2015 Outlook: Because Upton arrived in the majors at such a young age and had such high expectations as a No. 1 overall pick, it's conceivable to view his career as a disappointment. He had what appear to have been his peak seasons at ages 21 and 23, and his subsequent seasons have been merely good, not outstanding. A new line of sabermetric analysis suggests that players no longer follow the traditional bell curve of development -- instead of peaking sometime between 26 and 28, they often are as good as they're going to be a couple of years into their MLB tenure. One size doesn't fit all, but it does appear to fit Upton. He's now with the Padres after an offseason blockbuster deal, meaning he'll have to hit in Petco Park, which depressed right-handed power more than any other ballpark in the league last year. Upton is a free agent after this season ends, however, so a midseason trade is also possible.
2015 Outlook: On any other team, Dickerson may be little more than a platoon player, but with Colorado, he's a potential All-Star and borderline OF1 for fantasy purposes. A bench option to begin 2014, he was sent to Triple-A a week into the season, but injuries to Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gonzalez eventually opened up regular playing time. Dickerson made the most of the opportunity, clubbing a team-high 24 home runs, scoring 74 runs and plating 76, and he would have likely finished in the top five in batting average in the NL had he logged enough plate appearances to qualify. However, away from Coors Field, Dickerson hit just .252/.305/.431 with nine homers and 23 RBI (he hit .363/.415/.684 at home), and his OPS against southpaws (.724) was more than 260 points below his mark against right-handers (.985). His struggles against lefties may very well result in fewer chances against them in 2015, but Charlie Blackmon seems more likely to lose at-bats to Drew Stubbs, and any fear of an in-season trade seems misguided, with Gonzalez the more realistic candidate to be moved.
2015 Outlook: Less than a month into the 2014 campaign, Harper suffered a torn UCL in his left thumb that required surgery and kept him out for more than nine weeks. Predictably, Harper struggled immediately upon his return, slashing just .228/.330/.342 with five extra-base hits (two homers) in July, but he eased lingering concerns about the thumb by batting .283 with 11 homers over the final two months of the season. Manager Matt Williams, who infamously benched Harper early in the year for a "lack of hustle," primarily batted him sixth in the order, which proved far less fruitful in terms of RBIs. However, Harper should see more opportunities this year following Adam LaRoche's departure in the offseason. There were some concerning signs in regard to Harper's plate discipline last year, as his strikeout rate ballooned to 26.3 percent (from 18.9 percent) and his walk rate fell by nearly three percent. Those issues were masked to a certain extent by a .352 BABIP (career .319), so it wouldn't be a surprise if his average dipped a bit, but it's paramount to realize Harper is just 22 years old, and if he can stay healthy and refine his approach, he could finally turn in the type of season people have been waiting for. His upside remains as high as anyone's.
2015 Outlook: Marte was looking like one of the bigger busts in fantasy after the season's first month, as he was sitting with just a .229/.308/.305 batting line and one homer when the calendar turned to May. We hope you were patient. A move down to seventh in the batting order helped Marte get back on track, and while his run and steal totals suffered as a result, his improvement in batting average and RBI made up for it. Following a stint on the DL with a concussion shortly after the All-Star break, Marte returned with a vengeance, finishing with a spectacular .348/.408/.567 line in the second half. The 26-year-old still needs to work on cutting down his strikeouts (24 percent last season), but he was able to draw walks at an improved clip (6.1 percent), and his great speed should afford him the luxury of maintaining high averages in the years ahead. The steals should be there no matter where he's batting in the order, and there's still room to grow from a power standpoint.
