2016 Outlook: With speed way down league-wide -- 2015 saw the fewest SB since 1994, which was strike-shortened -- stolen bases have been at the forefront of the No. 1 overall pick discussion. Will Goldschmidt continue to run like we've seen? Will Mike Trout break the trend of his declining stolen base totals? Is Bryce Harper a justifiable No. 1 with a measly eight stolen bases over the last two seasons combined? A 21-steal effort in 2015 has Goldschmidt atop many boards as the most complete option available, although focusing too much on his stolen base contributions gives short shrift to his power prowess. The fact is that he could lose some of those steals and still be the bona fide No. 1 pick. Nothing in his batting profile looks primed for substantial regression and it's not out of the question for the 28-year-old to get better. His five-category capability puts him in range to put up an in-his-prime Pujols kind of season with 40-plus homers, double-digit steals, an average well north of .300, with 100-plus runs and RBI thrown in for good measure. Take the rose-colored glasses off and you still have a remarkably high floor.
2016 Outlook: Encarnacion has seemingly been around forever (debuted in 2005) and he always seems be nursing some kind of injury (7 DL stints; 150+ games just once), yet since 2012 he is second in home runs (151) and RBI (423), 10th in runs (352), and seventh in OPS (.919). He also has an elite approach with just a 16 percent strikeout rate, atypically low for such a tremendous power hitter. These skills plus a continued dominance of right-handed pitchers should make for a smooth decline for Encarnacion. His .918 OPS against right-handed pitching since 2012 is third-best among right-handed hitters since 2012 behind only Mike Trout (.981) and Miguel Cabrera (.980). Itís not like lefties get a break against him as his .926 OPS is still good for 13th. Just beware that the injuries are already rearing their ugly head; Encarnacion has not played in spring training, as he first dealt with an abscessed tooth then an oblique injury.
2016 Outlook: Those that had Abreu down for significant regression in 2015 were dead wrong. There was some give in his numbers, but he still put up a fantastic effort in his sophomore campaign with the White Sox. In fact, the projections in this very space last year prepared prospective owners for most of the fall off, pegging him for 78 runs, 34 homers, 100 RBI, and a .286 average. It was light on the runs and average, heavy on the homers, and virtually dead-on with the RBI. After just two seasons, Abreu already feels like that reliable rock upon which to build your team. He has a solid foundation of skills while also still holding some upside. If he sold out for more power, he could join the 40-homer club, but likely at the cost of some batting average.
2016 Outlook: It is hard to find value in the first couple rounds of a draft. Owners are generally paying a premium for the high floors established by superstars. However, Cabrera is one of those rare guys for whom owners will pay a premium while still getting some legitimate upside because his price has dropped following his first ever DL stint. The calf strain that cost him 35 games might be a bigger deal if it had ended his season, but he returned for 42 games and still did a lot of Miggy-esque things: .316/.410/.454. The power was light for sure, but he finished the season on the field so we aren't left with a cloud of uncertainty. The back-to-back 44-homer seasons were clear outliers and that kind of power isn't coming back, but he was a lockdown first-rounder before those seasons and there's no real reason he can't be again in 2016.
2016 Outlook: Rizzo has been drawing comparisons to Paul Goldschmidt because of the 17 steals, but whereas that has long been a part of Goldy's game, there was no precedent for Rizzo's speed burst. Coming into 2015, Rizzo was just 16-for-28 (57 percent) on the basepaths. The rest of his profile is positively alluring. He held most of his 2014 gains versus LHP to maintain a solid batting average while finishing six runs shy of a 30-100-100 season. His 17 percent strikeout rate and 12 percent walk rate over the last two seasons match that of Miguel Cabrera and suggest some batting average upside, but nearly two-thirds of his groundball contact is pulled weakly for easy outs. StatCast tells us that Cabrera has a top-five Exit Velocity while Rizzo lingers below average. While there may not be substantial growth ahead, the floor is very sturdy.
2016 Outlook: An Orioles hitter has led the majors in home runs in each of the past three seasons, and Davis has accounted for two of those crowns, so it was fantastic news when he re-upped with Baltimore on a seven-year deal this offseason. It is debatable how good that deal will look for the club in a few years, but for fantasy purposes, it works perfectly. Park factors suggest Camden Yards is the best hitter's park in the American League, which is one of the reasons Davis has averaged 40 homers a year over the last four seasons. Another reason is that he has exquisite raw power from the left side, which he sells out to get to during games, leading to a 31 percent K-rate both last season and for his career. It is understandable that his all-or-nothing approach won't lead to any batting titles, but he has managed to hit above .260 in three of the past four seasons, which is excellent for a slugger of his ilk.
2016 Outlook: If not for the amazing season from Paul Goldschmidt, Votto's 2015 numbers from first base would have a much shinier luster to them. Despite the homers, runs, steals and average, Votto still finished a tier below Goldschmidt last season and the RBI category was the big differentiator as Votto drove in 30 fewer runs than Goldschmidt. Some were blaming Votto for not expanding his zone with men in scoring position, but he hit .291/.484/.509 with men in scoring position versus .304/.439/.507 with the bases empty. The true crime was Votto had 79 fewer runners on base when he was at the plate than did Goldschmidt. That isn't likely to improve for Votto in 2016, as Cincinnati has pared down its roster and has reduced the talent around him. There's a good chance opposing pitchers will pitch around Votto even more than they have in the past to deal with the less potent bats behind him in the lineup and that is going to diminish his value in standard league formats.
