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: The 2014 campaign was the kind of perfect-world scenario that's always been plausible for Altuve, but also questionable due to his team context. Speed and batting average have always been his game, so the path to a huge season would include an exorbitant BABIP, a ton of infield hits and a career-best line-drive rate. Altuve delivered all of those at age 24 last year while still very much in his speed prime, so the .360 BABIP, MLB-high 31 infield hits, and 22.8 percent line-drive rate yielded not only a .341 AVG, but also a .377 OBP that led to 56 stolen bases -- all career highs. He'll almost certainly regress, but even with drops in average and steals, he'll be one of the more productive second basemen out there.
2015 Outlook: Among hitters, only Mike Trout and Jose Altuve returned more value in standard rotisserie leagues than Brantley last season. With a .327 average, which ranked third among qualifying hitters, 45 doubles, 20 home runs and 23 stolen bases, Brantley earned his first All-Star bid and finished third in the American League MVP vote. His BABIP jumped nearly 30 points, from .304 to .333, and his HR/FB rate of 12.7 percent was nearly double his 2013 mark (6.8 percent), but he also struck out just four more times than he walked and finished with a 91.3 percent contact rate, trailing only Victor Martinez in the AL. Brantley was one of six players in baseball to drive in 90 or more while scoring 90-plus runs, and he made major strides against left-handed pitching, slashing .307/.378/.449 against southpaws, up from .276/.325/.339 a year before. It's understandable to be a bit skeptical, and some regression has to be expected, but Brantley should continue to be a five-category fantasy anchor while batting third for the Indians.
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: 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: 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.
2015 Outlook: Ellsbury might have fallen a bit short of expectations in his first season in pinstripes after inking a seven-year, $153 million contract with the Yankees, but he still finished as a top-20 hitter in 5x5 rotisserie formats. Predictably, Ellsbury saw his BABIP crash back to Earth (from .341 to .296), resulting in a nearly 30-point drop in batting average, but his line-drive rate actually improved to a career-best 24.7 percent. Although his OBP fell to just .298 in the second half of the season, he smacked 10 of his 16 homers and was a perfect 15-for-15 in stolen-base attempts after the All-Star break. Ellsbury offset the overall dip in stolen bases and runs scored with more power and RBI production, a result of seeing the majority of his at-bats (365 of 575) in the 3-hole. The 31-year-old did slash just .258/.316/.395 against right-handed pitching, a troubling decline from 2013 (.328/.374/.489), but Ellsbury appeared in 149 games, the third-highest total of his career, marking the third time he has reached at least 134 games in the past four years. He should once again make for a strong value at the end of the second round.
2015 Outlook: There's both statistical and physical volatility associated with Ramirez heading into 2015. Ramirez has played in at least 150 games just twice over the past six seasons, having missed time with oblique, hand and leg injuries. His batting average has ranged anywhere from .243 to .345 in recent seasons. He's hit 20 or more homers many times and stolen that many bases a number of times but has not done both in the same season since 2012. The move to Fenway Park provides Ramirez with the first friendly home ballpark in his career, but the ballparks are not what have hurt his fantasy production in recent seasons. This is a surefire first-round lock if health risks could be removed, but the fact that he's played just one full season in the past four is what keeps him out of the first round and possibly the second, depending on your comfort level.
2015 Outlook: Donaldson followed up his 2013 breakout with improvements in four of the five standard roto categories, setting new career highs in home runs (29), runs (93), RBIs (98), and stolen bases (eight). His plate discipline remained in line with his 2013 numbers, as he had an 18.7 percent strikeout rate and 10.9 percent walk rate to go with his .255/.342/.456 line. A premium defender at third base, Donaldson has missed only eight games over the past two seasons. The A's traded him to Toronto as part of their latest roster reshaping during the offseason, and the move into a more hitter-friendly home park should pay immediate dividends after Donaldson hit .276/.361/.513 and 18 of his 29 home runs away from O.Co Coliseum last season. Of some concern is that Donaldson's splits against righties (.248/.329/.398) were much worse than his numbers against lefties (.275/.380/.627), but he handled right-handed pitching more capably in 2013 (.285/.371/.442). If nothing else, it's an indicator that Donaldson is more likely to carry an average close to his career .268 mark than the .301 from 2013, but his power numbers could improve with the move to Toronto.
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: Longoria played in all 162 games for the Rays last season, helping to ease concerns about his durability after he played in just 207 games between 2011 and 2012. After he eclipsed 30 home runs for the third time in his career in 2013, Longoria hit just 22 last season while his slugging percentage bottomed out at a career-worst .404. A big part of the regression seemed to come from a diminished ability to handle the outside part of the strike zone, which effectively reduced his ability to spray the ball with any authority to the opposite field. In fact, just one of his 22 home runs was hit to right field in 2014; seven of his 32 long balls were hit to the opposite field in 2013. Longo's eye at the plate eroded over the course of the season, too, as he walked at a mere 6.5 percent clip during the second half, well below his career average of 10.4 percent. Without a physical malady to explain the downturn in production, it might be prudent to lower the ceiling even if a rebound is imminent, but the 2014 line appears to be a healthy floor for Longoria at this stage of his career.
2015 Outlook: Even though Reyes was hurt on Opening Day and went to the disabled list, he returned just more than two weeks later and played the rest of the season, ending up in a tie with Ian Desmond as the second-most valuable shortstop in standard mixed-league formats. Even at age 31, his speed has held up well, and he's swiped at least 30 bases in four of the past five seasons. Getting to double-digit home runs will remain a challenge for Reyes, as his ISO has declined for four consecutive seasons, but that's not what fantasy owners are looking for anyway. However, while he was mostly healthy in 2014, we're still looking at a player with just one season of 150 games played out of the past six. He's a strong, but risky, three-category producer.