Bold prediction pieces are a funny proposition. Experts make outlandish predictions, hoping to be 10% accurate with those predictions so they can look back and say "I called Daniel Murphy stealing 20+ bases in 2013". I understand the good-natured sentiment they provide. A fun way for us to build additional hype over guys we really like. But these bold predictions can sometimes inadvertently act as anchors to our readers just before drafts. They see a bold prediction of Harper hitting 40 HRs and are all the more eager to pull the trigger on him with the 5th overall pick.
The intentions are pure, but the reception is often fumbled.
My predictions that follow serve a slightly different purpose. While introduced with a hyperbolic statement (see prediction #7), like most lies there is a nugget of truth in all of these. In the prospect world, no one is a sure thing. We deal in ranges of outcomes. My predictions serve more as reality checks. Bringing to light the darker side of a player's range of outcomes. This doesn't mean always highlighting the negative, as I try to mention players with more upside than most currently give them credit for. So without further ado, my 10 bold predictions for the 2014 season.
1.) Christian Villanueva is prospect with the biggest impact on the 2014 season. I want to do something with Baez or Bryant here, but their 2014 future is too uncertain for me to go that far out on a limb. Both should see time in Chicago, but probably not enough to make a meaningful impact unless an impossible to predict injury dictates otherwise.
2.) Oscar Taveras' stock loses some major shine this season. Some of these are difficult to quantify and predicting a player's downfall is a bit abstract. The point I'm trying to make is that Taveras' injuries really concern me. The ankle injury is still lingering and the new hamstring issue in the same leg doesn't bode well. The talent is still there for Taveras to be a monster, and I truly hope I'm wrong on this one, but I can't blame managers looking to sell high.
3.) Yordano Ventura wins AL Rookie of the Year. Jose Abreu, Masahiro Tanaka, and Xander Bogaerts are prohibitive favorites for the award, but the diminutive fire-baller from KC is going to take home the trophy. Cleared to pitch 180-200 innings, there is little standing in the way of Ventura putting up huge numbers.
4.) Julio Urias will reach AAA this season. More importantly then reaching AAA this year, is that Julio Urias will be primed to reach the major leagues by the time he's 18 years old. He is the most exciting lefty in the minor leagues and is finding unprecedented success for someone his age.
5.) Ian Clarkin will be the consensus #1 prospect in the NY Yankees organization by the end of the season. With the promotion of Gary Sanchez, the cupboard is pretty bare in New York so maybe this one isn't that bold. Clarkin has a lot of developmental time ahead of him, but few in the organization can match his upside (Williams, Judge, Ramirez). The potential for a potent three-pitch mix, coming from a projectable lefty could pay big dividends. He has the competitive makeup necessary to make the jump.
6.) Billy Hamilton will run wild on the base paths and we'll have no idea what it means. Hamilton will put up absurd SB totals, possibly triple digits, but it's going to come in such a weird package that talent evaluators won't know what to make of it. Is 75 SB's with a .250/.300/.300 line good? Obviously from a fantasy standpoint, yes, but his fantasy value is tied to playing time, and I don't know if that production is worthy of a starting roster spot on an MLB team.
7.) Bubba Starling returns to the gridiron. I hate these negative ones, because I never wish failure on a player, but if we're going to project increases in value we need to acknowledge the possibility of it all falling apart. Starling's pitch recognition skills are almost non-existent, and he may never be able to make enough contact to unleash the 25/25 potential his athleticism certainly hints at. He's been paid the entirety of his $7.5 million bonus so he'd owe nothing if he bolted for the University of Nebraska. At 21 years old the chances of him actually leaving are infinitesimally small, but his chances of being an MLB bust is higher than I'd like to admit.
8.) Maikel Franco hits 25 HRs this season. His future is likely at 1B, but his 2014 season should give him some time at the hot corner as well. Asche isn't blocking anyone, and once Franco continues to mash minor league pitching he'll get enough AB's to let his plus-plus power play in righty-friendly home ballpark.
9.) Archie Bradley will struggle mightily during any MLB appearance this season. I'm a Bradley believer, but the command problems are going drastically understated. His leg kick appears difficult to replicate, and I wonder if a mechanical overhaul is in his future. I'm not lowering the ceiling, just tempering the short-term expectations.
10.) Gregory Polanco will go 10/25 this season and help form the top fantasy outfield. 2013 breakout Starling Marte, and NL MVP Andrew McCutchen form a solid foundation, but perennial double-double candidate Gregory Polanco is ready to explode. I wouldn't be surprised if he provides more fantasy value than George Springer in 2014.
BONUS: Houston Astros select Alex Jackson with the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. Rodon is still the favorite in my opinion, and Jamie Hoffman is a worthy consideration for #2. But there's a non-zero chance Jackson jumps both of them as the best bat in the draft.
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