2016 Outlook: Harper needed 218 games between 2013-14 to amass 33 home runs, 112 runs, and 90 RBI. In 2015, he needed just 152 games to eclipse all three marks: 42 homers, 118 runs, and 99 RBI. What an indictment on the rest of his team that he had only 99 RBI, too! What does he do for an encore after leading baseball in both OBP and SLG? It's not crazy to suggest a repeat, but a more tempered approach says he will simply be in contention. The key to his fantasy season could be the arrival of Davey Lopes -- noted base-stealing guru -- as Washington's first base coach. Harper swiped 18 bags in his rookie season, but has just 19 in the three years since, with injuries no doubt playing a major role in 2013-14. If the Nationals commit to running more after ranking just 27th in total SB last year, Harper is likely to benefit. Even a return to double digits would be huge, but setting a new career high isn't out of the question if the 23-year-old superstar stays healthy and plays another 150-plus games.
2016 Outlook: Stanton only needed 74 games to pop 27 homers -- 25th-most in the league. While that kind of obscene power helps salvage his value in the face of missed time, it is becoming increasingly tougher to ignore the consistent chunk of games he loses to injuries. Stanton is almost reaching Troy Tulowitzki territory where he does enough in the games he does play and carries such elite upside that he has to be taken early on in drafts because "that game-changing season is coming." Or maybe 2014 already was that season and we're just chasing a dream? No, because has 50-homer potential written all over him. After the top four picks, virtually everyone's board is wide open and those lucky enough may just wind up with Stanton in the late-first or early-second round. But for those stuck with the sixth or seventh pick, there is an easy case for taking Stanton right then and there.
2016 Outlook: Bautista is about to enter the stage of his career where he's the fantasy baseball hot potato. Even as his skills remain steadily excellent, the community as a whole will undervalue him for fear of being caught holding the bag should he collapse. Once a player reaches his mid-30s, there is no guarantee that there will be a smooth decline, as injuries can have a much more severe effect. That said, Bautista has yet to show any signs of decline. He has played 155 and 153 games the last two seasons, going at least 35-100-100 in both while walking more than he struck out. Even with a modest .250 average, he is still a fantastic fantasy option. He is essentially already doing what is constantly projected from Giancarlo Stanton and yet is taken a full round or more later. The age is a factor so Stanton's appeal is very understandable, but at some point the actual performance has to matter, too.
2016 Outlook: Bryant's rookie season was a virtuoso performance, complete with parts of at least seven games in each outfield position and even a game over at first base. This is less relevant for fantasy purposes since he came up just shy of the 20-game plateau in the outfield, but it shows a measure of acumen for the game that shouldn't go unnoticed. Lost in the fervor over his amazing power potential is the fact that Bryant posted the fifth-best BABIP in baseball (.378) en route to just a .275 average. Unless he improves the strikeout rate (31 percent, tied for the highest in MLB), his batting average is at risk. He was tied with Chris Davis, a profile you should look at when trying to assess Bryant. Davis has averaged .256, 40 homers, 103 RBI, and 83 runs over the last four seasons with some incredible highs, but also the 2014 meltdown. There is a lot to love with Bryant, but he's not at all risk-free.
2016 Outlook: An Orioles hitter has led the majors in home runs in each of the past three seasons, and Davis has accounted for two of those crowns, so it was fantastic news when he re-upped with Baltimore on a seven-year deal this offseason. It is debatable how good that deal will look for the club in a few years, but for fantasy purposes, it works perfectly. Park factors suggest Camden Yards is the best hitter's park in the American League, which is one of the reasons Davis has averaged 40 homers a year over the last four seasons. Another reason is that he has exquisite raw power from the left side, which he sells out to get to during games, leading to a 31 percent K-rate both last season and for his career. It is understandable that his all-or-nothing approach won't lead to any batting titles, but he has managed to hit above .260 in three of the past four seasons, which is excellent for a slugger of his ilk.
2016 Outlook: It is not that often that the hype matches the production for young players, but Betts is already there in less than two full seasons in the big leagues. A few scouts said Betts was the best player in the 2013 Arizona Fall League and last season he showed why at the big league level. Betts struggled out of the gate and had an unimpressive slash line of .234/.293/.366 in mid-June but went on to hit .329/.372/.552 the rest of the way with 13 home runs, 11 steals, and 68 runs scored. Betts has a very disciplined strike zone for a young player and is a strong candidate for a 20/20/100 season in just his third season in the majors. Do the exact opposite of what Flava Flav and Chuck D told you in the late 80's and believe the hype. Betts is the new thing and you'll want to be a part of what he brings in 2016.
2016 Outlook: Those who doubted the legitimacy of Martinez's 2014 breakout campaign sure got quiet in a hurry. While his slash line was down slightly across the board last year, he still brought the goods in the form of 38 homers and 102 RBI, which ranked 11th and 10th in MLB, respectively. His BABIP and HR/FB both check out. This seems to be what Martinez is. He's a bona fide middle-of-the-order slugger with easy 30-plus homer power. As crazy as it may have sounded two years ago, Martinez is one of the safest outfield options available this year. The Justin Upton signing could allow Martinez to plate even more runners in 2016, as he will be hitting fourth or fifth in what should be a potent top half of the order in Detroit. For owners who miss out on a top-shelf slugger in the first two rounds, Martinez could offer similar production with a third- or fourth-round price tag.
