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J.P. Breen’s 10 Bold Predictions For 2014

In last year’s Bold Predictions, I strongly advocated Jean Segura and Jarrod Parker, while steering people away from Starlin Castro. Those surely helped fantasy owners to various extents. However, we’ll ignore the fact that I predicted Brett Anderson to be a top-30 starter. Sorry about that.

Let’s get to the bold predictions for 2014.

(1) Chris Carter will hit at least 40 home runs and be a top-25 outfielder.

Earlier this offseason, I noted how Chris Carter’s hitting profile compared favorably to that of Chris Davis from a year ago, leading one to believe the power spike could be possible. Carter has also hit 39 homers in a single season before in the minors, so it’s not as if we’re worried about the requisite power being present. Furthermore, the 27-year-old slugger didn’t do the one thing everyone thought he would do last season: mash the baseball in Minute Maid Park.

PA AVG OBP SLG ISO HR
Home 285 .164 .277 .328 .164 10
Away 300 .279 .360 .565 .286 19

Minute Maid Park is extremely friendly to right-handed hitters, largely due to the Crawford Boxes, and Carter did little damage there. If his numbers bounce back at home and he’s able to continue his power-hitting ways on the road, we could be looking at one of the biggest power breakout seasons of the year. Considering he’s currently going 193 overall in drafts — behind the likes of Jed Lowrie, Kendrys Morales, and Alejandro De Aza — I’m buying hard on Chris Carter as we head into the 2014 regular season.

(2) Rick Porcello finally takes the big step forward and is a top-30 starter.

This prediction isn’t solely dependent upon the projected defensive improvement of the Tigers’ infield — though that’s certainly a plus — rather, it’s predicated on the fact that Porcello’s major peripherals continue to trend in the correct direction. His strikeout rate has risen each of the last three years, his walk rate has dropped, his ground-ball rate has increased, and most importantly, his swinging-strike rate jumped to 8.6%. That all coincides with his contact rate dropping from 85.7% in 2011 to 80.7% this past season.

All signs point in the right direction. The peripherals are improving, the infield defense should be improved, the back-end of the bullpen should be solid, and the offense projects to offer plenty of run support. He’s currently being drafted at #285 overall, which is a steal.

(3) Jhonny Peralta fails to hit double-digit home runs and sees his batting average fall below .250.

This bold prediction has absolutely nothing to do with Biogenesis or PEDs. Instead, this has everything to do with the fact that Jhonny Peralta will turn 32 years old, had a .374 BABIP last year, and is moving to one of the most difficult power-hitting environments in Major League Baseball.

It’s incredible that Peralta only hit .303 with a .374 BABIP. Of players with at least a .374 BABIP in a single season since 2000, only four players had a lower batting average in that season: Jose Hernandez, Mark Reynolds, Jack Cust, and Austin Jackson. What do three of those four have in common? Career batting averages of .252 or lower. Once the BABIP luck is stripped away, we’ll see a guy with a strikeout rate that increased to 21.9% last season and a swinging-strike rate that increased to 11.0%. I suppose, in some ways, this isn’t that bold of a prediction considering he’s hit below .250 in two of the last four seasons.

However, we haven’t seen Peralta hit fewer than 10 homers in a season during his entire career, if we look at seasons in which he logged at least 300 plate appearances. He’s moving to St. Louis, though, and Busch Stadium’s home run park factor for righties in the past five seasons: 90, 90, 90, 90, 89. That’s brutal. That’s worse than Petco Park. True, he played in a tough park in Cleveland in the mid-2000s. Not only were the park factors in Cleveland during his time there higher than Busch Stadium’s for righties, but he was also younger. He’s now going to turn 32 years old and his average home run distance ranked #139 last year.

I don’t like that mix at all and will be avoiding Peralta in all my leagues when draft day comes calling.

(4) Madison Bumgarner wins the NL Cy Young and is a top-five fantasy starter.

We all inevitably wind up driving our own bandwagon(s) every year. It’s clear that I’m leading the Chris Carter bandwagon and have the gas pedal to the floor, but I occasionally pull it over to champion the one for Madison Bumgarner. I’m predicting monster things from the southpaw in 2014.

Consider this: Bumgarner had the 7th-highest swinging-strike rate in Major League Baseball last year at 11.1%. He’s throwing his fastball less and less frequently every year without significantly sacrificing his walk rate. If that trend continues, he should continue generating more swinging strikes and wracking up the strikeouts. He’s thrown 200+ innings the past three years and has decreased his WHIP in three-consecutive seasons. His ballpark is obviously a boon for the lefty, too.

