2015 Outlook: Do believe the hype. While Springer's major league career got off to a slow start after his mid-April promotion -- with the star prospect's power failing to translate early on -- he eventually found his groove (to put it mildly). Springer hit .294/.385/.647 with 10 homers and 25 RBIs in May, and though his average soon fell off a cliff, he maintained a torrid home-run pace throughout the rest of the first half. A left quad strain, suffered shortly after the All-Star break, ended Springer's season prematurely, but GM Jeff Luhnow said in November that Springer was fully recovered and would go through his normal offseason routine, easing any remaining fears entering 2015. Sure, Springer strikes out far too often (33 percent last season), making him a major batting average liability -- and he attempted just seven steals in 78 games with the big club -- but the 25-year-old's raw power is virtually unparalleled, and he has the speed to easily crack the 20-steal threshold. Here's hoping new manager A.J. Hinch is more aggressive than Bo Porter was on the basepaths.
2015 Outlook: Unless you're in an OBP league, don't discount Cespedes too much following his largely forgettable run with the Red Sox at the end of last season. Sure, his 5.4 percent walk rate and .190 ISO from 2014 were career lows, but Cespedes was able to shave four percent off his strikeout rate from 2013 thanks to a three percent reduction in swinging-strike rate, and he was able to muster 22 home runs despite just a 9.6 percent HR/FB. Cespedes' contact rate improved by nearly seven percent, jumping from 73.7 percent to 80.0 percent, and he improved his OPS against right-handed pitching by more than 100 points (from .672 to .777). Granted, his decline against lefties was troubling, with his OPS against southpaws dropping a whopping 214 points (from .880 to .666), but the 29-year-old's raw power is undeniable and there's reason to think his numbers can improve in a stacked Detroit lineup.
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: 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: Many owners had their finger on the panic button early in 2014, with Hamilton managing just a .140 average and two steals in the first two weeks of play, but he slowly started to come around. Things really seemed to click in June, as Hamilton hit .327/.348/.500 with 14 steals during the season's third month, numbers buoyed by a whopping 10 multihit efforts. At the All-Star break, Hamilton was hitting .285/.319/.423 with five homers and 38 steals in 53 attempts. As was the case with many of his teammates, Hamilton began to unravel in August and completely fell apart in September until a concussion put a premature end to his rookie campaign. The overall numbers were slightly disappointing, especially his conversion rate on the basepaths (56-for-79) and walk rate (5.8 percent), but there's reason for optimism entering his age-24 season. The returns of Joey Votto and Jay Bruce to full health should ease the burden on Hamilton and afford him more run-scoring opportunities, and his steal total, which was good enough for second in the NL last season, should only improve as he learns how to get better jumps and avoid pickoffs.
2015 Outlook: A 50-game ban for his involvement with the Biogenesis scandal at the end of the 2013 campaign diminished Cruz's stock significantly entering free agency, forcing him to settle for a one-year, $8 million deal, but he recouped that value, and then some, with an outstanding season for Baltimore. Cruz led the major leagues with 40 home runs, 25 of which came on the road, and he broke the 100-RBI threshold for the first time in his career. He trimmed his strikeout rate from 2013 by more than three percent, from 23.9 percent to 20.6 percent, while also slightly improving his walk rate. Cruz's .288 BABIP last season was more than 10 points below his career average, though his HR/FB rate of 20.4 percent was just the fourth-highest mark of his career. The 34-year-old cashed in with a four-year, $57 million contract from the Mariners in the offseason, and while his power expectations should be tempered a bit with the move to Safeco Field, there's no reason to think he can't approach 30 homers if he can stay on the field for 140 or more games.
2015 Outlook: After bouncing around the batting order in the early going last season, Calhoun eventually settled into the leadoff spot in late May, shortly after returning from an ankle injury that cost him more than a month. In 489 plate appearances atop the lineup, Calhoun hit .281/.336/.471 with all 17 of his homers, solidifying his role as the table-setter for the Angels heading into 2015. While the 27-year-old doesn't have the speed of the prototypical leadoff hitter, his extra-base power makes up for it. Calhoun finished ninth in the AL in runs scored last season despite playing in just 127 games, and if he can stay healthy and improve his numbers against lefties in 2015, it's entirely possible he could lead the league in that category while also providing quality production in home runs, RBI and batting average.
2015 Outlook: It's hard to drop 27 homers and 90 points of batting average off the previous season's line and still log 525 plate appearances. Davis saw his average fall apart despite a batted-ball profile that should have yielded better results. A career-worst .242 BABIP is a worthy culprit, though he's not an automatic regression candidate, as the shift played a big role here. Davis had a .144 BABIP on groundballs, beating only Brian McCann (.128) among lefties with at least 100 groundballs. Left-handed hitters as a whole had a .241 BABIP on groundballs last year, so he was well off the pace. The .278 average from 2012-13 isn't coming back, but he may develop into our next Adam Dunn, albeit without the seven-year track record of averaging 40 homers and 100 RBI. Even flawed power is still very valuable.
2015 Outlook: Giancarlo Stanton gets much of the credit for the Marlins' surprisingly competitive 2014 campaign, and rightfully so, but Yelich deserves a lot, too. Yelich set the table atop the order for Miami, drawing 70 walks in 660 plate appearances en route to 94 runs scored, good for fifth in the National League. He fared far better against left-handed pitching than he did over the final two months of the 2013 season, slashing .317/.376/.444 in 158 plate appearances, up from just .165/.245/.231 in 102 trips the year before. The former first-round pick (23rd overall in 2010) also swiped 21 bags in 28 attempts and won a Gold Glove in left field, all as a 22-year-old. He has been able to maintain a high BABIP at each stop as a professional and thus isn't much of a batting-average risk, and it's reasonable to think he can reach double-digit homers in 2015 if healthy for the entire year. Yelich made one trip to the DL last season due to a back injury.
