Dear Reader, I have heard your (kind of unruly) demands for bolder Bold Predictions and I come to you today bearing two pieces of good news.
First, it’s Friday. Congrats, you made it. Time to coast on in to the weekend. Second (most importantly) I am committed to
throwing stuff at the wall here pleasing your discerning Bold Prediction palates today with ten things that I think technically have a nonzero chance of happening, but are pretty out there.
So let’s take a ride on the Crazy Train, shall we?
1) Jed Lowrie will be the top fantasy shortstop.
This is a statement as much about the relative lack of elite options at short as it is about the potential upside of Lowrie himself. First, the field. By ADP, Lowrie is the 16th shortstop being taken this spring, behind Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, Jean Segura, Jose Reyes, yada yada yada. This is the case despite the fact that Lowrie posted the second highest wOBA among shortstops in baseball last season, and was able to stay healthy for a full season for the first time in, like, one thousand years.
Lowrie can’t beat Tulo or Hanley on skill, so he doesn’t control his own destiny in this sense. But injuries to Tulo and Hanley have happened before, so it’s a plausible (if unlikely) scenario that both fall out of the equation. It’s also unlikey (but possible) that Lowrie stays healthy for an entire season again. But he’s only going to be 30 years old this season, which may be younger than many would think. He has the ability to be a very good hitter, in a field of shortstops that is muddled after the top couple of options.
2) Mike Olt will hit 30 home runs this season.
Hey, remember this guy? Olt was once such a hot prospect that memes foretelling his brilliance scattered the internet. Now, he’s seemingly all but forgotten. And yet he is healthy this spring, and hitting bombs like whoa.
Once upon a time, Olt was a highly regarded prospect with the Rangers, before concussion and vision issues dropped his stock considerably. Moved to the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal last summer, Olt’s competition for the third base gig in Chicago is mostly Luis Valbuena, and he doesn’t figure to pose much of a threat if Olt is playing up to his potential. He hit two homers Wednesday night (one of them was off Randy Wolf but shhhhh) and it’s not hard to envision a scenario in which he plays every day for the Cubs. Given that kind of playing time, and assuming health, he has the ability to be a surprise power source this summer.
3) Chris Carter will hit exactly 12 home runs this season.
Let’s be clear: no part of this prediction has to do with Carter’s ability to hit home runs. If he plays, he’s going to hit his fair share of those. It is, after all, pretty much the only thing he’s done at the plate in the major leagues besides striking out. He’s hit 48 in his 248 big league games, to be exact.
No, this one is all about that qualifier above: if he plays. It’s also about those strikeouts, something he’s done at a 34.7% clip. The Astros figure to be rotten again in 2014, but even they can’t continue to stomach a player so vanilla even if he has one totally awesome carrying tool. With prospect Jonathan Singleton waiting in the wings, it’s easy to picture a world in which Carter’s strikeouts dive even further into the abyss, and he’s out of a job. If that happens, fantasy owners can kiss those homers goodbye.
Why 12, you ask? I did it for the bold, of course! (This was originally “fewer than 15” but I deemed the odds of that were not insane enough, so 12 it is).
4) The American League Rookie of the Year will come from the White Sox, and his name is not Jose Abreu.
Abreu is getting most of the ink for preseason AL ROY picks, and rightly so. He’s older and more ready for the big leagues than most in that field, and he has immense potential. He could very well be the Rookie of the Year this season.
But me? I’m going with Erik Johnson. The top prospect in the White Sox system according to our own Marc Hulet, Johnson profiles as more of a mid-rotation workhorse than an ace, but he’s closer to reaching that potential than players who have more potential. He will very likely be on the White Sox opening day roster, and if he can provide that mid-rotation value as a (relatively) unheralded prospect in his first full season, I’m betting voters will be all over that like fantasy nerds on a (relatively) pointless column.