2015 Outlook: Clayton Kershaw was the only pitcher in baseball to return more value than Cueto in 5x5 rotisserie leagues last season. In his age-28 campaign, Cueto tossed 243⅔ innings and fanned 242, both tops in the NL, and finished second in the Senior Circuit (behind only Kershaw) in wins (20), ERA (2.25) and WHIP (0.96). Meanwhile, Cueto improved his strikeout rate by more than four percent (from 21.1 percent to 25.2 percent) and trimmed his walk rate to 6.8 percent. Perhaps the most important factor in terms of his 2015 outlook was his ability to stay on the mound, as his 2013 season was plagued by recurring lat issues -- he made three separate trips to the DL that year. The Reds' decision to exercise Cueto's $10 million option for 2015 was a no-brainer, but prospective owners, especially those in NL-only leagues, need to be aware of the very real possibility that Cueto could be moved prior to the deadline if Cincinnati falls out of it. Oddly enough, Cueto owns a 3.01 ERA and 1.10 WHIP at hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark for his career and a 3.51 ERA and 1.27 WHIP on the road.
2015 Outlook: Two years into his six-season deal with the Dodgers, Greinke has been everything the team hoped for. In 2014, he posted a career-best 4.81 K:BB ratio, fueled by a career-low 5.2 percent walk rate. Greinke has been especially strong at home since signing with the Dodgers, posting 2.11 and 2.55 ERAs in his two years in Los Angeles. He's back among the first-tier starters now after having been relegated to the second tier for the previous two seasons.
2015 Outlook: Did Lester have a contract-year surge, or was his big 2014 year a matter of all health issues resolving in his favor finally? If you look at his numbers prior to 2012 and 2013, you might conclude that the latter hypothesis is more likely to be true. From 2009 to 2011, he averaged at least 8.55 K/9 before seeing a significant drop the next two years -- looking at that, his 9.01 K/9 in 2014 doesn't seem that out of line. Now that he gets to cross over to the NL and pitch for the Cubs, Lester should consolidate his strikeout gains and have another big year.
2015 Outlook: Zimmermann emerged as more than just an extreme strike-thrower in 2014, raising his strikeout rate from 18.6 percent to 22.8 percent en route to the finest ratios of his career. While he's throwing a changeup here and there, he mostly relies on pounding opposing hitters with his fastball (93.8 mph on average) and excellent slider. Zimmermann is in the final year of his contract, and the Nats reportedly dabbled in trade talks with the Cubs over the offseason, but nothing materialized. Given that Washington expects to contend in 2015, a midseason trade seems unlikely.
2015 Outlook: Though Hamels began 2014 on the DL for the second time in three years, this time with a biceps injury, he returned quickly and still logged 30 starts. When he returned, he actually had more velocity than ever, averaging 92.3 mph with his fastball. The big question about Hamels, however, is whether the Phillies will part with him as they continue their rebuild. The deal sending Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers seemed to signal that no veteran on this team is untouchable for the right price. Hamels is signed through 2018 with a club option for 2019 at a price that isn't a bargain, but isn't unreasonable either, though he has a no-trade clause with 20 teams. Still, he's the Phillie most likely to net a significant prospect package, so the team has to at least listen to offers. A midseason move out of hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park, where Hamels had a 3.20 ERA last year (as opposed to 1.82 on the road) could jump him into the first tier of starters.
2015 Outlook: Gonzalez got off to a hot start last season, smacking four homers in his first 10 games, but a bout of knee tendinitis in late April sobered up fantasy owners and proved a precursor to more serious injuries. His left index finger began presenting issues in May, and while he was able to play through the discomfort for close to a month, Gonzalez ultimately required surgery to remove a benign tumor. Less than a month after his return, Gonzalez was forced out of action yet again, this time due to a patellar tendon tear that required season-ending surgery. As a result, Gonzalez was capped at a career-low 70 games, and his performance when on the field wasn't anywhere near what is customary for the two-time All-Star. Gonzalez managed just a .723 OPS, marking the first time since his rookie year he posted a mark below .878, and he notched a mere three steals after recording 20 or more in each of his previous four seasons. Of course, the lackluster production can be attributed in large part to the injuries, but the 29-year-old's extensive medical history should temper any future projections, and there's a possibility he could be traded away from the hitter-friendly confines of Colorado at some point during the year.
