2017 Outlook: Much of the magic that fueled Arrieta's astonishing, historic 2015 Cy Young campaign seemed to wear off early last season, coinciding almost precisely -- and strangely -- with his no-hitter on April 21, when he walked an unusual-for-him four batters. Though still an excellent pitcher for his 31 starts -- he finished as the No. 11 starting pitcher both on the Player Rater and in standard-league fantasy points -- his walk rate rose alarmingly, from 5.5 to 9.6 percent, and he eased off his signature slider, such a productive pitch for him in 2015, throwing it nearly 11 percent less often. Fatigue could've played a part, as his 248 2/3 innings pitched in 2015 counting the regular season and postseason led the majors, and the Cubs seemed to do a better job giving him requisite rest last year. That might give Arrieta an excellent chance at either a repeat or slight improvement upon his 2016 numbers, and his combination of swing-and-miss and hard contact-minimizing stuff should only help. A return to 2015 form might be a long shot, but he's plenty capable of a top-10 starter's season.
2017 Outlook: After struggling to replicate his Yankees power numbers during his first two seasons with the Mariners, Cano exploded for a career-best 39 home runs in 2016, which came on the heels of a Cactus League-leading seven. Though most every hitter seemingly improved in the power department last season, Cano exhibited a distinct increase in his fly-ball rate to back it up, boosting it into the ranges he enjoyed in his best years as a Yankee. For a follow-up, he'll need to answer the question as to whether he'll continue to pattern his swing towards hitting fly balls, which could threaten his batting average, or restore the kind of line drive-hitting ability that'd probably assure a .300 average, but with only 20-25 homer power. The answer would have somewhat greater repercussions in points-based leagues than Rotisserie -- the homers fueled a seventh-among-hitters finish in the former in 2016 -- but either result should still keep him among the game's 50 best fantasy picks. Now 34 years old, however, Cano's odds of greatly exceeding that bar will only continue to decrease by year.
2017 Outlook: His 2016 represented one of the best return-to-glory stories, resulting in one of the year's best tweets. (And for the record, Kate, you're right, he probably should have won the American League's Cy Young award.) Verlander set career bests in strikeout rate (28.1 percent of batters faced) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.46:1) and posted his second-best WHIP (1.00), K-per-nine ratio (10.04) and batting average allowed (.204), getting there not thanks to a restoration of his peak-level, 2009-11 fastball velocity, but rather a healthy amount of spin he put on said fastball, creating more swings and misses. In short, he adapted his game to compensate for diminishing stuff; he "learned to pitch rather than throw," as the cliché goes -- though he always knew how to pitch. If there's a flaw in Verlander's game, it's that he's a bit more fly-ball oriented than he was in the past, increasing his home run risk and perhaps threatening his ERA. He should remain one of the 10 most productive pitchers in any format, however, and in fact makes a compelling case for top-five consideration in points-based scoring.
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: It'd be a mistake to examine Villar's 2016 output and dismiss it outright as fluky. Sure, his .285 batting average, .457 slugging percentage and 19 home runs set single-year professional bests and are probably unsustainable, but his speed -- in an era where stolen bases are becoming increasingly difficult to find -- and plate discipline weren't at all out of line with his past. Counting regular-season contributions at all professional levels, Villar and Billy Hamilton are the only two players in baseball to have stolen at least 40 bases in each of the past five seasons, and Villar's healthy, .337 career minor league and .336 major league on-base percentages should continue to drive enough opportunities to make another 40 a virtual lock in 2017. Though these types of players tend to have substantially greater value in Rotisserie than points-based leagues -- Villar finished 2016 fifth overall in the former, 72nd in the latter -- he could grant any prospective fantasy owner an additional advantage, when he presumably adds second base eligibility to third base and shortstop as he shifts there to accommodate a probable Travis Shaw/Hernan Perez platoon at the Brewers' hot corner.