2016 Outlook: In just 80 games, Sano flashed the skills that matched the hype that chased him throughout the minors, with a .269/.385/.530 slash line in his first exposure to the majors. His 16-percent walk rate is amazing considering his youth and how he was rushed through the upper levels of the Twins' system. The 36-percent strikeout rate is alarming in a vacuum until you realize that Sano skipped right over Triple-A and didn't face any live pitching in 2014, as he missed the year due to Tommy John surgery. He is going to strikeout a fair amount, and that along with his slow foot speed will limit his batting-average upside, but he should be very productive in the power categories. One issue with Sano is that he only qualifies at Utility on draft day, as he failed to play 10 games at any one position in the 2015 season, but his powerful bat is worth plugging into that roster spot early – before you do so with David Ortiz.
2016 Outlook: A fractured wrist cut into what would have been a very nice season for Springer as he put to rest any sophomore slump concerns in a hurry. Even with the shortened season, he contributed in all five categories and most importantly, made a lot more contact than people expected given his track record throughout his professional career. In just one season, Springer improved his strikeout rate by nine percentage points while still hitting for power. The increased contact and the already-strong walk rate helped him get on base 37 percent of the time and allowed him to steal bases at an 80 percent success rate. As long as Springer's health holds up in 2016, a 25-25 season with 100 runs is possible along with a shot at 100 runs driven in, depending on where he ends up in the lineup. If he can get some more loft in his swing, 30 homers is possible. Invest with confidence.
2016 Outlook: Cruz doubled down on his improbable 40-homer season with Baltimore in 2014 by doing it again, and then some, in the hostile offensive environment known as Safeco Field in 2015. 2015 was the sixth consecutive season in which Cruz has posted an Isolated Power (SLG-AVG) of at least .200, and lots of hard contact led to a .350 batting average on balls in play. That high BABIP allowed him to hit over .300 for the first time in five seasons despite a 25-percent strikeout rate. Cruz was able to double-up on the 40-homer season thanks to a 30 percent HR/FB, which is well above the 18-percent rate he had posted through his career heading into 2016. If that rate regresses to his career-level, Cruz will have a tough time getting to 30 homers, but the RBI opportunities should be plentiful with the projected lineup in front of him.
2016 Outlook: A 2015 roto darling, Cain posted career highs in every relevant offensive category, and perhaps most important of all, he set a career high with 140 games played. Cain legitimately has a plus-plus hit tool, and should be able to maintain an average around .300, thanks to a career .345 BABIP. He had an 82 percent success rate on the bases last year, so there is little doubt that he will remain a threat to run under manager Ned Yost, despite hitting third in the order. With average and speed locked in as a foundation for his value, his power must fairly come under scrutiny. Cain's 11.2% HR/FB last season exceeded his 2013 (4.4%) and 2014 (5.3%) rates combined, and while it is reasonable to grant him an uptick in power in the middle of his career, slight regression seems likely. Even so, Cain offers five-category production heading into his age-30 season, and makes for a safe bet as an OF2 in mixed leagues.
2016 Outlook: Gonzalez was hitting .215 with two home runs on June 2 last year, and he went on to hit .294 with 36 home runs and 84 RBI over his final 107 games. The Gonzalez owners who did not sell their shares amid his early season struggles were rewarded with the most home runs of his career, thanks in large part to a career-high 153 games played. Needless to say, his age-29 season was an unexpected time for Gonzalez to all of a sudden stay relatively healthy, after averaging just 110.5 games per year over the previous four seasons. The left-handed slugger has always fared better against righties (.931 OPS) than lefties (.745 OPS) over his career, but he was especially bad against southpaws in 2015, slashing .195/.222/.308 in 168 plate appearances. If that downward trend carries over to 2016, Colorado's improved outfield depth will likely lead to him getting more days off against lefties, which would lead to a higher average and slightly fewer counting stats.
2016 Outlook: Last year, Heyward spent most of the season batting either third, fourth or fifth for the Cardinals, but he should be locked into either first or second in the Cubs' order all season, so his counting stats could look a little different. There may not be a better middle-of-the-order power trio in all of baseball than Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, so Heyward should be a run-scoring machine, despite scoring 90-plus runs just once in his six-year career. The Cubs were a top-10 team in stolen-base attempts last year, while the Cardinals were in the bottom 10, so that, along with batting higher in the order, could lead to more steals for Heyward. The Cardinals tweaked Heyward's approach last year, leading to a career-high 57.2% GB% and a career-low 23.5% FB%, without sacrificing any hard contact. This should make that .293 average more sustainable than it appears at first glance. The 20-plus homer power he displayed in 2012 could come back, but even if it doesn't, Heyward will be a three-category force in 2016.
2016 Outlook: It has now been three consecutive seasons in which Braun has failed to get to 600 plate appearances, thanks in part to suspensions as well as injuries. The latest injury was a bulging disc in his back that prematurely ended his 2015 season and required surgery in early October. The 30/30 version of Braun is likely gone for good, as he does not hit as many fly balls these days as he once did. But the 20/20 version we saw last year is certainly repeatable, as long as the recovery from the back surgery is 100 percent and the nerve injury in his hand is resolved as well. The concern with Braun is that his supporting cast is not as strong as it once was, and there's talk of further paring down the roster. Braun could see fewer pitches to hit as teams decide to deal with the contact-challenged hitters behind him in the lineup.
2016 Outlook: When a hitter is 29 years old, he usually is a finished product. Well, unless he was a pitcher through his early 20s, took some time off then resurfaced with the hopes of making it as an outfielder. The Diamondbacks took a chance on this talented Venezuelan and they've struck gold. Peralta refined his patience and improved against lefties to the point where he'll be the regular clean-up hitter for one of the most prolific attacks in the league. Peralta's .368 BABIP and spike in home runs-per-fly-ball rate last season will put him on the radar of many that would otherwise overlook him. Both marks should fall back some, though Peralta's raw production should rise since he's in line for full-time at-bats. He has less power than the typical four-hole hitter but should be productive with Paul Goldschmidt frequently on the pond, though the loss of A.J. Pollock does put a damper on that.