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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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.