2015 Outlook: After consecutive seasons as the runner-up in American League MVP voting, Trout brought home the hardware in 2014. With a bar that was set in the stratosphere following his 30-homer, 49-steal breakout in 2012, the 23-year-old outfielder might always be pressed to meet expectations. After delivering a .310/.400/.606 line and 22 of his 36 home runs in the first half of the season, Trout appeared to be picking up right where he left off in 2013. However, a second-half swoon, including a 30 percent strikeout rate and a .257/.347/.502 line, served as a reminder that even the league's premier talent can struggle for a period. He appeared in all but five games and didn't suffer any reported injuries during that post-break skid, although he had a short absence in early June due to stiffness in his upper back. Trout hit the ball in the air more often last season, hitting fly balls at a 47.2 percent clip and finishing with a career-high 36 home runs in the process. His stolen-base total was cut in half, falling from 33 in 2013 to 16 last season, though that drop may be a tactical adjustment by manager Mike Scioscia rather than an erosion of skills. Even with his career-low batting average (.287) and stolen-base count, Trout still grades out as an elite talent worthy of being the first overall selection on draft day.
2015 Outlook: McCutchen has established himself as a perennial MVP candidate in the National League, contributing in all five rotisserie categories and having played in at least 150 games in four straight seasons prior to a short stint on the disabled list late in 2014. One day after taking an intentional Randall Delgado fastball between the shoulder blades, McCutchen strained an oblique while swinging at a pitch. Upon returning, he showed no lingering effects of the injury, hitting .324/.409/.559 with eight home runs and 16 RBIs over his final 37 games and helping the Bucs secure a playoff berth for the second straight season. At age 28, there's little reason to expect McCutchen to slow down, and it's fair to wonder if he might have another 30-homer season in his bat after he pushed his slugging percentage back to .542, a 34-point increase from his MVP season. Further, his 18-for-21 mark as a base stealer marked a career-high 85.7 percent success rate last season. He'll reprise his role as the Bucs' No. 3 hitter as the franchise attempts to play in October for the third consecutive year.
2015 Outlook: Stanton was on his way to reaching the 40-home run plateau for the first time in his career when he was hit in the face by a pitch in Milwaukee during the second week of September, an incident that abruptly ended his season with several facial fractures. Even while being limited to 145 games, Stanton matched his previous career high with 37 home runs while setting new bests in RBIs (105), runs scored (89) and stolen bases (13), reaping the benefits of a developing Marlins lineup around him. As a hitter, he didn't change much from 2013, showing nearly identical strikeout (26.6 percent) and walk rates (14.7 percent), and gaining ground in the batting average department following a 40-point surge in BABIP (.353). Already with 2,640 plate appearances in the big leagues under his belt, Stanton turned 25 in November and the Marlins decided to make a long-term commitment to their young slugger, signing him to a 13-year, $325 million contract that includes an opt-out provision after the 2020 season and a full no-trade clause. The organization also made a concerted effort to improve Stanton's supporting cast, acquiring Dee Gordon, Martin Prado and Mike Morse to bolster the lineup. Don't be surprised if he sustains the gains in runs and RBIs from a year ago while providing even more homers in 2015.
2015 Outlook: Goldschmidt was headed for another MVP-level season before an Ernesto Frieri fastball ended his season. Goldy didn't need surgery, however, which improves his outlook, especially with a more-than-adequate layoff to heal entirely. He maintains first-round value despite the time missed as one of the premier power threats in the game. The speed is likely to continue its slow fade as he gets deeper into his 20s, but as a perennial elite power threat, it's merely the icing on the cake now. He has the one full season of excellence and yet it feels comfortable to bet on a .300/30/100 season, with upside for much more. The 40-homer mark is a distinct possibility, particularly if he can turn the tide on a declining fly ball rate.
2015 Outlook: Despite missing a month of the season, Kershaw managed to win 21 games in 27 starts while posting career-best ratios, good enough to win both the NL Cy Young and MVP. What can he do for an encore? The biggest concern about the lefty is that he's had rough starts in the playoffs against the Cardinals two years in a row. But even then, most of the damage against him came late in the game, including the critical homer by Matt Adams in the Game 4 elimination, with Kershaw was pitching on short rest. Perhaps you're worried about investing a pick this early on a pitcher, but this is where his stats suggests he ranks, and in today's low-scoring environment, it's less risky to invest that early pick on Kershaw.
2015 Outlook: Gomez turned a career-high 644 plate appearances into another 20-homer, 30-steal campaign for the Brewers in 2014, solidifying his status as the team's most valuable position player. Offering a combination of power and speed that very few players can match, Gomez's bugaboo had always been an inability to draw walks. But last season, he earned a free passes in 7.3 percent of his trips to the plate, and that increased patience helped push his on-base percentage to a career-best .356. Thanks to his top-end speed and ability to make hard contact when he connects, Gomez's BABIP baseline (career .316, .339 in 2014) is higher than most, though it remains to be seen whether he can continue to chug along above his career mark, as he's done each of the past two seasons. The Brewers used him as their cleanup hitter for 37 games last year, but he finished the campaign in his typical leadoff role, which suggests he'll be back in that spot to begin 2015.
2015 Outlook: How do you give back 19 homers and still have a top-15 season? Being Miguel Cabrera helps. He offset the loss with 26 more doubles while also eclipsing the century mark in runs scored and RBIs for the fifth straight season. Cabrera's 2015 outlook has, however, been muddied by a stress fracture in his ankle that was discovered when removing bone spurs in October. The ankle sidelined him here and there in late August -- and he posted a .691 OPS during that month -- but he rebounded with a 1.118 OPS and eight homers in September, so a healed Cabrera should be his perennially excellent self. Short of catastrophic news, he's unlikely to fall from the first round, but anything in the latter half is a discount to be enjoyed.
