This is my second year posting predictions at The Dynasty Guru, and this time I approach the task with even more dread than a year ago. Internet baseball predictions have a way of biting their creator in the ass more often than not, and that’s a fate I was fully willing to accept last season.
Then a funny thing happened: most of my 2013 predictions were correct. Sure, I had some real clunkers – feel free to skim over anything I wrote about Jesus Montero – but I went seven-for-11 in predictions last season, which is about five predictions better than I thought I’d do. Yes, that was a humblebrag on a fantasy baseball website. Get over it.
All this means, of course, that I’m destined to put up an oh-for this year, but such is life. Here goes nothing:
1. The former first-round starting pitcher with the most fantasy value this year won’t be Archie Bradley, Mark Appel or Kyle Zimmer: it will be Trevor Bauer, who will reclaim his rotation spot right out of Spring Training. Bauer may not be the dominant ace-level starter some projected out of college, but he’ll post a K/9 of 8.00 and an ERA south of 4.00 on his way toward becoming a mid-rotation starter for a long time. It’ll be a big victory for the Indians, who badly need rotation stability in the wake of losing Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez this offseason.
2. The big-name Cubs prospect with the most fantasy value this year won’t be Javier Baez, Kris Bryant or C.J. Edwards: it will be Mike Olt, who will be starting at third and batting near the middle of the Cubs order by mid-May. Olt has real issues with pitch recognition but he has the ability to hit at least .250 and his power/defense combination should be attractive asset for a club badly in need of MLB starters. Olt has a limited window with which to make an impression thanks to the likes of Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Carlos Villanueva, but he should get a fair chance in 2014.
3. Travis d’Arnaud will not finish the year as a top-20 fantasy catcher, as he’ll once again miss time due to injury and will have trouble adjusting to the league after a hot start, too. Catchers generally take a longer time to develop offensively than do players at other positions, and d’Arnaud’s aggressive approach is going to lead to a higher strikeout rate than his MiLB numbers portend. Mets fans will be pleased with d’Arnaud’s defense and he’ll show some glimmers of being able to hit fifth on a good MLB team, but overall we’re looking at a .255/.305/.375 line with nine homers in 380 PA. The good news is this will prepare d’Arnaud for a much better 2015 campaign, when he’ll be a big part of the first competitive Mets team we’ve seen in quite a while.
4. Xander Bogaerts will not disappoint in his rookie season, as he’ll deliver a .270/.330/.425 batting line in 570 PA, cementing himself firmly as a top-7 fantasy shortstop with plenty of R and RBI. Batting second for the Red Sox by June, Bogaerts will have a few up-and-down weeks where he becomes a bit too aggressive at the plate, but his defense will prove to be more than palatable and his discerning eye will lead to a high OBP. We’re going to get glimpses of the massive power to come, with Bogaerts hitting “just” 16 homers this season but with many of those homers flying well in excess of 400 feet. Bogaerts, Masahiro Tanaka and Yordano Ventura will all vie for the AL ROY award, but Bogaerts’ status as an every day player will give him the slight edge. I will not yet have to retire from writing about baseball.
5. Gregory Polanco will have a better fantasy season than George Springer. Though neither player will be called up until June, Springer will struggle from the get-go, hitting his fair share of homers and swiping a few bases but striking out too much to make a real difference this season. A strong August and September give us a glimpse of a more positive future, but those who’ve been reaching for Springer in redraft leagues will be sorely disappointed. Polanco, meanwhile, will come up and display his five-tool potential right away. He’ll have his ups-and-downs and his fair share of strikeouts too, but he’ll finish with 12 homers, 10 steals and a .265 average with plenty or runs scored.
6. And speaking of Pirates prospects, Jameson Taillon will have a better fantasy season than Noah Syndergaard. Everyone expects “Thor” to complete the Matt Harvey/Zack Wheeler legacy by coming up in July and pitching quite well in the majors. That’s a future that seems perfectly reasonable to me, but I bet Taillon gets the call earlier in the summer for a competitive Pirates team and that he takes the job and runs with it. Taillon profiles more as a No. 2/3 starter rather than the ace the Pirates thought they might get when they drafted him second overall in 2010, but he’s still slated to be a huge part of the future in Pittsburgh for a very long time. Look for Taillon to get 15 starts, throw 100 innings and notch seven wins and 85 strikeouts this year.
7. This is the year that Madison Bumgarner really blows up, posting a sub-2.75 ERA, 17 wins and 200 strikeouts en route to finishing second in NL Cy Young voting to Clayton Kershaw. Bumgarner is entering his age-24 season and will combine his strikeout rate from 2013 with the excellent command he showed in 2011 and 2012. That step forward, coupled with his favorable home ballpark and a decent supporting cast, gives Bumgarner everything he needs to truly excel this year. Even with a bounce back campaign from Matt Cain, Bumgarner will prove that he is the best starter on the Giants staff.
8. For the second year in a row, I’m going to forecast an MVP-type season from Eric Hosmer, who won’t touch Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera but will finish a distant third in AL MVP voting. Despite struggling for a significant chunk of 2013, Hosmer finished with a final line of .302/.353/.448 with 17 homers and 11 steals and I look for him to build upon that success and take the power one step further, challenging for 25-plus bombs and becoming a rare five-tool first baseman. Hosmer will finish 2014 with more fantasy value than Chris Davis, Joey Votto or Freddie Freeman, trailing only Cabrera, Paul Goldschmidt and Prince Fielder at first base.
9. And as for the player in the NL who’ll finally take that next step forward a la Hosmer? I’m going with Jason Heyward, who will avoid the freak injuries that have plagued him to this point in his career and post a monster season with 158 games played. Heyward will show of the power he let us know he has in 2012 as well as a refined running game, putting up a .275/.360/.480 line with 30 homers and 20 steals and will garner some MVP attention in the senior circuit. An outstanding season by teammate Justin Upton will detract from Heyward’s MVP votes, but we’ll still see the standout five-tool player we’ve been waiting for since 2010.
10. Brian McCann is going to show people he was worth the money, hitting .270 with 25 bombs in New York while playing good defense behind the plate. The ability to DH once a week will allow McCann to see a career-high 600 PA, meaning he’ll reach new benchmarks in RBI and R, too and will finish as fantasy’s best catcher this year, narrowly beating out Buster Posey and Joe Mauer. Sadly, the internet will not tire of making Brian McCann: Fun Police jokes, and that’s a burden we must all bear
11. Billy Hamilton may only reach base at a .310 clip, but that’s going to allow him to steal 85 bases and finish as a top-30 fantasy player. The average will be an unpleasant but palatable .255 and he’ll score 80 runs atop the Reds lineup, making Hamilton a two-trick pony who’s single-handedly capable of winning you the steals category. The next-highest SB total will go to Jacoby Ellsbury, who’ll nab 45 bags in 140 games, followed by Jonathan Villar, who will steal 40 but will be thrown out 18 times. Good ol’ Rajai Davis will once again nab 35-plus bases in limited playing time, as will Ben Revere.