Why stop at just 10 general bold predictions? For the third year, I am publishing my bold league leaders. These are even more difficult to be right on than the bold predictions. In 2012, I nailed exactly 0 of my 10 picks. Last year, I regained my prospect status, actually hitting on one with my predicted National League home run leader, Paul Goldschmidt. Remember, these are bold league leaders, so when running through names, I instantly disqualified a player if I didn’t personally believe the player would be considered bold to lead the league in said category.
Let’s see what I’ll be rooting for on the offensive side of the ball this season.
Batting Average – Norichika Aoki
This is the second year in a row that Aoki is a bold batting average league leader. But of course last season, he was part of the National League group. Aoki posted the lowest strikeout rate in baseball last year, one of the main ingredients for a high batting average. He also possesses decent wheels and hits the ball on the ground the majority of the time. He has recorded a whole lot of infield hits and isn’t afraid to bunt for a hit. With a career BABIP of just .299, which has still led to a .287 batting average, there’s seemingly significant room for some luck and upside. Some good fortune could push his batting average well above .300.
Home Runs – Oswaldo Arcia
You know I like him. Simply put, huge power given his minor league record and average batted ball distance with the Twins, plus a healthy fly ball rate, should result in lots of dingers. Admittedly, this is super, super, duper, duper bold given who else resides in the American League, but it’s tough to come up with a hitter in this category that would truly fit into the bold classification.
RBI – Eric Hosmer
He should stick in the three hole all season and will be hitting behind solid OBP guys with little power in the above mentioned Aoki and Omar Infante. And if Aoki comes anywhere close to leading the league in batting average, all the better for Hosmer’s chances of taking the RBI crown. Hosmer still hits too many ground balls to enjoy a true power breakout, but we see hitters adjust their batted ball mix all the time. He should hit near .300 either way and is at a good age for a power spike. If a power surge does indeed come, it will make it a lot more likely that he comes somewhere near the league lead in runs batted in.
Runs – Kole Calhoun
Calhoun looks set to be the every day right fielder and leadoff hitter for the Angels. Although he swings from the left side, he showed no platoon split in the minors and has actually hit better against southpaws in the Majors so far. So there should be no concerns about potential benchings against lefties. Calhoun has always gotten on base at a pretty good clip, possesses both power and speed, and will be hitting atop a pretty darn good lineup.
Stolen Bases – Adam Eaton
Though the outfield/first base/DH situation in Chicago is a bit muddled, Eaton should be the team’s every day center fielder. For whatever reason, he hasn’t shown much of a willingness to run in the Majors yet, but perhaps it was an Arizonanian philosophy thing. The latest blurb on Eaton’s player page is that he’ll have a “green light” on the basepaths this year, which is good news. He stole 46 bases in the minors in 2012 and 42 in 2011, so he clearly has wheels. He should also sport a strong OBP giving him plenty of opportunities to run.
Batting Average – Martin Prado
Like Aoki above, Prado also makes excellent contact, as he finished third lowest in strikeout rate last year. Prado doesn’t hit nearly as many grounders or possess the same speed, but he hits enough line drives and swats more balls over the fence which are automatic hits. Prado only BABIPed .288 last year, but has posted a mark as high as .335 in a full season. If he combines that BABIP with last year’s strikeout rate and maintains mid-double digit home run power, he’s a rather strong candidate to lead the league in batting average.
Home Runs – Anthony Rizzo
Rizzo hits enough fly balls, makes respectable contact and has shown massive power in the minors that has not been fully tapped at the Major League level. He posted an 18% HR/FB ratio in 2012, but without a whole lot of fly balls. Last year, his HR/FB dipped precipitously, but his fly ball rate spiked. Another 18% HR/FB rate with the same fly ball rate results in about 33 home runs. That’s right in the mix to lead the league and we’re not even considering the possibility that he makes better contact or hits even more fly balls like he did in 2011.
RBI – Brandon Belt
See: my comments on Eric Hosmer above. Belt is very similar to Hosmer from a fantasy perspective but without as much fanfare. He’ll also be hitting third behind two guys who have solid OBPs, but without much power to knock themselves in. Belt’s batted ball distance suggests real power upside, though AT&T Park may be holding him back.
Runs – Jason Heyward
Really, this is probably the least bold on this entire list. Heck, the Fans agree, projecting him for an insane 119 runs scored this year! The bottom line is that Heyward is going to be the leadoff hitter for a powerful Braves offense, he should post a pretty good OBP, and he should score at least 20 times without the help of his teammates every time he knocks one over the fence.
Stolen Bases – Dee Gordon
Given Alexander Guerrero’s poor defense at second base, it looks as if Dee Gordon might open the year as the Dodgers starter at the position. He has stolen 66 bases in about a full season’s worth of plate appearances, proving that a .301 OBP is plenty good enough to provide lots of running opportunities. At this moment, Billy Hamilton is nodding. I would imagine that Guerrero spends no longer than a month or two in the minors, at which point Gordon concedes the second base job. But, Juan Uribe is no great shakes at third, so a scenario that moves Gordon there or Hanley Ramirez back there isn’t so crazy. And speaking of Hanley, he’s dealt with injuries in recent years which could open shortstop back up for Gordon.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.