2015 Outlook: A true offensive enigma, Heyward was traded to St. Louis in the offseason, which only heightens the sense of hope and mystery surrounding his 2015 campaign. In his final year with the Braves, he delivered a .271 average and 20 steals, very nearly marking career highs in each category. However, his power completely cratered, as he hit just 11 home runs with a .113 ISO, and his HR/FB was sliced in half from 13 percent in 2013 to 6.5 percent in 2014. Heyward has always been excellent at driving balls down in the strike zone, but last season he hit for virtually no power on pitches in the upper third of the zone. This has not always been the case, as he was able to do some damage on balls middle-up in his 27-homer 2012 season. A shift in his approach may also be slightly to blame for his decreased power over the past two seasons, as his strikeout rate has dipped from 23.3 percent in 2012 to 16.6 percent in 2013 and a career-low 15.1 percent in 2014. It's possible that Heyward is trading power for contact, but there's no reason he can't regain the power he's shown in the past with proper instruction. Entering his age-25 season, which also happens to be a contract year, there are many reasons to believe Heyward will top his numbers from 2014, possibly by a wide margin.
2015 Outlook: Perhaps Pence's greatest strength in past seasons -- staying healthy -- was nixed early in spring training when he was hit by a pitch and suffered a fractured left forearm that will force him to miss 2-to-4 weeks in April. His past ability to stay on the field allowed Pence to establish impressive statistical floors, reaching the 20-homer, 70-RBI, 75-run thresholds in each of the past seven seasons, but that streak could end with him slated to start this season on the DL. He has hit above .276 in all but one of the past six campaigns, and the one outlier (.253 in 2012) was a year in which he posted a .290 BABIP that was nearly 30 points below his .319 career mark. Admittedly, there are some indicators that Pence's skills may be in decline as he enters his age-32 season; namely, his career-low .168 ISO, career-high O-Swing rate (35.9 percent) and 14 percent line-drive rate from a year ago, the last of which was more than three ticks lower than his 2013 mark. However, once he returns from injury, Pence has the chance to once again establish himself as one of the more reliable outfield sources of across-the-board production.
2015 Outlook: A middle infielder by trade, Betts made his first professional start in the outfield with Double-A Portland in mid-May. By late June, he was manning the outfield for the Red Sox. Although there were certainly growing pains defensively, Betts fared well against big league pitching as a 21-year-old, finishing with a .368 OBP and an exceptional 88.3 percent contact rate. He struck out just 10 more times than he walked and smacked five homers, giving him a career-high 16 for the year across three levels. With Rusney Castillo expected to serve as the primary option in center and Shane Victorino (back) expected to be healthy for spring training, Betts' role in the field heading into 2015 is uncertain. However, manager John Farrell said in December that Betts was the leading in-house candidate to bat leadoff for the team this upcoming season, which helps ease concerns about his playing time. The spot atop the order should prove fruitful for stolen bases and runs scored.
2015 Outlook: While Holliday is no longer a perennial All-Star, he remains a safe, consistent fantasy option. With 20 homers and 83 runs scored last season, Holliday has now reached those levels in a whopping nine consecutive campaigns, and he's reached 88 RBI in all but one of those years. Sure, the power is waning, and Holliday's .272 batting average was a career low, nearly 30 points below his 2013 mark, but he finished strong with a .281/.367/.515 line after the All-Star break. Further regression is entirely possible, and perhaps likely, entering his age-35 season, but it's highly unlikely Holliday's production will suddenly fall off a cliff. He still does enough in four of the five roto categories to warrant a top-70 draft position, and he makes for an especially enticing high-floor option for those who take risks early on in drafts.
2015 Outlook: Just how much were Bruce's struggles last season the result of him rushing his return from May knee surgery? The answer to that question has yet to be determined, but smart money's on "a lot." A 30-plus-homer, 90-plus-RBI contributor in each of the previous three seasons, Bruce managed just 18 homers and 66 RBI in 137 games last year. He finished with an abysmal .201/.241/.327 batting line after the All-Star break and a career-high 27.3 percent strikeout rate for the year, but his swinging-strike rate of 13.2 percent was an improvement on his 2013 number (14.4 percent). Moreover, his HR/FB of 15.3 percent tied his career low, and his .269 BABIP was far below his career norm, though the drop in BABIP was due in large part to an increased deployment of defensive shifts against Bruce, something that's likely to continue in 2015. Even if Bruce's average doesn't return to above .250, the expected power return makes him a strong low buy, though his name has been tossed around as a possible trade candidate, and a move away from Great American Ballpark would hurt his numbers.
2015 Outlook: Gordon may not truly stand out in any one statistical category, but he does enough across the board to warrant consideration as a second or third fantasy outfielder. Prospective owners will, however, want to keep a close eye on Gordon's health and production during spring training, as he underwent surgery on his wrist in late December. The expectation is that he will be ready for Opening Day, but wrist injuries have been known to sap power, and that's especially troubling for a player who possesses relatively modest pop for a corner outfielder to begin with. Assuming he is truly healthy to start the year, Gordon should once again occupy a spot in the heart of the Royals' lineup, providing useful RBI and run production in addition to double-digit steals and home runs. Some batting-average growth is possible, but should not be expected as Gordon enters his age-31 season.