Fantasy Baseball: 30 bold predictions for 2019, featuring Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Eloy Jimenez, and more
What becomes of Miguel Andujar when the Yankees sign Manny Machado? How early should you expect to draft Vladimir Guerrero and Eloy Jimenez? How much time will Shohei Ohtani miss? Some crazy stuff will happen in 2019. Some of it you might even read about here.
You know what I hate?
I hate constantly having to explain my terminology to ward off possible criticism.
And that's on you — you and your weaselly internet friends. You know how you are, always looking for some little crack, some gap in knowledge that exposes me for the fraud I don't even deny I am.
You'll think you have me this time, too. "Whoa boy, these takes are crazy!"
No sir, they're bold.
You know what I think of when I think of bold? Potato chips. Seems like in the '90s every new flavor was "bold.". It was a time when chips were something to covet and not shame into the back aisle of the grocery store, their new "gluten free" branding a last feeble attempt to convince us they're still of some good to us.
Yes, "bold" has been hijacked by corporate America, besmirched by the salty Siren of empty carbs, but I reclaim it now in the name of all that is good and wholesome, finding it the only fitting description for those ideas that are juuust crazy enough to believe. They're not utter nonsense, but they certainly test the limits of plausibility. And that's kind of the point: to get the mind working a little bit.
Or basically ... yeah, to get away with saying crazy things.
1. Jack Flaherty and Alex Reyes form the best 1-2 punch in NL Central
Well, that's some weak sauce right off the bat. Who else would it be, Zach Davies and Corbin Burnes? Maybe Chris Archer and Jameson Taillon, but I hear you. It's a crummy division for this particular exercise. The point is Flaherty and Reyes both have ace upside and will establish themselves as such for a team with legitimate playoff aspirations. Flaherty is practically there already, ranking seventh in swinging strike rate and putting together a 1.22 ERA over his past six starts. Reyes has even greater potential and looked superhuman while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery early this year, striking out 44 while allowing just 14 baserunners in 23 minor-league innings. He tore his lat in his return to the majors, though, ending his season in May.
2. Luis Castillo is the next Luis Severino ... only this time in a good way
I made a similarly bold prediction at this timeand it sort of came true, at least in the sense that both found immediate success in the majors before stumbling in their sophomore seasons. If the parallels continue, 2019 will be the year Castillo emerges as a Cy Young candidate, and I still think he has the arsenal to do so. His changeup is arguably the best in baseball, placing him among the elites in terms of swinging strike rate, and he can certainly overpower hitters with his 99-mph fastball. He has flashed brilliance through 2018 but has perhaps become just a little too predictable, leaning so heavily on those two pitches.
3. Jurickson Profar becomes the Rangers' best player
Coming off what has already been a triumph of a season in which he has established himself as the Rangers' third baseman of the future — or really the present, having already displaced eventual hall of famer Adrian Beltre — you wouldn't think Profar would have much room to improve. But you're forgetting the 25-year-old was considered the top prospect in baseball back in 2013, and so it stands to reason his 2018 performance is only a muted version of all he could be. That he has accomplished it with only a .275 BABIP, a better ISO than Freddie Freeman and Charlie Blackmon and a modest number of stolen bases (10) despite never once getting caught I think speaks to that idea.
4. The Rockies have two top-five Cy Young finishers
Oh yeah, now we're getting bold. You do realize that in their entire mile-high history the Rockies have had only one top-five finisher for Cy Young, Ubaldo Jimenez in 2010? And you do realize that they've had only three pitchers receive Cy Young votes ever? Well, after years of experimentation, expensive fixes and trial and error, they appear to have found what works in their disadvantaged environment and have actually made pitching the strength of their playoff-contending club. And while the presumption is that Kyle Freeland would be one of the two contending for season-ending hardware given how high he ranks among starting pitchers in WAR this year ...
... I see with him a FIP that's nearly a run higher than his ERA and a strikeout rate that leaves something to be desired. No, the pitchers who I'm targeting with this prediction are Jon Gray, who has long boasted an ace arsenal and has shown dramatic improvement since a midseason banishment to the minors, and German Marquez, who has been far and away the most improved pitcher of the second half, putting together a 2.55 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings in his past 12 starts. He's the highest-scoring pitcher in Fantasy during that stretch.
