2015 Outlook: Votto has now missed significant time in two of the past three seasons, but there's a solid 162-game effort sandwiched in between. Last year was depressed by career-worst totals in both BABIP (.299) and HR/FB rate (11 percent), falling well short of his .355 and 18.3 percent career marks. Are those new levels, or will they soon look like as out of character as his 37-homer season from 2010? The latter is a smarter bet even at 31 years old, thanks to a batted-ball profile that was in line with the one that led to a .314/.419/.541 line in his first seven seasons. Feel confident in betting on the skill, but temper output expectations, as Votto has missed 30 percent of the past three seasons and is now on the wrong side of 30 years old.
2015 Outlook: Moss hit only four homers after the All-Star break, and the reason for that became pretty clear in September, when the A's announced he had been playing through a torn labrum in his hip that would ultimately require surgery. Moss had that surgery on Oct. 21 and later was traded to the Indians for second-base prospect Joe Wendle. Ideally, the Indians would like to use him at either first base or DH -- whichever position isn't occupied by Carlos Santana -- with Nick Swisher manning right field. But between Swisher's knee and Moss' hip, there's a lot of uncertainty about who is going to be available and at what capacity. Before the injury, Moss was great, hitting 21 homers with an .878 OPS prior to the All-Star break. If he fully recovers, he might even benefit from the change in ballparks, as he consistently was hurt by his home ballpark in Oakland during the past three years.
2015 Outlook: With back-to-back seasons of 30-plus homers in a pitcher-friendly ballpark, there was real excitement about what Trumbo might do in Arizona over a full season. Unfortunately, a fractured right foot limited him to just 88 games, and he hit just 14 homers in that time, thanks in large part to a career-worst HR/FB rate of 14.3 percent. He spent 2012 and 2013 at a lofty 21 percent, but suffered the big drop in 2014 despite posting a career-high 40 percent fly ball rate. Trumbo's still virtually the same guy, though, with bankable power and a batting-average deficiency. His inability to consistently walk holds that average down, as does his lofty strikeout rate. These skills have largely been static throughout his mid-20s, making it unlikely that we'll see a major shift at this point, which also means that his 40-homer potential may not quite materialize.
2015 Outlook: Now that Adam LaRoche has departed via free agency to the White Sox, the Nats have opened up first base for Zimmerman to move across the diamond -- a move that was desperately needed, given his shoulder woes. Zimmerman has welcomed the move, saying it allows him to focus on his hitting. But it wasn't Zimmerman's shoulder that limited him to just 61 games in 2014 -- rather, he suffered a broken thumb and then a hamstring injury that limited him even once he returned in September. He appears to be fully healed now and will enjoy eligibility at third base and outfield for one more season. The risks with Zimmerman are obvious, but they're also going to be priced in on draft day. Your reward for taking a chance on him could be a 25-homer season.
2015 Outlook: The dangers of extrapolation are shown clearly in the case of Adams. He had 17 homers in 108 games back in 2013, which gave him a lot of 20-plus-homer projections for 2014. However, he hit eight of those homers in September 2013, which ballooned his HR/FB rate to 22 percent for the year. He fell to nine percent last year en route to a disappointing 15-homer season. Adams is also a platoon player, which limits his upside. He started only 32 games against lefties and managed just a .528 OPS against them all year. He could push the lower 20s in home runs, but that should be considered the upside, not the expectation. At 26 years old, he's entering what should be his prime years, but he'll need to hit lefties better to take that next step.
2015 Outlook: Duda used to be a poor man's Matt Adams. He was a true platoon player with a modicum of power but marginal batting average upside. But in 2014, he traded the batting average upside for a more explosive power profile. The reliability of that power going forward obviously dictates his value, and it looks solid. He didn't need a huge spike in fly balls or HR/FB rate to fuel this surge; it was just a continued maturation against righties combined with a career high in playing time. He may get even fewer than his 125 opportunities against lefties this year now that Michael Cuddyer is around to spell him at first base, but that could be seen as a boon, given his .516 OPS, with just two home runs and 10 RBI against them last year. His value spikes in leagues that use OBP and/or daily lineups.
2015 Outlook: Hosmer had a nice October, but it can't completely erase the memories of his 2014 regular season. Though he played just 131 games, he wasn't injured until Aug. 1 and had just a .689 OPS through July, so it's not like he had a nagging, lingering injury all season. Righties found reasonable success against Hosmer, holding him to a .732 OPS, noticeably shy of the league's .766 OPS on average for lefties facing right-handed pitchers. He did hit righties to the tune of an .803 OPS in 2013 and .886 in 2011, so there has been good work by Hosmer on that front in the past. The inconsistency is frustrating, but such is life with a young player, as their growth is almost never linear. He's still just 25 years old, so the upside is still there, but we need to temper what that upside looks like considering he's a first baseman who has yet to eclipse 20 homers.
2015 Outlook: It can be easy to overlook LaRoche, as he has essentially been the same player throughout his career. That isn't said critically, however, as he's been a consistently solid contributor and has remained steady into his 30s. In fact, in the past three seasons, his 79 homers are good for 16th in baseball. LaRoche has always hit better in his home park despite rarely having played in a hitter-friendly yard, but now he moves into U.S. Cellular Field, which has been a homer haven for years. The park was eighth in home runs per game (1.86) in 2014, well ahead of the 1.33 mark for Nationals Park. LaRoche has a pair of 30-homer seasons on his ledger and might be primed for a third, but the safe bet is to expect 25 homers and 90 RBI and take anything else as pure profit.
