2017 Outlook: Take a step back and savor it: What we're witnessing is the mere beginning of the career prime of a potential all-time great. Just 25 and with five full major-league seasons on his résumé, Trout has significantly more WAR than anyone in baseball during that five-year span (47.8), and is top-10 ranked in most every measurable category one could pick for fantasy baseball: Batting average (6th), home runs (5th), RBIs (7th), runs scored (1st), stolen bases (10th), on-base percentage (2nd), slugging percentage (3rd)… the list has no end. Those who enjoy picking nits can claim, "But only one of those rankings was first place," or cavil that Trout's Angels are an uncompetitive team that might sap his runs, RBIs and perhaps cost a handful of trips to the plate. Still, if there's a poster boy for "sure thing," it's Trout in any format, as his statistical floor is higher than anyone's. And isn't that what your team's leading investment is all about?
2017 Outlook: Few players possess such outstanding batting-title odds -- leading both leagues, that is -- as Altuve, but don't mistake him for a mere speed-and-average type. He made noticeable improvements in the power department last season, setting personal bests with 24 home runs, a .531 slugging percentage, .194 isolated power and .196 well-hit average, as well as against right-handed pitching, his .348/.398/.544 triple-slash rates against that side all career bests, and he did it while also improving his walk rate to a career-high 8.4 percent. Only his declining stolen-base total is a valid criticism, and one explained by team decision rather than slowing speed, as the Astros have been slightly less apt to give Altuve the green light as they've acknowledged his increasing offensive value by moving him from leadoff to the No. 3 spot in the order. Ultimately, he's the same premium pick in Rotisserie leagues that he was last year; it's points-based leagues in which he must now be recognized as such. To that point, he gained a whopping 115 points in 2016 compared to 2015 using our standard scoring system, finishing the year as the third highest-scoring hitter.
2017 Outlook: The reigning Player Rater champion as well as the top-scoring hitter in points-based leagues, Betts accomplished both thanks to the 35th season in baseball history with at least a .300 batting average, 25 home runs and stolen bases apiece, and 100 runs and RBIs apiece. Always known as a speedster with good contact skills in the minors, Betts got greater lift on the ball along with increasingly harder contact as his near-MVP campaign progressed, and his .338 batting average and 91.3 percent contact rates after the All-Star break were his best in any half-season in his career to date. Most remarkably, it was announced in November that he had played the second half through right knee soreness that required a surgical cleanup; Betts is expected to be fine for spring training. If all's indeed well, his repeat prospects are excellent, with potential regression likely pointing towards his 26 stolen bases, should the Red Sox determine his bat too valuable to risk an aggressive approach on the base paths. It's a minimal concern for a 24-year-old, however, making Betts again a top hitter target in all formats.
2017 Outlook: For the second consecutive season, Arenado managed at least 40 home runs and 130 RBIs, pacing the majors in the latter category in each. Don't downplay the feat as a product of Coors Field's thin air, either; he hit a combined 38 home runs with 104 RBIs in his road games in those two seasons, both ranking among the majors' top 10. What's more, Arenado boosted his walk rate to a career-best 9.8 percent in 2016, not to mention he'll 2017 at a prime-of-his-career 26 years old. As a heart-of-the-order hitter in an underappreciated lineup, he's as good a bet to repeat (or at least approach) his 2016 numbers as anyone, making him a first-round, building-block pick regardless of format.
2017 Outlook: After securing National League Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in consecutive years to begin his big-league career, plus helping his Cubs snap a 108-year World Series championship drought, Bryant might seem to have already peaked at the age of 25. Now look closer: He significantly boosted his contact rate last season, from 64 to 75 percent, while adding 49 points to his isolated power and increasing both his fly-ball and hard-contact rates in the process. Scouts gave Bryant's future power an 80 grade, tops on the 20-80 scale, and his keen sense of the strike zone hints that he might reach that ceiling, with minimal adverse impact upon his batting average. A "championship hangover" (or, as we'd call it, natural regression to the mean) is possible, but with a skill set like Bryant's, a repeat or even a small step forward -- which would probably manifest itself best in points-based leagues that penalize for strikeouts -- is at least as likely.
