Arizona Diamondbacks: There is perhaps no greater unknown than Yasmany Tomas heading into the 2015 season. What can we expect from the Cuban import?
It’s the $68.5 million question after the club signed him, largely sight unseen, in December following his defection from Cuba last June. At 24 years old, Tomas is a bit rawer than some of his Cuban counterparts were for their debuts, so his rookie year will likely look more like a work in progress than a finished product. One thing that’s certain is his power, which should be on display from day one. The Diamondbacks will give him an opportunity to win the third base job in spring, but he may end up in a corner outfield spot. Wherever he ends up, Tomas’ power will make him fantasy-relevant, but owners that pay for him expecting the next Yoenis Cespedes or Jose Abreu in 2015 may end up disappointed.
Atlanta Braves: Mike Minor struggled en route to going 6-12 with a 4.77 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 2014. Is there reason to believe he'll be better this year?
Last season was easily Minor's worst in a year in which he's made double-digit starts, and at 27 years old it's hard to imagine Minor's time as an effective pitcher is over. Shoulder troubles delayed his start to the season and ended it prematurely, likely contributing to his pedestrian performance. Minor was also the victim of some bad luck on batted balls. He still gives up too many home runs – his 21 surrendered last year was the third-straight season in which he's served up more than 20 – but that wasn't enough to explain his struggles. With some better fortune in a few areas and, most importantly, a clean bill of health on his left shoulder, Minor should once again post a sub-4.00 ERA and come close to double-digit wins.
Chicago Cubs: Kris Bryant has demolished minor league pitching since being drafted in 2013. Will he be giving MLB pitchers nightmares this year?
Yes. Bryant is just 23 years old and may start the season in the minors for financial reasons, but he'll arrive sooner than later. When he does, Bryant should be the kind of prospect that has an immediate impact at the big league level. Across two minor league levels last year, Bryant posted a .325/.438/.661 line with 43 home runs, 110 RBI and a surprising 15 stolen bases. His debut may not be smooth sailing all the time – the list of players who have made seamless transitions from the minors to the majors is short – but his power is real and the Cubs won't promote him to sit on the bench. He'll be worth a late-round pick in mixed leagues, even if he needs to be stashed for a few weeks.
Cincinnati Reds: Todd Frazier had a career year by a mile in 2014, batting .273 with 29 home runs, 80 RBI and 20 stolen bases to boot. Was it an aberration or a sign of things to come?
Nothing about Frazier's 2014 season was fluky to the extent that he should fall off a cliff, but it will likely go down as a career year for the 29-year-old. All is not lost, though. Frazier has always had power – he hit 19 home runs in each of the previous two seasons before blasting 29 last year – and his surprising steals total was due in part to Reds manager Bryan Price's commitment to running more as a team. He may have trouble replicating his .273 batting average, which will bring all of his counting stats down a bit in return. But a small regression in 2015 doesn't mean Frazier won't still be a starting third baseman in most leagues.
Colorado Rockies: Corey Dickerson burst onto the scene last year, batting .312/.364/.567 with 24 home runs. What can we expect for an encore?
The only thing that kept Dickerson from being a bigger star in 2014 was the fact that he didn't become an everyday player until June. That won't be an issue this year. Dickerson is locked in as a starter in a crowded Rockies outfield and should bat near the middle of an order that scored the third-most runs in the league last year. With a full slate of at-bats he has a decent chance to improve on his 76 RBI and 74 runs scored as well. The ceiling on the 25-year-old isn't much higher than what he showed last season, but fantasy owners would take similar production without much hesitation.
Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers traded away Matt Kemp over the winter, partly due to the presence of top prospect Joc Pederson. Will Pederson produce enough, and be given enough of an opportunity, to be mixed-league relevant as early as 2015?
Even without Kemp around, there are no guarantees of playing time in an outfield that still includes Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier, among others. But Pederson is a special talent, and if opportunity is based on ability then the 22-year-old should be one of the three starters when the season opens. Pederson tore up Triple-A in 2014, batting .303/.435/.582 with 33 home runs, 106 runs scored and 30 stolen bases, so he appears to be ready for a new challenge. The presence of those other outfielders will cut into his at-bats and his ability to hit for average may lag behind his other skills as he gets his legs under him, so he won't be a can't-miss guy in mixed leagues. Still, we project him to reach double-digits in both homers and steals this season, making him plenty worthy of being drafted.
Miami Marlins: Dee Gordon put it all together in 2014, batting .289 with 64 stolen bases and 92 runs scored. Was last season his ceiling, or is there more in store for the 26-year-old?
Gordon's breakout 2014 season was likely the best all-around season he'll produce in the majors, but that only means he won't once again be one of the best producers in multiple offensive categories. Gordon's 92 runs scored were tied for 16th in the majors last year, and his 64 steals were best in the league. Even if he scores fewer runs after leaving the Dodgers' potent lineup, Gordon's speed is still a weapon and the Marlins have put together a roster that should produce some offense as well. Some regression in his batting average is expected, slightly hurting his fantasy stock, but another season of 80-plus runs and more than 60 stolen bases is well within the range of possibilities.
Milwaukee Brewers: After a terrific full-season debut in 2013, Jean Segura disappointed fantasy owners last season, batting .246/.289/.326 with five home runs and 20 steals. Which player is the real Segura?