5) Billy Hamilton will steal more bases than Eric Young, Jr., Peter Bourjos, and Starling Marte combined
On the one hand, this is not very bold. Predicting Billy Hamilton to steal a ton of bases is like predicting the sun to rise tomorrow. It’s probably going to happen.
On the other hand, in this scenario he’s going against two guys who stole more than 40 bags last year, and one who proclaimed this spring that he could do the same if given regular playing time. So it’s Billy Hamilton versus 120 steals and I’m going Hamilton.
Well, not really. Part of the calculus here involves a drop in steals from both Young and Marte (the former because I expect him to get fewer at bats this year, even though his manager and general manager love him, and the latter because I’m not totally buying the 41 he put up last season on account of smaller minor league figures). As good as Bourjos is defensively, expecting 600 plate appearances seems like a fool’s errand, both because of his injury history and because Jon Jay exists. So this is really more like Hamilton versus 60-70 steals, and I’m taking the over. I don’t think he will be a very valuable real life player, but he’s going to get on base more than a hundred times, and he’s going to run around the clock.
6) Bartolo Colon will post a batting average of more than .100
He’s spent his entire career in the American League, which means the opportunities to watch him swing that bowl of jelly around at the plate have been too few and too far between. Well no more, gentle reader! We’re all going to tell our grandchildren about watching Bartolo Colon hit in 2014, and we will say DID YOU KNOW HE HAD A BATTING AVERAGE ABOVE .100 and they will scrunch their semi-robotic faces and return to their Hologram Wars. Or as they call them in the year 2050: Wars.
7) The first closer deposed this season will be Fernando Rodney
Rodney controlled his walk rate for one brilliant year in Tampa, giving free passes to just 5.3% of batters in 2012. As a result, he posted a season of fantasy legend, including 48 saves and an ERA of just 0.60. His walk rate bounced back closer to his career levels last year (12.4% vs. 11.4%) and his dominance was watered down. He’s made his way to Seattle via free agency, and will enter the season as the team’s closer. If his walk rate is still high, or perhaps gets even worse (in his age 37 season, it’s certainly possible) he could find himself demoted.
In his place? Why benevolent Lord Farquhar, of course! Danny Farquhar briefly grabbed the closing role when Tom Wilhelmsen flamed out last year, and he is more than capable of succeeding in that position. So we have a combo effect here: Rodney is old and probably can’t sustain the walk rate that made his historic career season possible, and Farquhar is going to be breathing down his neck. In the dysfunctional world that is Mariners HQ, my money is on them to pull the rip cord on their closer before anyone else.
8) The best fantasy rotation in the National League will come from San Diego
Not a single pitcher with an ADP under 200, but many of my favorite low-cost sleepers, including Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross, Josh Johnson and Andrew Cashner.
9) The worst fantasy rotation in the American League will come from Houston
Not bold at all, you say? Well, yeah. Of course. But I, like Bartolo Colon, need to ensure I hit at least .100 here. Give me a break for one prediction, eh?
10) Andre Ethier will be among the top 25 fantasy outfielders this year
Everyone wants to focus on the bad with Ethier. He’s in a crowded outfield, he can’t hit lefties, blah, blah, blah. We get it. The guy has warts. But who among us does not?
What’s lost in the negative fuzz surrounding Ethier is that he’s still darn good against right-handed pitching, and his crowded outfield consists of two guys made of glass and one guy with 432 major league plate appearances under his belt. Also sometimes trades happen.
Is he likely to be among the top 25 outfielders? Of course not, he’s not even currently in the top three on his own team. But these wouldn’t be Bold Predictions without staring certain wrongness in the face and choosing to come right at it. So get some of that mojo back against lefties, Andre, take a little visit from the luck dragon, and have a season filled with only hot streaks. Let’s do this … for the kids.
Enjoy the rest of your Friday, folks.
Jack Weiland is not just a pretty face. He resides in Boston with his wife and family (they're dogs) and watches the Cubs at levels not approved for public consumption. He likes chatting on twitter, too: @jackweiland.