2017 Outlook: He's a rare five-category, first-base talent, as Goldschmidt is one of only three first basemen in history to have managed multiple seasons with at least 20 home runs and stolen bases, and he and newly elected Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell are the only ones with multiple such years including a .290 batting average or better. While Goldschmidt's power numbers did appear to tumble last year, his batting eye is as keen as ever -- he has consecutive years of 110-plus walks and a .410-plus on-base percentage -- fueling a high batting average. He might no longer be a slam dunk in the first round or as the top-priced first baseman in a points-based league, but he'll fit the description once again in Rotisserie-based scoring, where his speed makes him one of the most balanced contributors.
2017 Outlook: Where did the steals go?! A summer after he swiped a career-best 20 bags, at the time tripling his big-league total, Machado was held without a single steal in 2016. No matter, as he was an exceptional performer in practically every other facet of the game, and fantasy owners gained an unexpected piece of flexibility when Machado appeared in 45 games at shortstop -- that thanks to an injury to J.J. Hardy -- to capture eligibility there for 2017. Machado was one of eight players to hit 35 or more home runs in each of the past two seasons, and he's one of only six in history to do it in both his ages 22 and 23 seasons. He has the prime of his career ahead of him, showed enough growth in the quality of his contact last season that further improvement is a reasonable assumption, and he has shown us in the past that he's capable of stealing a base when he wants to. Machado is a compelling a first-round candidate in any format.
2017 Outlook: After capturing American League MVP honors in 2015, Donaldson followed it up with a season that was every bit as good using points-based scoring -- just eight fewer points, to be exact -- and only marginally less valuable in Rotisserie -- top-30 rather than top-10. In the process, he improved his play against right-handed pitching, posting a career-best .960 against that side, as well as his walk rate, registering a career-high 15.6 percent mark that was mostly fueled by greater pitch recognition deeper in the count. Those quick to doubt Donaldson's repeat prospects following the offseason departure of Edwin Encarnacion, the man who immediately succeeded him in the lineup, could cause his draft stock to slip slightly, to the point that he's a relative value; anything outside of the top 10 picks would qualify.
2017 Outlook: Just as he was voted unanimous National League Most Valuable Player in 2015, Harper's follow-up campaign might be unanimously declared the year's greatest disappointment. That's how high a bar he set when he tallied 9.9 Wins Above Replacement, third-most in history by a player aged 22 or younger, the most fantasy points among hitters and the fourth-best Rotisserie campaign among hitters in 2015, and it's why his prospective owners remain so optimistic about his return to glory. Despite those accomplishments, however, Harper's name brand has exceeded his results through this stage of his career, as 2015 was the only one of his five big-league seasons in which he appeared in as many as 150 games or had as many as four WAR. At the same time, he's still 24 years old with plenty of time to pad his résumé, and if a 2016 season during which he was the 65th-best overall player using points scoring and 93rd-best using Rotisserie constitutes a worst-case scenario, what does that say about his ceiling? He's one of a handful of candidates for "best player in real and fantasy baseball," and the longer he lingers in drafts -- preferably not much beyond the first round -- the greater the value.
2017 Outlook: Perhaps the prospect of another Triple Crown is now in his rearview, but even at age 34, Cabrera remains an excellent hitter, still easily 90 percent of the player who accomplished that historic feat just five years ago. He's riding a major league-best streak of eight consecutive batting title-eligible seasons batting .300-plus, has averaged 34 home runs and 113 RBIs annually during that span and in fact rebounded with 38 homers in 2016. What's more, if you doubt his power potential, Cabrera led the majors in a category Statcast calls "Barrels," which are balls in play hit at both the ideal angle and speed off the bat, with 72 last season. His contact rate might be slowly regressing and the odds of his power numbers decreasing are slightly greater than the alternative, but this is what we'd call a player gracefully aging. In an era where it's the younger players everyone wants in fantasy, Cabrera is the rare "safe" early-round pick.
