I’ve been doing these Bold Predictions posts for a few years now and last year I posted a 4/10 score, my best ever, so I’m feeling good going into this year’s edition. As always, these are predictions about the upcoming fantasy baseball season. I try to make them sufficiently “bold” by comparing them to the industry consensus on the player(s) involved. For example, saying Xander Bogaerts finishes as a top five shortstop isn’t bold because that is expected based on most rankings I have seen. But saying he finishes number one is. Note: that is not one of my predictions. There will be some awful predictions, like predicting Carlos Carrasco would be a top 5 SP last year and some good ones, like predicting Carlos Correa wouldn’t be the #1 shortstop.
Ok, let’s get to the mayhem!
1. Greg Holland finishes as a top 10 closer
I’ve been following his recovery closely this offseason and am thrilled to see his velocity jump from 86 mph in November to his previous norm of 95 mph in March. His stuff has looked very good this spring and I think he will be close to his old self. Even if he pitches half his games in Coors and plays on a below average Rockies team, he has the skills to crack the top 10 at the position on ESPN’s player rater. By the way, I’m going to use their player rater as a barometer for most of these predictions.
2. Jose Abreu finishes outside the top 12 at first base
I’ve been riding the Jose Abreu bust train all offseason, so I’m not stopping now. I just saw too much skill erosion in last season’s underlying stats and the position is deep enough to offer plenty of good alternatives. Plus, that lineup around him is going to be pretty awful, especially if Todd Frazier is traded. Guys like Carlos Santana, Eric Hosmer, Chris Davis, and Hanley Ramirez could all easily perform better in 2017 than Abreu, pushing him outside the top 12.
3. Jose Berrios is the most valuable Twins pitcher
Maybe you think this one isn’t bold enough, but he’s not on the opening day roster and was awful in his debut last season. He was a highly regarded prospect for a good reason, though. He should have excellent command, giving him a higher floor, even if last season was a disaster. In addition, he should have good outfield defense behind him with Buxton, Kepler, and Rosario. I’m taking a chance on the youngster and assuming that none of the veterans in the rotation will be good enough to fend him off, even if they have a head start. Maybe this prediction really just underscores how bad the Twins rotation is. Sorry Twins fans.
4. Greg Bird finishes as a top 10 first baseman
His ADP on NFBC is currently 224 as the 18th first baseman off the board, so this would be a decent jump. I was impressed with all the sabermetric and Statcast stats he put up in 2015 before missing all of last year with an injury. I think he has legit power and could surprise everyone by passing the likes of Santana, Pujols, Hosmer, and Belt on the first base rankings.
5. Logan Forsythe finishes ahead of Jose Peraza, Jonathan Schoop, and Ben Zobrist on ESPN’s second base player rater
I’ve discussed my love for the new Dodgers keystone guy on this site before. I think runs will come in bunches and he is in his prime in a great lineup. I don’t have much else to say that I haven’t already about this guy. The three other second basemen I listed all have potential issues: Peraza doesn’t walk, is unproven, and has no power, Schoop also doesn’t walk and has poor discipline, and Zobrist is getting older and slowing down. All three are being taken ahead of Forsythe in NFBC drafts. Forsythe is going as the 16th second baseman. Bet the over.
6. Yoan Moncada disappoints and finishes behind Pablo Sandoval, Travis Shaw, and Danny Valencia on ESPN’s player rater at third base
As a Red Sox fan, maybe this is just regret at losing the top prospect in baseball (according to some), but I think the concerns about his strikeouts and knowledge of the strike zone are valid. We will have to see how he does in AAA to start the year, but there are no guarantees he gets called up and lights the world on fire like 2015 Kris Bryant. We should all remember Byron Buxton’s debut or Orlando Arcia’s or a host of other top prospects and remember that there are no guarantees. His NFBC ADP puts him ahead of all the guys I mentioned in the prediction, even though they all have full- or nearly-full-time jobs to start the year. Hence, this prediction.
7. Justin Upton finishes outside the top 35 outfielders
Upton has been a reliable fantasy asset for his entire career, putting up consistent home run and steals totals year after year with very little missed time for injuries. However, 2016 revealed some huge vulnerabilities. He was one of the worst hitters in all of baseball over the first two months of the season with a 36.5 K%, 0.109 ISO, and 0.590 OPS. That’s...not good. Yes, he turned it around after that and ended up with a normal season line, but it took 13 (!) home runs in September and 22 in the second half (after 9 in the first half) just to get back to normal and he’s not going to do that again.
He is a streaky hitter prone to long slumps, terrible batting averages, and disappearing power. Remember Chris Davis’ 2014 season (0.704 OPS, 0.196 average)? That’s the downside of this type of player. I think this is the year it catches up to him for the whole season, not just the first half. His NFBC ADP is 21st among outfielders right now, for reference.
8. Jake Arrieta doesn’t bounce back and finishes outside the top 30 starting pitchers
I saw too many troubling signs in Arrieta’s 2016 stats, especially his control issues, to believe that he is back to ace status and deserving of a top 10 SP ADP (#8 on NFBC). So, I’m going completely the other way and saying that not only will be finish out of the top 10, but out of the top 30 completely. His strikeout rate and walk rate both got worse in 2016 and his xFIP was a mediocre 3.68. Throw in historically great defense behind him that probably won’t repeat in 2017 and you’ve got ingredients for disappointment. There is a chance he falls back to merely an above average pitcher like Dallas Keuchel, Felix Hernandez, and Matt Harvey did in 2016.
9. Aaron Nola finishes as a top 15 starting pitcher
Finally, another positive, upbeat prediction! I am a huge Nola fan. Give me excellent command, a great changeup, and a good curve with huge ground ball rates any day. He has all the pieces to put together a season like Dallas Keuchel’s 2015. Both his FIP and xFIP were at 3.08 last year, despite a 4.78 ERA. Keuchel has below average velocity, just like Nola, so we know it can be successful. I’m not predicting a Cy Young for Nola, but top 15 will do nicely for a guy with an NFBC ADP as the 50th SP!
10. Jonathan Villar finishes outside the top 10 shortstops
This might look foolish halfway through the season, but I’m just not a believer in Villar. I just don’t believe he is all that far from Dee Gordon or Billy Hamilton or Jarrod Dyson. He’s had one season of fantasy goodness and he is 26 years old. He never had an ISO as high as his 2016 mark of 0.171, even in the minor leagues. His HR/FB rate also set a career high by 6%. Oh, and he hits well over 50% of his balls into the ground and only 24% as fly balls. That is not a great recipe for power. Let’s also discuss the fact that he had never stolen more than 60 bases in any season (combining major and minor league steals) before stealing 62 last year.
For those reasons, I expect both his home runs and steals to regress enough to boot him from the top 10. His ADP has him at #4, so it would be a big fall. I know steals are incredibly valuable right now, but I’m just not convinced Villar is more than a one-dimensional player. He has to convince me by doing it again.
Well, half of my predictions are positive and the other half are negative. I didn’t plan that, by the way. I’ve covered pretty much every position (catchers shouldn’t even count anymore). I think my work here is done. You can now commence your mockery of my zany predictions! We’ll check back at the All-Star Break and see how bad these look. Tschus!