I always enjoy when the Bold Predictions series rolls out here. It’s fun seeing my colleagues go out on a limb, and it’s even more fun tossing my hat in the ring with bold predictions of my own. Below, you’ll find five bold hitting predictions. Initially, this piece was set to include all of my bold predictions. However, it began getting lengthy quickly, so I’ve opted to split up my hitter predictions and pitcher predictions.
1. Christian Yelich will be a top-20 player overall
This is easily the least bold of my predictions, so I’ll open with it. The former Marlin is a .290/.369/.432 hitter in his career, and last year’s .282 average was his lowest in the majors. He’s clearly an asset in batting average. He’s stolen 16 bases or more in three of the last four years, and he joins a Brewers team that’s been second (2016) and first (2017) in stolen base attempts in manager Craig Counsell’s two full seasons managing the Brewers. All of the projection models peg him for fewer than 20 stolen bases this season, but it’s easy to envision him topping 20 stolen bases with his new — aggressive base-stealing — team.
The fly in the ointment for Yelich is his worm-burning tendencies that has contributed to low homer outputs throughout his career. He’s topped 20 homers just one time with a career-high 21 in 2016, and he slipped three taters to 18 last year despite tallying 36 more plate appearances than in 2016. A look into his batted-ball profile reveals he’s hitting more fly balls. Last year, he set a new high with a 25.2% FB%. Now that he’s escaped homer-suppressing Marlins Park for homer-amplifying Miller Park, he’ll have further incentive to lift the ball. Furthermore, while the difference is just 1.8%, he has hit the ball in the air away from Marlins Park more often (20.1% FB% on the road in his career) than in his previous home digs (18.3% FB% at home in his career). The gap is small enough that it might be coincidental, but Yelich has slugged 41 of his 59 homers in his career away from Miami. As you’ve probably guessed by this prediction, I’m bullish on the young outfielder setting a new high in homers. At the end of the 2018 season, a 25-25 season with a .300-ish average and 200-plus runs and RBIs combined wouldn’t be an outlandish outcome that should make this a hit.
This prediction is made possible by me being higher than the consensus on Myers and lower than it on Bellinger. It’s not that I hate the latter, I think he’s a top-50 player overall, but the swing-and-miss he displayed from September on creates more batting average risk than the fantasy community is baking into his ADP. Myers doesn’t project to be an asset in batting average, either. Myers should easily out steal Bellinger after swiping 48 bases the last two years combined, though, and he’s no slouch in the power department with 58 taters over that two-year stretch, too. San Diego ranked dead last in runs last year, but Myers was able to tally a respectable 80 runs and 74 RBIs. In 2016 when the Padres ranked tied for 20th in runs scored, he ripped off 99 runs and 94 RBIs. San Diego’s offense should move out of the basement, and that could keep Myers within shouting distance of Bellinger in the run production categories. By the narrowest of margins, Myers edges out Bellinger in end-of-season rankings.
Back in October, I touted Moran as a deep-league option. Since then, Moran’s been dealt from a crowded infield to the Pirates, where he’ll start at the hot corner. Playing time was the biggest concern I voiced in the linked piece, and you can read about why I like the Buc’s new third baseman in said piece. Davis also benefits from Moran being dealt. The deal removes one hurdle for playing time. Davis is another player I previously touted, and you can read why I’m a fan of his fantasy potential here. The power-hitting prospect is battling Tyler White for a spot on the active roster to open the year, and Davis is out hitting him. With Yulieski Gurriel set to open the season on the disabled list and then serve a five-game suspension, there’s a chance for Davis to see regular playing time out of the chute. The soon-to-be 25-year-old slugger hit .282/.345/.527 with a 8.7% BB%, 23.4% K%, 136 wRC+ and 26 homers in 461 plate appearances split between Double-A (388 plate appearances) and Triple-A (73 plate appearances). If he carries over his strong spring play and doesn’t take too large of a step back moving up the ladder to the game’s highest level, he could force Houston’s hand to find at-bats for him even after Gurriel returns. I’m clearly banking on that being the case.
4. Matt Olson is a top-50 player overall
Keith Farnsworth did a great job of summing up Olson’s surreal run to conclude last season in Olson’s player cap. Jeff Sullivan found the tater-mashing first baseman shared some interesting similarities with J.D. Martinez, and that’s obviously good company to keep. The sophomore first baseman is a player who’s showcased a high ceiling in his small sample in the Show. Olson’s 27.8% K% overall last year would threaten his batting average this year and create a — as Farnsworth pointed out in Olson’s player cap — 2017 Chris Davis‘ like floor, if that were his true-talent strikeout rate. Is it, though? After becoming a full-time regular in early August, Olson struck out in a more palatable 24.4% of his plate appearances, a mark that’s identical to his strikeout rate in Triple-A in 2016 and similar to his 24.2% K% repeating the minor’s highest level last season. Thus far this spring, he’s struck out in 11 of 53 plate appearances (20.8% K%). I’m inclined to believe he can hover around or below a 25% K% this year. Nelson Cruz ranked 43rd on ESPN’s player rate in 2017, and he hit .288 with 96 runs, 39 homers, 119 RBIs and one stolen base. Because, like Cruz, Olson isn’t a threat to steal more than a couple bags, Cruz’s 2017 serves as something of a template for what Olson would need to do this season to make this an accurate prediction.
5. Yonder Alonso is a top-100 player overall
Alonso’s revamped swing and elevate-and-celebrate approach yielded what was easily a career year. He upgrades offenses and home hitting environments this year joining the Indians after splitting last year with the A’s (371 plate appearances) and Mariners (150 plate appearances). In his age-30 season, Alonso smacked 28 homers with a .266/.365/.501 slash. He opened the year with 20 homers and a .275/.372/.562 line in the first half before dipping to eight homers and a .254/.354/.420 line in the second half.
The second-half “collapse” isn’t as bad as it appears on the surface. Alonso was unable to maintain his 48.7% FB% from the first half, and it sunk to 36.1% in the second half. Again, things aren’t as bad as they appear when just looking at his FB% between halves. It’s not as if his lost fly balls all turned into grounders. Alonso’s LD% rose from 21.2% to 25.0%, his Hard% rose from 35.5% to 36.8% and his Soft% dropped from 14.8% to 11.1%. Even though Alonso squared up more liners in the second half, his BABIP actually dropped a point from .302 to .301.
In his age-31 season, Alonso doesn’t need to double his breakout first half from last year to crack the top 100 players in fantasy this year, and his second half doesn’t look like a case of him turning into a pumpkin after the league adjusted to the new Alonso. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if he had a big first half again this year. Alonso got started in spring training last year before carrying his hot bat into the regular season. This year, he’s hitting .378/.462/.867 with six homers, six walk and six strikeouts in 52 plate appearances this spring.
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