My bold predictions article from last year was summarily found to be not bold. The very first commenter said it wasn’t bold and 63 people gave that comment a thumbs up. Another commenter sarcastically chided me saying “You mean Rickie Weeks won’t have (a) career worst season again?” As it turns out, Weeks did have his career worst full season according to wRC+. Not sure if that makes me or the commenter dumb. Probably both.
What I did in last year’s bold predictions was take guys from each position that weren’t being drafted as starters who I thought would be starters. Only three of my ten predictions came true, which is the same batting average Eno thinks is normal for these bold predictions articles. Of course that could just mean that I’m so bad at this that I couldn’t get more than 3/10 right with such obvious calls.
But I’m getting back on the horse this year with a slightly different saddle. The mistake I made last year was discussing players I had ranked as starters in my preseason ranks. This year I’ll be discussing guys that I have ranked just outside starter territory that I think could end up beating my projection and ranking. This means that all players discussed will have an ADP that is, on average, lower than that of the players I discussed last year (all ADP from ESPN). I guess technically that makes the predictions more bold.
If you still don’t think the predictions are bold enough, sorry. My real goal here is to simply identify some guys around the diamond that I think are undervalued in drafts. The ‘bold’ in the title is there on mandate from the higher-ups. If it was up to me, this post would be titled something like ‘Undervalued Players at Each Position.’ If you happen to think some or all of the predictions are actually bold, that’s all the better.
*All projections listed are my own.
Catcher – Josmil Pinto will be a top ten fantasy catcher.
If Pinto is going to finish in the top ten at catcher, he’s going to have to do one of two things. Either he’s going to have to hit home runs at roughly the same rate per plate appearance that he did in the minors, or he’s going to have to maintain some of that ridiculous batted ball luck that helped him to a .342 batting average last year. He obviously can’t sustain a .440 BABIP, but if he can maintain a line drive rate above average, maybe it will stay just north of the .290-.310 range. If he coupled continued success on batted balls with a reduction in his strikeout rate, he could hit the .271 projected by the fans or even a bit better.
Alternatively, he can maintain his power levels. And if he gets the playing time that ZiPS projects as opposed to what Steamer or the Fans project, he could top 15 home runs and approach 20 if everything went right. He hit 19 in 611 plate appearances across three levels last year.
But what may be the main reason it’s possible for Pinto to crack the top ten has less to do with Pinto and more to do with unreliability of the catchers going around tenth at the position. Matt Wieters (9th) posted his lowest wOBA (.302), OBP (.287) and ISO (.704) of his career last year. Wilson Ramos (10th) has just 399 PA in the last two seasons. Jason Castro (11th) could be in for a bit of BABIP and HR/FB regression himself. A.J. Pierzynski (13th) is 37 and drew just 11 unintentional walks last year. Miguel Montero is coming off his worst year. Devin Mesoraco hasn’t proven himself yet. It’s not a stretch to place Pinto in this group from which a couple guys are likely to finish in the top ten at the position.
Maybe-not-so-bold prediction: Miguel Montero bounces back and finishes as a top ten catcher.
First Base – Brandon Belt will finish as a top ten fantasy first baseman.
Karl de Vries made a similar prediction yesterday, and rightly points out some of the talking points for Belt love like his rising batted ball distance and ISO as well as his big second half last year. The key is that the batted ball distance and ISO keep rising. If they do, he won’t be tied for 11th in the league in doubles (39) like he was last year because some of those double will turn into homers. I’m not really projecting that as I have him staying on a similar HR/PA pace to last year. But if he’s going to be a top ten first baseman, that’s what has to happen. I like him because, in addition to the power upside, he is a positive contributor in four of five categories. And who knows, maybe it’ll be all five categories if the double digit steal speed he showed in 2012 comes back.
Maybe-not-so-bold prediction: Anthony Rizzo is a top eight first baseman.
Second Base – Neil Walker will finish as a top ten fantasy second baseman.
I have Ben Zobrist at number ten at the position with 26 HR+SB, 150 R+RBI and a .265 average. Walker has had batting averages of .280 and .296 in a couple of seasons, so he could easily top Zo in that category. If his steal total can bounce back to high single digits, he should be reasonably close to Zo in the power/speed department as well. Probably the biggest question is whether he can stay healthy enough to top 600 PA. If he does, he’ll come reasonably close to 150 R+ RBI as well. What I’m getting at is that there isn’t a huge gap between ten and 15 at the position. Even if Walker doesn’t crack the top ten, I’m not sure that means he should be going around 150 picks later than Zo.
Maybe-not-so-bold prediction: Jedd Gyorko finishes in the top eight at the position.
