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: An early-season quad strain cost Beltre time in April, but he recovered to log 148 games and eclipse 600 plate appearances for the third time in four seasons with Texas. The spike in his walk rate (9.3 percent) was likely the result of seeing fewer pitches in the strike zone than ever due to the rash of injuries that depleted the lineup around him throughout the year. Beltre continues to put a lot of balls in play (12.1 percent strikeout rate), and while his isolated power slipped for the third year in a row (.168), he's still a very good hitter capable of being an asset in four categories. If the Rangers can keep Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder healthy in 2015, Beltre stands to benefit in a big way. Although he will turn 36 in April, Beltre is aging gracefully, so he remains among the elite options at the hot corner even as he approaches the twilight of his career.
2015 Outlook: Freeman's first month looked like a breakout in the making (six homers, .975 OPS), especially on the heels of a huge September in 2013 (six homers, 1.068 OPS), but they actually played out the final five months instead of just extrapolating his April, and he wound up well below the lofty expectations set by his hot start. He wasn't bad by any stretch (.824 OPS), but Freeman clubbed just 12 more homers the rest of the way, leaving him with across-the-board declines in four of the five fantasy categories when accounting for his 15 extra games played. Negativity shan't reign supreme here, though, as Freeman remains a very appealing asset. It's rare to find a 25-year-old with four full seasons of great work already on the ledger. He continues to show incremental improvement, which could lead to a big breakout campaign as soon as 2015.
2015 Outlook: The 2014 campaign was the kind of perfect-world scenario that's always been plausible for Altuve, but also questionable due to his team context. Speed and batting average have always been his game, so the path to a huge season would include an exorbitant BABIP, a ton of infield hits and a career-best line-drive rate. Altuve delivered all of those at age 24 last year while still very much in his speed prime, so the .360 BABIP, MLB-high 31 infield hits, and 22.8 percent line-drive rate yielded not only a .341 AVG, but also a .377 OBP that led to 56 stolen bases -- all career highs. He'll almost certainly regress, but even with drops in average and steals, he'll be one of the more productive second basemen out there.
2015 Outlook: Scherzer followed his 2013 Cy Young year with another solid campaign in 2014, falling just short of some of his peers in the elite tier of starters. He did this despite seeing contract negotiations with the Tigers break down in a very public manner at the start of the season, with the Tigers disclosing the offer that his camp turned down. Much of Scherzer's improvement the past two seasons can be owed to keeping the ball in the park better despite not being a significant ground ball pitcher. Now that he has signed a big contract with the Nationals, he could realistically rack up 275 strikeouts thanks to all the times he will face the light-hitting NL East.
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: The 2014 season was a tough one for an AL pitcher to try to win the Cy Young Award, given the amazing performances of Corey Kluber and Felix Hernandez. But in many other years, Sale would have been an outstanding candidate. He posted excellent ratios (2.17 ERA, 0.97 WHIP), struck out batters at the highest rate of his career as a starter (10.76 K/9) and allowed fewer homers (just 13 in 174 innings). But because he missed six starts with a flexor strain, he never had much of a chance. The White Sox invested in their offense and their bullpen this offseason, which should give Sale more opportunities to win games in 2015. Unfortunately Sale suffered a sprained ankle and an avulsion fracture in his right foot during camp, leaving his status for the start of the season in serious jeopardy. All signs point to him joining the rotation at some point in April, but he will not be ready for Opening Day, and there is a chance he could miss one or two more starts in the early going.
2015 Outlook: Desmond -- not Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen or Carlos Gomez -- is the only player in baseball to hit at least 20 homers and steal at least 20 bases in each of the past three seasons. His BABIP has remained consistently above league average during this run, but his ability to make contact has not. Desmond's strikeout rate has increased for three consecutive seasons from a near-league-average 21 percent to a much poorer rate of 28 percent in 2014. He does help in all four counting categories, as he was one of just five players in 2014 to go 20/20 while also scoring and driving in at least 70 runs. Desmond is entering the final year of his current deal, and he's looking to cash in his all-around game for a big payday on the free-agent market. There are flashier names at the shortstop position, but this guy has the health to match the production. Invest.
