Paul Sporer’s Bold Predictions for 2021

It’s Bold Prediction season! The goal here isn’t to nail 100% of these, they just don’t have a high enough probability to expect such a success rate, but rather to come up with predictions that could happen to highlight some potential breakouts and statistical surges. I know some people do downside bold predictions, but I’m especially bad at those. Let me know your Bold Predictions in the comments. Again, make sure they are actually bold – something a player has never done or a fall off that no one is seeing coming, except you.

Opening Day is so close now!

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Goes .300-35-100

He only has three small samples in his three MLB seasons (263, 343, and 224 PA), but he has improved his wRC+ each year – 103, 124, and 135 – and I see him poised for a full season breakout. Maybe this isn’t bold enough given that he has averaged .287-33-93 per 650 PA. He still needs to overperform that mark and put up over 600 PA so I think it still qualifies as bold, especially since his high in games played is 84.

Mark Canha is a Top 25 Fantasy Outfielder

Have you seen what Canha has been up to the last three seasons? He has hit .259/.370/.470 in 1151 PA with a 22% K rate and 12% BB rate. He only played a whole season last year (59 of 60 games) after 122 and 126 in 2018-19, respectively. By rate, he has been a premium OF option and now it’s time to match it with volume. He will be leading off and should play enough against righties to push toward 600+ PA en route to a Top 25 OF season. I think he will deliver a season similar to Eddie Rosario’s 2019 (which ranked 18th among OF): .276/.300/.500, 32 HR, 109 RBI, and 91 R with a much better OBP and a handful of SBs (6-8).

Tommy Edman Leads the NL in Stolen Bases

Edman is a premium speedster who opened his career 15-for-16 in 2019, but then went just 2-for-6 in 2020. I took a closer look at the 4 CS and didn’t find anything that led me to believe he won’t be back in 2021 burning up the basepaths. He is a career .337 OBP and sits atop the Cardinals lineup so there will be tons of opportunities and if they turn him loose, he can push 40+ SBs and nab the NL crown.

Austin Riley Hits 40 HRs

This definitely requires a significant step forward and major breakout, but the raw power is definitely there. He posted a .245 ISO in his 80-game debut in 2019, but then dipped to .176 in 51 games last year. He will need to boost his 30 HR per 600 PA pace and do well enough to log at least 600 PA. I think he has the power to overcome the deadened ball and deliver a Solerian-type surge this year.

Tyler O’Neill Goes 30 HR / 15 SB

A lot of Cards love here in this year’s Bold Predictions! O’Neill has major work to do if he is going to come close to this prediction as his swing-and-miss has held him back thus far. He has just 450 PA over the last three years, managing a mere 91 wRC+ due in large part to the 34% K rate. He has 21 HR and 6 SB in that time, flashing his raw skills, but he needs to play the best baseball of his career to deliver here.

I am definitely asking a lot of O’Neill and while he did have a .938 OPS with 2 HR and 3 SB in spring, it still came with a 28% K rate. Recent comps he could emulate here are Steven Souza Jr. and Domingo Santana, both from 2017. Souza Jr. fanned 29% of the time, but walked 14% and hit .239/.351/.459 with 30 HR/16 SB in 617 PA. Santana also struck out at a 29% clip and walked 12%, posting a .278/.371/.505 line and reaching exactly 30 HR and 15 SB in 607 PA.

Vidal Bruján Comes Up Ahead of Wander Franco; Nabs 15 SB

I’m stepping out here for one of my favorite prospects who isn’t getting enough attention. This is his age-23 season, he has spent time at Double-A and the Arizona Fall League (often viewed as a finishing school for prospects) and can play all around the infield. I know we are all insanely excited about Franco and with good reason, but I just don’t see Tampa Bay giving the 20-year old uber prospect a huge role in 2021. Brujan should be up by the summer barring major struggles at Triple-A and if he finds 250-300 PA, he can be a nice SB booster to the teams that pick him up off the wire. He stole 25 bases per 300 PA in the minors.

Pablo López Logs 200 Strikeouts

Watching Lopez develop over the last three seasons has been fun. In fact, the Marlins rotation as a whole has really become one of the more exciting ones in the league. Lopez could ascend to the team’s ace and do so as quickly as this year. Over his 227 major league innings, he has a 4.47 ERA and 1.23 WHIP with solid-but-unspectacular 21% K and 14% K-BB rates.

But his strikeout rate has jumped yearly, and his swinging strike rate made a nice jump in 2020, up to a career-best 12%. The changeup is the gem of his arsenal and his 94-97 mph fastball gets a ton of whiffs, too, with a 16% swinging strike rate (avg. is 11%) that slotted 6th among 102 starters with at least 200 fastballs thrown. He might only get 170-175 IP this year, but that doesn’t deter me from this prediction.

Jose Urquidy is a Top 15 Starter

I have made my fandom of Urquidy known throughout the offseason. He had a weird COVID season that limited him to just 29.7 innings. The results were fine, but the skills were uneven, including a 15% K rate. He started to find his swing-and-miss groove in the playoffs with 12 strikeouts in 15.7 innings. That’s still not a huge rate, but he had a 12% swinging strike rate which is quite good.

I just see a ton of upside here with plus command and control of a four-pitch mix that showed how good it can be in 2019 when he had a 27% K-BB rate in 103 IP across Double- and Triple-A. The key to making this prediction come true is keeping the ball in the park. The WHIP, strikeouts, and wins will be there and if he posts a sub-1.0 HR/9, the ERA will be, too, and Urquidy will be perhaps the best breakout arm of 2021.

Héctor Neris Leads the NL in Saves

OK this is why I should’ve finished my Bold Predictions yesterday because Neris didn’t have the closer’s role yet and it would’ve been a bolder call. That said, I think it still qualifies easily. Many are viewing Archie Bradley and Jose Alvarado as fierce competition and while they are both capable, I see Neris as clearly the best reliever they have. He has 70 saves over the last four seasons, 14th-most in the league, with a 31% K rate. I see him holding the job all year and notching a 40+ SV season, good to top the NL.

Jonathan Loaisiga is Fantasy Relevant as a Stud Middle Reliever

Johnny Lasagna has flashed premium skills throughout his 79 innings spread across the last three seasons including a 27% K rate and 13% swinging strike rate. He has a 97-mph fastball that he uses 60% of the time. He has a pair of secondary offerings – an 84-mph curveball and 89-mph changeup –both of which have shown plus upside for stretches at a time over the course ofhis career. A strong spring earned him a bullpen role and he could be a prominent swingman for the Yankees pushing toward 100 innings and getting enough strikeouts and low enough ratios to be a mixed league viable arm.

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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1 year ago

I really enjoy the Bold Predictions series and reading your work, Paul. While I recognize how busy everyone at FG is during March, I might suggest this series get published a few weeks earlier so that readers / subscribers have a chance to see this info before their drafts are already done. There is still value to reading it now, of course, so thank you irregardless.

1 year ago
Reply to  lesmash

If the Bold Predictions series was published a few weeks earlier, they wouldn’t be able to take into account any interesting developments during Spring training. While much of the stats are junk, some aren’t.

1 year ago
Reply to  lesmash

Agreed. I like to take a chance with some of the predictions during my drafts. The lateness of them makes it irrelevant.