2016 Outlook: Once again the class of the position in 2015, Posey finished fourth in home runs (19), second in runs (74), first in RBI (95) and first in average (.318) among catchers. He also finished with a career-high 623 plate appearances (also tops at the position), thanks to getting 41 games at first base -- up from 33 in 2014. Those starts at first base could continue to creep up this season in an organizational effort to preserve his body, which is great news for fantasy owners, as he will have fewer days off than other catchers. Kyle Schwarber, who qualifies at catcher but will primarily play left field for the Cubs, represents perhaps the most worthy (fantasy) challenger Posey has faced at the position in recent years. However, thanks to an unmatched track record of excellence, the Giants' backstop has remained the first catcher off the board in early expert drafts -- a trend that should continue through spring training.
2016 Outlook: Gonzalez is like that reliable pair of boots that won't fetch many compliments, but will keep the wearer comfortable while protecting against the elements. Once the six or seven flashy names at the position are off the board, Gonzalez represents about as reliable an option as can be found at any position. In three full seasons with the Dodgers, he has always hit 22-plus homers, with 90-plus RBI and at least a .275 average. Unfortunately, he has only scored 80-plus runs once in L.A., in part because the back half of the lineup has been oddly shaky for much of his tenure. That said, he's an extremely reliable contributor in the three categories that a first baseman needs to be able to prop up. Adding to his reliability is the incredibly impressive fact that he has played 156-plus games in 10 straight seasons. A full season of Corey Seager and Justin Turner hitting ahead of him could help Gonzalez get back over 100 RBI for the eighth time in the last 10 years.
2016 Outlook: There are no problems with Freeman's skills, as he has everything you want in a hitter. Sure, he doesn't quite hit with the power we want to see from first base, but he hits for average, gets on base at an excellent rate, and can drive the ball to all parts of the field while making good contact. The issue is that he's the only guy in a rebuilding Atlanta lineup and pitchers could very well pitch around him to deal with the easier options behind him. Last season, Freeman had issues both in front and behind him, but Atlanta got him some help such that Ender Inciarte and Erick Aybar (as well as mainstay Nick Markakis) can get on base in front of him, which should help his RBI opportunities if pitchers don't have the open base to work with. If that trio can't get on base, then Freeman is going to set a career-high in walks.
2016 Outlook: Lofty expectations come with being a third overall pick (2008), and while Hosmer hasn't developed into the middle-of-the-order thumper that many thought he would become as a prospect, he's a reliable anchor in the heart of the Kansas City lineup. Entering 2015, Hosmer was discounted on the heels of a mediocre 2014 performance that was likely impacted by a stress fracture in his hand. With an ability to hold his own against lefties, Hosmer doesn't fall into a platoon for the Royals, which has allowed him to eclipse 650 plate appearances in two of the last three seasons. With that heavy playing time volume, he proved last season that he can be an asset by sustaining a high average (.297) and piling up plenty of RBI (93) and runs scored (98), and he continues to chip in a handful of steals under aggressive manager Ned Yost. While Hosmer is still seeking his first 20-homer season at the big league level, he may reach that level at age-26 in 2016 after posting his highest ISO (.162) since 2011.
2016 Outlook: The biggest concern for Pujols as he enters his age-36 season is health, as the skills remain mostly intact despite last year's dip in both average and on-base percentage. While the walk rate has been backsliding in recent years, Pujols continues to put the ball in play, making contact more than 85 percent of the time and hard contact more than a third of the time. One area of skills regression that does need to be pointed out is against left-handed pitching -- Pujols hit just .219 with 11 of his 40 homers coming against southpaws, marking the second time in three seasons he's hit below .220 against left-handers. Pujols also seemed to wear down during the stretch run, managing a .231/.288/.419 line after the All-Star break with ongoing foot issues seemingly playing a part. He went under the knife to repair the foot in November, and with a four-to-five month recovery time expected, Pujols' availability for Opening Day is very much in question.
2016 Outlook: After missing 101 games in 2014, Belt remained mostly healthy in 2015 and delivered an excellent season, as he hit .280/.356/.478 with a career-high 18 home runs. He even provided some speed on the base paths, with nine steals. Belt is still a strikeout machine, with a 26.4-percent strikeout rate that will make it difficult to maintain such a high batting average. Belt has made cavernous AT&T Park work for him, as he smashed 33 doubles and five triples in 2015, and his ability to use the whole field should help his batting average from backsliding too far. His lack of big home run power will keep him out of the elite first base ranks, but he does enough other things well to be a solid producer.
2016 Outlook: While the Red Sox were hopeful that Ramirez could make a smooth transition to handle left field upon signing him to a four-year deal last offseason, he struggled to handle the position from Day 1. At the plate, he started the season on a high note, posting a .283/.340/.609 line with 10 home runs and 22 RBI through his first 25 games with Boston. Things spiraled out of control from there, however, as a collision with an outfield wall during a May game led to a shoulder injury. Ramirez was unable to get back on track despite returning to the lineup a few days later. His numbers after the injury included a .239/.275/.372 line and nine homers over his final 80 games, a far cry from his early-season production. Moreover, shoulder fatigue prevented him from appearing in a game after Aug. 26. Ramirez told reporters that he was pain-free in early December, and he will head to spring training with the goal of learning a new position for the second consecutive year, this time shifting back to the infield to play first base.