One of us happens to live hard by a Goodwill Super Store, and he occasionally drops in just to see what people are giving away. All right, he sometimes buys stuff too, but it’s nice stuff, and the price is right. And we like to think of ourselves as the Goodwill Store of Fantasy Baseball, setting out a rack of bargains for you while others urge you to pay full price for name brands.
Hence our annual feature: not the humdrum Ten Bold Predictions you might find elsewhere, though of course never on Rotographs. Rather they are the outre, gauche, and louche Ten Bold Predictions in which we specialize. This year, we’ve tried to concentrate on players that you might take, either for a dollar or in the reserve rounds, in even a relatively shallow draft—say the 30-player NFBC Main Event. But we wouldn’t be the Birchwood Brothers if we didn’t offer at least one Ouija Board longshot, and since we are in fact the Birchwood Brothers, we did. And, as always, we add an eleventh Bold Prediction, about a guy who’ll cost considerably more than a dollar.
Blake Swihart. As we noted earlier this pre-season, Swihart, who’s a switch hitter, destroys right-handed pitching. He’s been doing the same to left-handed pitching this spring, although it’s never happened before. The Red Sox have been using him at several different positions. One of two things is going to happen to Swihart, either of them good. The Red Sox say they’re going to keep only two catchers, one of whom is Christian Vazquez. If Swihart’s the other, he should get 200 at bats, mostly against right-handed pitching, even if he does nothing but catch. He could wind up getting a lot more if, as we think, it’s time to roll the credits on Mitch Moreland’s career, and Swihart replaces him as the strong side of a first-base platoon. If the Sox keep Sandy Leon instead of Swihart, they will have to trade Swihart or else waive him. Either way, he will wind up with a team that should show him some love.
CC Sabathia. Here’s where age comes in handy. Not Sabathia’s—ours. A number of the men of our acquaintance (though not us) have had the same angioplasty-with-stents heart surgery that Sabathia had, and the only reason they aren’t able to throw 92 MPH now is that they couldn’t do it before the surgery either. In other words, we expect Sabathia, who’s well along on his comeback and who was already looking like one of those guys who could go on forever, to come back all the way and go on as planned for one more season before he retires, throwing perhaps 150 innings with creditable ERA and WHIP, plus a bunch of wins.
Chad Pinder. Even before spring training, we viewed Pinder as one of the ones. He showed significant improvement last season, making better contact, walking more, and striking out less. The problem, of course, is that he figured to play only against left-handed pitching. But Pinder has plenty of power against righties as well (19 HR in 383 career AB against them), and now here he is demolishing them in spring training (.364/.417/.727 IN 24 PAs). We envision him taking over from projected platoonmate Mark Canha and becoming the A’s full-time left fielder by the end of April.
Avisail Garcia. It seems to us that the market is outsmarting itself on him. Through 2016, Garcia’s career slash line was .258/.310/.384. Then, he won the 2017 Larry Sheets Award for Most Anomalous Season by going .330/.380/.506 and finishing 10th in the AL in wRC+. But of course we jaded denizens of Fantasy World weren’t fooled, and the market on him last season was—correctly, as it developed– quite tepid. But we note that Garcia’s entire 2018 was compromised by knee and hamstring injuries, and that he still hit 19 home runs in 356 at bats. Now he’s healthy, with Tampa Bay, having a fine spring, and penciled in as their DH. He could wind up as merely the weak side of a platoon, it’s true. But it seems to us that a guy who can do what he did at 25 in 2017 has a non-trivial shot at doing it again at 27 in 2019. We would and did pay a buck to find out.
Austin Hays. Yes, he got sent to the minors, and the Orioles—who aren’t going to contend for anything except possibly the Worst Team Ever title—may be content to leave him there as they rebuild. But Hays seems to us to be something so special that it will be impossible to keep him down on the farm—not when your starting outfield includes Joey Rickard, Trey Mancini (a fine hitter but the worst left fielder this side of Rhys Hoskins), and Cedric Mullins (whom we regard as no better a hitter than he appeared to be last year), and your full-time DH is Mark Trumbo, whose arthritis isn’t going to improve with age. Hays plays a creditable center field, and while he has a platoon split, all it means is that he hits righties well and visits devastation upon lefties. If he gets 400 at bats, half of them in Baltimore, he could hit .280 with 20-plus home runs. We’d be happy to keep him on our reserve roster, even in a relatively shallow league, while we’re waiting.
