Justin Vibber’s 10 Bold Predictions for 2018

After batting .100 in my first attempt at bold predictions here on RotoGraphs, and .200 in my second go around, I’m back for a third season with .300 as my goal. Anyone can hit .300 hitting softballs, so let’s make sure these predictions are bringing the heat, shall we?

1) Willson Contreras finishes as the #1 catcher in all formats

A biased pick based on my Cub fandom, but I am calling for the young backstop to beat out Gary Sanchez and Buster Posey. Part of that is my belief in his hitting (.362 career wOBA in just 711 PA), and in Joe Maddon’s ability to find creative ways to keep his bat in the lineup (25 starts between LF and 1B the past two seasons). Contreras has a small advantage in 5×5 by virtue of his speed (projected for 6 SB per DepthCharts projections).

2) Greg Bird hits 35+ HR, and finishes as a top six first basemen in ottoneu points leagues

No, your memory isn’t deceiving you, I made (almost) this exact same prediction last year, but Bird never really got off the ground in 2017 due to injury issues. I’m taking a mulligan on the prediction, and it may be even more bold this year given how far removed we are from Bird providing above average offense at the major league level (137 wRC+ in his cup of coffee to end the 2016 season). I thought about expanding this prediction to cover all formats, but I don’t think Bird will be an asset in batting average and he definitely won’t be in stolen bases. All told, I’m predicting that Bird will finally have a healthy season and show the potential he’s teased in the past.

3) Robinson Cano finishes outside the top 15 second basemen in all formats

I don’t like making negative predictions, but in this case I wanted to highlight a player where I’ve seen a big disconnect between my ranking and the consensus. Cano was the eighth highest drafted 2B in the Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational (a collection of 13 15-team 5×5 leagues engineered by Justin Mason), and has been the seventh highest paid 2B in first year ottoneu FanGraphs points leagues, but I think there’s a very real chance he doesn’t come close to earning back that draft capital. Cano is now at an age (35) where skills and physical performance can deteriorate quickly, and two of his last three seasons have looked decidedly average. The last time I made a negative bold prediction about an aging Mariner (Nelson Cruz ’16) it blew up in my face, but I’m getting right back on the horse.

4) Corey Seager puts his elbow woes behind him and finishes as the #1 shortstop in ottoneu points leagues

It’s Corey Seager, and not Carlos Correa, who will prove to be the best of this magnificent group of young stud SS. That’s the hill I’m choosing to die on with this prediction. I love Carlos Correa right along with the rest of you, but while Correa broke out in a big way in 2017 I feel like the breakout is still coming for Seager. This prediction likely relies on Seager making significant gains in his power and improving his contact rate, and I’m confident he can do that.

5) Nick Castellanos validates the Statcast data and finishes as a top five third baseman in all formats

Castellanos has been very good the past two seasons (.350 wOBA in ’16 and .341 wOBA in ’17), but his batted ball profile suggests he should have been even better (.360 xOBA in ’16 per xStats.org, .362 xOBA in ’17). He’s also been tearing the cover off the ball this spring, with five HR in 51 PA. Castellanos is still just 26 years old, and I think fantasy baseball players are sleeping on how much upside he still provides.

6) Rhys Hoskins proves the doubters wrong and finishes as a top six outfielder in all formats

Some may wonder where Hoskins was hiding after his electric performance after his call up to the Phillies last year (.417 wOBA in 212 PA), but maybe he’s been here the whole time? It’s not like his performance in MLB was uncharacteristic for him, as he’s put up a .410+ wOBA at every stop of the minor leagues beyond his first partial season in low A. His plate discipline is elite, he hits the ball hard, and he makes good contact. The only negative I can see in his profile is his low BABIP, which limits his batting average upside in 5×5, but if he hits 40 HR with 90 R and 110 RBI a .260 batting average is just fine.

7) Eloy Jimenez, not Ronald Acuna, will be the best rookie hitter in ottoneu points leagues in 2018

Don’t get me wrong, I think Acuna is going to be a stud, but this prediction is effectively an arbitrage play. Acuna has been going for $15.5 in first year FGPts auctions, and Jimenez has an average price of $8.7. Acuna is projected for a .331 wOBA on the Depth Charts projections (Steamer/ZiPS), and Eloy is projected for a .330 wOBA. It seems to me the price difference is due to hype (Acuna is a fantastic prospect, but is he really worth paying as much as Nomar Mazara or Domingo Santana?) and ETA (Acuna should be up in April, but I don’t think Jimenez is too far behind). This prediction will look silly if Eloy is held down by the White Sox until mid-summer, but I have a feeling he’ll be launching bombs on the south side in short order.

8) Luiz Gohara becomes the ace of a young Braves rotation and finishes as a top 20 starting pitcher in FanGraphs points leagues

When I released the early version of the ’18 ottoneu Surplus Calculator, one dollar value that jumped out was Gohara ($17 using Steamer only), and it was hard not to take notice. Gohara was a pitcher I snapped up in as many leagues as I could last September based on a rosy rest of season Steamer projection, and he’s now become a popular sleeper for 2018. He’ll be on the disabled list to start the season after tweaking his ankle in the spring which pushed back his throwing schedule, so there’s some extra boldness to this prediction given that he’ll likely miss the month of April.

9) Joe Musgrove takes a big step forward and will be a top 50 starting pitcher in all formats

Musgrove was traded to the Pirates in the Gerrit Cole deal, and now has the benefit of pitching under the tutelage of Ray Searage in the National League. Musgrove was a classic case of a pitching prospect with excellent results and very little scouting buzz, but he’s not the usual soft tosser with that profile (92.9 mph average fastball in ’17), so his excellent command is backed up with underrated stuff. Musgrove has been prone to making mistake pitches and the resultant home runs allowed, but making any gains at all there will pay huge dividends.

10) A.J. Minter finishes as a top 10 reliever in all formats

I’m very much a skills over role proponent when it comes to filling out my fantasy bullpens, and there’s no pitcher with as much skill as Minter that’s not currently a closer. Equipped with a classic fastball/slider combo, Minter made mincemeat of the National League last year (15.6 K/9, 1.63 xFIP, albeit in just 15 IP), and while Aroldys Vizcaino is currently the Braves closer I expect that Minter would excel if he pushes his way into the role (or Vizcaino falters).

11) Ronald Torreyes wins AL MVP

We hoped you liked reading Justin Vibber’s 10 Bold Predictions for 2018 by Justin Vibber!

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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.

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Wow, Minter pitched at 5 levels last year – A ball all the way to the majors. Can’t be many guys that ever play at 5 levels in 1 season. . . .