Go Bold. The funny (maybe sad) part about the predictions that follow are that most of the players featured I'm crazy (read: delusional) about. These are my guys, my avowed targets. Only time will tell if they have my back too.
1. Nathan Eovaldi, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Andrew Cashner and Doug Fister all end the season as top 30 SP.
Eovaldi is the boldest pick here. Yes, the Marlins are owned by Lord Voldemort himself, Jeffrey Loria, but even so they've managed to assemble an excellent player development staff. Eovaldi pitches in baseball's most difficult Home Run park, averages a major league best 96.99 mph with the fastball, and calls the generally weak NL East his home. Put it on the books: 15 Wins, 3.00 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 175 k's. As I mentioned in my rookie effort on Tuesday, I'm all in on Ryu, Cashner and Fister. They all boast the tasty tandem of talent & circumstance.
2. Masahiro Tanaka, Mat Latos, Anibal Sanchez, and Michael Wacha all end the season outside the 40 SP.
I've avoided these guys in drafts like the plague. I think Tanaka needs a year to adjust to Yankees stadium, Major League hitters, the Major League strikezone and sharing a locker room with...Yankees. Apparently Latos has regained velocity from years prior, but I think the 0.60/HR9 from 2013 bordered on supernatural. Also, the Reds lineup isn't what it once was, meaning the Wins may not be as plentiful as they once were. Anibal's velocity/strikeout spike and career ERA performance after switching from the NL to the AL can only be described as enigmatic. I think he regresses on all fronts. Lastly, Wacha is a liability until he develops a league average breaking pitch.
3. Anthony Rizzo leads the NL in Home Runs with 38
Rizzo was one of baseball's unluckiest players in 2013. He doesn't strikeout a ton (16.8 K% in 2012, and 18.4 K% in 2013), especially for a power hitter, and his .258 BABIP (9th lowest among qualified hitters) suggests the .233 AVG was fluky. If his overall contact rate increases to 70% or so, and he sustains better luck on balls in play, 30 HRs is a reasonable projection. But I'm not here to make reasonable projections. I say his luck swings the other way, making it rain all over Wrigley for an NL leading 38 dingers.
4. Matt Wieters puts together the elite season we've all been waiting for, slashing .275/.345/.500, a 90 RBI appetizer to go with a 28-homer entrée.
I'm a sucker for Wieters. I once believed he could divide by zero. In 2014, he figures out right-handed pitching and takes over the throne as the unquestioned #1 fantasy Catcher.
5. Marcus Semien is 2014's Matt Carpenter.
Gordan Beckham is terrible. Not only is he terrible, but he's also beginning the season on the DL. Semien, on the other hand, slashed .284/.401/.479 with 19 HR and 24 SB between AA and AAA last season. The door is open, and he's had an excellent spring. His scouting profile suggests he may not have more than league average skills, but I believe in a breakout. Semien is a good deep league buy, especially in OBP formats. Oh, and he'll be eligible at SS/2B/3b.
6. Albert Pujols returns to MVP form, ending the season as fantasy's #1 first baseman.
Last Sunday, Albert Pujols made me a believer. He hit a triple for the first time since 2010. He's been telling us all offseason he's healthy, that the foot feels 99.9% better. If there's one thing I know about a healthy Pujols it's this: he mashes baseballs. With the departure of Mark Trumbo, Pujols should also see time at DH, which will help him preserve his aging body. I think he plays 145+ games and goes .300/39/140/110.
7. Martin Prado out earns Ian Kinsler, who's being taken 5 rounds earlier.
I always get Prado. He makes a lot of contact, has multi-positional eligibility, and generally produces across the board. Owners soured on him last year due to a poor first half. However, for those of you who weren't paying attention, Prado exploded from July on to the tune of .324/.374/.490 and 136 wRC+. Kinsler, on the other hand, has been steadily declining in the power and speed departments, posting 3-year lows in both ISO (.136) and stolen bases (15). He won't be terrible, but a lot of his fantasy value will be tied to the amount runs scores atop Detroit's powerful lineup.
8. Mark Reynolds ends the season as a Top 10 first baseman in OBP formats, hitting 32 HR's in the friendly confines of Miller Park.
A few years ago this wouldn't have been so bold, but given Reynolds' horrendous output in 2013, it is. It was the first year in Reynolds' career he slugged below .400, hitting a measly (by his standards) 21 HR's in 504 PA's. I'm trusting ZiPS on this one, who projects him for a .234/.335/.474 with 29 HR's.
9. Justin Smoak, once the laughing stock of MLB first basemen, quits the switch hitting act and launches 30 HR, slashing .265/.365/.550.
Smoak has never hit better than .238 in a Major League season. But for all his badness, he hit 18 HR's in 357 PA's against RHP in 2013. Maybe Smoak gives up hitting from the right-side, evens out his platoon split, and becomes the above average first baseman scouts once thought he'd be.
10. Javier Baez is drinking Major League coffee by April 26th, relieving Darwin Barney of 2nd base duties, socking 25 long ones, albeit with a sub .300 OBP.
Javy Baez had a bizarre spring training: .280/.294/.640 with 5 HR's and 16/1 K/BB. Baez is an incredible talent, and after the display he put on this spring, it's only a matter of time before he's donning a Cubs uniform in Wrigley. The approach is rough, but with the Cubs still a couple of years away from contention, the sooner he gets used to Major League pitching, the better.