Of course, to win the Cy Young Award for the National League, he’ll have to overtake Clayton Kershaw. That’s easier said than done. But if his rates continue to trend in the right direction and he continues to throw his fastball less often, the strikeout numbers should climb. Mix in 15+ wins and he’s easily a top-five fantasy starter after landing inside the top-10 a year ago. Oh, and he’s still being drafted as the 12th-overall starter. He’s crazy good value if you can get him in the fourth or fifth round in your draft because he’s poised to take a step forward and become elite.

(5) Rickie Weeks hits .250+ with at least 15 home runs and at least 10 stolen bases.

In many ways, Rickie Weeks appears done. He’s hit a combined .222/.320/.384 over the past two seasons, so we’re getting past the possibility of his struggles being explained away by the “small sample size” argument. However, I believe the core talent is still there. He ranked 55th out of 300 batters in average batted-ball distance last year, sandwiched in between David Wright, Edwin Encarnacion, and Buster Posey. He can still hit the ball with authority when he makes contact, which of course, is the significant problem in Weeks’ game. His contact rate dropped to 74.2% last season, but even that isn’t out of the norm. His contact rate was 74.3% in 2012 when he hit .269/.350/.468. The real issue was the .268 BABIP. I think his BABIP rises to near his career-average of .302, and his batting average should rise accordingly.

The issue of playing time becomes significant, though. Scooter Gennett is vying for significant playing time at second base and hit .324/.356/.479 in his brief big-league debut. The problem? Gennett only managed a .235/.262/.330 against southpaws last year. That should open an opportunity for Weeks to see regular playing time against lefties, which could blossom into more playing time with success. If he can accumulate 400+ plate appearances, he has enough power and enough skill to hit 15+ homers. The Brewers are also searching for an option at the leadoff spot, and in every game he’s played this spring, he’s batted atop the order. That should offer opportunities to swipe bags, especially since manager Ron Roenicke likes to run.

Second base is weak and Weeks is currently being drafted at #441 overall, which is slightly ridiculous at such a shallow position. He costs little and could be a nice little value play late in the draft, especially in deeper leagues that utilize an extra middle infield spot.

(6) Oswaldo Arcia hits 25+ homers and is a top-30 outfielder.

This is a post-hype prediction. A year ago, Baseball America ranked him the #41 prospect, and he hit .320/.388/.539 with 17 homers and .313/.426/.594 with 10 homers in the minors in 2012 and 2013, respectively. People have largely forgotten about that because (A) he played for the Minnesota Twins and people stopped paying attention to them in May, and (B) he only hit .251 with a 31.0% strikeout rate. Of course, the 22-year-old also clobbered 14 homers and had the 14th-best average batted ball distance in all of baseball. Essentially, he flashed plus-power at the major-league level and hardly anyone noticed.

Now, for Arcia to be a top-30 outfielder and actually connect with 25+ homers, his strikeout rate will have to decrease. It’s one thing to have plus-power, but it’s another to consistently tap into it. The hit tool has to be present enough to make that power usable. However, his previous career-high strikeout rate in full-season ball was 23.9%. The jump to the majors is difficult, but nothing in his overall profile indicates he will fundamentally struggle to make consistent contact.

Essentially, I’m thinking a Domonic Brown type season with a bit more staying power. Target Field is a tough park, but Oswaldo Arcia has major power. I think he can still hit 25+ long balls. He’s currently being drafted behind another young player for the Minnesota Twins, Byron Buxton, but that’s severely dismissing the potential production from Arcia in 2014.

(7) Ben Revere will hit his first big-league home run, but it will be an inside-the-park home run.

I made this prediction a year ago, but its possibility of coming to fruition was cruelly ripped away from me when he broke his right foot and didn’t play after June 13. Time for a chance at redemption.

Since Revere made his major-league debut in 2010, he is the only qualified hitter without a home run.

# Name HR
1 Ben Revere 0
2 Jamey Carroll 1
3 Chris Getz 1
4 Ruben Tejada 2
5 Ryan Theriot 3

It’s time for Ben Revere to get on the board. Of course, I’m not certain he actually possesses enough power to hit the baseball out of the park, so it’s going to have to be of the inside-the-park variety. And when it happens, it will be glorious.

