Justin Mason’s Bold Predictions for 2017 by Justin Mason March 22, 2017 It is Bold Prediction season here at Fangraphs and I am ready to improve on my 2.5 correct out of 10 from last year. This year I decided to do mine a bit different. I have been vacation and busy preparing for my trip to New York for Tout Wars, where I will be crashing/helping out with the festivities and harassing/getting to meet fellow industry colleagues. So, I decided to focus on players and themes that I felt I have not been able to touch on as much on my podcast or here at Rotographs. 1) Carlos Carrasco will win the AL Cy Young. On my podcast a few weeks ago, I proclaimed that Carrasco would win the AL Cy Young this year. This one may not have qualified as bold enough a few weeks ago, but with recent injury concerns I think this now is. Over the last few seasons, he has shown elite skills and had it not been for some freak injuries over that time period, he may had already been in this discussion. No better time to buy than now, if you can handle the risk. 2) Speed is last year’s Starting Pitching. Coming into 2016, all the industry talked about is how you needed to grab starters early. As an industry we pushed up the ADP on the “elite” starters and subsequently paid for it. Injuries, underperforming players, and natural regression and progression from different parts of the pool led to proving this was an overreaction on the part of fantasy analysts and owners. The industry as a whole is reactionary. So, what are we potentially overreacting about this year? Stolen bases. Yes, we have repeatedly heard about the rise in power and decline in stolen bases over the course of the last few years. What if this isn’t a trend and natural regression on both ends of the spectrum leaves us with a bit less power and a bit more speed? We have teams that placed a premium on speed last year (ie Milwaukee, San Diego, Cincinnati) and teams like Seattle that appear to be doing that this year. Also do not forget that in baseball, just like life, money makes the world go round and in the free agent market this last year power wasn’t rewarded the way we were used too. If you don’t think players noticed that, then you are fooling yourself. Couple that with some young and upcoming speedy youngsters coming up and maybe we have a reversion back to prior years when speed was a bit more plentiful as compared to power. 3) Dansby Swanson is not a top 27 shortstop. Swanson is one of the highest ranked rookie in prospect lists and is widely considered a frontrunner for NL Rookie of the Year. So, why do I hate him for this year? Swanson is going to be a better real life player than fantasy player. He completely skipped AAA and only had 377 plate appearances in AA. LOOK AT THE PROJECTIONS! He is way too good looking. Both steamer and depth charts project him for 13/9 with a sub .260 average. How valuable is that? I know people are excited that he is going to hit atop the Braves lineup, but how long will that last when he struggles? What happens when he gets exposed by big league pitching. Sure, his numbers look good in a short sample last year, but look at the competition he was against in September. His three home runs came off of Gio Gonzalez (inside the park HR), Lucas Giolito (who was awful), and Colton Murray (I’m pretty sure I hit a few home runs off of him in my coed slow-pitch softball league last year.) People are getting confused by the fact he is considered a top prospect as opposed to having a bright fantasy future. Shortstop is deeper than it has been in years and with the depth in the minor leagues, it is only going to get deeper. Swanson is not going to be a FANTASY stud this year or any year. 4) Andrew Toles is the NL ROY. Well, if Swanson is not going to win Rookie of the Year in the National League, who will? Toles has a job for the taking on a great team and while he is at risk at being platooned, I expect him to be given a real opportunity to hit against lefties early on. He has enough power to be shown some respect, but his key attribute is speed. I wish he walked a bit more, but considering he doesn’t strike out much, you take what you can get. If he can find his way a bit higher in the lineup, we are looking at a real sleeper in fantasy. 5) Bradley Zimmer is the AL ROY. This is a throwback to last year when I was the only person talking about Zimmer. I know that Andrew Benintendi is the front-runner, but Zimmer has a ton of upside that Benintendi does not. I know people point to his numbers in AAA slipping after crushing in AA. What people don’t realize is he was hurt shortly after his promotion. He appears completely healthy in Spring Training and is second on the team in at bats. I try not to get too excited by Spring numbers, but he is hitting .354/.404/.646 with three home runs and 4 stolen bases. The number to be excited about is the 21% strikeout rate. He is already the best outfield defender in the organization. When he comes up he could go 20/30. It is all a matter of when not if. Zimmer is a stud worth acquiring now. 6) Cory Spangenburg and Raul Mondesi Jr. will steal a combined 