2018 Outlook: A fractured left hand suffered early in spring training cost Desmond nearly a month of regular-season action and cast a shadow on his debut year in Colorado. All of his underlying numbers suggested the injury took its toll, as he couldn't capitalize upon Coors Field's hitting-friendly environment (.265/.304/.331 home rates), saw his hard-contact rate plummet and posted a career-high 63.2 percent ground-ball rate. Desmond still flashed good speed, however, and the winter's rest could've done him a world of good in terms of his health. He's a bounce-back candidate, with Coors a large part of the argument for it, and while his high strikeout rate makes him more of a corner-infield candidate in points-based leagues, he stands a good chance of returning to the top 100 using Rotisserie scoring.
2018 Outlook: Where did that come from? Smoak, in his age-30 and eighth major-league season, broke through with a career-high 38 home runs, six more than he had in the previous two years combined. While on the surface that might strike you as a one-year fluke, be aware that he made a decided effort in the preseason not to swing for the fences, substantially boosting his contact rate to a career-high 77.1 percent and his well-hit average to .219. Considering Smoak already possessed an underrated power stroke, these gains were enough to fuel the breakthrough, and while he did cool to the tune of a .183 batting average in September, they did suggest he has more to offer in 2018. After such a successful year, some regression is inevitable, but Smoak has put himself clearly into the top-10 first basemen in points leagues thanks to the contact gains, and he's on the fringe of that group in Rotisserie leagues, too.
2018 Outlook: He's aging, with his 128 games played average the past four seasons representative of the downside risk of a player's later career stages, but beyond the increased injury risk, most of Braun's downward trend seems gradual and typical. He's slowing on the base paths, the loss of stolen bases taking away a part of his game that in the past propelled him into building-block territory, and he's hitting fewer balls in the air, adversely impacting his batting average and power numbers. Still, Braun makes consistently hard contact and calls a hitter-friendly environment his home, meaning he should have another year or two of solid, yet unspectacular, stats -- think .275 and 25 as baselines. So long as you're not chasing his past glory and making him the foundation of your team, he's a more-than-adequate pick in the early-to-mid rounds.
2018 Outlook: Bell's power breakthrough would've been more surprising had not so many players done the same last season. Nevertheless, his hitting by far a pro-best 26 home runs at some expense to his batting average was unexpected, especially for a player who puts the ball on the ground as often as he does. Bell's skills remain more contact-oriented sthan power-oriented, and that should shift the balance of those categories back in 2018. His keen batting eye makes him especially valuable in points-based leagues, where he could make a run at the top 10 at his position in the best-case scenario. In rotisserie leagues, he's a mere midrounder.
2018 Outlook: Cabrera's skills declined precipitously last season, as he snapped an eight-year streak of .300-plus batting averages, hit his fewest home runs in any full big-league season (16) and struck out at his highest rate (20.8 percent) since 2004. In August, it was revealed that he was dealing with two herniated discs in his back, for which he received treatment but didn't have surgically repaired. The winter's rest could've done Cabrera some good, and in his defense, his well-hit average didn't tumble as much as his other numbers did, suggesting elite skills are lurking beneath even if his MVP days are in his rearview. He's the ultimate risk/reward player, one who could rebound to top-50 status overall just as likely as his back issues resurface and cost him significant time. Keep that in mind if you're considering Cabrera in the early-to-middle rounds.
2018 Outlook: A pair of DL stints, one for a left ankle contusion and the other, more serious one for a right oblique strain, marred what was an otherwise breakthrough 2017 for Bour. Thanks in large part to improved performance against left-handed pitching, through July, he was on track for a top-15 fantasy season at his position. Bour's skills appear to be that of a .260-hitting, 30-homer slugger when healthy, but the Marlins' offseason overhaul has left him with precious little in terms of lineup support, which could adversely impact his counting numbers (runs, RBIs and, to a certain extent, plate appearances). He's a mid-round pick who shouldn't be regarded as anything more than corner-infield material in mixed leagues.
2018 Outlook: Zimmerman added yoga to his repertoire and began examining Statcast data -- launch angles specifically -- at the onset of the 2016-17 offseason, his greater fortune in the health department and improved approach at the plate fueling a torrid, .330/.373/.596 first half. As pitchers adjusted to him, however, he gave back some of those gains thereafter, his .269/.337/.542 second-half numbers more representative of his true talent. Now 33 years old, Zimmerman might be hard-pressed to repeat his 144 games played, so be careful not to overpay chasing last year's numbers. He's a solid midrounder in all formats, but shouldn't be considered a leading man on a fantasy team.
