2015 Outlook: If only defense were a category in standard scoring leagues. While Simmons is spectacular in the field, his offensive game has a ways to go. His 2014 season was so terrible that he finished below the likes of Derek Jeter and Josh Rutledge in the rankings. Simmons made a ton of contact in 2014 but did nothing with it. In 2013, he had the same struggles, but he at least hit 17 home runs and scored 76 runs to bring in some value. Last season, his BABIP was once again well below the league average, and his HR/FB rate took a step back rather than the expected step forward. He stole 54 bases in his minor league career but has just 11 in the majors, thanks in part to a career .297 OBP. Simmons has an equal chance of being a three-category player as he does of being a zero-category one.
2015 Outlook: As the theory goes, players are supposed to have a big year in their final year before free agency. Even if the theory is mostly junk science (it is), Cabrera missed the memo, as his 2014 was painfully disappointing. He did not finish in the top 15 among shortstops despite a double-double season because his batting average suffered for a second consecutive season. In fact, his batting average has declined in each of the past six seasons, right along with his batting average on balls in play. It wasn't too long ago Cabrera toyed with a 20/20 campaign, but that one season was fueled by an abnormal HR/FB rate. Another double-double turnout is entirely possible for Cabrera, who settled for a one-year, $7.5 million deal with Tampa Bay, but so is yet another below-average batting line, unless he makes some changes at the plate.
2015 Outlook: After belting a career-high 16 home runs in 96 games with Houston back in 2012, Lowrie struggled to find his power stroke in Oakland over the past two seasons. Last year with the A's, the 30-year-old shortstop hit .249/.321/.355 with only six homers and 50 RBI in 502 at-bats. Back with the Astros after signing a three-year deal in December, Lowrie's power should improve away from O.co Coliseum, but health is a concern, and his new offense isn't as talented as his surrounding cast was in Oakland. He's worth a last-round flier if you're thin in the middle infield.
2015 Outlook: Normally, when a batter's strikeout rate spikes like Hardy's did last year, it's because he's sacrificing contact for power. That did not happen for Hardy, as he hit just nine home runs all season, and his first one didn't come until June 21. It was his lowest homer total since 2010, when he was hampered by a wrist injury for most of the season. Hardy did struggle with a sore back at times last year, but that doesn't seem to be the primary factor in his disappearing power. The one solace is that Hardy's batting average was saved by a career-best .317 BABIP, so he didn't hurt fantasy owners by hitting .268, but he didn't help either. A fully healthy back and some HR-to-fly-ball rate normalization following last year's career-low 5.6 percent could bring him back to 15 or 20 homers, but he'll still only be a two-category player, as he doesn't steal many bases or score many runs.
2015 Outlook: In his first season in pinstripes, Gregorius should be able to yank a few balls into the short porch at Yankee Stadium and perhaps Oriole Park at Camden Yards, as all of his power is pull power. That said, his greater fantasy value will be to the Yankees' pitchers. Gregorius and Brendan Ryan will form a platoon that is much sharper defensively than what the Yanks got out of Derek Jeter the past several years. The two of them should be able to change many hits from the past into outs, but Gregorius will remain a poor hitter whose fantasy value will depend upon how many balls he can yank into the right-field bleachers. He's a bottom-of-the-order hitter who doesn't have noteworthy speed or any standout skills with the bat.
2015 Outlook: With immense power comes tremendous holes in the swing. At 22 years old, Baez is a unique talent in that he has 80-grade power from a middle-infield position and is one of a small group of players who are legitimate threats to hit 35-plus homers. The problem is, his struggles to make contact are practically historic. In his rookie season, he struck out 42 percent of the time he came to the plate. Even Mark Reynolds in his worst season struck out "just" 35 percent of the time. Seven of Baez's nine home runs came in his first month; he hit .149/.239/.228 in September, showing no improvement with his contact abilities. Baez is all about counting-category potential, as his batting average carries extreme risks. In a best-case scenario, he's Mark Reynolds 2008, which would make him one of the most valuable players in the game. In the worst case, he struggles to replicate Mark Reynolds 2014, which would make him one of the worst. Either way, Baez will start his season with Triple-A Iowa, as the Cubs want him to work on his plate approach before getting consistent at-bats in the major leagues. While he'll likely be back with the big club before long, Baez will need to cut out some of the strikeouts if he wants to lock down an everyday role.
2015 Outlook: Mercer saw 190 more plate appearances in 2014 than the year before, and he set a new career mark (short career though it's been) with 12 homers. However, his batting average fell 30 points to .255, largely due to a 45-point drop in BABIP that came from increased exposure to right-handed pitching. For his career, Mercer has hit .240 against righties over 758 plate appearances and .340 against lefties in 230 plate appearances. The lefty success is still a small sample size, but the struggles against righties are real. While another season of 550-plus plate appearances might help him hit double-digit home runs again, he can't be counted on to hit for average, and he could be in danger of losing playing time to new addition Jung-Ho Kang. Further, Mercer doesn't run and hits low in the order and, thus, is best left on the waiver wire in standard mixed leagues.
2015 Outlook: Indians manager Terry Francona said at the winter meetings that Francisco Lindor will start 2015 at Triple-A, so Ramirez should break camp as the starting shortstop. It would be surprising for Ramirez to hold the job all season, as Lindor clearly represents the future, but he should see around five starts per week over the first two months of the season, with Mike Aviles occasionally spelling him. Ramirez will never be much of a power threat, but he has plenty of speed and stole 29 bases in 543 plate appearances between Triple-A and the majors in 2014. He has also hit for a solid average at every stop as a professional, and the .262 average he posted with the Indians in 2014 should represent a reasonable floor, considering it was the product of a .297 BABIP.
