2015 Outlook: After consecutive seasons as the runner-up in American League MVP voting, Trout brought home the hardware in 2014. With a bar that was set in the stratosphere following his 30-homer, 49-steal breakout in 2012, the 23-year-old outfielder might always be pressed to meet expectations. After delivering a .310/.400/.606 line and 22 of his 36 home runs in the first half of the season, Trout appeared to be picking up right where he left off in 2013. However, a second-half swoon, including a 30 percent strikeout rate and a .257/.347/.502 line, served as a reminder that even the league's premier talent can struggle for a period. He appeared in all but five games and didn't suffer any reported injuries during that post-break skid, although he had a short absence in early June due to stiffness in his upper back. Trout hit the ball in the air more often last season, hitting fly balls at a 47.2 percent clip and finishing with a career-high 36 home runs in the process. His stolen-base total was cut in half, falling from 33 in 2013 to 16 last season, though that drop may be a tactical adjustment by manager Mike Scioscia rather than an erosion of skills. Even with his career-low batting average (.287) and stolen-base count, Trout still grades out as an elite talent worthy of being the first overall selection on draft day.
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: 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: Bautista evolved as a hitter in 2014, showing a more balanced approach that included an ability to hit to the opposite field and beat the shift. The results included a better mark on balls in play (.286) and the highest batting average he's posted in a season since 2011. He also avoided major injury, playing in 155 games and continuing to provide right-handed power in the heart of the Blue Jays lineup. Much like teammate Edwin Encarnacion, Bautista's ability to draw a lot of walks and keep his strikeout rate low makes him one of the most dangerous hitters in the game. Bautista had more opportunities to drive in runs last year, as Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera managed to stay in the lineup more frequently. Though Cabrera is gone now, the health of the hitters in front of Bautista will again be a key to his RBI production. The days of 40-plus home runs might be over, but a repeat of last season's 35 long balls should be within reach.
2015 Outlook: Perhaps Jones isn't the sexiest first-round pick in fantasy, but he's deserving of a top-10 selection in most formats. A four-time All-Star, he's proven extremely durable, appearing in at least 149 games in each of the past five years, with just five missed games over the past three seasons. He's also been about as consistent a producer as anyone in baseball, hitting above .280 with 29-plus homers, 88-plus runs and 82-plus RBI in each of his past three campaigns. Never a particularly patient hitter, Jones saw his walk rate fall to just 2.8 percent in 2014, but he maintained a strikeout rate right around his career norm (19.4 percent) and showed tremendous improvement against left-handed pitching, slashing .344/.399/.604 against southpaws, up from .251/.315/.417 the year before. Jones did finish with single-digit steals for the first time since 2010, and a rebound in stolen bases isn't necessarily a lock entering his age-29 season, but they're really just a bonus for a hitter of his caliber anyway.
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: 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: 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: 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: 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.