Is everyone Bold Prediction’d out yet? No? Good. I thought with a mid-week slot I’d be alright this year, but six other writers dropped their gutsy dice-rolls on Wednesday so here I am, again somewhat late to the party and risking repetition. On the bright side, this year I’m able to post mine while they can still help you with your draft (or destroy it…probably destroy it).
Last year’s success rate wasn’t excellent, but when it comes to these deep dives, hitting three or four out of 10 provides more value than the six or seven wrong ones cost you. That’s the hope, anyway. So hit control-B, people, and let’s get bold as love. Here’s hoping they’re bold enough (spoiler: they never are).
1. Sergio Santos. All day, Sergio Santos. Every year, Sergio Santos.
“Santos was picked up last year for a prospect and has a longer-term deal, so the Jays have incentive to give him a chance to win the job. Considering Janssen himself still isn’t sure about his status for opening night, it doesn’t take a bold imagination to see the strikeout-heavy Santos running with the gig after just one or two conversions.”
That’s what I wrote in this space last year, predicting that Santos would top the Jays in saves. I’m doubling down with that same prediction for 2014.
I could have just copy-and-pasted it with little editing, because Janssen is once again dealing with a shoulder issue, and the Jays have incentive to give Santos the eventual nod since the incumbent is a free agent this winter and a likely trade chip before the deadline. Steve Delabar looms, too, and they make a nice trio, but the job will belong to Santos early enough for him to be the top closer on the team.
2. Matt Wieters returns to the top-seven for fantasy catchers.
This is all gut. The handedness splits are worrisome, enough that it may be worth considering dropping the switch-hitting thing, and he ranked sixth, eighth and 12th in the past three years among backstops. Why the sudden change in opinion? It’s not quite a post-hype sleeper feel – he’s still ranked as the 11th catcher off the board in our consensus ranks – but an increase in fly ball rate and a decrease in HR/FB last year, plus some possible regression in his walk rate, leaves me confident he’ll see an uptick in value. I’m thinking .255 with 25 home runs and the counting stats to accompany.
3. Troy Tulowitzki stays healthy and is fantasy baseball’s top asset, controlling for scarcity.
I’m really going out on a limb with these names, I know. Anyway, Tulowitzki hasn’t had 600 plate appearances since 2011 and has only reached that mark three times in his career. That’s an issue, but injuries are somewhat random, and Tulo was the league’s 24th most valuable player on a per-game basis in 2013. Hanley Ramirez represents a threat to the top of the shortstop ranks, but I’ll roll the dice with Tulowitzki as the premiere option. Would 30 homers, a half dozen steals and a .300 average be enough to make him the league’s top fantasy option? It was close-but-not-quite in 2011, when Tulowitzki’s runs stayed artificially low, but that also feels like the 50th-percentile 600-plate appearance projection.
4. Marcus Semien’s versatility puts him on the fantasy radar in deep formats.
It’s hard to say exactly what Marcus Semien could provide given a full slate of playing time, though 10-10 seems a near certainty if he could play half a season. His ability to play three infield positions not only makes him versatile for fantasy purposes (eventually), letting you use him to fill multiple holes in a pinch, but it also gives him multiple paths to playing time. Not a believer in Gordon Beckham or Matt Davidson, or think Alexei Ramirez finally suffers a bump or bruise? Semien is probably next in line in each instance, save for maybe a Conor Gillaspie appearance at third. He could reach 350 plate appearances through backup work and filling in for injuries without even winning a job outright, which would still make him a stop-gap option for the speed and power, even with the sure-to-be-poor average.
5. Justin Ruggiano is a top-50 outfielder.
I know Brett Talley said top-40, so I’m hedging a bit here. That’s not because I don’t believe in Ruggiano, who I feel would be a near lock for a 20-20 year given full playing time, but because I’m not positive he’ll have a position all to himself to begin the year. He deserves it, and if he’s the opening day starter, no rotation, bump him to top-40. But Ryan Sweeney looms as an impediment to playing time on occasion against right-handed pitchers, and limiting Ruggiano to just 500 plate appearances would make him hard pressed to crack the top-40 without batting average improvement.