Ji-Man Choi. This one seems almost too easy. True, he can’t hit left-handers at all—a problem that the Rays have ingeniously managed to circumvent by playing him only against right-handers. But there is absolutely no reason to think that he can’t repeat last season’s .263/.357/.505 in the 350 or 400 plate appearances he’ll get. The objection to him seems to be that he qualifies only at DH. But the news from Florida is interesting. Choi has impressed with his glove at first base this spring, and unless Kevin Cash is blowing smoke, the Rays’ infield against right-handers will be Choi/Lowe/Adames/Wendle. So either keep him on your reserve roster until he qualifies at 1B or grit your teeth, plug him in at UT, and move him around once he does.
Pablo Lopez. Let’s try a thought experiment. Imagine that the Dodgers and the Marlins swap starting rotations. People would then be delirious with joy if they could get any of Lopez, Jose Urena, Trevor Richards, or Caleb Smith for a dollar or two. Why, then, aren’t we paying at least a dollar for at least one of them? And Lopez strikes us as the best of the four, though it’s close between him and Richards. We concede that unlike Richards he won’t get a lot of strikeouts, though he won’t destroy you in that category either. And playing with the Marlins, he won’t get a lot of wins. But if he’s the pitcher he looked like in the minors, for much of the time in the majors last season, and this spring so far, he’ll get you the other stuff. He’s playing in a great pitcher’s park that suppresses home runs, and he’s an extreme ground ball pitcher on a team whose infield is actually pretty good. You really can’t use him as your SP5 or 6?
Brian McCann. People moan about how weak catchers as a group are, but nobody took him in the Tout Wars Mixed Auction, and in the LABR NL Auction he went for only three dollars. So let’s make some assumptions and do some math. McCann was doing fine with the Astros last season until mid-May, when his right knee acted up, as it is prone to, and he entered a 1-for-26 stretch that culminated in surgery. He came back at the start of September and did fine again. He’s apparently healthy now, and will be the strong side of a platoon in Atlanta. So let’s take his stats against right-handers through May 15th and during September, combine them, and prorate them to 275 plate appearances, which is midway between what ATC and BAT project him to get. Then let’s downgrade them a bit lest our enthusiasm get the better of us. We come up with a .250 BA, about 10 home runs, 30 runs, and 30 RBIs, which is approximately what people are projecting for Francisco Mejia, who cost $6 in LABR NL and $2 in Tout Wars Mixed. We’d certainly take McCann for $1 before we’d take (as the Touts did) Jonathan Lucroy, Chance Sisco, or Carson Kelly.
Touki Toussaint. Why on earth is he going so cheaply? Even in NFBC 15-team drafts conducted this week, his ADP is 311, which means he should be available for a dollar or two. He’s a former first-rounder; he was arguably the best starting pitcher in the high minors last season; he strikes out ten guys per nine; he did ok in his five MLB starts last season; though walks have always been his weakness, he’s been very stingy with them this spring (2 in 14 innings); he plays for a good team, so wins should be forthcoming; and the Braves rotation is spending more time in the infirmary than on the mound, so Toussaint should start as long as he doesn’t go down himself.
Tanner Anderson. We agree with the A’s on this one: Pittsburgh blew it by putting him in the bullpen, even though his stats there are better. He’s got classic starter stuff: three plus pitches and a usually serviceable fastball. His sinker enables him to get ground balls in great profusion. He’s never been a prime prospect, mostly because he doesn’t miss bats or throw hard. But take a look at his spring record: 9 innings, no walks, 11 strikeouts before being consigned to the minors. As we all know, there are often vacancies in the A’s starting rotation–with Jesus Luzardo down, there seems to be one right now–so he could be up soon. Isn’t it worth a deep-league pick to find out if those spring numbers are real?
The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.