2016 Outlook: Seasons like Machado's 2015 are why we play the game of fantasy baseball. There was nothing in the stats that could have forecasted it, especially on the heels of a second massive knee injury. Machado showed no ill effects with an MLB-high 713 plate appearances and he more than doubled both his home run and stolen base totals. Coming into the season he had 33 homers and 10 steals in 1,266 plate appearances and then dropped 35 homers and 20 steals in a breakout effort. He will struggle to repeat if for no other reason than the fact that 162-game seasons are rare these days. There have only been 14 since 2011 with only Prince Fielder (3) and Hunter Pence (2) logging more than one. With the health concern muted, however, Machado has vaulted into a guaranteed first-rounder.
2016 Outlook: Fight the urge to simply extrapolate Correa's amazing numbers from 2015 into a full season because those that do will almost certainly wind up disappointed. Of course he doesn't need to do something like that to still be both the top shortstop and a first-round talent. It is hard to find any discernible flaws in his game, even after just 99 games, but the grind of a six-month major league season alone will breed some cold periods. Keep in mind: no qualified shortstop had better than a .782 OPS last year. Now if that's all Correa does, he won't fulfill that first-round part, but he's a strong bet to deliver the first non-Ian Desmond 20-homer/20-steal season at shortstop. And if one wants to really dream about the upside, think Hanley Ramirez 2007-2009. Ramirez averaged 29 homers, 38 steals, 117 runs, 85 RBI, and a .325 average in those three years. Averaged.
2016 Outlook: For the first time in 2016, Tulowitzki is not going to be taken by anyone in the top 20 in a fantasy draft. It has happened year after year despite the fact Tulo hasn't played more than 150 games since the 2009 season and has had one injury issue after another since. Last season, the inevitable happened as he was dealt away from Coors and went to Toronto, where he put up a very disappointing .239/.317/.380 line over 41 games and there too suffered an injury. Like all Rockies hitters, Tulo was amazing at home, but his career .274/.347/.462 slash line away from Coors is nothing to ignore. The shortstop position is not terribly deep in 2016 with youth (Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts, Corey Seager) making up most of the higher rankings. If he hits at the top of the lineup and can stay healthy in front of the Blue Jay bombers, then he could score plenty of runs, but health does not generally get better with age.
2016 Outlook: The Aruban shortstop displayed his plus hit tool and plus glove work last season, putting an end to the talk of a potential move to third base. He took advantage of hitting third for most of the season, and with the help of a slightly inflated batting average (.372 BABIP last season, .338 for his career), he was able to finish top-two in runs and RBI at the position. Bogaerts should remain in the three-hole for Boston in 2016, and while he may not hit .320 again, modest regression would allow him to still challenge for .300. His 10 steals may not sound like much, but it gives him an edge over players like Troy Tulowitzki, Brandon Crawford and Jhonny Peralta. The elephant in the room is Bogaerts' power projection. Scouting reports have always suggested he could hit 20-30 homers in his prime, and while he is just entering his age-23 season, his in-game power could start to click at any moment, which would make him a five-category monster.
2016 Outlook: Seager gave the Dodgers and baseball fans in general a tantalizing taste of his vast talent in his 113 plate appearances at the tail end of 2015. He managed an impressive .337 average despite a below-league-average contract rate, launching four homers and driving in 17 runs over that abbreviated stretch. He produced an impressive .387 BABIP, .561 slugging percentage, and .224 ISO, none of which represented uncharted territory from his minor league track record, and his walk rate was higher than it was during any stop on the farm. Seager projects as the everyday shortstop for the Dodgers, and should have ample opportunity to generate solid power numbers while frequenting the basepaths through his considerable ability to hit for average, though a knee has him questionable for Opening Day.
2016 Outlook: Conventional wisdom thought Lindor's glove was MLB ready but there was some concern if his bat could play. After a couple of months at Triple-A where his on-base skills improved across the board, he got the call. What followed was a complete surprise, as much like another more ballyhooed rookie shortstop (Carlos Correa), Lindor enjoyed a power spike completely out of line with his minor league history. Another parallel is Lindor's flyball rate being extremely low so a drop in homers is very likely. Further, sustaining a .348 BABIP is unlikely even though, with his very good contact rate, speed and groundball rate, Lindor's batting average floor is still solid. Factor in the fact that the sophomore is entrenched in the two-hole and the runs and steals should remain high. Just don't pay for last year's power.
2016 Outlook: Don't worry about pinpointing an exact expectation for Andrus; instead, think of the big picture. If you miss out on the wave of new-breed shortstops early and need some speed without damaging the batting average, then Andrus is the guy. His actual production will vary, depending on where the veteran hits in the order. What we know is that he sports an excellent contact rate and smacks a bevy of groundballs, rendering a solid batting average floor for a guy who has averaged 31 steals per season in his seven-year career. While last season's fly ball spike resulted in a handful more homers, that's not why you let Andrus into the building. Prospective owners should desire his durability (averaging 158 games the past four seasons) and reliability. The ceiling is limited but there's something to be said for his stability, paving the way to take chances elsewhere in the draft.
