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Chris Cwik’s Bold Predictions for 2014

Here we go again. I’m sure you all remember the hilarious results of my bold predictions last year. I’ve spent much of the offseason trying to completely erase them from my memory. I would like to say I’ve learned something after that debacle, but that’s just not the case. I went bold last year, and I don’t regret it. Though most of my predictions were comically wrong, I feel the first article at least gave owners an idea of guys I felt were overvalued, and how I came to that conclusion. The point is, I’m going to get 90% of these wrong, but I don’t care. If I can make a good enough point to make you think twice about a player, I’ll consider that a success. Can’t wait to laugh, and cry, as I read these in a few months.

1. Kolten Wong emerges as a top-9 fantasy second baseman.

Wong is currently rated as the 21st best option at second according to the RotoGraphs consensus rankings, so I feel top-9 is bold enough. Wong has posted solid, yet unspectacular numbers over his minor-league career, and peaked at just 58 on Baseball America’s annual top prospect lists. So, why the optimism? Well, the Cardinals have a track record of taking spotty prospects and getting incredible production from them. Recently, the team has made use of Jon Jay, Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, David Freese and Matt Adams. None of those players ever made a BA prospect list, so it can be argued Wong has more potential entering the year.

This prediction is less focused on Wong’s specific skills, and more just putting faith in the Cardinals organization. I feel as though team trends often get overlooked in fantasy. If an organization starts showing certain trends, like the Cardinals have with questionable prospects, you have to buy in at some point. Wong clearly has talent, and the starting job. There’s no reason he should flop when so many other haven’t.

Speaking of team trends…

2. Edinson Volquez works his way back to mixed-league relevance. (He’s picked up and used as more than just a streamer)

Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage has worked wonders the past few years with Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli. Aside from Grilli, who was bad before he joined the club, every player on that list carried massive boom or bust potential. Volquez seems to fit into that group. We’ve seen Volquez show some upside in the majors, but he’s mostly been a frustrating fantasy asset. Again, this is a bet mostly on Searage, and less on Volquez’s stats. You’re betting Searage can find a way to rebuild him, and that Russell Martin‘s strong receiving skills help him rack up a few more strikeouts, and a few less walks. He’s not someone you should draft tomorrow, but could prove to be a useful “watch list” add.

3. Danny Salazar emerges as the best of the second-year bunch.

We’re excluding Jose Fernandez here because he’s too awesome to count. At a certain point in the draft, you’ll be faced with drafting one of the following pitchers: Tony Cingrani, Sonny Gray, Danny Salazar, Gerrit Cole or Michael Wacha. In most drafts, Salazar is considered, at the very highest, the third best of that bunch. The truth is, all of them have some significant issues. Salazar is one of the few who currently has three usable offerings. Also, his stuff is freaking nasty. The biggest issue surrounding Salazar is injury potential. He missed most of 2010 and 2011 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Even the team seems concerned, limiting his work during the spring. While they could limit his workload, that’s going to be much harder to do in August, when the team is fighting for a playoff spot and Salazar is their best starter.

4. We see the first-half version of Patrick Corbin again.

Corbin surprised nearly every owner last year, jumping from undrafted to a top-30 pitcher. The reason for Corbin’s breakout was a jump in velocity. Corbin saw his average fastball velocity rise from 90.9 mph in 2012 to 92.1 mph in 2013. There are a couple problems here. Corbin seemed to lose steam at the end of the year, showing reduced velocity and a 5.19 ERA over the second half. Also, pitchers who see big velocity jumps with their fastball typically can’t retain that velocity the following year. Basically, the odds are against Corbin doing this again. But, maybe he can break the mold. Corbin was reportedly hitting 93-96 mph this spring. While radar gun readings should be taken with a grain of salt during spring training, it’s an encouraging start for Corbin.

