Last year, I participated in my first bold predictions week here at Fake Teams. Among those I missed: Adam LaRoche leads the Nationals in home runs and Carlos Marmol saves 40 games for the Cubs and Tigers (ugh...yeah). Among those I nailed: Nelson Cruz hits more home runs than Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Rutledge never establishes himself as the Rockies everyday second baseman.
So, in the end, I went 2-for-10, and I'm all right with that. (These are bold predictions after all.) Can I double my results in 2014? Let's try this again.
1. Ian Kinsler finishes as the No. 1 second baseman.
The perception is that Kinsler's decline started in 2013, so his 2014 numbers will be worse. I'm not buying it. I assure you, Kinsler can hit outside of Texas. Don't give me his home/away splits as exhibit A. Remember: he's played the majority of his road contests in the pitcher-friendly AL West. Furthermore, second base isn't exactly a position of strength; Robinson Cano won't put up the same numbers now that he's in Safeco, and I'm not sold on Jason Kipnis getting any better. That leaves an opportunity for Kinsler, who has four 100-run seasons since 2008. Batting leadoff in a strong Tigers' lineup, 100-plus runs are attainable. He's only three years removed from 32 long balls, and I wouldn't put it past Detroit's new keystone to approach 25 home runs with 15-20 steals.
All of the buzz surrounding up-and-coming outfielders in the NL Central revolve around the Brewers' Davis, but let's not forget Lake was no slouch in his debut either. Yes, Davis was clearly the superior player, blasting 11 home runs to Lake's six in 100 fewer at-bats, but I like the latter's chances to win batting average, runs and steals. Don't be scared off by Lake's .377 BABIP from 2013; he's supported high BABIPS throughout his minor-league career and can hit in the low .270s. Davis is being drafted as the 44th outfielder, according to NFBC, despite logging only 136 major-league at-bats; Lake is being taken 119 picks later. Save yourself the disappointment and draft Lake with your final pick. Or better yet, just avoid the Krush temptation altogether.
3. Fernando Rodney and John Axford combine for 70 saves.
The prevailing belief is that neither Rodney nor Axford finish the season as closers with Danny Farquhar and Cody Allen breathing down their necks. But if the Mariners and Indians really thought those two were better options in the ninth, why sign Rodney and Axford in the first place? If I'm looking purely for saves, Rodney is a fantastic late-game option, with 85 saves since 2012 -- I think his leash is long in Seattle. Axford was terrific once he arrived in St. Louis last year. Yeah, it was only 10-plus innings, but maybe the Cardinals found something in his mechanics or delivery that will carry over to Cleveland. Allen is a premiere arm in the eighth, but don't assume Axford is finished. Many anticipated the same with Chris Perez last year and Allen finished with as many blown saves as saves (2).
McCann has launched 20 home runs in six straight seasons, and now that he's calling Yankee Stadium his home, I hear everyone and their mother calling for 30 home runs. I understand the excitement of the short porch, but lets pump the breaks -- McCann has never reached 25 home runs in a season, let alone 30. Ramos has yet to reach 20 long balls, but last year his batted ball distance was fourth best in baseball, trailing only Carlos Gonzalez, Paul Goldschmidt and Pedro Alvarez. Additionally, Ramos' 16 homers from 2013 came in just 78 contests. Neither is a lock to stay healthy for an entire year, but in a race to 25 home runs, I can see Ramos getting there first.
I wrote a post on Belt back in January -- one that wasn't overly optimistic about his chances of being the next breakout star. My main objection was that AT&T Park is holding Belt back in terms of power, as I see him finishing in the 16-19 HR range for the second year in a row. Morneau has collected 36 home runs over the past two seasons, and now that he's in Colorado I can see him blasting 20 homers for the first time since 2009. Belt has the edge in steals, but the pair of NL West first basemen could easily finish with similar counting stats. The tiebreaker might come down to batting average, where Morneau has struggled in recent years. Still, he's a career .277 hitter and Belt isn't exactly proven.
6. Carlos Gomez goes 25/40 and scores 100 runs.
Gomez was the only player to go 20/40 in 2013. We've recently learned that the Brewers center fielder will be leading off for Milwaukee in 2014, meaning his potential runs scored just went up. With a career .303 OBP Gomez is not your prototypical leadoff hitter, but that's OK by me -- he scored 87 times batting from the fifth spot last year and could threaten 100-plus runs with a strong middle of the lineup, including Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and Jonathan Lucroy. Gomez could be the most exciting leadoff hitter since Alfonso Soriano in his prime. I believe.
Both Castellanos and Olt are enjoying fine springs. Entering Tuesday, Castellanos is slashing a cool .373/.389/.627 and Olt is one home run behind the leader with five. Olt still has some work to do defensively, which might delay his arrival to Wrigley by a month or so, but only Luis Valbuena stands in his way in the short term. I think Castellanos will contribute with a nice batting average, but I don't see the power developing until much, much later. If Olt is up by mid-May, there's a chance -- albeit a small one -- that he challenges 20 home runs.
8. Homer Bailey is the NL Central's best starting pitcher.
Bailey's biggest competition will come from the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright, but the Reds starter will finish with more wins, more strikeouts and a comparable ERA. Bailey took a giant step forward in 2013, upping his strikeout rate from 19.2 percent to 23.4 percent on the heels of a 10.7 percent swinging strike rate. His ERA might never reach the sub-3.00 level in Great American Ballpark, but his batted ball profile suggests he's adjusting well to the friendly hitter dimensions -- last year, Bailey recorded his highest ground ball rate (46.1 percent) and second lowest fly ball rate (34.4 percent). I expect Bailey to finish with a sub-3.25 ERA and 200-plus strikeouts, passing Mat Latos as Cincinnati's No. 1.
9. Alexei Ramirez finishes outside the top-20 shortstops.
A lot would have to go wrong for Ramirez to miss the top-20 shortstops, as the talent at the position just isn't there. Last season, the White Sox shortstop hit .284 with six home runs, 68 runs and 48 RBI. But what most of us didn't see coming was a career-high 30 steals in 39 attempts. At age 32, I'm not expecting Ramirez to reach that level again, and I'm not even comfortable giving him 20. Is Ramirez magically aging in reverse before our very eyes? He stole seven bases in 2011, followed by 20 in 2012 and 30 in 2013. He's certainly consistent (158 games in three straight seasons), but I like a little more power and counting stats from my middle infielders.
Holliday is severely underrated year in and year out. He's closer to a 20-home run bat than 25 nowadays, but the counting stats are always there. He's narrowly missed 100 runs/100 RBI in each of the past two seasons, and he hasn't batted worse than .295 since 2011. He's pretty much a stud. This prediction is probably the least likely to happen, but count me in as an Adams' believer. The lefty splits are a concern, but I'm not concerned about the potential playing time. How long have we been waiting for Oscar Taveras now? Adams can realistically lead the Cardinals in home runs and a full season of at-bats could push his RBI total north of 90. I love Holliday, but at age 34, the decline has to start some time.