Last year was my first attempt at bold predictions, and it didn’t go very well. I was happy about a couple of my calls (namely Hendricks and Story) but overall I was undone by injuries and some bone-headed hot takes. I’m not sure this year will be any different, but let’s see what my crystal ball shows for 2017:
1) Kyle Schwarber will finish as the #1 catcher in all formats
I know what you’re thinking- how predictable that a Cubs fan is making this prediction, and all I have to say is guilty as charged. This prediction is predicated on the expectation that Schwarber gains catcher eligibility in all formats early in the season, which I think is very feasible. Schwarber almost certainly will need to shed the tools of ignorance sooner rather than later, but for this season I expect him to play enough behind the dish to have eligibility there for 2/3 of the season. In addition, Kyle is currently slated to lead off for the Cubs, and those extra plate appearances per game will be a significant advantage for his counting stats in roto, and his Pts/G in ottoneu points leagues.
2) Greg Bird hits 30+ HR, and finishes as a top six first baseman in points leagues
I believe Bird will prove that both his cup of coffee in ’15 (.372 wOBA) and his hot spring (6 HR in 44 AB) are no fluke, and that he’s fully healthy after his shoulder surgery. I know it’s risky to count on any player with shoulder troubles (spoiler alert- Bird won’t be the last such player I highlight), but bold predictions are all about risk, right? The Yankees young slugger has already been named the opening day 1B, and with Chris Carter struggling to hit anything right now, he may be in line for more playing time than most expected. I have little doubt about Bird’s talent, so I think only another injury setback will prevent his fantasy owners from turning a profit.
3) Derek Dietrich finishes as a top twelve second baseman in points leagues
The time is now for the 27 year old Marlins utility man, as Martin Prado begins the season on the DL with a hamstring strain. That leaves Dietrich as the favorite to start at 3B on opening day, and given his 2B/3B/OF eligibility and .340+ woBA over the past two seasons he’s a player I’ve tried to own everywhere. There’s still a chance he shifts back to part time work once Prado is healthy, but I’m banking on Dietrich filling in all over the field again this year.
4) Tim Beckham is fantasy relevant in all formats
Beckham is another player likely to receive a short term boost in playing time due to an injured teammate, this time at the expense of Matt Duffy. The former top prospect is expected to be the Rays primary SS as Duffy is slow to recover from heel surgery. Beckham is still just 27 years old, and could be worth a modest gamble as a post post-hype sleeper, as he is having a really strong spring training (.308/.400/.538 triple slash). The talent has always been lurking, so maybe it just took some time to distill, and the opportunity is there now as well.
5) Justin Turner has a career year and finishes as a top three third baseman in all formats
Yes, this means one of Arenado/Donaldson/Bryant will finish below Turner this year, which is the biggest reason this prediction might be bold. Turner just put up the best WAR of his career last year for the Dodgers, and was rewarded with a $64M contract. Turner is 32, so he’s beyond typical peak age, but I’m taking a stab that he has one more stellar offensive season in him before he declines.
This prediction is less about Stanton, and more about Benintendi, who I am all-in on as a fantasy owner this year (and beyond!). It’s clear that Stanton holds a HR/RBI advantage, but I think Runs are likely to be a push as Benintendi is expected to hit near the top of the potent Red Sox lineup, and Benintendi should also have a better AVG and SB totals than the Marlins slugger. Benintendi offers great plate discipline (walking more than he struck out during his climb through the Red Sox minor league system), power potential (his doubles power helps him more in points leagues than 5×5 for the short term), and underrated speed (16 triples/26 stolen bases in 657 minor league PA).
7) Michael Brantley shrugs off his shoulder issues and finishes as a top 25 outfielder in all formats
That’s right, I didn’t learn my lesson last year after my predictions were undermined by injuries, so I’m doubling down this year. It would be crazy to suggest that Brantley isn’t an enormous risk this season, especially after some chatter that he might not ever be the same and this could be Grady Sizemore redux, but Brantley was a top 10 OF in ’14 and ’15. Brantley only had 43 PA for the Indians last year, and he’s probably going to miss the first couple weeks of the season, but if he proves he’s healthy I think he could be an enormous fantasy value.
Clayton Kershaw who? The Dodgers ace is obviously the best bet of any pitcher in baseball to finish #1, but we’re not looking for solid wagers we’re looking for BOLD PREDICTIONS. There’s a very good chance the commenters will tell me I’m not being bold enough, but I think it is given I’m betting against Kershaw plus the field.
9) Aaron Sanchez validates his projections and finishes outside the top 75 starting pitchers in all formats
This is the prediction most likely to blow up in my face, and also the one most likely to generate disagreement from readers. I know the arguments regarding Sanchez and his ability to outperform his projections (and peripherals), and I’m sympathetic to them, but this is me planting a flag in the ground in defense of the projections. Sanchez has been paid in ottoneu auctions as a top 25 SP, so even if I miss on this bold call there’s still a good chance fantasy owners will be disappointed.
10) Alex Wood avoids the bullpen and finishes as a top 50 starting pitcher in all formats
Great team setup to win games? Check. Good ballpark to pitch in? Check. Talent? Check (3.40 FIP/3.56 xFIP in his career as a starter). All Wood needs is health and opportunity, and with reports that he will make the Dodgers out of spring training health might be his only obstacle. It’s not an insignificant one, and the Dodgers are loaded with other pitchers that may force him back to the bullpen, but my money is on Wood being a key contributor this year.
BONUS PREDICTION- at least half of my bold predictions from 2016 will come true in 2017
Justin is a life long Cubs fan who has been playing fantasy baseball for 20+ years, and an ottoneu addict since 2012. Follow him on Twitter @justinvibber.