(8) Anthony Rendon is a more-valuable fantasy second baseman than Jurickson Profar.

Keep in mind that this projection is only for the 2014 season, but I’m projecting Rendon to be the more-valuable fantasy second baseman. It’s an unpopular opinion and Rendon is being drafted as the #22 second baseman — which is ridiculous, mind you — but I’m not convinced the power comes for Profar this season. His .101 ISO indicates something deeper, namely that his average batted-ball distance was amongst the worst in the league. He ranked #271 out of 300 player, even behind Adeiny Hechavarria. I’m not comfortable projecting a massive increase next season, even if I do think he will eventually threaten 20+ homers in his prime. He’s only 21.

Profar is also slated to begin the year in the eight-hole for the Rangers, which should limit his counting statistics, which is vitally important in standard roto leagues. The overall run and RBI opportunities won’t be as high as they could be.

Rendon, on the other hand, has the potential to bat second in a potent Nationals batting order and should hit 15-to-20 homers this year. He won’t steal as many bases as Profar, which is a black mark on the record, but I like Rendon to hit for a better average, hit more home runs, and score more runs. Of course, this is banking on the 24-year-old batting higher in the batting order, but he was tremendous last year, aside from the month of July that saw him post a .203 BABIP. More than anything, this is me liking Rendon’s value on draft day much more than Profar’s.

Dynasty leagues: I’m still taking Profar over Rendon.

(9) The first “established closer” to lose his job is Jason Grilli.

We’re supposed to go big with these bold predictions, and there isn’t anything special about projecting Chad Qualls to lose his light-handed grip on the closer’s role in Houston. Instead, I’m going to the top. I’m going Jason Grilli. He was tremendous in 2013. He struck out 13.32 batters per nine innings and compiled a stellar 2.70 ERA and 1.97 FIP. He pitches in a great home park and has a good defense behind him. He saved 33 games and hasn’t posted an ERA over 3.00 since 2009.

So what gives?

Two things: (1) Grilli wasn’t the same after coming back from a forearm injury, and (2) the Pirates have a capable replacement waiting in the wings.

Grilli’s velocity after his stint on the DL never returned, which makes me wonder if an underlying injury is still lingering. Check out his velocity chart from last year:

It’s not tough to see the significant drop in velocity late in the season. We often look to sudden decreased velocity as a harbinger for injury or decreased performance. If either of those are the case, Jason Grilli won’t be the closer for long in Pittsburgh. More importantly, though, Mark Melancon is their primary set-up man and was actually¬†better¬†at preventing runs last season, twirling a beautiful 1.39 ERA (1.64 FIP) and saved 16 games. It won’t take much for Grilli to lose his closer’s role, as they have another experienced closer in house — even if that means going to a closer-by-committee or something of that sort.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are no longer content playing for .500. They’re expecting to contend in the NL Central, and if Grilli provides too many hiccups early in the year, don’t expect manager Clint Hurdle to hesitate moving Melancon into the closer’s role.

(10) Dan Uggla loses the starting job at second base to Tommy La Stella by the end of June.

At this point, no one expects Dan Uggla to post an acceptable batting average. He is what he is. He’s a low-average, high-power, high-walk second baseman, who doesn’t play the second base position very well defensively. Last year, though, the offensive shortcomings got a little ridiculous. Not only did he not eclipse the Mendoza Line, but he also didn’t even flirt with it by the end of the year. He hit .179 — which is the lowest single-season batting average from a qualified player since Rob Deer also hit .179 in 1991.

Some will point to Uggla’s .225 BABIP last year as reason for optimism, but that glosses over serious problems. His strikeout rate jumped to a career-high 31.8%. His swinging-strike rate ballooned to 13.9%, which is also a career high. His infield-fly rate was above 13.0% for the second-consecutive season. Essentially, he’s built for low batting averages, and I’m not expecting him to rebound dramatically.

Can the Braves legitimately start a near-replacement-level player at second base when they’re planning to compete for a pennant? They did so successfully last year, but is that really an excuse to do so again with a potential upgrade looming at Triple-A in Tommy La Stella?

La Stella hit .343/.422/.473 last year in Double-A, and Oliver projects the 25-year-old second baseman to hit .289/.360/.421 with nine homers and eight stolen bases at the major-league level. I don’t think it’s far-fetched to assume the Braves will place Uggla on the bench and start La Stella. In fact, I’m surprised it hasn’t been more of a discussion this spring. The price tag looms large, though, I suppose.