If nothing else, I'll be targeting both as top-30 pitchers next year.
5. Yankees fans become all too aware of Miguel Andujar's flaws when Manny Machado comes aboard
Yankees fans love Andujar. Suggest Shohei Ohtani is the more deserving AL Rookie of the Year choice, and you're taking your life in your hands. But the fact is he's a liability at third base, which is why he has a lower WAR than Denard Span and Todd Frazier, to name a couple, despite superior offensive production. Machado, meanwhile, is a standout at third base, not to mention a star-caliber bat in the prime of his career who is exactly the sort of player that an organization with incomparable resources would go all-out to sign. So what happens to Andujar, then? Maybe he takes over at first base, where few would suggest Luke Voit is a long-term solution, but if the Yankees have already earmarked that spot for the defensively challenged Gary Sanchez, maybe Andujar becomes an attractive trade chip. And something tells me their fans would get over it.
6. And the other free agent who the Yankees sign is ... Patrick Corbin
You thought I was going to say that other guy, didn't you? Look, even after a somewhat disappointing season, Bryce Harper may command the highest free agent salary in history, if Machado himself doesn't, so my guess is that even the Evil Empire can only pony up for one. They wanted Machado at the trade deadline and might have gotten him if the Orioles were willing to trade him within the division, so it looks like a clearer match to me. Where the Yankees are really falling short of the other AL super clubs — all three of the Red Sox, Astros and Indians — is starting pitching, and Corbin will be the best they can find on that front, having become the league's preeminent swing-and-miss pitcher by adopting his slider as his primary pitch.
7. Jonathan Loaisiga and Domingo German occupy rotation spots nonetheless
Severino and Corbin form an excellent 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, and of course Masahiro Tanaka is still there. But J.A. Happ, CC Sabathia and Lance Lynn all figure to walk, especially with the Yankees having devoted so many resource elsewhere, and Sonny Gray, while still under contract one more year, is owed a change of scenery. Loaisiga might have already become a fixture in the rotation if he hadn't missed two months with shoulder inflammation, emerging as a top pitching prospect with an unbelievable 8-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the majors this year. And German flashed pretty good potential himself, delivering what would have been a top-six swinging strike rate if he had the innings to qualify.
8. Vladimir Guerrero and Eloy Jimenez are both drafted in the first eight rounds
I'd say Guerrero and Jimenez are even more egregious examples of service-time manipulation than Ronald Acuña was at this time a year ago, and we saw how quickly his draft stock rose. Granted, neither offers Acuña's stolen base potential, but Guerrero has basically been the Ted Williams of the minors, flirting with a .400 batting average while striking out in less than 10 percent of his plate appearances. And in a world where Guerrero doesn't exist, Jimenez is the one everyone's salivating over, boasting light-tower power with an uncommon contact rate. The only reason their parent clubs are keeping them down now is so they can call them up as early as mid-April next year without sacrificing anything in terms of team control. It'll be the worst-kept secret in baseball, and too many will be all too eager to chase the upside.
9. Zack Greinke tops out at 84 mph in spring training, says nothing to allay anyone's fears, plummets in Fantasy drafts and is ultimately fine
It's become the most hilariously predictable harbinger of draft prep season. Every year, some of us are suckered into believing Greinke is losing it, especially since he doesn't care to downplay it with the robotic platitudes offered by every other player for every other health scare. A sampling from this spring:
"Every year, I get nervous that it's not working good enough and that it's not going to come fast enough. Same thing this year. I think it's going to be ready, but in the back of my mind I'm always a little nervous that it's not actually going to be there and be ready by the time the season starts," Greinke told the Arizona Republic in early March. "I'll do whatever I can and hopefully that works out."
See how funny it is knowing how the story ends? Just you wait.
10. Jesse Winker leads the Reds in OPS
Seems pretty bold, right? Well, get this: I made the exact same prediction a year ago, when renowned on-base freak Joey Votto was having a near-MVP season, and even I had to admit it verged on stupidity. But while it's a moot point now given that Winker is done for the year and 2018 is practically in the books, let's update the leaderboard here on Sept. 6, if only for posterity's sake.
