I went just 2.5/10 last year, but I’m smashing that mark this year and going 3/10!!! For me, the real value in these is putting some names on your radar in a context you might not have considered. I’d love to be right, but these are bold predictions meaning they are unlikely to come to fruition without major skills development (I went all positive this year) and a good bit of luck. Getting the stars to align like that on one player and one pitcher is hard enough, let alone five of each. But there is still wiggle room between these bold predictions and the player’s projections to be wins for us and contribute to our fantasy titles. So without further ado…
Ramon Laureano goes 25 HR/40 SB
This is the culmination of a winter spent gushing over Laureano. I just didn’t see how I could leave him out of this piece. Same with another Oakland Athletic coming up. It’s no surprise I’m a huge fan, but I wanted to express just exactly what I think the high end could be with a bold prediction for each. Laureano’s elite defense should absolutely secure his playing time and he’s a premium speedster with emerging pop. He matched Dee Gordon’s 29.0 ft/sec sprint speed last year and stole 36 bases per 600 PA in the minors. Hopefully the A’s let him maximize the wheels.
Rafael Devers goes .300/35/100/100/10
A modest first full season lowered the former mega-prospect’s stock a bit, but there’s still a ton of potential in this 22-year old bat. It’s telling that his down year still netted 21 homers in 490 PA. He’s a “best shape of his life” candidate as he admitted to carrying too much weight last year and worked hard with Xander Bogaerts (another guy I considered for a big bold prediction) to get fit and be lit.
The homers are probably the most stable part of this projection as it’s only seven more than his 650 PA pace from last year. Where this really becomes a bold prediction is tacking on 60 points to his batting average with major R/RBI numbers and a sneaky 10 SBs. If Devers emerges as I expect, he fits perfectly in the third spot of that lineup, in between Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez.
Andrew McCutchen is a top 10 OF
Cutch was quietly solid last year, though it went unnoticed in hitter hell now known as Oracle Park. His month in Yankee Stadium was the best park he’s ever played in and he made the most of it with a 149 wRC+. Now he gets a full season in a big time hitter’s park and a premium lineup. Looking at last year’s top 10-15 OF, I think using Mitch Haniger’s 2018 is a good starting point. He went .285/.366/.493 with 26 HR, 93 RBI, 90 R, and 8 SB. I’d shave the AVG down a bit (.270ish), but add 15-17 runs and 4-5 SBs. Haniger was 12th among outfielders last year and I think these adjustments would be enough to make Cutch a top 10 guy.
Chad Pinder clubs 30 HR
Swipe Right is a Statcast darling generating plenty of interest this year. I fully agree with Derek Carty when he talks about just taking last year’s data and using it as a bible for the player going forward. That said, I’m still on the Pinder train because 2018 wasn’t the only time he’s been good. He hit 15 homers in 87 games in 2017, too. He’s got 29 in his 707 career plate appearances. Of course, he’s not going to get 707 plate appearances this year. In fact, playing time is the major key to whether or not this one succeeds as he’s not yet guaranteed a full-time role.
He played in both Japan Series games as they were both against left-handers and I don’t think Robbie Grossman should be a real impediment to playing time for Pinder, but he needs a fast start to establish himself and push 600+ PA if this bold prediction is to have any chance. I will say that I’m super nervous about Matt Olson’s hand injury suffered in Japan as the symptoms and limited news around it have many fearing a hamate bone injury, but that would be an avenue to more time for Pinder.
Edit: After finishing and posting the piece, I went to Twitter to see my worst fears realized with Olson as it is indeed a hamate injury. While it does likely add to Pinder’s workload, I’m never happy when an injury strikes a player down. I had major hopes for Olson this year, too. This sucks.
There’s also the fact that Jurickson Profar hasn’t been particularly healthy over his career so 2B is another path. At any rate, I love Pinder as a reserve pick for what he can do in the time he does garner with a healthy Oakland lineup, but there’s also some real upside to smack 30 homers if his playing time really opens up.
Austin Barnes is a top 5 C
Yes, part of this is the fact that catcher is terrible this year, but that doesn’t mean I’m not predicting a Barnes breakout here. He had a brutal 2018 after big expectations following his 2017, but the 28% K rate doesn’t make sense with a 6% swinging strike rate. He still took his walks and also has some sneaky speed for the position with 4 SBs each of the last two years. He’s going to be the full-time option with Russell Martin backing him up and I like him to hit .275 with 12 HR, 8 SB, and 50+ R and RBI.