The answer is likely neither. Segura enjoyed tremendous success in his first full season in 2013, batting .294 with 12 home runs, 74 runs scored and 44 stolen bases. In the same number of games, his home run and stolen base totals last season were less than half that of the previous year. The power was a surprise, so double-digit home runs shouldn't be counted on, but the disappearance of his steals was unexpected. Losing nearly 50 points in batting average was also an unforeseen development. Assuming his speed is still there, both those issues should show improvement in 2015, bringing his fantasy value back as well. Those expecting him to improve on his 2013 numbers will be disappointed, but a post-hype Segura could end up being a value on draft day.
New York Mets: Jacob deGrom won the National League Rookie of the Year award with a stellar debut, going 9-6 with a 2.69 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 140 1/3 innings last year. Regression is likely, but how much should we expect?
Not much, in fact. Sure, deGrom isn't likely to post a sub-3.00 ERA with more strikeouts than innings pitched, but his underlying numbers don't scream for a steep decline. What's more, deGrom made just 22 starts last year, so if he can approach 30 starts he's got a good shot at winning more than nine games this season. The league will adjust, so something like a 3.30 ERA with roughly a strikeout per inning is more in line with what we should expect from the 26-year-old in his follow-up campaign. Still, that's a pretty darn good encore.
Philadelphia Phillies: Chase Utley continued to defy science this past season, batting .270 with 11 home runs, 78 RBI, 74 runs scored and 10 stolen bases as a 35-year-old. Does he have one last mixed-league relevant season left in him?
Health is always the key question when it comes to Utley's production. The 36-year-old has been relatively healthy the past two seasons, and it's no coincidence that he's turned in strong fantasy years as well. The Phillies' rebuild doesn't help his cause, as Utley's counting stats will take a hit without Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd around him in the lineup. Age will also catch up to him eventually, if it hasn't already. But the second baseman just finds ways to produce offense, whether it's driving in runs or stealing bases. If Utley can stay on the field again this year, he's got enough pop in his bat and juice in his legs left to stay relevant.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Gregory Polanco's debut didn't go as hoped, as the young outfielder batted .235/.307/.343 in 89 games and finished the season as a role player. Will he take a step forward in 2015?
The final numbers looked bad, but Polanco wasn't a total disaster in his rookie year – through his first 27 games, Polanco batted .299/.385/.402 with three home runs, five steals and 21 runs scored. It was a glimpse of what the 23-year-old can do, and it was proof that he can do it at the big league level. The Pirates certainly haven't given up on the outfielder, and fantasy owners shouldn't, either. Polanco is the odds-on favorite to start in right field for the Pirates on Opening Day, and with a full slate of at-bats all of his skills should be on display. With some of the shine off him after his subpar showing in 2014, Polanco makes for a strong buy-low candidate in March.
That this is a question with three legitimate possibilities as answers is great news for the Padres. Myers has the longest odds of turning in the best offensive year – after a disappointing, injury plagued 2014 season, the 24-year-old still has to prove he can be a viable hitter over the course of a full season. Kemp bounced back from injury to re-establish his place as a feared power hitter last season, hitting .287/.346/.506 with 25 home runs and 89 RBI, and another healthy year should yield similarly attractive numbers. But it's Upton, coming off a 29-homer season and entering a walk year, who is the best bet to produce the biggest year of the three. In the middle of a revamped Padres lineup, Upton could post his second-straight season of 100-plus RBI.
San Francisco Giants: Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla both recorded at least 19 saves in 2014, and both will be back with the Giants this year. Which reliever is the better bet to have ninth-inning duties when the season opens?
Romo opened the 2014 season as the Giants' closer, but after struggling he handed the reins over to Casilla at the end of June. Casilla finished with a ridiculous 1.70 ERA and 19 saves, and he handled the closing duties through the Giants' run to another World Series title. Not to be overlooked was the resurgence of Romo after being moved out of the closer's role – from July 1 to the end of the regular season, Romo had a 2.10 ERA and 32/5 K/BB ratio over 25 2/3 innings. He was also given a two-year, $15 million deal this winter to remain in San Francisco. Financial commitment aside, Giants manager Bruce Bochy is likely to stick with what worked to close the end of the 2014 season. Casilla should be the Giants reliever most owned on Opening Day.
St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals acquired Jason Heyward to be an impact offensive player, but his numbers have left something to be desired since his 2012 season. Is there hope that he finds renewed life in St. Louis?
Defining Heyward's 2014 season as a disappointment is in the eyes of the beholder – he wasn't the center-of-the-lineup run producer some hoped he'd be, but Heyward finished with 11 home runs, 20 stolen bases and 74 runs scored. That's not nothing. Now, he's got a fresh start and a chance to earn big money on the free agent market following the 2015 season. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has expressed interest in hitting Heyward in the number two spot in the lineup, so the 25-year-old will have the opportunity to both drive in and score plenty of runs. There's no telling whether he'll put it all together, but the conditions couldn't be much better.
Washington Nationals: Over the final 35 games of last season, Bryce Harper batted .309/.356/.504 with seven home runs. Will that production carry over into a career year in 2015?
Harper's final numbers weren't much to write home about, but he seemed to put everything together over the final month-plus. He followed that up with three home runs in four games against the Giants in the National League Division Series. If he can stay on the field - a broken thumb stole two months from him last year – there's no reason his numbers shouldn't continue to climb. Harper's career high in homers is 22, which he did in 2012. He's never collected more than 59 RBI. With Adam LaRoche now gone, Harper is left as one of the lone left-handed bats among Nationals starters, a distinction that could keep him near the middle of the lineup. If health, opportunity and Harper's natural talent finally align, the sky is the limit for the 22-year-old.