The impossible has happened. Granted, it required a big step back for Votto, but I had factored one into the equation. Make no mistake: It's still a bold prediction thanks to emergence of Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett, not to mention the fact Votto is still Votto, but the bottom line is Winker can achieve it. He gets on base at a near Votto-like clip with a batted ball profile that's eerily similar, and the power had begun to manifest just before he succumbed to a torn labrum in his shoulder, resulting in six home runs in his final 36 games. You could make the case the surgically repaired shoulder will compromise said power, but seeing as Winker had played the previous couple seasons with the injury, perhaps it contributed to his loss of power in the upper minors.
11. Fernando Tatis becomes the latest victim of the service time game
Because someone has to. It's the world we're living in now. The service time rules are written in a way that makes it too advantageous to hold back the prospects who aren't expected to go back down once they come up, and Tatis would certainly fit the bill. With a .327 batting average, 13 homers, 16 steals and a .972 OPS in his final 64 minor-league games this season, he's just a half step behind Vladimir Guerrero and Eloy Jimenez in the prospect rankings. Maybe if the 19-year-old had advanced to Triple-A prior to his season-ending thumb injury, the Padres wouldn't be able to slow play it, but he never made it there, which gives them complete justification to leave him there all blessed year. You'll stash him from about the start of June, because you have to, but it'll end in disappointment.
One of the saddest stories of 2018 to me is how Max Muncy could have been one of the happiest stories if the Dodgers hadn't been so darn greedy. He went into the All-Star break looking like their best hitter and even got the "snub" label attached to him as he put on a show at the Home Run Derby. But it was pretty much his swan song, at least as far as his mixed-league value went. The Dodgers acquired Manny Machado a few days later and Brian Dozier a few weeks later, and that was it. Thanks for rescuing our season with your versatility and massive OPS, Max. Maybe we'll play you against righties sometimes.
Crazy thing is his numbers are actually better against lefties this year, but they're great against both. And you'd have a hard time saying his demotion was performance-based considering he has eight homers and a 1.096 OPS in his past 54 at-bats. Machado and and Dozier are both free agents, so Muncy will be back. And he'll be studly.
13. Chris Archer puts together a career season
Just how many times will we let this guy sucker us? Indeed, that's the perception surrounding Archer now, and I get it. Looking at his stats year by year, he's a chronic underachiever, and yet this year was the first in which he wasn't part of the ace conversation. Why? Well, when he fell short in the areas where he always fell short, he still provided the two things that only aces provide in today's MLB: a boatload of innings with an eye-popping strikeout rate. Those are where he has fallen short in 2018, but in a way that's difficult to explain. His swinging strike rate is as elite as ever. His velocity the same as always. Whatever's wrong seems small and correctable. And if the passage of time corrects it, he'll be the same pitcher he was from 2013 through 2017, but no longer in the murderous parks of the AL East or the league that uses the DH..
14. Tyler Glasnow is still better
The collection of talent the Rays got back for Archer is out of control, especially considering Archer himself isn't a sure thing (see above). I realize the timing for this take is pretty horrendous after Glasnow's miserable showing last time out, but I'll give the 25-year-old flamethrower a pass for an isolated outing when he just didn't have his breaking ball. It doesn't erase the fact that he's throwing more strikes and way more first-pitch strikes with the Rays, which is the key to maximizing his awe-inspiring arsenal. There's a fastball that pushes 101 and a curveball that'll make your jaw lock. I'm not exactly sure what I mean by that second part either, but from the context, you can tell it's a good thing.
15. The Astros let Evan Gattis and Marwin Gonzalez walk, freeing up everyday at-bats for Tyler White and Kyle Tucker
Both are free agents and both are firmly in the way now. Sure, Gonzalez's versatility is valuable, and he did a fine job salvaging his season with a productive August. But in doing so, he may have priced himself out of the Astros' consideration, especially now that they've exploring using Yuli Gurriel in a similar role. Gattis has effectively yielded the DH role to White already and hasn't made a single start at catcher this year, eliminating the small amount of positional appeal he had. All-or-nothing sluggers who can't play defense are among the least valuable assets in today's game. Meanwhile, if you haven't fallen in love with White yet, it's because you've been too focused on your Fantasy Football drafts, and Tucker is of course an elite prospect.
