Eno Sarris’ 10 Bold Predictions

I’ve been batting over .300 on bold predictions for a while, and I’ve also been getting crap for not being bold enough. So, in the honor of So So Def, I’ll stop slacking on my pimping, and I’ll turn it up.

1) There will be three top thirty starters on the Reds this year.
Everyone loves Raisel Iglesias now, so I couldn’t stop there. His three plus pitches from three arm slots and better fitness — which will help him keep velocity later in games — is old hat by now. And even Anthony DeSclafani is getting so much love that people are scooping him from me in drafts. I guess they all know about that curve that DeScla refined late last year, and his top-15 strikeout minus walk totals in the last two months (“I was really spinning it well,” he agreed last week about the curve, while pointing out he’s still got the change in his back pocket.)

If I’m hedging my bets by not naming the third starter, you’ll have to give me credit for naming a team in a hitter’s park that nobody has claimed will have a rotation of aces. My bet is that it will be John Lamb that steps up, as he has three above-average secondary pitches right now, and I think he can find just enough command to make his average-ish fastball play up. Check his player cap for more. But I’m willing to listen if you think Homer Bailey is finally healthy again. Brandon Finnegan should get in the rotation. If he has the innings, his excellent fastball and slider give him a good chance. As a lefty, though, you have to wonder if a changeup that is average in most respects is going to be enough. (He’s also working on a second breaking ball.)

2) Marcell Ozuna will hit more than 25 homers.
That would be a career high in homers from a guy that hit 10 homers last year and toils in one of the hardest parks in baseball. But Ozuna is young enough that his up the middle approach could really do wonders for him. The league sprays the ball 40/35/25 to the pull, center, and opposite fields, and Ozuna moves five percent from pull to opposite field, and that’s traditionally been good for early-career development. You can point to the walls coming in, but you could *also* point to the fact that Marlins park hasn’t been as pitcher-friendly as you’d expect. I also like that Ozuna has cut his swinging strike rates as he’s gone along. It’s poop/potty time for Ozuna, and his cost isn’t high, so pay for 18 homers and hope that this bold prediction is right.

3) This year, Jumbo Diaz or Hunter Strickland becomes a closer.
I took a look at closers that had the right stuff to close by the numbers (right-handed, high-velocity, high strikeout rate) and were behind guys that were the opposite of that, and Strickland jumped close enough to the top to pick him. The top three guys don’t count because the current closer in Atlanta. I like Daniel Hudson and Silvino Bracho and Randall Delgado in Arizona, but Brad Ziegler is such a weird closer that he might just keep the job. Bruce Rondon is a head case on a win-now team, Brad Johnson took my Tony Zych, and Mike Morin doesn’t have the velocity I want. Diaz and Strickland are old, sure, but that’s fine for a reliever. They’ve got gas and stuff and are righty and are behind relatively bad closers. Yes, I’m going to take two because trying to find closers is low-percentage enough, and we’re far enough from the season, that I’m going to give myself two shots in any league where I’m drafting setup men and hoping for saves.

4) Jake Lamb will hit 20 home runs.
Call me Jesus because I love the Lambs. Jake Lamb is on the same list of potential young surgers as Marcell Ozuna, but that’s not the only reason I like him. He’s put a year of adjustments behind him, but that’s not even it. He played with a hurt left foot last year, and that tends to depress production and future projections, and we’re getting closer now. What I really like is that Lamb hit too many ground balls last year, took a look inward, and decided to change. He’s currently working on more of an upper cut swing that will fit better with this league’s focus on the low strike, and will give him more power in a good park for power. He’s not going to cost you much to find out, too.

5) Shelby Miller will make me happy I didn’t trade him.
I tried to shop Shelby Miller in the Expert’s League in ottoneu all offseason. At $11, he was fine, but I didn’t really need him, since I had what I considered a stacked young pitching staff. I couldn’t pry anything loose, even relatively expensive mid-career bats without that prospect sheen to them. Fine. I’ll keep him. I know his strikeout minus walk rates have left people cold, and have made his projections mediocre looking. But I see enough currently here that’s to like, and a little bit of upside still that could help him regress positively and fight off the negative regression. The fans say he can give up less than a home run per nine innings even in Arizona, and I agree: fastballs over 94 traditionally give up fewer home runs and look at that, Miller averaged 94 last year. The cutter and curve were good enough last year, but late last year, Miller’s changeup finally took a nice shape. He added almost three inches of drop, which was a top fifteen change in drop, and if he has a changeup he trusts, he may just be nasty in a good way. Consider zigging on this industry zag.

