Josh Shepardson’s Bold Predictions for 2015

Life isn’t all about rainbows and butterflies. With that in mind, my bold predictions include some positive outlooks for a pair of post-hype sleepers, some young hurlers, a sophomore everyone is in love with and a veteran second baseman. However, they also feature some less than rosy prognostications for a speedy second baseman, a late-blooming multi-position eligible Pirate and a pitcher trading homer-friendly Great American Ballpark for the homer-suppressing Marlins Park.

1- Travis Snider hits 30 homers.

This one is pretty straight forward. Only 11 hitters reached or exceed the 30 homer plateau in 2014, so this would be quite the accomplishment for Travis Snider this season. The small sample size caveat applies for the following, but in 188 plate appearances in the second half of 2014 he ripped nine homers and tallied a tidy 17.6% K. His contact gains should help him fully showcase his plus raw power which translated in the ninth highest home run and fyball average distance, per Baseball Heat Maps. His upgrade in home parks should help him in his quest to reach or exceed 30 taters, too.

2- Dee Gordon ranks outside the top 12 second basemen.

Dee Gordon broke out last season stealing 64 bases and scoring 92 runs with a .289 batting average. His follow up doesn’t project to be as helpful for fantasy owners. Gordon tallied a ghastly 4.8% BB and walked in an almost unbelievable four of 258 plate appearances in the second half. As the saying goes, you can’t steal first base. A lack of patience at the plate puts a ton of pressure on the speedster to hit for a high average. It took a sky high .346 BABIP to fuel his .289 average, and some regression closer to his career .326 BABIP would be damaging to his stolen base potential.

3- Mookie Betts is a top 5 second baseman and top 20 outfielder.

Forget Mookie Betts’ spring training numbers for the moment — for reasons other than having helped him take a stranglehold on the center field job that is — and look at what he did when games counted last year. The then 21-year-old player with under 500 plate appearances in the upper minors made a seamless transition to the majors. He features a leadoff hitter profile, and that’s where he’ll be slotted on Opening Day. Betts should be a four category contributor with RBI totals befitting a player leading off. The hype surrounding Betts is justified, and I’m expecting 12-to-15 homers, 100-plus runs, 25-to-30 stolen bases and an average around .300 — give or take five points.

4- Josh Harrison ranks out the top 20 third basemen.

A player in their mid- to late-20s enjoying a career year in homers isn’t unusual. The 13 homers Josh Harrison hit last year were only three fewer than he hit in 1,125 plate appearances split between the majors and minors since 2011, though. He 18 stole bases in 25 attempts (72% success rate), and he’ll be in danger of losing stolen base chances if his success rate wanes. The utility fielder turned full-time third baseman tied his production together with a .315 batting average. He hit a career high percentage of line drives, and he’ll need to repeat that feat if he hopes to maintain a .353 BABIP for another season.

5- Aaron Hill rebounds and ranks inside the top 15 second basemen.

Players at the keystone position are notorious for aging fast, so Aaron Hill’s poor 2014 showing could have been a cliff season. I’m willing to bet on a bounce-back season from the soon-to-be 33-year-old second baseman, though. A .276 BABIP in 2014 belied a career best 24.5% LD. Line drive rate is volatile, but even with regression to his career-best mark he should see a sizable uptick in BABIP this year. His home run total was done in by a dastardly dip in HR/FB rate to 5.8% after consecutive seasons of hovering around or above 10%. Hill should be able to muscle up and drive a few more balls out of the park this year when he hits them in the air.

6- Carlos Carrasco and Jake Arrieta both finish the year as top 10 starting pitchers.

Colleague Brad Johnson has already gushed about Carlos Carrasco when boldly predicting he’d be a top five pitcher. It wouldn’t be very bold of me to piggyback on that selection with a less bold prediction, would it? Instead, I’ll add a twist and name 20% of the top 10 starting pitchers this year. Setting the minimum number of innings pitched in 2014 to 90 for starters and sorting the FIP column reveals Carrasco and Jake Arrieta as the second and third best pitchers, respectively, in that statistic. FIP isn’t the be-all-end-all statistic, but it’s nice starting point for measuring performance. Both can also lay claim to cracking the top 10 in K%. Neither pitcher issued many free passes, and Carrasco ranked sixth in K-BB% while Arrieta checked in at 11th. I’ll let others spend heavily on more established starters to anchor their rotation while I gobble up these two burgeoning SP1s.

7- Mat Latos fails to crack the top 70 starting pitchers.

This is probably the most tepid of my bold predictions, but Mat Latos is a name-brand pitcher who moved from a home run amplifying park to one that suppresses taters. That’s still not enough reason for me to invest in him this year. His average fourseam and sinker velocity was dropped more than 2 mph from 2013 to 2014, per Brooks Baseball. The lack of zip helped result in a career low swinging strike percentage (8.0%) and career low 17.6% K. As Jeff Zimmerman noted earlier in the year, his velocity isn’t likely to go up this year. Pass on him on draft day.

8- Carlos Martinez is a top 50 starting pitcher.

Carlos Martinez made seven starts last year and managed a 3.61 FIP, 23.0% K and 10.8% BB. Not world beater numbers, but the flame thrower’s 12.4% swinging strike rate last year is a jaw dropper. He’ll need to improve his walk rate if he hopes to reach this lofty projection — not to mention stick in the rotation — but I have faith in his bat missing and ground ball inducing (51.1% GB rate as a starter) ways.

9- Danny Salazar strikes out over 200 batters 175 batters.

Danny Salazar failed to make the Indians rotation and was optioned to Triple-A. He was demoted to the minors last year, but he finished the season with a flurry posting a 25.2% K and 2.83 FIP in 69.1 innings during the second half of the season. His upside exceeds that of whoever rounds out the Indians rotation to open the year, and he’ll be back in the rotation early enough to provide great value to drafters willing to stash him. This electric-armed righty managed an 11.0% swinging strike rate last year and has the goods to pile up strikeouts by the boat load.

10- The Indians have five starting pitchers rank within the top 80 starters.

My infatuation for the Indians rotation has reached an alarming level. Corey Kluber, the defending American League Cy Young Award winner, heads the rotation and is followed by two pitchers, Carrasco and Salazar, who I’ve sung the praises of in this piece. Trevor Bauer and T.J. House will make up the fourth and fifth starters who crack the top 80 at season’s end.

Bauer’s stuff made him the number three pick in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft, but his struggles with control have held him back. Last season, his control gains in the minors translated to the majors in the form of a 9.1% BB. He could still afford to pare the walks down a smidge, but his increased velocity and already solid strikeout rate (21.6%) give him some wiggle room with the free passes.

House is a pitcher who is flying under the radar in NFBC drafts, where he’s the 104th starting pitcher selected on average. Eno Sarris highlighted him as a sleeper candidate in a piece he penned back in December. The southpaw coaxed a 60.9% GB in 2014 with a useful 18.7% K and a strong 5.1% BB. The biggest concern with House is a .357 wOBA allowed to right-handed batters. He was, however, death on left-handed batters holding them to a .271 wOBA. The seeds are there for him to blossom into a very good back of the fantasy rotation starter.

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You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.

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From your lips to God’s ears on Carrasco and Arrieta. I drafted both.