2015 Outlook: The next -- and perhaps final -- chapter of the Rodriguez story will begin in 2015, after he missed all of 2014 due to a suspension for his connection to the Biogenesis clinic. When Rodriguez was most recently on the field, in 2013, he had returned from offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip in early August. The results were hardly surprising, as he hit .244/.349/.423 with seven home runs in 44 games, with his best attribute a decent eye at the plate (12.7 percent walk rate). Although the Yankees owe him $61 million, they appear to be moving ahead with the goal of minimizing their reliance on the former star as he begins his age-39 season. They signed Chase Headley to a four-year deal in December, which pushed Rodriguez into a competition for playing time as the team's designated hitter. But Carlos Beltran is coming back from elbow surgery, and it's questionable how much right field he'll be able to play in 2015, which might ultimately squeeze Rodriguez into a part-time role. If injuries befall Beltran or first baseman Mark Teixeira, it's reasonable to think Rodriguez could find a way to collect 400 plate appearances again, but that opportunity is hardly guaranteed.
2015 Outlook: After popping 20 home runs in 2012, Freese has hit just 19 in two seasons despite logging 500-plus plate appearances as injuries continue to plague him (his next 150-game season will be his first). The 20 percent HR/FB rate from that 2012 sticks out like a sore thumb; he has been a tick or two above average the last two seasons, but nowhere near that figure. At 32, his body is unlikely to grow more stable, meaning the injury issues just have to be baked into his profile. He is slightly better than league average for a third baseman. His best chance at delivering surplus value beyond that is his presence in the Angels' lineup, which should present him with ample opportunities to drive in runs.
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: Prior to 2014, Valbuena had failed to catch on as a platoon player. While he had regularly struggled against lefties, he wasn't exactly cutting up righties. In fact, his career platoon split is all of six points in OPS, but in 2014 he emerged as a cheap power source on the strong side of a platoon at third base. His 16 home runs were tied with Pablo Sandoval, Matt Dominguez and Juan Francisco for seventh at the position, and Sandoval and Dominguez both had more plate appearances than Valbuena. Of course, holding the spot and fending off Mike Olt was one thing, but with uber-prospect Kris Bryant pounding on the door of the big leagues (43 HRs, 1.098 OPS across Double-A and Triple-A in 2014), the Cubs traded Valbuena to the Astros in January. He slots in atop the depth chart at third base for Houston, though a platoon with Matt Dominguez seems likely.
2015 Outlook: In 2013, Gillaspie managed a hint of value by popping 13 home runs, but he didn't contribute positively anywhere else, which certainly limited his appeal. In 2014, it looked like he traded some of that power output for incremental gains everywhere else, but in actuality he collected a ton of base hits in the first two months of the season (.351 AVG) while being held homerless,s and then spent the final four months as the guy we saw in 2013 (.255 AVG, 7 home runs). It was still an improved season, but this isn't exactly a growth stock ready to explode. He likely deserved at least a few more home runs based on his batted-ball profile, but combining the double-digit power with the .282 AVG seems unlikely especially as someone with a playing-time cap based on his inability to hit lefties.
2015 Outlook: Gallo split his 2014 campaign between High-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Frisco and swatted 42 home runs between the two levels. With raw power that grades out at the top of the 20-80 scale, he's an easy prospect to dream on. After his promotion to Double-A, Gallo's strikeout rate spiked from 26 percent to 39.5 percent -- and questions about his ability to make consistent contact have been persistent since his 2012 arrival in the Rangers' organization. A prototypical three-true-outcomes player, Gallo might be the most volatile hitter to project in the current crop of consensus top prospects. Thanks to an excellent arm, he should be able to stick at third base, but Adrian Beltre is currently blocking him at the big league level, and Prince Fielder is signed through 2020 to play first base, which might prompt the Rangers to see if Gallo can handle right field. Gallo is expected to spend all of 2015 in the minors as a 21-year-old, and he will likely return to Double-A with the goal of cutting back on his strikeouts before getting a taste of the Pacific Coast League.
