Colin Zarzycki’s 10 Bold Predictions for 2014

I’d like to think I did pretty well with my rookie set of “Bold Predictions” last year. Took a lot of heat for saying R.A. Dickey would struggle? Check. “Jed Lowrie can’t survive a full season, are you mad!?” Check. “Clay Buchholz will get injured, he can’t be a top-25 starting pitcher!” Um. Check?

Well, now it’s time for the inevitable sophomore slump. As always, I tried to be a bit bolder than my compadres here at Rotographs (because A) this is fun, and B) I read their comment sections) but that may be setting me up for some spectacular busts, too. Remember when I said Pedro Alvarez wouldn’t even crack 20 homers last year? That was adorable.

Sonny Gray outpitches Jose Fernandez.

But, but, but… Jose Fernandez! Fernandez had an absolutely phenomenal season last year. I can’t deny that. But Gray has a few things going for him. 1.) He’s on a team that may actually help him win more than 12 games. 2.) His 3.04 SIERA was actually better than Fernandez’s 3.15. 3.) He’s ahead of Fernandez on the “ramping up a young pitcher’s innings” curve, likely giving him a higher IP cap. Even so, I think they’ll be pretty close at the end of the year, but if I have the choice between Fernandez in the 4th round and Gray in the 14th… well, that isn’t close.

Wilson Ramos is a top-5 mixed-league catcher.

I’ve actually heard that some people are down on Ramos. Really? This is a guy being taken in rounds alongside A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (surprisingly, spelled Salty’s name right first try — nowhere close on AJP). There’s almost no downside at that point. Ramos lost more plate appearances to injury last year (hammies) but when he is not getting trucked at home plate or otherwise kidnapped, he’s been a top-flight fantasy catcher. Yes, the hamstrings worry me, but otherwise, his lost playing time stems from a couple fluke injuries. I’m not ready to write him off as a full-time injury risk. His homer total roughly projects to 25-30 (with upside) given a full season of at-bats and it appears that door is wide open. The new catcher rules MLB implemented will only help keep catchers healthier, so I think there’s a lot of upside in Ramos in the double-digit rounds.

Rick Porcello is a top-20 mixed league starter.

I’ve done a 180 degree turn on Porcello since 2010. Back then I saw a guy pitching with a 12% K% during a time when he is supposed to have the best velocity of his life. Who wants that? But both his SwStr% and strikeout rate have climbed every year since. He’s done so while also simultaneously watching his GB% tick up and up (and up). Last season he “only” mustered 13 wins with a 3.31 SIERA while pitching for the AL Central’s best club. Entering his age-25 season (he’s only that old?), there’s little reason to think he’ll go backwards and only signs that tell me there’s still upward mobility here. Buy and profit.

Yasiel Puig falls outside of the top-60 mixed-league players.

I suspect the majority of people who snap up Puig in the second round are not going to get their money back. I understand the thought behind trying to get meteoric upside after your first round pick, but a guy who put up a .383 BABIP, a 50+% GB%, and a strikeout rate is one of the 25 worst among big league hitters worries me. I’ll admit that I’m also not a huge fan of the reports that he porked up over the offseason, although I try to mentally temper that with reminders of Mike Trout and his huge neck from last spring. Fans here project him to 25 homers, 98 RBI, 90 runs, 20 SB, and a .360 OBP. The dingers might be right, but I’m taking the under everywhere else across the board.

Masahiro Tanaka is not a top-50 starting pitcher.

It’s tough to project here. What we do know is that Tanaka has flashed good stuff in spring training games so far. That said, he carries tremendous risk as a fantasy SP1/SP2. The (second to) last guy (Daisuke Matsuzaka) to carry the mantle of “mid-20’s Japanese import destined for stardom” will be the number five starter for one of the worst teams in the National League. And that’s only thanks primarily to an injury to one of their top three guys. I’m not saying it’s an apples to apples comparison, but I remember the “gyroball.” Maybe this one’s a bit irrational, but how many MLE’s have we seen be successful for Japanese pitchers? I’m steering clear of the hype in 2014.