2015 Outlook: Miller was a popular sleeper pick in 2014 drafts, after a promising rookie campaign in 2013, but he disappointed fantasy owners by struggling at the plate and hit only .221/.288/.365 with 10 home runs, 36 RBI and four steals in 367 at-bats. His walk rate (8.3 percent) improved slightly, but his strikeouts (23.3 percent) ballooned by nearly 8 percent, and he had trouble making contact (74 percent). The 2011 second-round pick eventually lost his starting job to call-up Chris Taylor, and the two will compete in camp to open 2015 as the Mariners' starting shortstop.
2015 Outlook: Cabrera's 2013 season ended with a Biogenesis suspension, and his 2014 season ended with a hamstring injury, plus an arrest for driving under the influence of marijuana (in early September). Between stints of poor judgment, he had a terrible season and lost all the gains he'd made in 2013, in terms of contact and plate discipline. Even the best aspect of his game was impacted, as Cabrera attempted just 26 steals, due to the injuries and a poor .272 on-base percentage. He has been on the disabled list due to leg injuries three times in the past two seasons, which is a red flag for a player whose game is completely built on speed. That said, Cabrera landed a one-year deal with the Orioles in February, and perhaps a change of scenery will help him recover the fantasy value he had in 2012 and 2013. While he will work primarily in the infield early in spring training, the team plans to give Cabrera a look in the outfield as well.
2015 Outlook: Owings had double-double seasons each year in the minors from 2011 through 2013 but has yet to do so in the major leagues. The past season, he showed some of that potential, with 27 extra-base hits and eight steals in part-time play, which put him in the lead for Arizona's starting shortstop role in 2015, now that Didi Gregorius has been traded to the Yankees. Owings showed big-time potential in Triple-A as a 21-year-old in 2013, as he hit .330 with 12 homers and 20 steals, but until he gets a handle on his plate discipline -- he walked just 16 times in 332 plate appearances last year -- he won't be a contributor in batting average, though double digits in homers and steals appear likely.
2015 Outlook: Semien was a deep-sleeper candidate in 2014, after a huge season in his first tour through the upper minors. He logged a .284/.401/.479 slash line with 19 home runs and 24 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A, which included an eye-catching 98 walks against just 90 strikeouts. Add in that he has played shortstop, second base and third base, and you can see why the excitement was there. Alas, that impressive approach from the minor leagues has yet to surface in the big leagues (22 walks to 92 strikeouts in his 326 PA), and ultimately he was sent back to Triple-A Charlotte in early June and didn't return until rosters expanded in September. The A's acquired him in the offseason, so Billy Beane no doubt sees the upside in this 24-year-old and hopes to extract those minor league skills in a big league setting. He won't start the season with shortstop eligibility, but he will have three positions once he logs enough games to qualify. Temper expectations for the short term, but don't completely forget him after just 85 games as a big leaguer, either.
2015 Outlook: After waiting until late May for a team to finally sign him in 2014 and proceeding to have the worst statistical season of his career, Drew had to settle for another one-year deal this offseason to go back to the Bronx. As a 31-year-old splitting time between Boston and New York, Drew slashed .162/.237/.299 in 300 plate appearances. His batting average and OBP were the lowest marks in the majors among players with at least 300 plate appearances, and of those players, he was one of just two (Jackie Bradley Jr. being the other) to hit below .200 and slug below .300. The good news is Drew can only be better in 2015, as his BABIP of .194 was also the lowest among big leaguers with 300 plate appearances and the figure contrasted starkly to his career BABIP of .299. Drew figures to get a chance to be the starting second baseman for the Yankees, and prospective owners should view his 2013 numbers in Boston -- 13 homers, six steals, .253 average -- as the ceiling for his age-32 season.
2015 Outlook: Herrera had a strong 2014 campaign, spending time at both the High-A and Double-A levels in the Rangers organization and slashing .315/.383/.388 while stealing 21 bases in 125 games. The 23-year-old was selected by the Phillies in the Rule 5 draft, which will give him a chance to spend 2015 in the majors despite never playing above the Double-A level. One of the primary concerns with his game is his lack of power, as Herrera has hit just 13 total homers in six minor league seasons, but he showed some improvement in that area over the offseason by hitting six home runs in 58 games en route to being named the MVP of the Venezuelan Winter League. Herrera may open the season with an opportunity to start regularly in center field, but he can play both the infield and the outfield, and the Phillies figure to give him every opportunity to stick around so as to not be forced to offer him back to the Rangers.
2015 Outlook: Crawford posted new career highs with the Giants in 2014, logging 153 games, 40 extra-base hits, 10 home runs, 69 RBIs, a .713 OPS and a 10.5 percent walk rate. That might be near the peak of what he's capable of offensively, but the 27-year-old is better regarded for his superior defense at shortstop. Crawford hasn't won any Gold Glove awards, but he's a perennial contender, and his defensive ability assures him an everyday spot in San Francisco's lineup. If you wait until the later rounds of your draft to select a shortstop or middle infielder, Crawford is a decent source of runs and RBIs but won't offer much help elsewhere.