualifying offer at the end of the season. The White Sox ponied up more than $40 million to acquire Robertson's services, cementing him into the closer role on a rising team for several years to come.
2015 Outlook: On the surface, it appears as though Jansen took a significant step back last season, with his ERA and WHIP jumping by .88 and .27, respectively, but he actually shaved .08 off his FIP. The right-hander improved his K/9 rate by nearly a full strikeout (from 13.0 to 13.9) and his swinging-strike rate by more than 2 percent, to a career-best 16.6 percent. Jansen finished with a 1.69 ERA and .186 BAA after the All-Star break, but his overall numbers were marred by an anomalous .350 BABIP. It should be noted that lefties did have far more success against Jansen, batting .284/.331/.379 against him, well up from .204/.256/.274, but his fastball velocity ticked back up and he finished third in the NL in saves with 44. Unfortunately, Jansen's 2015 debut will be delayed after he was forced to undergo foot surgery in mid-February, a procedure which carries with it a 8-to-12 week estimated recovery timetable. J.P. Howell, Chris Hatcher and Joel Peralta seem like the top in-house candidates to start the year in the closer role, though the Dodgers may very well look outside the organization for a short-term replacement.
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: 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 start of Machado's 2014 campaign was delayed as he progressed through the final stages of his rehab from left knee surgery in April, returning to the field May 1. After a sluggish start in the first month (.220/.271/.284), Machado showed all the signs of a full breakout from June 1 on, as he hit .307/.350/.505 with 10 homers over his final 55 games before a right knee injury in August ended his season prematurely. After having surgery in late August, Machado was given a four- to six-month timetable to return, making it possible that he'll be cleared to join his teammates for full workouts at the start of spring training. Just 22 years old, Machado already has the benefit of more than 1,200 big league plate appearances under his belt. Further, he'll play half of his games in a hitter-friendly home park at Camden Yards, where he hit .299/.357/.522 in 2014. Of the middle-tier third basemen on the board this spring, Machado offers an unmatched combination of upside and an everyday lineup spot.