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: How do you give back 19 homers and still have a top-15 season? Being Miguel Cabrera helps. He offset the loss with 26 more doubles while also eclipsing the century mark in runs scored and RBIs for the fifth straight season. Cabrera's 2015 outlook has, however, been muddied by a stress fracture in his ankle that was discovered when removing bone spurs in October. The ankle sidelined him here and there in late August -- and he posted a .691 OPS during that month -- but he rebounded with a 1.118 OPS and eight homers in September, so a healed Cabrera should be his perennially excellent self. Short of catastrophic news, he's unlikely to fall from the first round, but anything in the latter half is a discount to be enjoyed.
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: Encarnacion needed only 128 games to put up a full season's worth of numbers, but he no doubt left many wondering what could've been had he not missed 33 games in the middle of the summer. The lack of power in the game as a whole keeps Encarnacion's value extremely high even as he pushes into his 30s and carries an injury history that features seven trips to the DL, including one in each of the past two years. His power plays everywhere, with 58 of his 112 home runs over the past three years coming on the road, but he still leverages his home ballpark for a batting average boost. The Jays' improved lineup could give him another shot at 100 RBIs and a chance at his first 100-run season.
2015 Outlook: Abreu took the league by storm in 2014, hitting 10 home runs in two of his first three months, with an injury to his left ankle seemingly the only reason he didn't complete the feat in May as well. The power faded after the All-Star break, but his production remained strong, as Abreu traded the homers for base hits and walks. Despite just seven home runs in the second half (compared to 29 in the first), his OPS dipped just 24 points thanks to a .350 average and .435 OBP. Was the ankle a cause in this power slide or was it just the regression of his obscene 35 percent HR/FB rate from the first half? The latter seems most likely, but it gave him a chance to show how good he is at hitting. He'll remain a power-hitting force, and when you pair 30-plus homers with an average that should again exceed .290, the result is a truly elite fantasy commodity.
2015 Outlook: Hernandez produced a 99th-percentile 2014 season in every category but wins, as he received only average run support. While he was a little lucky on batted balls (.269 BABIP), he was superb in nearly every other indicator. His strikeout percentage improved again from 26.3 percent to 27.2, his GB/FB ratio increased and his walk rate declined. After a steady decline in his average fastball velocity in previous years, King Felix actually threw a little harder in 2014, quelling fears he was starting to break down physically. There's nothing pointing to a collapse from elite levels for the 10-year veteran.
2015 Outlook: Everyone projected Cano's home run output to drop with his ballpark switch, but he ended up hitting 11 fewer homers on the road than he had the year before. However, he still delivered a strong five-category effort that yielded a top-25 ranking among hitters. At 32 years old, there's no guarantee we see a resurgence of the power that gave him a .500-plus slugging percentage for five straight seasons from 2009 to 2013 ever again. There have been only 14 seasons of .500-plus slugging from second basemen aged 32 or older; most recently, Jeff Kent in 2007 during a much different offensive era. This skill set feels like it will age gracefully, however, and the front office's intent on making the lineup deeper will only help Cano's counting stats.
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: An early-season quad strain cost Beltre time in April, but he recovered to log 148 games and eclipse 600 plate appearances for the third time in four seasons with Texas. The spike in his walk rate (9.3 percent) was likely the result of seeing fewer pitches in the strike zone than ever due to the rash of injuries that depleted the lineup around him throughout the year. Beltre continues to put a lot of balls in play (12.1 percent strikeout rate), and while his isolated power slipped for the third year in a row (.168), he's still a very good hitter capable of being an asset in four categories. If the Rangers can keep Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder healthy in 2015, Beltre stands to benefit in a big way. Although he will turn 36 in April, Beltre is aging gracefully, so he remains among the elite options at the hot corner even as he approaches the twilight of his career.
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: The 2014 season was a tough one for an AL pitcher to try to win the Cy Young Award, given the amazing performances of Corey Kluber and Felix Hernandez. But in many other years, Sale would have been an outstanding candidate. He posted excellent ratios (2.17 ERA, 0.97 WHIP), struck out batters at the highest rate of his career as a starter (10.76 K/9) and allowed fewer homers (just 13 in 174 innings). But because he missed six starts with a flexor strain, he never had much of a chance. The White Sox invested in their offense and their bullpen this offseason, which should give Sale more opportunities to win games in 2015. Unfortunately Sale suffered a sprained ankle and an avulsion fracture in his right foot during camp, leaving his status for the start of the season in serious jeopardy. All signs point to him joining the rotation at some point in April, but he will not be ready for Opening Day, and there is a chance he could miss one or two more starts in the early going.
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: How much do you believe in Kluber's breakout 2014 season? Many analysts point to his conversion to using a four-seam fastball instead of a two-seamer as fueling this performance spike. He already had strong secondary offerings, so the heater was the final piece of the puzzle. Kluber ran a little lucky in terms of preventing home runs (7.4 percent HR/FB), but he also induces a lot of ground balls. Because he's such a late bloomer, Kluber hasn't accumulated nearly as many innings as others in the first tier of starting pitchers. That rubs both ways, though, as 2014 represented a big workload spike for him. Expect a little bit of regression, but nothing near a collapse.