2018 Outlook: Though rarely ever regarded a top prospect, Mancini seems to hit wherever he goes. He parlayed a scorching spring training into a regular role for the Orioles last season, and turned in numbers that weren't much different from what he'd done in Double- and Triple-A in the past. If there was any knock on his breakthrough performance, it was that he enjoyed a bit of good fortune in the season's first half. His .385 BABIP and 14.4 home run/fly ball percentage were largely responsible for his .312/.354/.538 slash rates, with his .276/.324/.422 second-half rates being a more accurate representation of his true talent. Mancini is a solid corner infielder or fourth/fifth outfielder in mixed leagues.
2018 Outlook: The Astros' utilityman, Gonzalez's best asset is also a potential liability, as he doesn't figure to have a single everyday place to play in Houston's already strong, crowded infield. He appeared in 15 games at first base, second base, third base and shortstop, becoming only the eighth player in history to do that, and in ESPN leagues he'll qualify at four spots (first base, second base, shortstop and outfield). Gonzalez's offensive output, however, was fueled by a career-high 12.0 home run/fly ball rate, meaning he's more of a .270-15 type than something more. Consider him to be a mid-round pick.
2018 Outlook: Among "bench" players, Martinez's 2017 was one of the most productive. He was a pinch-hitting dynamo, posting an extraordinary .558 wOBA and, by year's end, his bat was valuable enough that the Cardinals were finding ways to sneak him into their lineup between first base, left field and right field. That's their plan again entering 2018, despite their cluttered roster at those three positions, though they did somehwat pare down their excess. Martinez's underlying metrics were eye-popping: He had a 27.4 percent line drive rate and 90.1 mph average exit velocity, both of which were top-25 rates in the majors among players with similar or more playing time to his. Pending his role come Opening Day, he could well be a viable mixed-league starting outfielder but, even as a part-timer, he'd be useful from a matchups perspective.
2018 Outlook: Always a three-true-outcomes -- a majority of his plate appearances resulting in either a home run, walk or strikeout -- hitter, Davis has seen his results increasingly shift towards the latter in recent years. In 2017, he posted a 57.2 percent contact rate, the second-worst in history among qualified hitters behind only Joey Gallo (also last year), and most of his power metrics, including his isolated power and average exit velocity, declined. Now 32, Davis is probably in the decline phase of his career, and we remind that players of this nature often decline sharply at younger ages. He's essentially only a home run source at this point, and one whose low statistical floor makes him a midround pick at best.
2018 Outlook: Back in the States after a three-year stint in the Korean Baseball Organization, Thames initially appeared to be the big-time power source that he was overseas, posting .248/.374/.562 first-half slash rates. Pitchers began to catch up to him soon thereafter, and while he continued to provide good power, Thames struggled mightily against left-handed pitching, failing to record a single hit against one after the All-Star break and finishing the year with .182/.270/.394 rates against them. The Brewers are therefore sure to give him platoon-man treatment, and they're packed with alternatives at first base should he slump at any point. Thames is more of a matchups type than a top-shelf corner infielder, as he'll be a player you want in for home games or against a good volume of righty pitchers, but on your bench for everything else.
2018 Outlook: Another of the many sluggers who went full-out uppercut swing last season, Morrison elevated his average launch angle by more than five degrees (to 17.6), shaved nearly 12 percent off his ground-ball rate (resulting in a 33.6 percent number) and wound up hitting 38 home runs, seven more than his total in the previous two seasons combined. As with any of these types, pitchers did adapt to the change somewhat, yet Morrison maintained .231/.333/.452 slash rates after the All-Star break, useful numbers that would warrant corner-infield consideration in mixed leagues.
2018 Outlook: The poster boy for 2017's increased focus on launch angles and uppercut swings, Alonso broke through with an astonishing 28 home runs, which was more than he had in his previous four seasons combined. In fact, it took him just 31 games and 106 trips to the plate to set a new career-high in the category. Even more remarkably, he did it in his eighth big-league year and age-30 season. While Alonso appeared to break through as a viable fantasy power source, pitchers did adapt to his new approach, and he regressed to more realistic .251/.348/.414 slash rates and 12 home runs in his final 96 games. Those are more like mixed-league corner infield/AL-only low-end starter stats than something more, so plan accordingly in your draft.
2018 Outlook: After a renaissance 2016 season, Ramirez was being counted on to help fill the void left by David Ortiz's retirement. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned as Ramirez staggered through an injury-plagued season. Despite avoiding the disabled list, Ramirez missed games with hamstring, neck, knee, oblique and biceps issues. Plus, he was riddled all season with a lingering sore left shoulder, requiring offseason surgery. Optimists hope his .242/.320/.429 slash line was health-related and that Ramirez will be more productive in 2018. However, with the addition of J.D. Martinez, it seems like a near certainty that Ramirez will fall short of the 497 plate appearances needed for his $22 million vesting option to kick in. He should at least see time at first base against lefties, but he enters the season only utility-eligible. Thankfully this comes with a huge discount, so with sufficient flexibility surrounding Ramirez, fantasy owners should be able to squeeze some value out of him.