2016 Outlook: Crawford managed to once again demonstrate improvement in every major offensive category in 2015, the fourth consecutive season that he's accomplished the feat. The 29-year-old, already a perennial Gold Glove contender, set new career highs in at-bats, runs scored, hits, doubles, homers, RBI, batting average and slugging percentage, and also enhanced his already-stellar defensive resume. Crawford's 21 homers in 2015 more than doubled his previous high of 10, a stark increase even when factoring in that he'd improved his home run numbers in each prior season as well. If he happens to approximate his poor 77 percent contact rate from 2015 and his career-high 16.2 percent HR/FB rate experiences some regression, Crawford will likely see his power numbers come back towards the mean. Regardless of some potential fluctuations in performance at the plate, he'll enter 2016 armed with a six-year, $75 million extension complete with a no-trade clause, cementing his opportunity to build on his recent success.
2016 Outlook: After a disastrous start to the season that saw him hitting just .211 with seven home runs at the All-Star break, Desmond pulled it together in the second half, as he hit .262/.331/.446, comparable to his 2013 Silver Slugger campaign (.280/.331/.453), and mashed 12 homers in the season's final 74 games. Even in a down year, Desmond was a four-category contributor, as he also stole 13 bases, scored 69 times and knocked in 62 runs. Seeking an upgrade for the oft-injured Josh Hamilton, the Rangers signed Desmond to a one-year deal soon after the start of spring training in February, where he will take over as the team's starting left fielder.
2016 Outlook: Nobody was quite certain how Kang would hit major league pitching, but he exceeded most expectations with a strong rookie year while playing both spots on the left side of the infield. His season was prematurely ended when Chris Coghlan aggressively slid into Kang's leg trying to break up a double play as the Pirates were fighting for the NL Central banner. Kang walked enough and his strikeout rate was OK considering the drastic change of competition coming from overseas to the major leagues. He hits too many ground balls to forsee a spike to 20 homers; as it was, it took a 17 percent HR/FB ratio to get him to 15 homers last year. Enjoy the above-average bat that qualifies at two spots on draft day, particularly at shortstop, which is rather top-heavy in 2016.
2016 Outlook: Of all the Cubs' rookies, Russell garnered the least attention. Part of that was by design as the club grew more reliant on his defense at shortstop than counting on offensive production. In fact, Russell hit out of the nine-hole, a favorite Joe Maddon ploy. Unfortunately, the attempt to get a second leadoff man didn't come to fruition as Russell's contact rate fell precipitously, fueling a rather anemic .307 on-base percentage. With nearly a full season under his belt, look for the 22-year-old infielder to cut down on the strikeouts, though not enough to work his way much higher in the order. The element of Russell's game that did not manifest during his rookie campaign was speed. As his confidence grows, so will the running opportunities. Still, so long as Russell is buried in the order, his production, despite sneaky power, will be tempered.
2016 Outlook: Traded from the Angels to the Braves in the offseason as part of the package for Andrelton Simmons, Aybar goes from one of the most potent lineups in baseball to one of the most anemic. And it's not like Aybar, who's coming off his worst season as a full-time starter and entering his age-32 season, is the caliber of talent who can produce counting stats no matter the team context. He continued to make contact at a well-above-average clip, but that skill was largely negated by an inability to take a walk (3.9 BB%) or hit for a lick of power (.069 ISO). While Aybar continued to produce decent run and stolen-base totals, his contributions in those categories are in serious jeopardy entering 2016. His success rate on the basepaths has been slipping in recent years, and a spot near the top of the order is far from a given considering his lackluster on-base skills. Shortstop is thin, but even so, Aybar's appeal is limited.
2016 Outlook: Miller is the Rays shortstop to own in fantasy, as he should open the year on the strong side of a platoon with Tim Beckham. Neither player was particularly valuable in real life last year, however, so there could be some fluidity if one emerges as the far superior defensive option. Miller proved last year that he can help a little in power and steals, though his likely spot at the bottom of the Rays lineup will limit his upside in runs and RBIs. A .248 career hitter, his batting average is unlikely to be much help, but it won't sink a fantasy team either. There is not much hype surrounding the 26-year-old, though he can be thought of as a serviceable middle infield option in mixed leagues; he could outperform that valuation if he achieves the skill growth that many players experience at his age.
2016 Outlook: Marte's cup of coffee with the big club in the last two months of the 2015 season provided a glimpse of his ability to contribute in multiple categories. He endured a bump in strikeout rate from his Triple-A figure of 11.1 percent, but was able to hold an 80 percent contact rate, and proved proficient at drawing free passes as well (9.7 percent walk percentage, up from 7.0 at Triple-A Tacoma). Marte offers the added dimension of good speed on the basepaths, having swiped 100 bags during parts of five minor-league campaigns. While his power is certainly limited, with three homers representing his career high to date, Marte should have the shortstop job to open the year, and could eventually push Nori Aoki for leadoff duties in a lineup that packs some punch in the heart of the order.
2016 Outlook: Impatient middle infielders that make high contact are a dime a dozen. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Castro costs more than a dime, but they traded for his contract from Chicago in hopes that a change of scenery does him well. Castro is an enigma who has flashed talent earlier in his career but has been rather inconsistent in recent years. He has had nearly 50 points in batting average variance in recent seasons and while he has continued to hit double-digit homers, the Cubs put the brakes on his stolen bases because he was costing more run than he was creating on the bases. Girardi is no more likely to let Castro run than Maddon was last season, so unless Castro somehow improves his ability to read pitchers, that part of his game is likely on mothballs. The homers, runs, and RBIs are rather easy to forecast while his batting average could be anyone's guess.