16. The Blue Jays begin to resemble the '98 NL All-Star team
Perhaps you're aware that Vladimir Guerrero, the Blue Jays prospect, is the son of Vladimir Guerrero, the Expos legend and recent hall of fame inductee. Well, of course he is. You don't become known as "Vladdy Daddy" for nothing.
What you may not realize is that Dante Bichette is also a daddy. And Craig Biggio. They had kids who grew up to play baseball and grew up to play it in the Blue Jays organization. In fact, for the better portion of 2018, they all played it together at Double-A New Hampshire, which is improbable on so many levels, like when the characters in Final Fantasy VIII suddenly realized they all grew up together in the same orphanage.
And now for the most improbable part: They're all good, like actually deserving of an extended look in the majors good, and they all figure to get that chance next year. Guerrero is obvious, but Bo Bichette is a top-15 prospect in his own right, boasting a lightning-quick bat with plus contact ability and surprising speed:
Cavan Biggio is the one I'd be least inclined to call a prospect, but the numbers say otherwise:
So when's Shea Jones getting here?
17. The Rays Snell out for their half-Blaked "hide-and-seek" strategy
From the same creative minds that brought you "the opener" comes an approach so forward-thinking it makes that Joe Maddon character look like a backwoods outhouse hillbilly. The Rays ace would "seek out" the top and middle of the order, handling them like only an ace can, and then "hide" on the unshifted side of the infield against the bottom third, keeping him available for the whole game. It's foolproof because if there's one thing hitters have refused to do since the widespread adoption of the shift, it's try to beat it. And it's sure to be brilliant because anything that demonstrates outside-the-box thinking, no matter how inane or superfluous, is as lauded as the team's 83-79 record.
18. Shohei Ohtani has Tommy John surgery but doesn't spend a day on the DL
I don't mean in a "Chuck Norris facts" sort of way, like "Ohtani has surgery when he's ready to have surgery... and properly scrubbed with scalpel in hand." The first half is kind of true, though. Moments after reports of him being advised to have the most feared of elbow procedures came word that he hadn't decided if and when he would and in fact was still in the lineup. And then he went 4 for 4 with two homers, which is a Chuck Norris feat in its own right.
Clearly, his severely sprained elbow isn't impacting his hitting, but it's just as obvious he won't pitch again with it. But he didn't come all this way just to hit, right? Position players often need only six months to return from the procedure, and when Ohtani is in the lineup as a hitter, he's not even playing a position, just DH. He won't be ready to pitch again until 2020 anyway, so I'm thinking the Angels take it slow with his rehab and let him hit to his heart's content next year.
19. Madison Bumgarner slips further into the same sinkhole where the Giants lost Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum
I'm sorry, guys, but he ain't right. And you can't write it off as a matter of sample size or even a one-year phenomenon. He had the same issues last year, after the infamous dirt bike accident that left him with a sprained shoulder. It's not like he's bad now — or was bad then — but whether it's the injury that's to blame or the excessive workload from all the legendary postseason performances or just plain, dumb luck, it's clear his effectiveness has been compromised. It's evident in the declining velocity and reduced strikeout totals, the shrinking rate of swinging strikes and rising rate of hard-hit balls. Could Bumgarner still eat innings with a respectable ERA and WHIP? Sure. The bold part of this prediction is that he won't, instead going the way of Felix Hernandez and Adam Wainwright to serve as a cautionary tale for the next generation of postseason tough guys.
20. David Dahl finally becomes the guy we've wanted him to be
It's hard to overstate just how excited the Fantasy-playing world was about David Dahl heading into 2017. He was coming off a rookie season in which he hit .315 with an .859 OPS, offered some yet-to-be-realized speed and was set to play half his game at a park that has made All-Stars out of much lesser talents.
It's also hard to overstate just how many hurdles he has had to clear since the Rockies selected him 10th overall in 2012. There was the ruptured spleen; the suspension for making his own airline reservation; the hamstring injury so bad that it required season-ending surgery; the rib fracture that cost him his much-anticipated 2017; and the foot fracture that sidelined him for two months this year. And yet here he is playing every day and performing at what would be about a 25-homer, 15-steal pace over a full season. The plate discipline could be better, sure, but the bottom line is he's lacking reps. The talent is still evident, and a normal offseason progression could make a world of difference.
