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: 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: 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: 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: 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: Among star-caliber players, Marte possesses one of the wider valuation splits between Rotisserie and points-based fantasy leagues. In the former, his .290-hitting, 30-steal baseline (including upside in either category) makes him a viable second or third hitter rostered to your team. In the latter, his modest walk rate -- sub-4.5 percent in three of his four batting title-eligible big-league seasons -- and 10-homer decline last season makes him more of a top-100-overall, rather than top-25, candidate. Chances are, his 2016 numbers told the truer tale than his 2015, as his batted-ball metrics paint the picture of a line-drive-and-speed rather than power-oriented performer.
2017 Outlook: Staying healthy, especially for a player who has previously had difficulty doing so, can do wonders for a hitter's seasonal numbers. Gonzalez has enjoyed his top two single-year games played totals of his career in the past two seasons -- 153 in 2015, then 150 in 2016 -- which followed a multi-year period in which he struggled to stay on the field. During that 2015-16 span, Gonzalez enjoyed one of the most productive power outbursts in baseball: In the calendar year spanning June 6, 2015, through June 5, 2016, he had the majors' best home-run rate (7.7 percent of his plate appearances) and ranked second in slugging percentage (.605) and isolated power (.309). Regression to the mean struck him thereafter, though .292/.346/.476 rates and a 21-homers-per-162 games pace from June 6, 2016, forward hardly warrants criticism and is a somewhat fair expectation from him in 2017. If there's any concern for Gonzalez's prospective fantasy owners, it's that he's an in-season trade candidate while playing the final year of his seven-year, $80-million contract, and a departure from Coors Field could adversely impact him, as he has a whopping 106 point wOBA home/road split the past three seasons combined. Keep that risk tucked away as you begin considering him in the third or fourth round.
2017 Outlook: He's a player who often gets an exceedingly large amount of criticism for his past steroid allegations (and, ultimately, his 65-game suspension for them in 2013), but Braun deserves a hearty amount of credit for his consistency the past two seasons. Though he tends to exhibit his share of minor bumps and bruises, as well as a rising ground-ball rate, as he has entered his mid-30s, he has settled in nicely as a capable .280-.290 hitting, 25-homer, double-digit steal candidate. Make no mistake, Braun's career curve is trending downwards, but it's a gradual such decline rather than one with an imminent, precipitous drop. He's not a player to target with one of your first two or three picks, but he's also not one you should let slip much further than that.
2017 Outlook: Though his career profile might not immediately strike you as such, Cespedes has recently crafted his game around making consistently high-quality contact and a lot of it, which helps elevate his statistical floor and makes a repeat of his 2015-16 levels of (when-healthy) production extremely likely. Among batting title-eligible players, his .214 well-hit average ranked seventh and 25.2 percent line-drive rate ranked 11th, and using Statcast data, his 92.7 mph average exit velocity ranked 16th among 247 players with at least 250 balls in play. The result is one of the narrower ranges of probable outcomes, with his 2017 probably not residing far from a .285 batting average and 30 home runs, numbers that would easily make him a top-40 overall player in either Rotisserie or points-based scoring formats.
2017 Outlook: Tread carefully, because the operative numbers fueling Springer's 61st-overall finish in standard points and 78th-overall Player Rater earnings in 2016 were his career-high (and major league-leading) games and plate appearances totals: 162 and 744, the latter influenced by his top-of-the-lineup spot with the Astros. Skills-wise, he's a player with room for improvement, including his wide righty-lefty platoon split of 68 wOBA points, his dreadful 9-for-19 performance attempting steals, and his .187 batting average and 43 strikeouts (fourth-most in the majors) against sliders, cutters and hybrids of the two. Springer appears to be embracing a future as a three-true-outcomes -- home runs, walks and strikeouts -- slugger, which would make him a considerably more attractive, and eventually perhaps top-25 in points leagues, asset, but also threaten to drop his Rotisserie value into the sixth or seventh round, especially if he stops running. Fortunately, he's still 27 years old, giving him hope of making said improvements, but be careful not to overrate his 2016 exploits at the draft table.
2017 Outlook: Though his 21 home runs last season more than doubled his career total -- he had 20 in 2 ½ seasons combined previously -- Yelich's true growth in the power department has been much more gradual, judging by his underlying numbers. Always a patient, capable batsman with a high likelihood of a .290-plus batting average, his extreme ground-ball rate continues to put a cap on his home run potential, though he did produce his lowest such number (56.4 percent) along with his greatest isolated power (.215) in any half-season of his career in the second half of 2016; his .194 well-hit average during that span was also a welcome sign. Yelich's game is awfully refined for a 25-year-old, fifth-year major leaguer: He's an excellent line-drive hitter against his weaker platoon side, and he's capable of chipping in a stolen base when needed. His odds of repeating last season's numbers remain good, and in the event that he adjusts his swing more towards power, he might make a significant leap into the game's upper-tier fantasy hitters. Consider him a fourth- or fifth-round selection in any format.
2017 Outlook:PHENOMENAL, GAME-CHANGING POWER, but -- ouch -- I just got injured typing that! Stanton's game, real or fantasy-wise, exhibits one of the widest ranges of outcomes. Since 2012, no one has greater isolated power than Stanton (.277), his 6.3 percent home-run rate trails only Chris Davis' 6.4 percent, and Statcast tells us that Stanton's 24 balls in play hit at 115 mph or faster represented roughly one-third of all batted-balls hit at that speed last season; this guy positively punishes the baseball when he hits it. The problem, however, is that Stanton has found it exceedingly difficult to remain on the field, as he has missed 248 total Marlins games in his career, or 23 percent of their schedule, during his big-league career. Another problem: Coming off a season in which power was plentiful, Stanton's contributions no longer carried quite an otherworldly impact, especially since his only other "elite" skill is his propensity for walks. If we assume full health -- a stretch, for sure -- his odds of the majors' home-run crown are arguably better than anyone's, but the risk involved makes him a dicey pick for each spot you move him up from 50th overall.
2017 Outlook: A revamped swing that helped him better cover the inner third of the plate as well as improved his performance against fastballs fueled Polanco's substantial gains in terms of home runs (22), RBIs (86) and slugging percentage (.463) last season, as he enjoyed a sizable boost to his line-drive percentage. Unfortunately, his year could've been better, as various bumps and bruises plagued him after the All-Star break, during which time he batted just .220 with a .267 on-base percentage. Following the season, he received platelet-rich plasma injections in both his left knee and left shoulder, things the Pirates hope might improve his stamina over the course of 2017. His health bears watching during spring training, but as he's a 25-year-old who only seemed to be scratching the surface of his power/speed potential last season, a promising March might make him a borderline top-30 pick in Rotisserie leagues, and top-40 in points-based scoring.
2017 Outlook: His power is among the most prodigious in the game, and Cruz appears to be going with it as his 37th birthday approaches, becoming somewhat more pull-conscious in 2016 and exerting maximum effort on his swings, even if it's at the expense of a near-25-percent strikeout rate. No matter, as he is the only player to have reached the 40-homer threshold in each of the past three seasons, becoming the first to do so in three straight years since Ryan Howard (2006-09), showing no signs of a decline in that department. Cruz's critics can only point to his age as reason for an imminent decline, but without underlying metrics hinting its arrival, he's as likely to approach if not repeat his 2016 output as any hitter, and in either Rotisserie or points-based formats that makes him worthy of a top-50 overall draft pick.