2015 Outlook: Even the savvy owners who targeted Rendon as a source of late-round value in 2014 had to be surprised by the return on their investment last season, as he became a five-category monster in his breakout campaign. The most unexpected part of his coming-out party may have been his work on the basepaths, as Rendon finished 17-for-20 on stolen-base attempts after swiping just eight on 10 attempts in his previous two seasons as a professional across all levels. After opening the season as the Nationals' primary second baseman, Rendon shifted over to third base when Ryan Zimmerman hit the disabled list, and he'll remain at the hot corner in 2015 as Zimmerman transitions to first base following the departure of Adam LaRoche. In addition to carrying similar lines against lefties and righties, Rendon showed no signs of slowing down over the course of the second half. He'll reprise his role as the Nationals' No. 2 hitter this season in what figures to be an excellent lineup.
2015 Outlook: An interesting quirk in Gonzalez's statistical record: he has failed to reach 100 RBI in just one of the last eight seasons, and it was the one in which he hit 40 home runs (2009). He hasn't come anywhere near that power figure in the five years since, but has still been averaging 108 RBI a year, including a league-best 116 last year. Though his homers have leveled off from his days in San Diego, Gonzalez remains a strong fantasy asset with a high floor at a position that requires a substantial offensive component. His high-quality skill set stands up well to the time-induced erosion that affects every player, and A-Gone should continue to churn out productive seasons even as he reaches his mid-30s. The lineup around Gonzalez has been remade, but there's more than enough talent for a sixth straight 100-RBI season, especially for a guy averaging 159 games played in the last nine seasons.
2015 Outlook: It would have been understandable had Chapman dialed back his fastball after being drilled in the head by a comebacker during spring training, a gruesome incident that resulted in multiple facial fractures, but the left-hander hit triple digits in his very first rehab outing. That fearlessness carried over to the majors following his May activation from the DL, as Chapman blew by hitters with an otherworldly average fastball velocity of 100.3 mph. Major league hitters could hardly touch him. Chapman finished the season with a 52.5 percent strikeout rate -- an all-time record -- as well as a minuscule 0.89 FIP and 36 saves in 38 chances. He gave up just one home run in 54 innings and held opponents to a .107 average after the All-Star break. While the Reds project to be one of the worst teams in the NL Central this season, the team context is largely moot with regard to Chapman's value, as he's simply one of the most dominant relief pitchers the game has ever seen.
2015 Outlook: Nobody was hotter than Kemp after the All-Star break, as he slashed .309/.365/.606 with 17 homers and 54 RBIs in just 263 second-half trips, which more than made up for the .269/.330/.430 line, eight homers and 35 RBIs he supplied over the first 3½ months. The lackluster numbers in the first half can be attributed in part to inconsistent playing time, with manager Don Mattingly platooning Kemp for a period and even benching him for a brief stretch in late May before ultimately moving him to the corners. Kemp's HR/FB rate more than doubled from 2013, going from 9.1 percent to 20.0 percent last season, but he finished with a career-best line-drive rate (25.9 percent) and a 30.0 percent rate of swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, the second-lowest mark of his career. Now the anchor of a revamped Padres lineup, Kemp could be in danger of seeing his homer total slip in the spacious confines of Petco Park, and his days as a double-digit steals contributor are likely behind him, but Kemp should benefit from having a more defined role, and his blistering run down the stretch provides hope that he can still provide top-50 production if he can stay healthy.
2015 Outlook: There are little indicators here and there that Kimbrel might be taking a small step back from his position as the best closer in baseball, but once you realize how great the starting point was to begin with, those factors diminish in importance. Most max-effort relievers tend to have a velocity decline, but that hasn't happened yet for him --d in fact, his average fastball was a tick higher than in 2013, resulting in a 38.9 percent strikeout rate. Kimbrel's biggest weakness is his walk rate, which jumped from 7.8 percent to 10.7 percent in 2014, a level he hadn't reached since 2011. Perhaps the biggest worry is one that Kimbrel can't control -- the quality of his team. The Braves were sellers over the offseason, getting rid of Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, and Kimbrel's top two setup men in Jordan Walden and David Carpenter. As a result, Kimbrel might see fewer save chances than he has in the past. But with three years left on his contract, he's unlikely to be shipped out as part of Atlanta's rebuild.