30+ bases. I was a big buyer on Spangenburg last year as a sleeper, but he lost most of the season to a leg injury. In the meantime, Ryan Schimpf has emerged out of nowhere to take the second base job. Spangenburg will begin the year as the Padres Swiss Army knife, but I believe that Schimpf will return from whence he came and I believe that Spangenburg will be the main beneficiary of that and any major injury in the infield or outfield. He could steal 20-30 bases if given the opportunity considering how much San Diego is running these days. Mondesi is a guy that I am jumping on late. He is tearing the cover off the ball in Spring Training while fighting for the Royals second base job. While he could probably use a bit more time in the minors, I think he is getting the job and if he does, I think 20-30 stolen bases is easily attainable. Neither of these guys will steal 30 on their own so I will need both to contribute, but I think it is attainable given their skill sets. 7) Eric Thames is more the old than the new. I know the projection systems love him, but I am not buying this. The KBO is generally considered to be on par with the talent level of like AA. I would be concerned if he wasn’t crushing it there. Is he a Major League player? Sure, but is he going to be a good one? I doubt it. The park and team help, but he is still striking out 30% of the time in Spring Training, which is not encouraging. I may be real off base here, but he is going to have to prove me wrong in order for me to be a believer. 8) Orlando Arcia is more valuable than Aledmys Diaz. You like bold? I got you. Last year, everyone was stashing Arcia as a high upside rookie that could come up and be a difference maker for the second half with his speed. I was not a believer then, but not because of his talent. I just didn’t think the Brewers would start his clock so early. I was wrong. The Brewers were not only willing to bring him up, but they believe in him and his future so much they have completely moved 2016 breakout Jonathan Villar off of the position to give Arcia full time plate appearances. Arcia could easily steal 25-30 bases on a Brewers team that lead the Majors in stolen bases by 42 bases over the next highest stealing team. Diaz came out of nowhere to and really surprised. He hit 17 home runs with a .300 average. I just don’t buy it. Cardinal Devil Magic be damned! His .312 BABIP smells like it is primed for regression and I think that pitcher will approach him differently this year and not give him as much to pull. With the depth within the infield in St. Louis, he could find himself on the bench if he struggles offensively or defensively. 9) At least three of the following pitchers going outside the top 90 finish as top 45 starters: Michael Wacha, Luis Severino, Wei-Yin Chen, Brett Anderson, and Tyler Skaggs. Ok, here is a little bit of a volume play. Now that Wacha is in the rotation, I am willing to buy him as a rebound guy. We have seen the skills to be a very good starter and while the results in Spring don’t look great, I like the fact he has over twice the number of strikeouts as he does walks. Severino is another post-hype sleeper that I am buying back in again on. Last year was a complete disaster, but he looks like the guy that dominated the Minors this Spring. He has 11/5 K/BB ratio and has only given up one home run so far. He still needs to improve his third pitch, but so far the results are there and he looks nasty. Is it possible that Chen is actually as bad as he showed last year? I think a lot of his struggle were due to injury and we should see a bounceback to the previous output. Can Brett Anderson and Tyler Skaggs stay healthy enough to be productive for fantasy owners? If they can they have both shown the ability to be great. 10) At least one Minnesota starting pitcher not named Ervin Santana will be a top 50 starter. I’m looking at you Kyle Gibson and Jose Berrios. Gibson has been a Spring standout after reworking his delivery this offseason. I have perennially bought in on Gibson and this is my final year doing so. I know many people have jumped off of this sinking ship, but I’ll chill with the band for a bit longer. I am now realizing that this whole list is filled with post-hype guys…Oh well… I am buying back into Berrios again. The talent is still there, but he needed some mechanical readjustments after it was realized he was tipping pitches during his first Major League stint. He will still struggle with walks, but there is reason to be hopeful that he can establish the promise that was had for him prior to last year’s missteps. Bonus: I will get someone drunk enough at Tout Wars that they miss their draft and I have to step in for them. From what I understand, that shouldn’t be too hard. If you are interested in following what I will be doing at Tout Wars please like the Tout Wars Facebook page here. I, along with other members of my website and podcast, will be doing Facebook live videos during each auction this weekend and providing interactive analysis on the auctions as they go as well as covering other aspects of the event on social media.