My comrades have been rolling out their bold predictions all week, so now it’s my turn to keep things going. I went 2-for-10 last season, which is probably replacement level for these things. Then again, I was one stupid Scott Downs save away from going 3-for-10, and 3-for-10 sounds a whole lot better than 2-for-10. Here are this year’s predictions:
1. Bryce Harper will be a top-five fantasy player.
I am all aboard the Harper train. First class ticket, front row seat, rented tuxedo, pushing all my chips into the middle of the table … you get the point. I don’t think he’s a star in the making, I think he’s a star right now who will make a serious run at the NL MVP award. I’m talking 30-30 with a .290+ average, triple-digit runs and RBI, and an OBP that will gradually creep towards .400. Harper is all that is right in the baseball world, fantasy or reality.
2. Bobby Parnell will be a top-ten closer.
Frank Francisco‘s elbow continues to bark and that means Parnell will open the season as the Mets’ closer. The right-hander has managed to cut his walk rate in recent years (2.62 BB/9 and 6.9 BB% in 2012) and continues to miss bats (8.00 K/9 and 21.2 K%) and get ground balls (61.5%), which is pretty much all you can ask a pitcher to do. The Amazin’s strengthened their middle relief over the winter (in theory), meaning there should be a few more save chances this summer. Parnell is poised for a sub-3.00 ERA with lots of strikeouts and 30+ saves.
3. Jon Lester will return to being a top-ten starter.
Was Lester ever a top-ten starter? Maybe not, but he was definitely at least on the bubble for a few years. I think being reunited with former pitching coach John Farrell — who is now his manager — will do the southpaw a world of good, particularly with his pitch selection and (anecdotal) reliance on his cutter in “need to make a pitch” spots. Lester is still a year away from his 30th birthday and I’m expecting a rebound. A big one, obviously.
4. Carl Crawford will steal 30+ bases.
This is more of a health thing than a skills thing. If he gets on the field for 130+ games, I think Crawford will swipe 30 bags no problem. And yes, I know he only stole 18 in 130 games for the Red Sox in 2011. I’m expecting something much better than a .289 OBP and thus lots more stolen base opportunities.
5. Matt Carpenter will be a top-five second baseman.
Number five might be more of a hope of mine than an actual prediction. I paid $19 for Carpenter in our staff ottoneu league — I have a tendency to overvalue middle infielders — and would really like to get some boffo production. He put up a dynamite 125 wRC+ in part-time duty last summer, and this year I think he can manage double-digit homers with a strong average, a good OBP, and thanks to the lineup around him, a whole bunch of runs scored. The Cardinals have been trying him as a leadoff hitter, you know.
Note: Carpenter will open the season at third base thanks to David Freese‘s latest injury. Hopefully he makes it over to second base for five starts at some point in April.
6. Chris Carter is going to make it rain in Houston (35+ homers).
Pull-happy right-handed hitter with huge power who is moving into Minute Maid Park and is all but guaranteed to play everyday? Carter’s going to put up some fun numbers this year.
7. Jesus Montero will steal a base.
One of my bold predictions last year called for Jamey Carroll to hit a homer … and he did! Carroll went a 437 games and 1,348 at-bats between dingers. By my count, Montero has not stolen a base in 479 games, dating back to the penultimate game of the 2008 season. He was playing in the Low Class-A South Atlantic League at the time. Montero has two career steals in three chances, both coming that season. He’s going to swipe one this year, maybe on the back-end of a double steal or something.
8. Brandon League will be the first capital-C closer to lose his job.
Yes, he did get that fat three-year contract over the winter, but the Dodgers are in win-now mode and two blown saves in the same week could be enough to land Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning. League is obviously quite good even if he can’t live up to the contract, but his batted ball rates are starting to head in the wrong direction…
9. Three Tigers will save at least ten games.
It has been seven years since the last time a team had three 10-save guys — the 2005 Diamondbacks and Braves did it — but Detroit will do it this summer. They sent Bruce Rondon to Triple-A this morning and announced their plan to go closer-by-committee, so I’m thinking 10+ apiece for Joaquin Benoit and Phil Coke with Rondon showing up at midseason to grab ten more. I guess Al Alburquerque could snipe ten along the way as well. Either way, the Tigers’ bullpen will be a fantasy nightmare for owners looking to grab saves.
10. Luke Hochevar finds a niche in the bullpen.
Hochevar has always had good stuff, but the move to the bullpen will take him to a new level and before long he’ll be grabbing the lion’s share of holds chances ahead of Greg Holland. GM Dayton Moore will then give him a three-year, $21 million contract extension citing the League deal as precedent and Hochevar’s ability to start or relieve. C’mon, tell me that one’s not plausible.