2015 Outlook: Escobar beat out Jason Bartlett for the Twins' utility infield job in spring training and replaced the struggling Pedro Florimon at shortstop after batting .357/.367/.429 in April. The switch-hitting Escobar continued his success into May, smacking 13 doubles in the month, but finished the season with a rather modest .275/.315/.406 batting line in 133 games. Never known for his patience at the dish, Escobar drew all of 24 walks in 465 plate appearances (5.2 percent). While he managed a career-best .315 OBP, his numbers were bloated by a .336 BABIP, and his 80.7 percent contact rate was the worst of his four-year career. Defensively, Escobar was a little above average at short (2.1 UZR), and he will compete with Danny Santana for the everyday job this spring. However, even if he wins out, he'll make for a rather unappealing option in mixed leagues given his modest pop and utter lack of speed, even at a premium middle-infield position.
2015 Outlook: Due to injuries and poor play by players ahead of him on the depth chart, Holt found his way to 279 plate appearances and a .327/.371/.463 slash line in the first half. He became something of a mythical figure among Red Sox fans and at the same time he developed into a small-sample-size punch line among the pessimistic sabermetric crowd. After hitting .219 in the second half, almost all of his midseason shine is gone, and he will enter 2015 as a strict utility option. Boston has amassed perhaps the best and deepest collection of hitters in the big leagues, leaving nowhere for Holt to play at the moment. In addition to the predictable regression to his batting average, Holt is even less appealing for fantasy purposes, as he figures to hit fewer than five home runs and steal fewer than 10 bases in even the most optimistic part-time role.
2015 Outlook: Dominguez ranked among the worst everyday players in baseball in 2014, taking a step back defensively at third base and floundering at the plate despite swatting 16 home runs. A .177/.205/.268 line after the All-Star break dragged his overall line to a career-worst .215/.256/.330, but there may be a slight rebound in the batting average department coming if Dominguez can push his strikeout rate (20.6 percent in 2014) back to his 2013 level (16.3 percent). He may not even get that chance, as he was expected to start 2015 in the short end of a platoon with Luis Valbuena, but the Astros instead decided to send Dominguez to Triple-A Fresno, following a poor spring that didn't include any extra-base hits. It once appeared Dominguez would hold down the hot corner in Houston for quite some time, but his future is now in serious doubt.
2015 Outlook: Remember the promise Beckham showed as a rookie back in 2009? How could you? It was ages ago! Perhaps most impressive about Beckham is the fact that he has averaged more than 500 PA per season in the five years since, despite never coming anywhere near that level, which, by the way, wasn't even all that special (.808 OPS in 430 PA). WAR isn't necessarily a fantasy-relevant statistic, but it is worth noting that he had 2.5 WAR according to Fangraphs in that 2009 debut but has accumulated just 2.8 since then. If you can't force your child to be left-handed so he can pitch in the majors until he's 53 years old, you should at least make sure he can somewhat adequately man multiple infield positions because that will extend a baseball career by years as well.
2015 Outlook: If there is one thing Aviles loves, it is stealing 14 bases in a season. He has done it in four of his past five seasons, even with his plate appearances ranging from 309 to 546. Just get him a little more than half a season of play and he will steal you 14 bases. Unfortunately, that is usually about all you will get. He has two double-digit-homer seasons and two seasons topping .300, but he is two years removed from the former and four years removed from the latter, having never cracked .255 in the subsequent campaigns. His positional flexibility has often been worth more than anything he does while on the field, but not even triple-positional eligibility can overcome his quickly eroding OPS totals (he has dropped yearly since 2010), and the emerging infield talent in Cleveland will continue to eat into that playing time. Look elsewhere.
2015 Outlook: Sano is still someone who should be watched primarily by owners in keeper leagues, but it is starting to look like he could make his big league debut later this season. In the minors, only Joey Gallo can match Sano’s power potential, and he wasted no time launching a monster home run off Gerrit Cole early in spring training. While his hit tool will never approach his 80-grade raw power, he should be capable of hitting .250 or .260 at his peak, which, paired with 40-plus homers, would still make him a top-25 fantasy option. At 21, he is already starting to look too massive to stick at third base, meaning first base, DH or a corner outfield spot could all be eventual landing spots with the Twins. Look for him to force his way to the big leagues in August or September, leaving the door open for him to hit five or 10 bombs in 2015. Sano, not Byron Buxton, is the stud hitting prospect on the Twins worthy of a flier in really deep single-season leagues.