6) Chris Coghlan fights his way into starting status in all leagues.
Coghlan had a decent year last year, so maybe it’s surprising to find him on a bold prediction list. But he got traded to a team that has the depth chart of death. A team that got a big-time power threat at his position, and has options all over the diamond, many of which seem like better fits than Coghlan at first glance. Danny Valencia figured something out against righties at third base! Jed Lowrie is a fine starter at second! Josh Reddick is left-handed, too! Maybe you already spotted why Coghlan is not in such a bad spot: those statements already include risk, particularly at third base. The meat of their careers suggests that Valencia should only face lefties, and Lowrie’s arm would be wasted at second. The easy solution almost pops off the depth chart: Lowrie and Valencia share third, and Coghlan emerges as an almost full-time starter at second base. Above average power, with some speed, and average-ish batting average? Sounds like an average second baseman. He won’t cost that!

7) This year, Kevin Gausman finally cashes in on his natural talent.
Keep picking a guy long enough and you’ll be right? I get that he’s a perpetual tease, but there’s a reason for that. He has decent command of a big fastball, and two changeups that can sometimes make batters look silly. He has pedigree, too, as a high pick with college success and scouts that have liked him. All those things put him in the good part of the outcome bell curve. But those things have been true for a while and the results have been meh. Things did change last year, though, even if the overall numbers don’t seem to indicate it. Gausman finally started elevating the ball and getting the pop-ups that his rising fastball and good command suggest that he can get. And then there’s that curve ball. By the end of last year, he was throwing it 10% of the time and it had replaced his slider. Which is good, because it doesn’t get taken yard like his slider. By movement, it gets more drop than his slider and only goes about a tick slower, so that makes it a hard curve that could really tie the room together. This is the year, right?

8) Brandon Belt is a top five first baseman.
This is risky because Belt is the 15th first sacker in our projections, because he’s coming off a season with some concussion problems, and also because it’s taken him a long time to figure out how to adjust and then adjust again reliably. But even last year, where it seemed like he was the 15th-best first baseman, he was sneaky good. Team factors robbed him of more value — 73 runs and 68 RBI, given his 18 homers and good on-base skills, was not a great outcome. That’s because much of his team was hurt and the Giants had a down year. Take RBIs out of the picture, and Belt was the sixth-best first baseman last year. I’m betting now that the Giants will be better, that a 27-year-old has finally figured out how to combine plate coverage with line drives and power after years of oscillating between each, and that the older crew around him falls back. Is that so crazy? I think not. Even if we’ve found that peaks are actually closer to 26 than 27, it wouldn’t be weird for a guy that has had some trouble staying on the field to take an extra year to figure it out.

9) Rubby de la Rosa makes you not want to swallow your puke.
This isn’t the most specific of all predictions, but I guess I’m calling him a top 75 starter, and useful therefore in all setups. His projections don’t suggest that he will manage that. But even on traditional peripherals, you have to notice when a guy averages 94 on the fastball and manages an 11% swinging strike rate with league average walk totals and nearly 50% ground balls. Last year, he also added a new pitch, a Warthen Slider type hard slider that got average whiffs and was spanked less often on balls in play, so he’s a bit of a different pitcher, which is nice. Yes, his haters say, he’s always had the velocity, and the slider is nice, but how can a guy like that get torched by lefties when his changeup is supposedly his best pitch? That’s because Rubby’s worst facet — command — has left him unable to pitch inside to lefties in order to set up that change away. What’s the good news there? The righty has spent all of camp throwing inside to lefties.

10) Brett Lawrie is a top half second baseman when it’s all over.
You know what? I like the White Sox this year. They’ve finally acquired enough guys that their iffy prospects (Tim Anderson and Avisail Garcia) are behind decent major leaguers on the depth chart, which means that the team isn’t depending on them, but could still gain from their advancement. But, if you scan the team for fantasy breakouts, there are either stalwarts (Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, David Robertson) high priced sleepers (Carlos Rodon), or non entities for the most part. I like Adam Eaton more than many — I think that park and his new fly ball mix will get him to 10-15 homers — but he is coming off of shoulder surgery and that alone makes him a bad bet.

So that leaves Austin Jackson, Jimmy Rollins (taken by Johnson again) and Brett Lawrie, and Lawrie is younger. Here’s something that people might not have noticed in Lawrie’s season last year: He was probably a top ten second baseman anyway. We ranked him at third, but his numbers look almost exactly like those that Neil Walker put up at second when he ranked tenth at the end of the season. The White Sox are projected to score more than the Athletics did last year, Lawrie is in his prime, he underperformed his career strikeout and power numbers last year, and he’s moving from an extreme pitcher’s park to an extreme hitter’s park. Sometimes, we make things more complicated than they need to be. This one looks simple.





With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Hugh Jass
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Hugh Jass

Does anyone really want to swallow their puke?