Third Base – Brett Lawrie finishes as a top eight fantasy third baseman.
Maybe this one is less bold than the others, but I wanted to discuss Lawrie because earlier this off season I wrote a post about why he might not be a post-hype sleeper. At the time I had not done my rankings or projections, and I was assuming I would have guys like Pablo Sandoval and Aramis Ramirez ahead of him in my rankings. But I’ve now realized that while Lawrie may not have the elite upside we thought he had, he remains an above average contributor in all five categories. That places him in a group with guys like Sandoval, Ramirez, Kyle Seager, and Martin Prado, and Lawrie is the most well rounded roto player in that group. I still don’t think he’s going to be a stud at the position, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be very useful.
Maybe-not-so-bold prediction: Nolan Arenado is a top twelve third baseman.
Shortstop – Brad Miller is a top ten fantasy shortstop.
Again, maybe this one isn’t so bold since all four of the Rotographs rankers have him in their top ten at the position, but he’s the 22nd shortstop being taken on ESPN. Any extra attention paid to Miller seems worth it if it alerts even one person who didn’t already know he’s a bargain. My projection is conservative in all categories other than batting average when compared to the other projection systems on his player page, which means he could be more than just a starter at the position. As Eno predicts, he has the potential to out earn someone like Ian Desmond.
Maybe-not-so-bold prediction: Alcides Escobar is a top 15 shortstop.
Outfield – Ryan Braun will be the second most valuable fantasy hitter.
If you disagree with this, you either think the projection is too optimistic or you don’t think those numbers will be good enough to be more valuable than whatever Miguel Cabrera will produce. I’m with you on the latter. But I do think those numbers will be good enough to be the third most valuable hitter. The thing is that I tried to be conservative with this projection, so there’s upside. All the projection systems that have Braun getting 600 PA or more have him hitting more homers per PA than I do. And on a per plate appearance basis, those three projections all have him finishing with more runs and RBI as well. They also generally agree with me on the speed and batting average. It sounds crazy to say this is his floor given what happened last year, but I do think there’s upside beyond this, and I don’t have him that far behind Miggy.
Justin Ruggiano is a top 40 fantasy outfielder.
As you can see I expect Ruggiano’s established power/speed combo to combine with a respectable batting average that falls in the middle of the wild swings he’s had in that category the last two years to produce a surprisingly valuable fantasy player. The main argument against this is the first number listed in his projection, the 575 PA. Ruggiano is much better against left-handed pitching, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s bad against right-handers. For his career he has a 92 wRC+ against right-handers, which doesn’t seem nearly bad enough to relegate him to a strict platoon role. Right now Nate Schierholtz seems set to man right field on most days with Ruggiano in center, Junior Lake in left and Ryan Sweeney as the fourth outfielder. Sweeney is a left-hander, but I expect him to take PA away equally from Ruggiano and Lake because Lake is also a right-handed hitter with a platoon split.
Chris Young is a top 60 fantasy outfielder.
This one is pretty simple. I’m not banking on Young to be a 20/20 player, but he has the potential to do it given enough work. And apparently the Mets aren’t planning on using him strictly in a platoon. Of the two, 20 steals will probably be harder to reach, but even 20+ and 15 would get him pretty close to 60th regardless of the batting average. With an ADP among outfielders of 91, Young isn’t even being drafted as a starting outfielder in 16-team mixed leagues that play five outfielders. I think 18 and 13 would make him a starter in those leagues, and he has the upside to be a starter in 12-team mixed leagues. It’s worth a flier.
Maybe-not-so-bold prediction: Leonys Martin is a top 30 fantasy outfielder.
Starting Pitchers – Clayton Kershaw will be the second most valuable fantasy player overall.
When I do my rankings I simply take my projections and run them through Zach Sanders’ valuation method. When I did that this year, Mike Trout was a clear #1, and Kershaw was second with a projected value much closer to that of Trout’s than of Miggy’s. Again, maybe this isn’t so bold, but I’m essentially saying that I would take Kershaw third overall. I’d still go Miggy because, despite what I said about Braun earlier, I couldn’t pass on such a high floor. But you always hear people say that while you can’t win a league in the first round, you can lose it in the first round. I cannot imagine Kershaw being a first round pick that busts.
All three have an ADP among SP of 75 or higher, but I, like so many others, can’t ignore guys who have displayed quality strikeout and walk skills, which all three of these guys have shown at some point. I won’t go into detail on these three because I covered Kennedy and Porcello at length earlier in the off season (Kennedy link, Porcello link), but I think all three of these guys have a very good chance to be mainstays in your rotation and not just streaming options.