Jameson Taillon is a top 5 SP
Much has been made of the slider Taillon added last year and it definitely showed flashes of brilliance, but it can get a lot better. More importantly, just having another bankable option had a positive cascading effect on his other pitches. I think the end result will be a massive 2019 season that includes a career-high strikeout rate eclipsing 25%. Volume will be key to netting a top 5 season so showing he can put up a 191-inning season last year was nice. Look for something in the 210-inning range with a 2.74 ERA, 0.98 WHIP (7.0 H9, 5% BB), 225 Ks, and 16+ wins to catapult Taillon into the top 5.
Ross Stripling is a top 15 SP
Stripling only threw 122 innings last year, but the 29-year old isn’t incapable of handling a full season workload. A 1.5x increase of last year’s total would yield 183 innings, which is more than enough to put up a top 15 season with a strong enough performance. In fact, these days you can go 150-160 great innings and still land in the top 15. An incredible first half (2.08 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 24% K-BB in 95.3 IP) earned Stripling an All-Star bid, but back and toe issues mired a poor second half that limited him to just 26.7 uninspiring innings (6.41 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 17% K-BB). He’s already in the rotation with some spring injuries hitting the Dodgers rotation and if he performs, there’s no reason he won’t stick.
Julio Urias will be on an innings limit. Kenta Maeda is always a health concern and seems to get his innings managed thanks to workload-based incentives in his contract. And Hyun-Jin Ryu has topped 152 innings just once since coming to the States in 2013 (and it was 2013 when he threw 192). Stripling tunnels his fastball-curveball-slider arsenal very well, yielding big strikeout totals while also limiting walks. He’ll need to keep the hits in check (9.1 last year) to have the kind of season I’m calling for and slicing into that .322 BABIP will be instrumental in doing just that. I like 170 innings of 2.91 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 195 strikeouts. The comparison is 2018 Charlie Morton.
Reynaldo Lopez has a sub-3.30 ERA, sub-1.20 WHIP, and K-per-IP
Lopez had his moments in 2018, bookending his season with a 1.78 ERA in April and 1.09 in September. The latter was much better, though, as his skills soared for a 21% K-BB, easily his best of the season. He started to get going a bit in August with a 13% K-BB, which isn’t great but was his best to date before the September surge. He traded his curveball for a slider to go with his fastball/changeup and started to deliver a bit on his major prospect hype.
Now entering his age-25 season, Lopez is poised to build on his second half and become an all-formats fantasy relevant arm. He’s one of those guys who hasn’t shown the major strikeout upside in his numbers (career 19% K and 9% SwStr), but when you watch him in 10-strikeout performances like the ones he had in April and September, it’s easy to see how he can take a major step and fan a batter per inning all year. Lopez’s breakout season will feature a 3.24 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 204 strikeouts in 196 innings.
Jeff Samardzija is a top 30 SP
This is a bet on health. We’re not that far removed from the Shark being a fantasy force. The 30th SP in 2018 was Jon Lester, who put up a 3.32 ERA/1.31 WHIP combo. Shark is more likely to go the other way where his ERA is a little higher, but the WHIP is much better. Outside of last year’s 45-inning lost season, he’s been great at limiting walks and usually good for a bunch of strikeouts (though he did fan just 18% in ’15). I like Samardzija to get back to being a volume producer with 190 innings of a 3.80 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 175 strikeouts.
Adam Conley strikes out 100 batters
I tipped my hand a bit on this one. Conley amped his velocity up 6 mph last year as he transitioned to the bullpen full-time. He also pushed his swinging strike rate up five ticks and got a requisite strikeout rate surge to go with it, but I think there’s more. A 15% swinging strike rate can yield better than a 25% K rate. Conley does well enough against righties to regularly go multiple innings and the Marlins should consider giving him 75+ innings. That’d put him in line for 100+ strikeouts. Even if he’s closer to 70 innings, he could still push 100, but he’d have to really maximize that swinging strike rate. A bonus here would be him taking the closer role and adding a 15+ saves to the boatload of strikeouts.
OK, those are mine! Which of these is your favorite, and do you have any of your own?
RotoGraphs is teaming up with the NFBC to provide unique content throughout the season. To find out about the various NFBC events like the Online Championship go over to the NFBC website to see their various league options.