2017 Outlook: Few players in baseball possess as keen an eye at the plate coupled with elite power as Rizzo; he, Edwin Encarnacion and David Ortiz were the only three in the game to walk at least 10 percent of the time, make contact at least 75 percent and hit at least 30 home runs in each of the past three seasons. Adding the fact that Rizzo possesses a minimal platoon split, he possesses one of the highest statistical floors of anyone in the game, with his range of outcomes -- health-willing -- likely between a .275-290 batting average and 28-34 home runs. He's points-league gold, but even in Rotisserie leagues warrants an early (late-first/early-second) selection thanks to his predictability and place in one of the game's most productive lineups. If there's any criticism of Rizzo to he had, it's that he has cooled after the All-Star break in each of the past two seasons, but if that merely means you consider your trade options for him in June or July, so be it.
2017 Outlook: Three players last season managed at least a .300 batting average, 25 home runs, 100 runs scored and 10 stolen bases: Mookie Betts, Mike Trout and Blackmon. Tuck that away if Blackmon's name doesn't strike you as "household" like the other two, because he should be regarded as one of the game's greats -- though a bit more so in Rotisserie than points-based scoring -- thanks to his having earned a top-20 final spot on the Player Rater in each of the past three seasons. While Blackmon, now 30, has slowed a tad on the base paths, he made critical gains offensively in 2016: He boosted his numbers against left-handed pitchers to .331/.392/.451; got better lift on the ball, his ground-ball rate declining by nearly five percent; and he proved immune to the wide home/road splits that typically strike Rockies hitters, becoming only the fourth player in franchise history to manage at least .300-15 road numbers (he managed .313-17) in a single season. All that more than makes up the difference, elevating his fantasy-point potential, and making him a legitimate candidate for top-10 value overall.
2017 Outlook: He was worth the wait. Though it took until after the 2016 All-Star break for it to happen, when Turner finally arrived, he appeared in 70 of 72 Nationals games and batted .340 with 33 stolen bases, ranking sixth and second in those categories and resulting in arguably the most impactful second-half performance in fantasy baseball. Most unexpectedly, he chipped in 13 home runs (for a 4.0 percent rate) and .225 isolated power, both of those easily the greatest rates in his professional career. How much of Turner's outburst is sustainable? Some regression is inevitable, but his skill set seems like that of a .280-hitting, double-digit power, which is enough to fuel a run at 40-plus stolen bases, and as the No. 2 hitter between Adam Eaton, Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy, Turner's counting numbers (runs/RBIs) would experience quite a boost. It feels awkward to describe him a candidate for a first-round pick, but the truth is that his upside makes him a legitimate one.
2017 Outlook: Correa, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft, arrived in the majors in June 2015 as a 20-year-old with the loftiest of expectations, and promptly delivered, capturing the American League's Rookie of the Year award that summer. His encore in 2016, unfortunately, was a comparative let-down, but that's mainly because he failed to take a substantial step forward (something his National League counterpart, Kris Bryant, did). Correa did make some subtle improvements: His walk rate increased by two percent, his well-hit rate rose 27 points and he chased fewer non-strikes. He did strike out more frequently while hitting more ground balls, though minor ankle and shoulder injuries might have contributed. Still 22, Correa possesses MVP potential, every bit as likely to arrive in 2017 as in some future season. He's now one of several star-caliber young shortstops, putting him in a worthy debate with Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts and Trevor Story as to who makes the best early-round pick, but few dispute that Correa is the one with the greatest long-term potential.
2017 Outlook: The National League's defending Rookie of the Year, Seager became only the 17th rookie in history to manage at least a .300 batting average, 25 home runs and 300 total bases. What might he do for an encore? While regression is a popular assumption for a player who tasted this much early success, there are areas of potential growth that could result in a louder encore. For one, he went backwards against left-handed pitching as a rookie, a facet that was a strength of his in the minors, posting mere .260/.336/.394 rates against them in the second half. Seager's batted-ball breakdown also shows a distinct shift from ground balls to line drives and hard-contact fly balls; that might mean some loss of batting average but a home-run boost. He's not quite a player worth burning your first-round pick or significant portion of your auction budget, but even if he spins his wheels, he'll be well worth the investment for slightly less than that.