2015 Outlook: In 2014, the gloves finally truly came off for Strasburg, as he topped 200 innings for the first time. In a way, he's a victim of his own hype, as a 3.14 ERA and 1.12 WHIP to go along with 242 strikeouts are elite numbers. But given the way he came up and then made his major league debut, we tend to expect video-game numbers. Those still might come, by the way; he turns 27 this season and still has a mid-90s fastball and snappy curve. One of these years, everything is going to come together for a monster season, and you'll want to be there when it happens.
2015 Outlook: Considering Braun battled a thumb injury that prevented him from properly gripping the bat throughout the entire season -- not to mention a variety of other injuries (oblique, ankle, back) -- it's impressive that he was able to post the numbers he did. Granted, he did finish with a .777 OPS, more than 160 points below his career mark entering the year (.938), and his walk rate of 7.1 percent was his lowest since his rookie season, but Braun's ISO was still well above average at .187. Further, his line-drive rate of 19.9 percent was the second best of his career, and his .304 BABIP was more than 30 points below his career average of .336. Braun managed just 11 stolen bases in 16 attempts, and at 31, it seems safe to assume his days of even 20-plus steals are behind him, but he's still capable of supplying quality production in all five rotisserie categories. If the cryotherapy procedure he underwent on his thumb in October finally eliminates the issue -- he said in November that it "definitely worked" and that he didn't feel any pain -- Braun could prove a bargain at his reduced price.
2015 Outlook: Bumgarner posted career-best totals in strikeouts, wins and walk rate in 2014, and that's before his remarkable postseason. He threw a whopping 53 innings in the playoffs, so he logged a total of 270 innings overall. Interestingly enough, Bumgarner was much better on the road (2.22 ERA, 0.98 WHIP) than at home (4.03 ERA, 1.24 WHIP) during the regular season, a beguiling stat for daily league players hoping to take advantage of an elite starter in a pitcher's park. It'll be interesting to see if the Giants encourage him to rely less on his wipeout slider to preserve his long-term health.
2015 Outlook: Posey's skill set hardly seems like one that should generate wild fluctuations in production from month to month, but even a low-strikeout, 20-homer power bat can run hot and cold for extended stretches. Despite nearly identical plate-discipline numbers between the first and second halves, Posey's OPS was 221 points higher (.978) after the All-Star break than it was before. The final results in 2014 nearly mirror his career line (.308/.374/.487), and the Giants are perfectly content to give him a heavy volume of playing time by getting him regular work at first base when Brandon Belt is injured or in need of a day off. There's a gaping hole in the San Francisco lineup following Pablo Sandoval's offseason departure to Boston, which may chip away at Posey's counting stats and enable opposing pitchers to attack him with more pitches outside the strike zone. But even with a downgraded supporting cast, Posey has earned the position of first catcher off the board in many drafts.
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: There's both statistical and physical volatility associated with Ramirez heading into 2015. Ramirez has played in at least 150 games just twice over the past six seasons, having missed time with oblique, hand and leg injuries. His batting average has ranged anywhere from .243 to .345 in recent seasons. He's hit 20 or more homers many times and stolen that many bases a number of times but has not done both in the same season since 2012. The move to Fenway Park provides Ramirez with the first friendly home ballpark in his career, but the ballparks are not what have hurt his fantasy production in recent seasons. This is a surefire first-round lock if health risks could be removed, but the fact that he's played just one full season in the past four is what keeps him out of the first round and possibly the second, depending on your comfort level.
2015 Outlook: How much do you believe in Kluber's breakout 2014 season? Many analysts point to his conversion to using a four-seam fastball instead of a two-seamer as fueling this performance spike. He already had strong secondary offerings, so the heater was the final piece of the puzzle. Kluber ran a little lucky in terms of preventing home runs (7.4 percent HR/FB), but he also induces a lot of ground balls. Because he's such a late bloomer, Kluber hasn't accumulated nearly as many innings as others in the first tier of starting pitchers. That rubs both ways, though, as 2014 represented a big workload spike for him. Expect a little bit of regression, but nothing near a collapse.