6. Billy Hamilton fails to steal 40 bases in the majors.
Gasp. Blasphemy, I know, especially since my Twitter timeline in September was basically the Billy Hamilton hype machine. And I like him, I want him to do well and steal 100 bases, I really do. It’s incredibly fun, and it’s an awesome wrinkle for fantasy baseball to have a de facto full-category chip moving forward. Alas, the Reds hope to contend and Hamilton barely OBP’d .300 at Triple-A last season, leaving projection systems pegging him for an OBP between .278 and .319 this season. If it’s on the high end, he’ll be on base 190 times and probably steal 60 bags, minimum. If it’s on the low end, though, he’s probably relegated to fourth-outfielder duty or, worse yet, sent back to Louisville for additional seasoning. Again, I want to be wrong here, but the on-base risk is too high with a top-30 outifleder price tag, so I’m going to zig on my guy while everyone else zags.
7. Cody Allen is a top-five fantasy reliever after the All-Star break.
As a Canadian, I’m supposed to hope for good things for John Axford, but I have little faith they’ll come his way. Was his home run luck bad, or are two seasons and 134.1 innings enough to suggest he now has a problem with the longball? In any case, his ERA and FIP have both been above 4.00 in consecutive years, and the Indians only made a one-year commitment here. If Axford struggles, enter Allen, who had the strikeout rate of, well, a young Axford last season. Quick to the majors, Allen suffered few missteps on his path to Cleveland and has looked great since arriving. A heavy fastball and swing-and-miss ability give him the “typical” closer look (substitute a curveball for a slider), and he’ll have value in deeper leagues even before he takes over the closer’s role.
8. Andrew Cashner finishes outside the top-70 among starting pitchers.
Ranked 46th in our consensus rankings, Cashner is also the 42nd starter of the board in early Yahoo drafts, and it seems a little too early to be sure of Cashner’s legitimacy. I realize the second half numbers we’re quite impressive (2.92 FIP), but even then his strikeout rate was only average. Petco’s nice, but Cashner doesn’t give up many flyballs anyway and the defense behind him is only average. None of these are major marks against him, but consider that the No. 40 starter’s line was 11-192-3.36-1.25 and the No. 70 starter’s line was 11-120-3.81-1.23 and tell me what you think seems more likely?
9. George Springer makes my heart flutter, makes me coin term “Three-and-Speed.”
Springer is a rare breed, perhaps the first ever “three true outcomes” hitter that also has significant wheels. Taking the middle-point of his projections – a 10.2 percent walk rate, 28.1 percent strikeout rate and a home run every 26.2 turns up – we find that Springer stealing 20 bags would represent a first for players with that extreme a TTO-profile, save for Mark Reynolds’ 2009 season. I plan to tackle that angle more in a future piece but needless to say, Springer is a unique little snowflake. So what’s the prediction here? That Robbie Grossman, Marc Krauss and L.J. Hoes don’t hold him down for long, Springer ends up with 400 plate appearances and is a top-25 outfielder over the second half of the season.
10. Yordano Ventura is a top-70 starting pitcher.
Ventura was number 103 in the consensus ranks and didn’t appear higher than 86 on any individual’s list, explaining why he’s going undrafted in 85 percent of early Yahoo drafts. The potential here is huge, however, and because he threw 150 innings in 2013, an innings cap is unlikely to limit him to fewer than 175 innings. With the news that Wade Davis is out of the rotation battle, likely to assume the Luke Hochevar role in the bullpen, Ventura’s innings could come entirely at the major league level. Assuming 175 innings, 10 wins and a moderate strikeout-per-nine mark of eight (155 strikeouts), he’d only need an ERA and WHIP of about 4.00 and 1.30, respectively, to reach a top-70 perch. Consider me a believer in that line and more, as his 97-MPH fastball and mix of secondary offerings should be good for an even better strikeout rate.
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