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: It didn't take a sabermetrician to see that Donaldson's situation was improved greatly by moving from Oakland to Toronto, but even the most aggressive projections couldn't have seen the obscene 245 runs plus RBI he put up in 2015, most in the league since Miguel Cabrera's 248 in 2012. Donaldson paced the AL with 123 RBI and all of baseball with 122 runs. He was the first player since 2009 to put up 120-plus in both categories (Albert Pujols, 124 and 135) and given the rarity of such a feat in the Strikeout Era, he's unlikely to repeat. That said, he could legitimately shave 15 off of each category and hit five fewer home runs, yet still be a $30 player with relative ease. This didn't come out of the blue; Donaldson is a superstar in one of baseball's most potent lineups.
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: Seasons like Machado's 2015 are why we play the game of fantasy baseball. There was nothing in the stats that could have forecasted it, especially on the heels of a second massive knee injury. Machado showed no ill effects with an MLB-high 713 plate appearances and he more than doubled both his home run and stolen base totals. Coming into the season he had 33 homers and 10 steals in 1,266 plate appearances and then dropped 35 homers and 20 steals in a breakout effort. He will struggle to repeat if for no other reason than the fact that 162-game seasons are rare these days. There have only been 14 since 2011 with only Prince Fielder (3) and Hunter Pence (2) logging more than one. With the health concern muted, however, Machado has vaulted into a guaranteed first-rounder.
2016 Outlook: Encarnacion has seemingly been around forever (debuted in 2005) and he always seems be nursing some kind of injury (7 DL stints; 150+ games just once), yet since 2012 he is second in home runs (151) and RBI (423), 10th in runs (352), and seventh in OPS (.919). He also has an elite approach with just a 16 percent strikeout rate, atypically low for such a tremendous power hitter. These skills plus a continued dominance of right-handed pitchers should make for a smooth decline for Encarnacion. His .918 OPS against right-handed pitching since 2012 is third-best among right-handed hitters since 2012 behind only Mike Trout (.981) and Miguel Cabrera (.980). It’s not like lefties get a break against him as his .926 OPS is still good for 13th. Just beware that the injuries are already rearing their ugly head; Encarnacion has not played in spring training, as he first dealt with an abscessed tooth then an oblique injury.
2016 Outlook: Those that had Abreu down for significant regression in 2015 were dead wrong. There was some give in his numbers, but he still put up a fantastic effort in his sophomore campaign with the White Sox. In fact, the projections in this very space last year prepared prospective owners for most of the fall off, pegging him for 78 runs, 34 homers, 100 RBI, and a .286 average. It was light on the runs and average, heavy on the homers, and virtually dead-on with the RBI. After just two seasons, Abreu already feels like that reliable rock upon which to build your team. He has a solid foundation of skills while also still holding some upside. If he sold out for more power, he could join the 40-homer club, but likely at the cost of some batting average.
2016 Outlook: It is hard to find value in the first couple rounds of a draft. Owners are generally paying a premium for the high floors established by superstars. However, Cabrera is one of those rare guys for whom owners will pay a premium while still getting some legitimate upside because his price has dropped following his first ever DL stint. The calf strain that cost him 35 games might be a bigger deal if it had ended his season, but he returned for 42 games and still did a lot of Miggy-esque things: .316/.410/.454. The power was light for sure, but he finished the season on the field so we aren't left with a cloud of uncertainty. The back-to-back 44-homer seasons were clear outliers and that kind of power isn't coming back, but he was a lockdown first-rounder before those seasons and there's no real reason he can't be again in 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: 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: The trade from Cincinnati to Chicago should not affect Frazier's power numbers as his former park and current park are practically identical in terms of home run park factors. What should help Frazier out are the bats in front of him in the lineup. Adam Eaton, Melky Cabrera, and Jose Abreu project to be batting ahead of Frazier while he bats cleanup, which should provide frequent RBI opportunities and assist him in finally breaking the 90-RBI plateau. While Frazier is no Mike Trout, only Frazier and Trout have hit at least 25 homers, stolen at least 10 bases, driven in 80 or more runners and scored at least 80 times in both of the past two seasons. The only knock on Frazier is the batting average, but he plays every day and piles up the counting stats. There is no reason to expect differently in 2016.
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: 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: Once again the class of the position in 2015, Posey finished fourth in home runs (19), second in runs (74), first in RBI (95) and first in average (.318) among catchers. He also finished with a career-high 623 plate appearances (also tops at the position), thanks to getting 41 games at first base -- up from 33 in 2014. Those starts at first base could continue to creep up this season in an organizational effort to preserve his body, which is great news for fantasy owners, as he will have fewer days off than other catchers. Kyle Schwarber, who qualifies at catcher but will primarily play left field for the Cubs, represents perhaps the most worthy (fantasy) challenger Posey has faced at the position in recent years. However, thanks to an unmatched track record of excellence, the Giants' backstop has remained the first catcher off the board in early expert drafts -- a trend that should continue through spring training.
2016 Outlook: Trading contact -- nearly 10 percentage points -- for power, Carpenter blasted 28 home runs in 2015, which tied him for eighth in the National League and ranked third among NL third basemen. He managed 19 homers in the second half of the season alone (71 games), and his .505 slugging percentage for the season bested the likes of Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier and Kris Bryant. The change in offensive philosophy did not coincide with a move to a more prominent RBI-producing spot in the lineup, as Carpenter continued to hit first or second in the order, as he will likely do to open 2016. Carpenter continues to walk at an outstanding clip, and even if he trades some of that power back in for contact, the 30-year-old should continue to do enough in four categories to warrant a lofty price on draft day. His .228 average against left-handed pitching can be mostly ignored for standard league purposes, as he is going to play every day regardless.