5. Yasmani Grandal finishes as a top-10 catcher.

The fantasy sports industry is far too dependent on the “what have you done for me lately” approach. After a small sample breakout in 2012, Yasmani Grandal was starting to get a lot of hype as the next stud catcher. That didn’t last long, as Grandal was suspended for 50 games to start the season. He returned for just 28 games before an ACL injury put him on the shelf for the rest of 2013. The injury was thought to keep Grandal out at the beginning of the year, but that may not be the case. He’s been making strides during spring training, and was able to catch three innings Monday. Even if he doesn’t begin the year in the majors, he should be up and playing soon. Health remains an issue, but Grandal can boast solid walk rates, and won’t strike out that much. Anything near his 2012 numbers would easily put him in the top-10.

6. Brandon Belt finishes in the top-10 at first base.

Perhaps this isn’t so bold, as Belt took a big leap forward last season. Despite that, there’s still some hesitancy among analysts to place him anywhere near the top-10. Belt ranked 16th among first baseman in the RotoGraphs consensus rankings. That’s eight spots below an unproven Anthony Rizzo, seven spots below an aging Albert Pujols and one spot beneath a a player we know nothing about (Jose Abreu). It’s pretty safe to say that Belt isn’t getting his due. Belt made an adjustment to his swing throughout the year, and mashed .326/.390/.525 over the second half. All the pieces are there for the breakout people predicted years ago. He has to be considered the best value at the position this year.

7. Nick Franklin gets a starting job by May 1.

Nick Franklin seems to be the odd man out in Seattle, but there’s hope for better days. Franklin is considered to be on the trading block, and should draw significant interest from most teams. While Franklin is probably stretched at short, it’s not often teams are willing to deal cost-controlled, up-the-middle talent. Aside from an injury in Seattle, the only way this is going to happen, is if Franklin gets dealt in the next few weeks. A trade would do wonders for his value, not just because he would likely play full-time, but also because Safeco is not a fun ballpark for hitters. Some team will find a way to use him, and you’ll benefit.

8. Matt Lindstrom finds a way to save 10 games.

Lindstrom is technically in competition for the closer role in Chicago, but it’s widely assumed Nate Jones will open the season with the job. Lindstrom, however, was drawing the praise of pitching coach Don Cooper before an oblique injury set him back during spring. Jones has recovered from an early glute strain, and again appears to be the favorite as the regular season approaches. The main reason Lindstrom might stumble into some saves, other than an injury or bout of ineffectiveness for Jones, is the fact that he could be a trade candidate at midseason. If the White Sox aren’t in contention, Lindstrom would certainly be a guy they would consider trading. He’s in the last year of his contract, and the team hasn’t been shy about dealing relievers, and even closers, recently. Both Sergio Santos and Addison Reed have been shipped out in recent offseasons, while Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton got the boot last year. Even if Lindstrom doesn’t get saves with the White Sox, he could be used as the closer with his new club.

9. Felipe Paulino is Don Cooper’s latest reclamation project.

Don Cooper has turned around so many pitchers the past few years, that anyone in the White Sox rotation at least becomes vaguely interesting. Paulino actually had some talent prior to having Tommy John surgery in 2012. Paulino also had a cyst removed from his shoulder in 2013, which is why he hardly pitched either year. Paulino is capable of putting up strong velocity numbers, but it comes at the expense of him not having any idea where the ball will wind up. Still, we’re talking about a pitching coach who made Jose Quintana, and, gasp, Philip Humber, fantasy relevant. If he gets off to a good start, he’s probably worth a pickup considering what Cooper’s been able to do with lesser talent.

10. Cameron Maybin becomes mixed-league relevant again.

Maybin headlined my awful predictions last season, and you would think I’d have learned my lesson. But the truth is, I can’t quit him. After making an adjustment at the plate in 2012, Maybin started showing better offensive numbers over the rest of the year. Injuries completely ruined 2013, and have already cropped up in 2014. Maybin won’t be ready to play until sometime in May, but should move back into a starting role. As long as he’s still doing the “toe-tap” at the plate, I’ll be monitoring his progress at the plate.

Am I bold, or just stupid? We probably already know the answer.