2015 Outlook: Bautista evolved as a hitter in 2014, showing a more balanced approach that included an ability to hit to the opposite field and beat the shift. The results included a better mark on balls in play (.286) and the highest batting average he's posted in a season since 2011. He also avoided major injury, playing in 155 games and continuing to provide right-handed power in the heart of the Blue Jays lineup. Much like teammate Edwin Encarnacion, Bautista's ability to draw a lot of walks and keep his strikeout rate low makes him one of the most dangerous hitters in the game. Bautista had more opportunities to drive in runs last year, as Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera managed to stay in the lineup more frequently. Though Cabrera is gone now, the health of the hitters in front of Bautista will again be a key to his RBI production. The days of 40-plus home runs might be over, but a repeat of last season's 35 long balls should be within reach.
2015 Outlook: Encarnacion needed only 128 games to put up a full season's worth of numbers, but he no doubt left many wondering what could've been had he not missed 33 games in the middle of the summer. The lack of power in the game as a whole keeps Encarnacion's value extremely high even as he pushes into his 30s and carries an injury history that features seven trips to the DL, including one in each of the past two years. His power plays everywhere, with 58 of his 112 home runs over the past three years coming on the road, but he still leverages his home ballpark for a batting average boost. The Jays' improved lineup could give him another shot at 100 RBIs and a chance at his first 100-run season.
2015 Outlook: Abreu took the league by storm in 2014, hitting 10 home runs in two of his first three months, with an injury to his left ankle seemingly the only reason he didn't complete the feat in May as well. The power faded after the All-Star break, but his production remained strong, as Abreu traded the homers for base hits and walks. Despite just seven home runs in the second half (compared to 29 in the first), his OPS dipped just 24 points thanks to a .350 average and .435 OBP. Was the ankle a cause in this power slide or was it just the regression of his obscene 35 percent HR/FB rate from the first half? The latter seems most likely, but it gave him a chance to show how good he is at hitting. He'll remain a power-hitting force, and when you pair 30-plus homers with an average that should again exceed .290, the result is a truly elite fantasy commodity.
2015 Outlook: Hernandez produced a 99th-percentile 2014 season in every category but wins, as he received only average run support. While he was a little lucky on batted balls (.269 BABIP), he was superb in nearly every other indicator. His strikeout percentage improved again from 26.3 percent to 27.2, his GB/FB ratio increased and his walk rate declined. After a steady decline in his average fastball velocity in previous years, King Felix actually threw a little harder in 2014, quelling fears he was starting to break down physically. There's nothing pointing to a collapse from elite levels for the 10-year veteran.
2015 Outlook: Everyone projected Cano's home run output to drop with his ballpark switch, but he ended up hitting 11 fewer homers on the road than he had the year before. However, he still delivered a strong five-category effort that yielded a top-25 ranking among hitters. At 32 years old, there's no guarantee we see a resurgence of the power that gave him a .500-plus slugging percentage for five straight seasons from 2009 to 2013 ever again. There have been only 14 seasons of .500-plus slugging from second basemen aged 32 or older; most recently, Jeff Kent in 2007 during a much different offensive era. This skill set feels like it will age gracefully, however, and the front office's intent on making the lineup deeper will only help Cano's counting stats.
2015 Outlook: Rizzo entered 2014 with a glaring flaw but at an age at which it was hardly set in stone as a known deficiency. He had struggled massively against lefties in his first 356 plate appearances against them, but he unloaded on southpaws for a massive .928 OPS in 171 plate appearances last season. The only impediment for Rizzo in 2014 was a back injury that cost him time late in the season and left him with 20 fewer games played than the year before. His issues with lefties can't be erased completely after the one season, but there is no longer any question he can handle them. The maturation of a youthful lineup will likely be the deciding factor in whether Rizzo can reach 100 runs scored or driven in, but the power and on-base skills are real and spectacular.
2015 Outlook: If your league settings allowed you to turn off injuries, like you can in video games, Tulowitzki would be a top-three pick. Unfortunately, that's not an option. Last season was the ultimate Tulo year, as he put up MVP-worthy numbers (.340/.432/.603) at the plate but managed to step up to bat only 375 times. Despite Tulo's superior skills, fantasy owners have been left scrambling for a replacement more often than not over the past three seasons, as he's missed 222 games in that span. Even with Miguel Cabrera's foot issue in play, Tulowitzki remains the biggest wild card of the first round or big-money players. There's no profit here, but if he breaks down, there can be significant loss because he comes off the board early. Count on one stint on the disabled list; hope it's a short one. A trade is also a possibility, as rumors have swirled around Tulo all offseason, and a move out of the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field likely would sap his fantasy value.
2015 Outlook: Perhaps Jones isn't the sexiest first-round pick in fantasy, but he's deserving of a top-10 selection in most formats. A four-time All-Star, he's proven extremely durable, appearing in at least 149 games in each of the past five years, with just five missed games over the past three seasons. He's also been about as consistent a producer as anyone in baseball, hitting above .280 with 29-plus homers, 88-plus runs and 82-plus RBI in each of his past three campaigns. Never a particularly patient hitter, Jones saw his walk rate fall to just 2.8 percent in 2014, but he maintained a strikeout rate right around his career norm (19.4 percent) and showed tremendous improvement against left-handed pitching, slashing .344/.399/.604 against southpaws, up from .251/.315/.417 the year before. Jones did finish with single-digit steals for the first time since 2010, and a rebound in stolen bases isn't necessarily a lock entering his age-29 season, but they're really just a bonus for a hitter of his caliber anyway.