21. The Phillies have a co-ace, and his name is Nick Pivetta
Going by most of the skill indicators, Pivetta should have emerged as a Fantasy standout this year. He has the 25th-best swinging-strike rate, the 16th-best strikeout-to-walk ratio, the 10th-best K/9 and the rare ability to make batters miss on three of his pitches: the fastball, the slider and the curveball. He has the highest BABIP among qualifying pitchers, which would be one thing if he gets hit unusually hard or gives up an inordinate number of line drives, but he doesn't. He isn't especially vulnerable to the long ball and obviously doesn't beat himself with walks. He looks like a true victim of bad luck, most evidenced by his FIP being a full run higher than his ERA.
22. Nobody — and I mean nobody — steals 30 bases
I hear your pshawing back there. The last time we had season in which nobody stole 30 bases was ... 1955.
But look at how league-wide stolen base totals have changed over the past eight years:
*paced for 162 games
Yup. Trendy McTrenderson.
What hadn't changed so much in that time was what the best base-stealers were doing. The worst MLB-leading total was Mike Trout's 49 in 2012, and there was generally always at least one player with 55-60 steals.
Have you checked out the MLB leaders this year? You don't even have to. Just think back to the handful of players we were counting on to deliver big steals totals at the start of the year and consider how their seasons have gone. Billy Hamilton has inexplicably stopped doing the one thing he's in the Reds lineup to do, swiping just 29 bags. Dee Gordon got off to a great start with the Mariners but is now buried at the bottom of the batting order, where he'll get fewer opportunities. He's at 30 — or half of last season's total. Trea Turner's 35 steals actually lead the majors, but his pace has clearly changed under new management. Many drafted him hoping for twice that.
All it takes is one player to blow this prediction, of course, and any number could do that. Nine players are on pace for at least 30 this year, but the point is they'll barely get there. There may not be a true standout who you can trust to carry you in the category anymore, which will certainly force you to reconsider your approach come draft time.
23. Kris Bryant makes us all look stupid for letting him slip to Round 4
The shoulder injury that has come to define Bryant's season marred more of it than just the two months that he missed. He's reported to have suffered the injury in late May, having played through it another month before serving his first stint on the DL. The timeline is notable when you consider he was batting .305 with eight homers and a 1.010 OPS when the sun rose on May 20. He was a positively normal, MVP-caliber season, in other words, and that's when everything changed.
It's a tough pill to swallow after he already disappointed in his MVP follow-up last year, but the bottom line is Bryant's decline doesn't jibe with his batted-ball profile. He still elevates the ball at his usual rate, hasn't fallen victim to a bunch of ground balls and pop-ups and isn't suddenly swinging and missing more. He just isn't hitting the ball as hard, which could be explained by injury. It's a much more rational explanation than skill decline, given his age and pedigree.
24. Franmil Reyes emerges a top-20 outfielder
You bet I'm a fan of Fran and was when I first laid eyes on those Triple-A numbers:
Yeah, that's the good stuff.
But the beauty isn't just that he's a masher. He strikes the ball with all the force you'd expect of player listed at 6-feet-5, 275 pounds and doesn't have to sell out to do it, pulling the ball a modest 37 percent of the time. At least in the minors, his strikeout rate also stands out for someone with his size and his power, and since his latest stay there, the major-league rate is much more reasonable as well. Sluggers aren't the most prized commodities in today's game, but Reyes looks to me like one with the overall bat skills to hit for average as well, perhaps also walking at an above-average rate. They couldn't have been more disproportionately hyped, but is the toolbox really so different from Cody Bellinger's? Maybe not.
25. So does Max Kepler
Seeing as it's September and he has been in the Twins lineup from the get-go, it'd be unfair to characterize Kepler's 2018 season as unlucky, but he's doing a lot of the things that would normally result in standout production. Chief among them is putting the bat on the ball. His 16.6 percent strikeout rate puts him in the same class as Joey Votto and Andrew Benintendi. He also knows the difference between strikes and balls, his 11.2 percent walk rate ranking him alongside Benintendi and Freddie Freeman. He also has begun elevating the ball much more this year, giving him a fly-ball rate better than all but six players.
