2016 Outlook: Trout is still a lockdown top-3 pick heading into 2016, but he has both come back to the pack some and watched the pack catch up to him. The craziest thing about that sentence is that it, while true, comes after Trout posted a career-best .991 OPS and 41 home runs in 2015. Power jumped up league-wide last year, though, so the impact of those 41 homers wasn't as stark as it would've been just a year before, let alone in 2012 or 2013. Meanwhile, the tradeoff was another dip in stolen bases, down to a career-low 11. Worse yet was that he needed 18 attempts to get those, yielding a putrid 61 percent success rate. The tricky part is determining whether or not the stolen base slide will continue or spike back up at age 24. When the speed isn't in question, steals become an opportunity and effort category. Will the manager let him and/or does he want to? Luckily with Trout, it doesn't really matter because everyone would gladly take a 2015 carbon copy.
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: 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: Altuve was part of the power surge across the league, more than doubling his previous career-high (7) with a 15-homer campaign. He couldn't keep all of his 2014 stolen bases (56), but still delivered an AL-best 38 swipes. He is starting to look like this era's Ichiro. He hasn't yet registered a 100-run season -- Ichiro had eight -- but this era's run context is much stingier. Like Ichiro, Altuve stays relatively undervalued as he should be a lockdown first-round pick every year given the value his fantasy stats return, but he regularly lingers as a mid-teens pick. Even if the power doesn't all stick, he is a good bet for a third-straight 200-hit season.
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: 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: Fight the urge to simply extrapolate Correa's amazing numbers from 2015 into a full season because those that do will almost certainly wind up disappointed. Of course he doesn't need to do something like that to still be both the top shortstop and a first-round talent. It is hard to find any discernible flaws in his game, even after just 99 games, but the grind of a six-month major league season alone will breed some cold periods. Keep in mind: no qualified shortstop had better than a .782 OPS last year. Now if that's all Correa does, he won't fulfill that first-round part, but he's a strong bet to deliver the first non-Ian Desmond 20-homer/20-steal season at shortstop. And if one wants to really dream about the upside, think Hanley Ramirez 2007-2009. Ramirez averaged 29 homers, 38 steals, 117 runs, 85 RBI, and a .325 average in those three years. Averaged.
2016 Outlook: Bautista is about to enter the stage of his career where he's the fantasy baseball hot potato. Even as his skills remain steadily excellent, the community as a whole will undervalue him for fear of being caught holding the bag should he collapse. Once a player reaches his mid-30s, there is no guarantee that there will be a smooth decline, as injuries can have a much more severe effect. That said, Bautista has yet to show any signs of decline. He has played 155 and 153 games the last two seasons, going at least 35-100-100 in both while walking more than he struck out. Even with a modest .250 average, he is still a fantastic fantasy option. He is essentially already doing what is constantly projected from Giancarlo Stanton and yet is taken a full round or more later. The age is a factor so Stanton's appeal is very understandable, but at some point the actual performance has to matter, too.
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). Itís 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: 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.