2016 Outlook: With speed way down league-wide -- 2015 saw the fewest SB since 1994, which was strike-shortened -- stolen bases have been at the forefront of the No. 1 overall pick discussion. Will Goldschmidt continue to run like we've seen? Will Mike Trout break the trend of his declining stolen base totals? Is Bryce Harper a justifiable No. 1 with a measly eight stolen bases over the last two seasons combined? A 21-steal effort in 2015 has Goldschmidt atop many boards as the most complete option available, although focusing too much on his stolen base contributions gives short shrift to his power prowess. The fact is that he could lose some of those steals and still be the bona fide No. 1 pick. Nothing in his batting profile looks primed for substantial regression and it's not out of the question for the 28-year-old to get better. His five-category capability puts him in range to put up an in-his-prime Pujols kind of season with 40-plus homers, double-digit steals, an average well north of .300, with 100-plus runs and RBI thrown in for good measure. Take the rose-colored glasses off and you still have a remarkably high floor.
2016 Outlook: Why are so few fantasy players willing to take Kershaw No. 1 overall? Oh, because pitching is too volatile? Sure, maybe as a whole, but there is absolutely nothing in his stat line than can be questioned. In fact, he's been getting better or holding firm every year with a ridiculously tiny ERA and WHIP to go alongside massive innings and strikeout totals. He even logged the first 300-strikeout season since 2002 with 301. Further, in standard formats Kershaw is one of just nine active pitchers while Bryce Harper, Paul Goldschmidt, or Mike Trout fill up just one of your 14 active hitter slots. So not only are you getting the best pitcher in the world, but his stats are having a bigger overall impact on your team. He is just so good, the rules don't apply to him. He should go no later than fifth overall and has a case for any of those first four spots.
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: Bad months happen to virtually every player every season and when it's happening to a superstar, owners just have to stay patient and not freak out. Of course, it's really easy to say that when said superstar is on someone else's fantasy team. It wasn't hard to imagine Cutch would emerge from his April slump (.636 OPS), but at the time, they were the only numbers he had on paper for the season. Nagging injuries (knee, back) were piling up and some were wondering aloud if maybe '15 was just going to be one of those lost injury seasons that hit even the best players from time-to-time. Now with the benefit of hindsight, we can all have a good laugh at that idea, but those injuries still had their affect in the form of a career-low 16 stolen base attempts. It didn't stop him from having a $30 season and even if 20-plus stolen base outputs are a thing of the past, McCutchen is still a first-rounder who could fall to the second round in some drafts.
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: Arenado was one of the biggest draft season risers, along with fellow third baseman Kris Bryant, and both easily paid off on the hype with only Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado topping Arenado on the Player Rater. The crazy thing is there could be more in store. Perhaps not with the home runs or RBI, but Arenado's skills point to a batting average north of .300, especially in Coors Field. His high-contact approach is particularly useful in a place like Coors and its expansive outfield, but thus far Arenado has only hit .307 at home. Rockies who have hit the ball as frequently and as well as Arenado (think Cargo and Tulo) have lived in the .330s or higher at home. Arenado did a fantastic job of taking his power out on the road last year with 22 homers thanks to a 20 percent HR/FB rate after an impossibly-low 3 percent mark in 2014. Bid confidently.
2016 Outlook: Gordon dropped six stolen bases off of his MLB-best 64 in 2014 and still led the league. He is often mislabeled as a one-category asset which gives short shrift to his batting average and run-scoring capabilities. Over the last two seasons, his .311 average is fourth-best among batters with at least 1,200 plate appearances and his 180 runs come in tenth. He is a three-category stud and his primary category also happens to be the most sparse the fantasy game has ever seen. Selecting Gordon requires a concerted focus on power for the rest of the draft, but his homers jumped up in 2015 so owners shouldn't have quite as much trouble catching up to those who secured two power bats in the first two rounds.
2016 Outlook: Heading into the season, 2015 was going to be a huge year for Scherzer. He was moving to the National League again, and the Nationals looked very strong on paper. Some were picking him to win another Cy Young with an eye towards his domination of NL East hitters. Well, Scherzer posted the second-best K/9 of his career and set new career-bests in his BB/9 as well as his ERA, but he ended up going 14-12 thanks in part to the malaise around him on the roster. He had 11 games in which he struck out double-digit batters, had five games in which he allowed three or fewer hits including a perfect game and a no-hitter that came just a chicken wing HBP away from another perfecto. The one flaw of his own doing was he struggled preventing the long ball as he allowed home runs in 16 of his 33 outings with multiple home runs in 8 starts. All in all, he's still a fantasy stud for 2016.