2015 Outlook: Morneau was expected to improve with his move to Coors Field, and while he did just that, it wasn't in the way most expected. Instead of adding to his 17 home run total from 2013, he boosted his average by 60 points en route to a National League-best .319 mark. Of course, the only reason he didn't top that 2013 home run figure is the time he missed to a neck injury. Morneau has missed time in five of the past six seasons, so betting on a repeat of his 152 games from 2013 is dangerous. Instead, enjoy the fact that with him playing in Coors, you can get his typical counting production and a boosted batting average despite the games he sits out due to injury.
2015 Outlook: The Pirates moved Alvarez off of the hot corner last season after his defense eroded to the point where he was a regular liability to the team's pitching staff. That Josh Harrison was having a breakout season at the plate and needed a regular defensive position certainly contributed to the decision, but there had long been questions about Alvarez's ability to handle the rigors of third base. In addition to his woes in the field, Alvarez didn't display his typical level of power, slugging a career-low .405 despite improvements to his walk (10.1 percent) and strikeout (25.4 percent) rates. His splits against righties were still acceptable, as he put up a .245/.330/.440 line against them, but his HR-to-FB ratio against righties tumbled from 29.7 percent in 2013 to 17.6 percent last season. Alvarez's batted-ball profile was largely unchanged in 2014, offering a glimmer of hope that he could make a push back toward the 30-homer plateau after reaching that level in 2012 and 2013. A fractured foot cut Alvarez's season short in September, but he was cleared to begin his regular offseason program in December. He's expected to open the year on the larger side of a platoon at first base with Corey Hart.
2015 Outlook: Belt has a dedicated fan base within the fantasy community. Chances are, one guy in your league has continued to go back to the well with Belt and at least had him for three of his four seasons. He keeps doing something to tantalize. His full season in 2013 looked like just the beginning, then he opened the 2014 season with seven home runs in April before a broken thumb limited him to just eight games over the next two months. A concussion all but washed out the second half, necessitating two DL stints and limiting him to just 54 plate appearances in the final two months of the season. The proponents are going to see a fast start that had him pacing toward 30 homers, while the detractors will be leery of what the power spike did to the rest of his numbers, not to mention his 18.2 percent HR/FB ratio, which was well above his previous marks.
2015 Outlook: Mauer burned a lot of owners in 2014, as the move from catcher (while remaining eligible at the position) to first base was supposed to drive up his production by keeping him healthier and adding volume. Unfortunately, he logged a whopping 10 more plate appearances than 2013. No one was expecting the 2009 power to miraculously come back, but at the very least he was supposed to be a lock for .300-plus AVG; even that fell short. Now he has become a 32-year-old eligible only at first base who has averaged just 10 homers per 162 games played over the last five years. Yes, that's per 162, and of course he never plays 162. If you're power-heavy early in the draft with a star first baseman in place, he might be a useful corner infielder.
2015 Outlook: Pearce lived his early MLB life as a short-side platoon player on the four corners (first, third, left and right), but a surge against righties resulted in a nice, career year at age 31. He had six homers against right-handers in 488 plate appearances prior to 2014 but hit double that number in just 272 plate appearances while continuing to be a lefty-killer too. The ride appeared over in July, when he managed just a .681 OPS and two home runs, but he caught fire again and closed with a 1.040 OPS and 10 homers in the final two months, despite a lack of full-time play. However, this is his first run of real success against right-handers, and he's too old to map out a legitimate growth pattern. Trusting post-30-year-old breakouts is a fast track to a fifth-place finish, but Pearce should get enough at-bats at DH, with some starts sprinkled in at first base and the outfield corners, to be worth monitoring in deeper formats in 2015.
2015 Outlook: Grandal was getting some sleeper love prior to the trade to Los Angeles, and the move to the Dodgers only makes him more desirable. He had a near-equal strikeout-to-walk ratio in his first two seasons (57 strikeouts and 49 walks), but it was only an 88-game sample, and the strikeout rate specifically ran counter to what he had shown in the minors. He continued to take walks in his first full season of play last year, but the strikeout rate jumped from 17 to 26 percent. His real level probably remains unknown at this point, but at least he is still drawing walks, even with the elevated strikeout rate. After hitting half his homers in the pitcher-friendly Petco Park, he should enjoy the boost Chavez Ravine offers as goes from the 24th-best home run park to the fifth best, according ESPN's Park Factors page.
2015 Outlook: Prior to last season, Rosario was establishing himself as an elite bat with the added bonus of being miscast by the Rockies as their starting catcher. Defensively, there are still plenty of issues with his work behind the plate, and Rosario might be ticketed for a move to first base once Justin Morneau's contract runs out after the 2015 season. But the big issue is that Rosario's bat took a big step back a year ago. Health may have been the culprit, as left wrist soreness cost him a few games in April before the nagging injury pushed him to the DL in late August. Rosario pounded lefties (.989 OPS) and raked at Coors Field last season (.928 OPS), and though six of his 13 home runs came on the road, he put together a brutal .185/.212/.321 line outside of Coors. Even with those factors working against him, Rosario improved his strikeout rate to a career-low 17.1 percent and still managed to hit .267. Though it's possible the Rockies will entrust more playing time behind the plate to Michael McKenry, Rosario should still see another 450 plate appearances as the primary catcher and potential right-handed hitting-platoon partner for Morneau at first base. With that volume of playing time and half of his games still coming in Colorado, Rosario remains an enticing option once the elite backstops are off the board.