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: Lester found himself in a dream scenario in 2016, backed by a brilliant (and arguably league-leading, depending on your measure of preference) Cubs defense and with veteran David Ross doing wonders for his pitch framing as well as masking any of his own deficiencies holding runners on base. Though the Cubs return a similarly skilled supporting corps behind him, Ross' retirement casts a shred of doubt upon Lester's ability to replicate his career bests in wins (19), ERA (2.44) and WHIP (1.02). Lester's numbers will presumably fall back to earth somewhat, but his substantially improved command of the past three seasons gives him a fighting chance of either meeting or exceeding his 2014-15 combined rates of a 2.88 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. His durability -- nine consecutive seasons of at least 30 starts and 190 innings pitched -- should not be ignored, and should keep him a top-10 starting pitcher in any format.
2017 Outlook: Puns aside, it's fitting that Story rewrote the record books as a rookie: He became the first player to hit two home runs in a major league debut played on Opening Day, he hit a record seven home runs through his team's first six games of a season, he tied a rookie record for home runs in April (10), and he set a National League rookie record for home runs by a shortstop (27). None of it was fluky, as his underlying metrics revealed an unusual ability to barrel up the ball, even if much of the rest of his offensive game wasn't without its flaws. This is a natural 30-homer power hitter, with Coors Field only helping his chances there as well as potentially masking batting average deficiencies, and Story possesses enough speed to chip in double-digit stolen bases. His propensity for strikeouts might make him somewhat streaky, which could be a problem in head-to-head leagues during the Rockies' lengthier road trips, and there's also a chance that the torn UCL in his left thumb could linger into spring training and result in a somewhat sluggish start to 2017, but neither should push him deeply down the draft-day rankings. Story is a clear top-50 asset in Rotisserie leagues, though his strikeouts do make him more of a sixth- or seventh-rounder in points-based scoring.
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: It's a shame that Kyle hasn't garnered the same level of national attention as brother Corey has (and Corey's has been in just one big-league season), as the older Seager is a tremendously underrated asset, both in the real and fantasy games. Kyle Seager's points-based owners can attest: He actually finished with the greater point total of the two brothers (450-422), in 11 fewer plate appearances. Along with David Ortiz, Seager was one of two players to hit at least 20 home runs with an 80 percent or better contact rate in each of the past five seasons, and during that five-year span he exhibited incremental gains in terms of his isolated power and hard-contact rates, making his career-best 2016 look entirely repeatable (at the very least).
2017 Outlook: It's remarkable what Cueto has been able to accomplish despite a strikeout rate that never ranks among the game's elite. Consider: He's one of only four pitchers -- Madison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer are the others -- to have managed at least three seasons of 200-plus innings with a sub-three ERA in the past four years, yet Cueto's strikeout rate during that four-year span is 3.5 percent lower than any of the others. A three-year pattern of rising strikeout-to-walk ratios is largely responsible, culminating in his career bests in that category (4.40:1) as well as walk rate (5.1 percent), but Cueto is also one of the game's better pitchers at inducing weaker contact and infield pop-ups. Granted, pitchers like this are often in the precarious position of being one small skills setback -- sometimes an untimely injury or a small velocity drop -- away from a precipitous statistical decline, but Cueto's consistency counts for something. In an era where few pitchers can truly be deemed trustworthy, he makes a case for top-10 starter consideration in any format.
2017 Outlook: Though in many respects, Abreu's performance has regressed since he broke into the majors in 2014, let's not understate the historical significance of his first three big-league seasons: He, along with Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols, are the only three players in the history of baseball to manage at least a .290 batting average, 25 home runs and 100 RBIs in each. That said, Abreu's performance in all three categories comes with some risk: He continues to show poor strike-zone judgment, leading the majors in swings at "non-competitive" (those considerably outside the zone) pitches in 2016; he appears to have sacrificed some power in exchange for a three-year pattern of rising contact rates; and his White Sox, now in rebuilding mode, might not provide as much fuel for his counting numbers. Abreu is no longer a likely-top-25 player and in fact might be a risky pick within the top 50, though as his baseline is probably his 2016 numbers, he's still a worthy early-round pick.
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.