Time to put it all on the line. As you’ve likely noticed, it’s bold predictions week at RotoGraphs. There’s been a clamoring in the comment section for more “boldness” in our predictions, and I’m ready to deliver. But, unlike some of my colleagues, I’m not sure I really expect any of these to come true. If anything, this list is a rundown of my biggest sleepers heading into the season. My main goal here is that once the season is over, we’ll both be happy that we took shots on the players I’ve singled out. Here goes nothing.
1) Cameron Maybin hits 20+ home runs.
Maybin is probably my biggest sleeper heading into drafts. As Jeff Sullivan pointed out in September, Maybin made a change to his swing in early July. From that point on, Maybin hit .287/.335/.414 in 263 plate appearances. Maybin stopped utilizing a high leg-kick at the plate, instead opting for a “toe-tap.” The adjustment has been present this spring, meaning Maybin has likely used the offseason to perfect his new approach. I love looking for mechanical changes when predicting sleepers and breakouts. These are the types of things that aren’t picked up by projection systems, and can represent a complete change of skills for certain players. I’m buying Maybin’s adjustment.
2. Rick Porcello strikes out 20% of hitters.
Rick Porcello owns a career 12.9% strikeout rate, so how the heck is he going to get up to 20%? Porcello has resurrected his curveball this spring in place of his slider. I wrote about Porcello’s curveball usage earlier this week, but here’s the cliff-notes version. Porcello had an above-average curveball when he was drafted, but the Tigers limited his usage. He replaced that pitch with a slider, which has a -23.2 pitch type over his career. Scrapping that pitch for an average pitch would be an improvement. Adding, potentially, an above average curve to the mix could make a big difference.
3. Salvador Perez becomes a top-5 catcher.
In 463 plate appearances, Salvador Perez has a .311/.339/.471 slash line. It’s less than a full-season sample of playing time, but I’m buying a big breakout. I wrote about Perez back in January, and showed just how good he’s been in his brief major-league career. The only thing I don’t love about his game is a low walk rate, but that will be somewhat offset by his contact-heavy approach. He should hit about .300, and he’ll add close to 20 home runs.
4. Rickie Weeks re-emerges as a top-5 second baseman.
I’m going to take it a step further than Brett Talley, who predicted a top-10 finish for Weeks. Weeks is the one player I have drafted in every league this year. People will point to his awful .230/.328/.400 line from last season as a reason to stay away, but they seem to have forgotten about his horrific 2011 ankle injury. That injury seemed to stick with him for the first half of 2012, and he didn’t look right at the plate. After the All-Star break, Weeks hit .261/.343/.457, with 13 of his 21 home runs. It’s plausible that the ankle was bothering him throughout the first half of the season. I expect him to get back to 2010/2011 numbers.
5. Jesus Montero hits .300 with 20+ home runs.
Some players should not be used in the DH-role. We know that being used as a DH suppresses offensive numbers, and Montero was a prime example of that last season. He performed much better as a catcher, hitting .310/.343/.498 in 230 plate appearances. That’s a small sample, but given the offensive production he showed in the minors, his performance as a catcher is much closer to what people projected from him at the plate. Montero is slated to be the team’s starting catcher at least until Mike Zunino is ready. Once that happens, Montero should probably shift to first. As long as he’s not the DH, he’ll put up impressive numbers.
6. Jurickson Profar gets close to 550 plate appearances in the majors.
Call me crazy, but I can’t see Lance Berkman holding up for the entire season. On top of that, I don’t think Mitch Moreland is an awesome player. Jurickson Profar, on the other hand, is pretty awesome, and would be opening the season in the majors on any other team. As we saw with Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, elite minor-league talents don’t stay in the minors that long. All it would take is one injury to anyone in the infield for Profar to be called up. And if Moreland doesn’t produce, I’m willing to bet the team entertains the notion of moving Kinsler over to first in order to get the more talented Profar into the lineup.
7. Justin Upton becomes an MVP candidate again.
Upton’s thumb may not have led to a DL stint, but it clearly had an impact on his performance for most of the season. Last year was viewed as a worst case scenario for Upton, and he still managed to hit .280/.355/.430. He’s already shown that he’s capable of putting up MVP-caliber numbers. I expect a return to his 2011 numbers.
8. Ryan Zimmerman returns to 2009-2010 offensive levels
To put it a different way, Ryan Zimmerman has a .370+ wOBA this season. Zimmerman dealt with a shoulder injury early last season, which really impacted his production. Instead of going on the DL for a second time, Zimmerman opted for a cortisone regimen. The shots worked wonders, and Zimmerman hit .319/.381/.564, with 17 of his 25 home runs over the second half. He’ll miss about 20 games with some type of injury, but he’s going to be great when he plays.
9. Carlos Sanchez becomes a fantasy-relevant infielder.
The writing is on the wall for Gordon Beckham. After two straight seasons with a sub-.300 wOBA, you would think Beckham’s spot would be in jeopardy if he gets off to a bad start. Sanchez was the talk of the White Sox’s offseason, after he jumped three levels in 2012 and raked during winter league. That success didn’t carry over during the spring, and he’ll begin the season in the minors. Sanchez may not be an elite talent, but he employs a contact-heavy approach which should lead to a high average. He’s also flashed some speed, stealing 37 bases last season. Sanchez has played second and short in the minors, and there was talk of him getting some experience at third during the offseason. The opportunity could be there, and Sanchez’s skills are good enough to warrant attention in fantasy leagues.
10. Trevor Rosenthal leads the Cardinals in saves.
Our good friend Jack Moore wrote about closers for his FG+ article, and concluded that throwing hard and striking out a lot of batters were the main skills that led to being named a closer. Rosenthal was even mentioned in that article, so perhaps I’m stealing from Jack here. With Jason Motte already out, the opportunity is there for Rosenthal to stumble into some close situations. He also bests Mitchell Boggs in both strikeout rate and velocity. If Motte has trouble coming back, or struggles initially, Rosenthal could find himself in the closer role.
11. Ricky Romero returns from the minors, and…
Please, even I’m not touching Ricky Romero this season.