After a year hiatus from boldly predicting, I’ve been cajoled into joining the fray at risk of being called not bold enough and too bold at the same time. I skipped last year for a several reasons, but chief among them was disdain for the pulp variety in which the bold had to occupy to qualify as truly bold. Nobody wants to be a faker bold. What I’ve come to realize is that a lot of our bold predictions simply quantify in narrative terms our own respective irrational exuberance of Spring. Which I think is healthy. So head screwed on straight with new context, I present my personal bold(ish) predictions (and my fingers are crossed to break the 30% threshold of correctness).
1. Jonathan Villar steals 55 bags.
In 2010, Villar swiped 45 bags between two levels and less than a full major league season. 34 in 2011 in 130 games. 39 in 2012 in just 86 games, and then 49 between AAA and the major leagues last year. So go ahead and lambaste me for saying this isn’t bold enough. No projection puts him above 39, but it seems to me he could go all Everth Cabrera on us and burn up the basepaths. He might also hit .225 too, so there’s that.
2. Ivan Nova will make you punch yourself in the face for not drafting him.
Nova has an ADP in the low 200’s over in Yahoo and Mock Draft Central (who lists him as a relief pitcher in case you go searching), sneaking him just barely within the top 70 starting pitchers. This is the same Ivan Nova who posted a 3.10 ERA (3.47 FIP) in 2013 with a decent little 20% strikeout rate. Maybe you’re scared of his ugly 2012 when he was giving up home runs like Samwell Tarly serves up pity, but recall that Nova pretty dramatically changed his repertoire after returning from an early stint on the disabled list last season. He scrapped his slider, leaned on a sinker and curve more, and the results were more swings on balls outside the strike zone, more swinging strikes in general, and the weakest contact rate in his career. World beater, maybe not — but Nova will far outperform his draft slot.
3. Anibal Sanchez will make you punch yourself in the face for drafting him.
It’s not that I don’t think Sanchez will be an okay starting pitcher. I honestly just have a feeling that this is the year Anibal Sanchez has his deal with the devil run out. Sanchez is like the bizarro aging curve incarnate. His velocity has increased every year since he was 24. Well, sorry buddy — you’re 30 now and 30 in starting pitcher years is like being 75 in the Senate. You probably only have one more good run in you, and your fundraising is lacking. This political science degree is coming in handy. I digress.
But seriously, I think Sanchez is a fine pitcher. Fine like wine, not fine like, say, a Subaru Justy. But last year was undoubtedly a career year for him, I don’t trust the strikeouts, the 78% strand rate, the 5.8% HR/FB rate. So he regresses into the Marlin version of himself, so what — that’s pretty good. But a pitcher with a 3.60-3.70 ERA with a 19% strikeout rate and 1.25 WHIP ought not be a fifth round selection when you can probably get something awfully darn close out of guys like Doug Fister or Hyun-Jin Ryu or maybe Jeff Samardzija rounds and rounds later. Prepare your face.
4. Wilin Rosario hits 32 home runs.
I don’t know, these bold predictions have been going on for over a week now, so my options are limited. Maybe this is super not bold, so let’s say he hits 35 home runs, I don’t care. Rosario has apparently worked his tail off on the defensive end, and even if there’s no actual results to point to, my hope is that the Rockies give him the at-bats for the fantasy nerds to realize his offensive potential. Practically speaking, Rosario is the only catcher on the 40 man for the Rox, but rather telling is that they have fully six, count them SIX, non-roster invitee catchers in camp this Spring so they quite obviously want to find a capable backup, but none of the names ought to steal much more than a spot start throughout the year. All Rosario needs to do is sniff his 2012 ISO and get himself 550 plate appearances, and poof — home run city.
5. Tony Cingrani will finish the season with an ERA over 4.00
Tony Cingrani is awesome. I love to watch him pitch. And when I do it’s fun to predict what’s coming. And that’s easy to do, as you well know. If I can guess it, you can bet opposing hitters might start knowing what’s coming. And the list of starting pitchers is short who can get away with that. Major league hitters can hit fastballs, and if they know nine times out of ten one is coming, it’s probably going to catch up to him.
6. Will Middlebrooks hits 30+ home runs.
Will Middlebrooks saw his star rise and fall awfully quickly, but color me a little surprised how low his average draft position is. Everything I’m reading has the team all giddy about the work he’s put in on his defense, glove work, positioning, etc. and that he’s the man at the hot corner for the immediate and future. No Stephen Drew certainly helps and the fact that there’s the Xander shiny new thing around at short plus that Middlebrooks is having a nice little spring makes it even more likely he’s a mainstay in the lineup. Well heck, even when he was flailing he hit 17 in 94 games, so is 30 so insane? Probably yes, but but pffffft.
7. Norichika Aoki hits over .300, steals 30 bases.
Back when I was a much younger man, Jim Lefebvre was the manager for my hometown Seattle Mariners and the team or creative people or the academically bored community started circulating bumper stickers that read: “I’m a Lefebvre Believer.” Because, like, Lefebvre rhymes with believer, even though it looks like it should rhyme with the way Ben Stiller pronounces Brett Favre’s name in whatever awful movie that was. What am I talking about. Oh, Aoki.
I have this dumb affinity for Aoki. I like to watch him play. So whatever, my prediction is he hits over .300 and he steals 30 bases. Take it without any rational statistical backup and run with it to the bank. Gonna happen.
8. David Robertson saves 40+ games.
The New York Yankees are celebrating Derek Jeter’s imminent retirement and it probably means they’ll win 147 games out of respect for the captain. And Alex Rodriguez is gone. Robertson ought to be able to close out one out of every three wins, dontcha think?
9. Josh Johnson is good again.
To be bold, I’m saying Josh Johnson is good like #2 fantasy starter good. Like 3.30 ERA good. Like maybe something like 15 wins good. Did you know that Johnson had a 22% strikeout rate last year? His BABIP was just a stupid .356. His strand rate equally unfair 63%. HR/FB rate was a ghastly 18.5%. His velocity lost nothing off 2012. His xFIP was 3.58. Watching him pitch was kind of odd, he would throw gas, have great movement, and batters just torched him for big inning blowups. I have no insight as to why, but I like his move back to the National League and I like the big park and I like the proverbial change of scenery. Johnson owns a career 3.40 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 22% strikeout rate, and I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see those kinds of numbers at the end of 2014.
10. Jean Segura hits six home runs.
Segura hit one home run in the second half of 2013. Erick Aybar hit more. So did J.B. Shuck. And Mark Ellis. He tied Brendan Ryan. It’s said that this was a fatigue issue, which I can imagine. Segura is a great talent, and he’s got great wheels. But I’m not so sure I’d pencil him in for anything sniffing double digit home runs in 2014.
Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.