So why is he batting .226 with a .734 OPS? Well, fly balls are only good if they're clearing the fence. Otherwise, they just drag down a hitter's BABIP, and since Kepler has one of the five-worst line-drive rates in baseball, there isn't much to counteract the effect. Still, the bones are in place for something special if the 25-year-old has it in him to muscle up a little. Or hey, Aaron Hicks managed to turn around a horrendous line-drive rate this year, so maybe he can be Kepler's inspiration.
26. Rafael Devers arrives a year late
Here's one of last year's bold predictions that didn't pan out: Rafael Devers becomes the face of the Red Sox. My gosh, what if he had? What kind of record-setter would we be seeing now in Boston? Look, it didn't work out this year for the 21-year-old, who also faded at the end of his age-20 season, when he was rushed to the majors, but there was a basis for my boldness. He was earning Adrian Beltre comparisons as a 17-year-old and had an .850 OPS after a month in the big leagues. And while he'll deserve no more than a late-round flier 2019, that's exactly why you should be targeting him.
27. Sean Newcomb is the demotion no one sees coming at the end of spring training
The Braves are loaded — overloaded, you might even say — with talented young arms, and we've reached the point where that talent will begin to cannibalize itself. In Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson, Max Fried, Mike Soroka, Luiz Gohara, Kolby Allard and Kyle Wright, they'll have more than a rotation's worth of arms in the mix for one rotation spot next spring, with Ian Anderson not too far behind. That's assuming, of course, that Mike Foltynewicz, Kevin Gausman, Julio Teheran and Sean Newcomb are all guaranteed jobs, but what if they aren't? Right now, Newcomb would appear to be the most vulnerable of that group, his walks rising and strikeouts falling in a particularly alarming way. The only other thing separating him from the others is experience, but that experience appears to be pretty lackluster at this point.
28. The Brewers get a full Nelson
Though it was overshadowed by the injury that ended his season — one suffered on the base paths, helping reignite the age-old DH debate — Jimmy Nelson was one of the breakthrough aces of 2016, gobbling up innings with big strikeout stuff. The thought at the time he suffered a partially torn labrum in his shoulder was that he'd return midway through 2018, so the fact he'll miss the entire season will make him a complete afterthought in Fantasy unless he shows up guns blazing next spring — which seems plausible since, by that point, he'll have had a year and half to recover. While a return to form isn't guaranteed with that injury, his deliberate pace of recovery and the fact it was only a partial tear I think bode well for his 2019 prospects.
29. Jose Martinez is traded to the AL, where he becomes a full-time DH
Jose Martinez doesn't belong on the field. He keeps finding his way onto the field because of injuries, but he doesn't belong there. And at 30, the odds of him becoming competent there are pretty low. But man, can he hit, his contact profile making him an all but surefire .300 hitter. Naturally, Fantasy owners would like for him to continue to play somewhere, but with Harrison Bader looking like a fixture in center field, Tyler O'Neill angling for more playing time in right and Matt Carpenter settling in at first base, it may not be in the cards.
At least not with the Cards.
President of baseball operations John Mozeliak didn't shy away from the idea that Martinez's future might be with an AL club back when the Cardinals first tried to move him to the bench in July, and whether it's to replace a departing Nelson Cruz in Seattle or to take some swing-and-miss out of the White Sox offense, it seems a likely scenario.
30. Brandon Lowe becomes a top-10 second baseman but is soon outshined by an even better Lowe
An on-base fiend throughout his time in the minors, Brandon Lowe developed a power stroke this year that earned him a trip to the majors, where that same skill set has begun to shine through. The overall upside I believe is somewhere between Scooter Gennett and Jed Lowrie, perhaps trading off some of the former's batting average for the latter's walks, which would of course give Lowe top-10 potential at second base.
But he hasn't been the most productive Lowe in the Rays system this year. That honor goes to Nathaniel Lowe, he of the .330 batting average and .985 OPS between three stops. The latest move up to Triple-A appears to have slowed down the 22-year-old first baseman for now, but when a minor-leaguer comes out of nowhere with numbers as eye-popping as those, there's usually something behind it. To me, it's a little reminiscent of Paul Goldschmidt, so it wouldn't surprise me if Jake Bauers makes his way to the outfield next spring in preparation for this other Lowe.
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