I’ll spare you my typically wordy, self promoting intro that usually goes here. In no particular order:
1. The Minnesota Twins finish near .500.
Right off the top I know this one sounds crazy, but hear me out. As I wrote elsewhere, not only does bringing in Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes help stabilize the rotation, but at this very second in spring training pitchers who threw nearly 400 innings for the club last year are battling for the No. 5 spot in the rotation (Vance Worley, Scott Diamond, Samuel Deduno, and Kyle Gibson). That represents nearly 45 percent of innings thrown by Twins starters last year.
Similarly, I think the offense bottomed out last year, and has a few players primed for a rebound (Josh Willingham, Joe Mauer, and perhaps an Oswaldo Arcia breakout). Simply avoiding the non-competitive stretch to end the season will go a long way toward a return to form, as the Twins have been 79-140 (.361) in the second half the past three years. September/October has been even worse, with a combined mark of 27-58 (.318). For the fantasy angle here, I’m buying guys like Willingham, Arcia, and Nolasco as good values at their positions/rankings.
2. The Kansas City Royals make the playoffs.
This is just a gut feel thing. I look at the Royals depth chart and like what I see, and that’s a well-rounded team which made a couple nice additions (Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante). I still love the bullpen (even without Luke Hochevar, thanks Wade Davis), and I think the rotation is safe, if a bit short on high-end projection (except Yordano Ventura). I not only see this as a team in the playoffs, but as a club challenging Detroit for the AL Central crown. For fantasy purposes, I like Ventura but am leery about the cost associated with him. I’ve wound up in leagues that overvalue potential, and undervalue it. Talk about frustrating.
3. Jose Dariel Abreu leads the American League in home runs.
Solely on the basis of Chris Davis still being alive this strikes me as bold. But I love the Cell as a home run park (especially for right-handed hitters with a 131 HR park factor via StatCorner last year), and I think Abreu could have a good shot to meet or exceed the 30-plus bombs forecast for him by Oliver and Steamer.
I’m sure this will be considered not bold enough, but you’re talking about two guys with a COMBINED 116 innings of big league experience. But they’re both young (24), throw gas (Salazar’s average heater was 96.2 mph, Gray’s a bit more temperate at 93.1), and have PITCHf/x analysts abuzz with their secondary offerings (Gray’s curve, Salazar’s slider/changeup).
5. The Detroit Tigers win fewer than 90 games.
It’s not that I hate the Tigers, I just think the rest of the division is good enough to keep the Tigers under 90 wins after a 93 win season last year. Maybe a three win decrease isn’t all that bold, especially with the subtractions of Doug Fister and Prince Fielder (countered by Ian Kinsler, of course). Ultimately, I think the Tigers’ peak window is starting to close, though any team with Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander both healthy is still a viable World Series contender. For a fantasy angle, I’m leaning away from Verlander this year. I don’t think he’ll be outright bad, just not worth his value. Abdominal surgery, previous workloads, and small tumbles in rates all contribute to my notion.
6. The Padres make the playoffs.
I like the cast of characters the Padres have put together this year, and think they have a good chance to push the Diamondbacks and Giants for second place behind the Dodgers in the West. There’s a fun mixture of sleeper potential and outright potential in the rotation, and the bullpen top to bottom will be among the best in the game. I have to admit I’m bummed that Cameron Maybin got hurt again, however. Especially since it doesn’t seem to open up playing time for one of my favorites (Kyle Blanks).
7. Both Atlanta and Washington win 95-plus games.
This would be status quo for the Braves, who won 96 games last year, but with the injuries that have been dealt to that rotation, some form of a step back would have to be expected. For the Nationals it represents a nine-game increase from last year’s total, though that was a team that was largely believed — and rightfully so — to have underachieved.
Ultimately the reasoning here is that the gap between the haves and the have nots in this division is so big in my opinion that two teams could both reach the 95 win mark. I do think that’s bold. For Atlanta, I am buying low on B.J. Upton, and for the Nationals I’m spending big dough on Bryce Harper, and buying Denard Span late for batting average and steals.
8. Phil Hughes will be the most valuable Twins starter in fantasy leagues.
I know everyone is quite literally and perhaps rightfully so down on Hughes after two ugly years in the Bronx, but I think he chose a very good spot to try right his proverbial ship. Choosing one of the most spacious parks in the game works well with Hughes’ 46.0% career fly ball rate, and he still has good raw stuff, including a good hard fastball and solid strikeout rates. Development of something off that fastball will quite literally determine whether he’s a successful starter, or an overpaid reliever.
9. Seattle finishes ahead of the Angels in the standings.
I think the best course of action for the Mariners to be successful this year is to adapt a modified Rays approach, and this is surrounding your superstar (in this case, Robinson Cano) with a bunch of movable pieces. The trouble is, there’s no Ben Zobrist in Seattle. There’s Dustin Ackley, whom I suppose *could* develop into that kind of guy. Still, I think Seattle did well to not pay big for Nelson Cruz or Marlon Byrd, when they can piece something together with Corey Hart, Logan Morrison, and others at a fraction of the cost. Also, I really like the Mariners pitching staff. If Scott Baker makes the team, he has a chance to be a nice bargain basement grab. His skill set plays well there. On the Angels side, I’m just not buying any meaningful rebound from Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, or Jered Weaver.
10. Francisco Liriano takes a significant step back in year two with the Pirates.
To save face on the ‘bold’ front here, I’ll take an out clause when it comes to health. Even if he’s healthy, I don’t think he can sustain even close to what he did with the Pirates last year. For one, I don’t think he can repeat the 0.5 HR/9 rate from last year. He threw far more sliders than any other pitch last year (by over 100 from even his preferred fastball variant), and I don’t think he can continue to do that healthily (whether it nullifies my bold prediction or not) or with such success (.435 OPS, 43.8 K%, 19.0% SwStr%).
Alright friends, grill away.