2016 Outlook: Rizzo has been drawing comparisons to Paul Goldschmidt because of the 17 steals, but whereas that has long been a part of Goldy's game, there was no precedent for Rizzo's speed burst. Coming into 2015, Rizzo was just 16-for-28 (57 percent) on the basepaths. The rest of his profile is positively alluring. He held most of his 2014 gains versus LHP to maintain a solid batting average while finishing six runs shy of a 30-100-100 season. His 17 percent strikeout rate and 12 percent walk rate over the last two seasons match that of Miguel Cabrera and suggest some batting average upside, but nearly two-thirds of his groundball contact is pulled weakly for easy outs. StatCast tells us that Cabrera has a top-five Exit Velocity while Rizzo lingers below average. While there may not be substantial growth ahead, the floor is very sturdy.
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: Buying in on Arrieta's 2014 yielded glorious rewards, as he turned in a historically excellent season. Only eight pitchers have posted a 1.77 ERA or better in 229-plus innings since 1947. That list includes guys you may have heard of like Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, and Dwight Gooden. Nobody's expecting an encore, but even an ERA that came in a full run higher would have been the tenth-best mark last year. The only lingering question with Arrieta surrounds his health as 2015 was far and away his most innings pitched ever. His 2014 season (157 IP) was his career-high coming into the season. Injuries were a big reason that his breakout took so long in the first place. If every pitcher comes with a set amount of risk, Arrieta's is that plus 10 percent or so, but the payoff more than makes him worth the cost. Accurately projecting wins is tough, but if anyone is a good bet for 20-plus, it's Arrieta, given the additions the Cubs made to a 97-win club.
2016 Outlook: If not for the amazing season from Paul Goldschmidt, Votto's 2015 numbers from first base would have a much shinier luster to them. Despite the homers, runs, steals and average, Votto still finished a tier below Goldschmidt last season and the RBI category was the big differentiator as Votto drove in 30 fewer runs than Goldschmidt. Some were blaming Votto for not expanding his zone with men in scoring position, but he hit .291/.484/.509 with men in scoring position versus .304/.439/.507 with the bases empty. The true crime was Votto had 79 fewer runners on base when he was at the plate than did Goldschmidt. That isn't likely to improve for Votto in 2016, as Cincinnati has pared down its roster and has reduced the talent around him. There's a good chance opposing pitchers will pitch around Votto even more than they have in the past to deal with the less potent bats behind him in the lineup and that is going to diminish his value in standard league formats.
2016 Outlook: With just three full seasons under his belt, Marte's skill set is remarkably stable. His slash line in each of the past three seasons has held steady and he's put up double-digit home run and stolen base totals in each of the past three years. He does not walk much, which limits his stolen base upside. He also hits too many groundballs, which limits his homer upside. Nevertheless, there is one area where he has shown year over year improvement: making contact. His strikeout rate has improved each of the past four seasons and he made a rather large improvement last season even if it didn't show up in his batting average or his on-base percentage. He's more likely to bat .300 than he is to hit 20 homers in 2016, but the speed is real and he's a five-category producer that will go off the boards early.
2016 Outlook: Bumgarner is so consistent at this point it is almost boring. He has thrown at least 200 innings in each of the past five seasons. He has struck out greater than 20 percent of the batters he has faced in all but one season of his career. He has never had a double-digit walk rate in a season and hasn't had a WHIP over 1.20 since 2011 or an ERA over 3.00 since 2012. His strikeout rate has improved each of the past four seasons and he's won at least 16 games in three of the last four campaigns. He even hits home runs when he comes up to bat. All pitchers have some risk built in, but the risk associated with Bumgarner is about as minuscule as his walk rate in recent years. Write him into the top 10 for the Player Rater with a Sharpie, because it is a stone-cold lock.
2016 Outlook: Blackmon has now put up back-to-back productive seasons with the full-time role in Colorado and was so good in 2015 that he finished fourth overall in the Player Rater rankings for outfielders (just behind Mike Trout). Blackmon plays every day and compiles the counting stats across the board, but inflicts most of his damage in Coors where he has hit .334/.386/.501 in his career versus .241/.283/.370 away from the Mile High City. His splits against righties and lefties are not as dramatic, but he clearly favors righties when at the plate. If he's facing a righty at home, he's a must-play, but the offseason chatter about him possibly being traded by the Rockies would absolutely take a chunk out of his fantasy value. He's so good at home that his limitations on the road can be overlooked, but a trade away from Coors would severely impact his draft day value.