Carter Capps is the Marlins closer on September 1st.

My feelings on Steve Cishek are well known among Bullpen Report readers. I acknowledge the peripherals last year and I acknowledge that he has surpassed my expectations for him. However, I can’t get over a guy with such poor splits versus lefties being so effective in a ninth-inning job. Why aren’t teams just sending up every left-hander on their bench every ninth inning? Tangent aside, I’m bullish on Capps. He fits a great value mold: overhyped last year before performed poorly, burning fantasy owners and likely keeping them away from Miami’s new setup man in 2014. However, his peripherals were much better than his counting stats would indicate and his fastball still has juice. Yes, I am aware of the touch of hypocrisy because Capps also has his troubles with lefties, but he has the arm slot and stuff to lead me to believe he can more easily overcome. Cishek doesn’t even need to pitch poorly to lose the job, either. If the righty is pitching well in July, he could make an extremely attractive trade candidate for the cash- (and talent-) strapped Marlins and his value will likely never be higher.

You’ll actually want to own Dee Gordon in fantasy leagues this year.

I like how that’s the bold prediction. It’s essentially saying “you aren’t going to be like, ‘MAN, DEE GORDON, WHY!?'” Rumors are starting to percolate that Gordon is the guy the Dodgers are leaning towards putting at 2B to open the season. Guess all of those concerns about Alexander Guerrero were more well founded that the team let on. Gordon is not going to help you in anything else other than steals and runs, but he’ll be position eligible at 2B and SS should he play enough at the keystone. He still almost swiped 60 bases in “only” 533 plate appearances between Triple-A and the bigs last year. Maybe he doesn’t have billion SB upside like Billy Hamilton, but you can calmly pluck him off the wire if you can stomach a bit of a counting stat hit and pass a few people in the steals category.

Even after May 1st, Manny Machado is not a mixed-league starting 3B.

I like Machado. I own him in a couple keeper/dynasty leagues. But he has a ton of helium after last year. He was able to stay high in the rankings with a little batted ball luck and boatload of plate appearances to bolster the counting stats. However, he’s coming off a major knee injury which may curtail his “play every day” routine, even when he’s back to being in the lineup on a regular basis (hence the May qualification). Last year he also was the definition of pull power, indicating it may be tough for him to break out in the homer category. With a sub-5% walk rate, he isn’t helping you much in OBP leagues either. Machado has a very bright future, but still needs to grow into his skills a bit before the production matches the hype.

Either Japhet Amador or Jon Singleton emerge as top-10 1B options by the end of the season.

I’m not sure which one I want to hitch my star to. The portly Mexican League convert who posted a .325 ISO south of the border last year or the fallen-from-grace prospect who tumbled out of the top-50 in most “top prospect lists?” I’m fairly certain the Astros aren’t really sure yet either, but both players have the upside to score big in fantasy. If Amador and his 300+ pound self can find even some of that prodigious power from his days in Mexico, he’ll be a welcome addition to the middle of Houston’s lineup. If Singleton can get refocused (and avoid suspensions for littering and… littering and…) while hitting anywhere close to his line in Puerto Rico this winter (.268/.396/.537), he could quickly find himself making noise in the bigs, too. I’m only drafting either at the tail end of deep drafts, but if one get a crack at the 1B gig, they’re getting immediate waiver wire claims.

Half of the top 10 closers after the All-Star Break are undrafted.

This is totally cheating. For the one of two of you that remember, it was a bold prediction of mine last year. I failed. So why go to the well again? Because I was damn close. Four of the top-10 closers after the All-Star Break were virtual afterthoughts in drafts. The position is just too volatile for me to invest too much on draft day. Grab a closer or two late if you feel the need to have saves out of the gate, but if you read the Bullpen Report all year long and work the wire like most Rotographs readers do, I don’t doubt that you’ll be riding some unknown names to the top of your saves category in September.

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There are few things Colin loves more in life than a pitcher with a single-digit BB%. Find him on Twitter @soxczar.

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The last guy (Daisuke Matsuzaka) to carry the mantle of “mid-20′s Japanese import destined for stardom”…

Yu Darvish?