Is it really that time of year again? Somebody pinch me. We are less than a week away from the 2013 MLB season’s first official game and with that, the starting gun for the fantasy baseball season will have sounded. I’ll be damned if that doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies in my belly and that tingly feeling in the nether-regions that us married guys don’t get to feel too often anymore. What? Too much information? Well look at the damn headline, people! It’s all about being bold today and while I would like to boldly predict that my wife will be so turned on by my fantasy prowess that I’ll get that tingly feeling all year long, I’ll just stick to baseball here. Here are my 10 bold predictions for the 2013 season.
10. The Braves win the NL pennant while Jason Heyward earns NL MVP honors.
OK, so maybe not the boldest way to start things off, especially with an extra wild card spot in play, but with the talent the Braves have, I think it’s going to be very difficult for teams to consistently match up well against them. I love their lineup and think that, one through six, their batting order is going to provide some serious run production. With regard to their pitching, I think the young arms will take the next step forward while the veterans provide added strength and solid balance. The outfield is top notch, the infield is more than just passable and they’ve got the best closer in the game. Maybe the Nationals give them a run for their money, but I see the Braves doing it all this year. And as far as Heyward winning the MVP, that, to me, is a no-brainer. He’s ready to take his game to the uber-elite level and will provide fantasy owners with first round production that will vault him into the discussion for a top eight fantasy pick in 2014.
9. Not only does Evan Longoria stay healthy all year, but he hits 40 HR and leads the AL in RBI.
That’s right, a full year of health and the number one ranking amongst third basemen by year end. Regardless of how much he’s played, Longoria’s ISO numbers have always been killer and here at 27-years old….that magical number that so many dismiss yet somehow always come back to…he is primed for a BIG breakout season. He’s breached the 30-home run barrier twice in the last four seasons and with a full season of games this year and even more brute strength, he’s taking it to the next level. His RBI total is obviously tied to Desmond Jennings’ impending breakout season, but one Ray at a time please.
8. Albert Pujols appears in fewer than 120 games and posts career-worst numbers in the five standard roto categories.
Many might say that Pujols’ down season last year can be attributed to the adjustments needed after transitioning to the American League. That may be partially the case, but personally, I see a man whose body is getting ready to fail him, thus impeding his overall performance. Between the knee surgery and the plantar fasciitis, this is finally the year where the man who appears to be bionic, needs to go in for a tune-up. His injuries are going to nag him all season long and given the nature of what they are, they will ultimately get the better of him and hinder his performance at the plate. If you thought last year’s 30 home runs were disappointing, wait til you see this year’s total.
7. The only fantasy value Jurickson Profar has this year is found in keeper league trades for people setting up for 2014.
Right now, there’s just no place for him in the starting lineup and I fail to see the huge need to rush him up this year. The Rangers aren’t likely to trade Elvis Andrus anytime soon (they’ve even said they’d wait until the winter), Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler are locked into their positions, and while Mitch Moreland may not be the ideal specimen at first base, should the Rangers maybe splash in a little Lance Berkman, the overall productivity should be fine. The only reason Texas has a need to shake things up is if they fall out of contention and given the state of the AL West, that hardly seems like the case. Unless Profar completely annihilates Triple-A pitching, the Rangers have no need to rush him up to the bigs when their team is strong enough to win without him.
6. Jarrod Dyson leads the AL in stolen bases.
Last season, in a part-time role (102 games) as an injury replacement call-up, Dyson swiped 30 bags with an 85.7-percent success rate. This year he’s already opening the season with the big club and will serve as the fourth outfielder. He’ll be used as a pinch-runner and as a late-inning defensive replacement for Jeff Francoeur so opportunity will already be there. Then throw in the strong possibility of another Lorenzo Cain injury and/or the complete demise of Francoeur’s abilities and suddenly Dyson is playing regularly. While there may be some quality speed-demons in the AL, Dyson will be watching them all from his rear-view mirror.
5. Cameron Maybin goes 20-40 this year.
He is my fantasy Achilles heel. Always has been, always will be. But I stand by the fact that he has simply needed the time to mature and grow into the ballplayer we all know he has the skills to be. The fact that he’s just entering his prime and the fences are coming in at Petco are sure to help the power and as Chris Cwik already mentioned in his bold predictions, the mechanical adjustments will play a favorable role as well. As for the speed, we’ve already seen him capable of posting killer stolen base numbers so that’s the easy part. This is finally the year he puts it all together and rewards me for my senseless years of fantasy loyalty.
4. Kyuji Fujikawa leads the NL in saves.
The handwriting is already on the wall and it’s just a matter of how long before the Cubs tire of Carlos Marmol’s late-game failures and replace him with Fujikawa. Probably not that long in my opinion. Fujukawa’s numbers in Japan over the last six years (1.36 ERA; 12.4 K/9) have been outstanding and as Mike Axisa said in his Cubs Bullpen Depth Chart Discussion, Japanese relievers make the transition to American baseball much better than their starting counterparts. This sounds an awful lot like when Kazahiro Sasaki came over and closed for the Mariners. The Cubbies may not be the best team, nor will they likely compete for even a wild card spot, but they will win their fair share of games and plenty of wins will come at very slight margins. Fujikawa will get plenty of work this season and should slam the door shut for a very high percentage of Cub wins this year, vaulting him to the top of the saves leaderboard.
3. Gordon Beckham finishes with 20 home runs and 75 RBI
I did a post-season write-up on Beckham back in October and I stand by my belief that there is hope on the horizon. He is maturing as both a person and a player and has been taking steps forward in his work at the plate. Last season he saw an increase in walks, a decrease in strikeouts and an increase in power. The progression was steady and over the final month of the season, he posted season-highs in walk rate, strikeout rate, OPS and ISO. This season he shrugs off the slow and rocky start to his career and finally produces a batting line worthy of all the hype he received back in 2009. He’ll need a little luck in the BABIP department to help keep the average up, but everything else will be there. And what’s best is that you can probably grab him in the final round of your draft or pluck him off your waiver wire right now.
2. Yoenis Cespedes goes 30-30 this year.
Time to showcase the Showcase here, baby! This is fixin’ to be some year for the A’s outfielder. There’s no denying the talent level after watching him produce the way he did in a season that most expected to be a potentially tough transition year for the Cuban defector. But not only did he do just fine in his first MLB endeavor, but he exceeded a lot of expectations with his strong blend of both speed and power. This year he’s much more comfortable, has his family State-side and spent the entire offseason working on his conditioning to help ward off the minor dings and dents that limited him to just 129 games last year. I see him being both fierce and aggressive this season and while the 30 steals might be a little too bold, the 30 home runs are a no-brainer.
1. Brandon Belt bats .280 with 25 home runs and 90 RBI by year end.
This is it, Giants fans. This is what you’ve actually been waiting for. I never put much stock into spring numbers but the Belt that we see at the plate right now is a much stronger, more confident player than we’ve seen over the last couple of seasons. He’s displayed strong ISO numbers in the past and though they hadn’t fully translated to the major league level, he also was never afforded a full-time opportunity in which to build enough momentum at the plate. He already showed you late last year what he could do with regular playing time when he batted .381 from August through the end of the season and now he gets the opportunity to show you that skill level over a full season. Best of all, he’ll be playing so well throughout the year that when Buster Posey needs a day off from behind the plate, Bruce Bochy will have to push him out to left field to keep his bat in the lineup which will hopefully give him dual-position eligibility.