Wilson’s Eleven Bold Predictions
Let’s just cut right to the chase here, because I’m jonesing to unleash these lil’ jewels on the world.
1. LaTroy Hawkins will lead the Rockies in Saves
Yesssss. We’re starting with a bang, baby. Rex Brothers spent the entire offseason as the sexy pick to take over for the anointed Hawkins as soon as LaTroy allows his first baserunner this season. But as long as the arbitration process blindly rewards saves over quality relief pitching the Rockies will have a fairly powerful financial incentive to keep Sexy Rexy out of the closer’s role, provided the situation on the field allows it. Hawkins has managed to cobble together a pretty stellar little 19-year career, and like a fine wine he’s pitched his finest, most consistent ball as he’s aged. Even at 41 he’ll be a perfectly fine reliever, and that’ll be good enough to hang onto the job for enough to wear the Rocky Mountain Saves belt.
2. Andre Ethier will be the most valuable Dodger outfielder in standard leagues
Matt Kemp was barely a centerfielder before he destroyed his ankle last summer, and when/if he makes his way back to the Dodgers lineup at full strength this year I think he does it in left at the expense of Carl Crawford’s playing time. Meanwhile, Yasiel Puig’s recklessness and lack of refinement come home to roost not in the form of any disciplinary issues but rather a dreaded Sophomore Slump. Ethier’s consistently high on-base numbers finally get properly rewarded with a bump up to the top of the lineup to relieve the struggling Puig. Once there he takes off as the primary table-setter for one of the most potent offenses in baseball, posting a .292/24/75/103 line over 578 plate appearances. Sorry, Joc Pederson.
3. Brett Gardner will steal 40 bases and score 100 runs
Yes, yes, the Captain is BACK to reclaim his rightful spot as the #2 hitter in the Yankee lineup. But while I realize the Yankees are unmatched in their affinity for mass-produced sentimentality, their win-at-all-costs ruthlessness is even more impressive. Jeter’s Farewell Tour is already going to cost the team plenty of runs as long as they keep trotting him out to shortstop, and I can’t see them doubling down by letting him clog up the top of what could be a top-tier offense with his diminishing skills. Gardner had a weird offensive season last year, as a change in approach at the plate led to more power (good) but, oddly and perhaps unrelatedly, way fewer stolen base attempts (bad). I think that changes this year. Gardner’s mid-three OBP can and will form a dynamic 1-2 punch with Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the Yankee lineup, and I think that becomes the inescapable destiny of their offensive identity sooner rather than later. Once he locks down that lineup slot the fun really begins. His stolen base efficiency did decline last season, and in his Age 30 season I do think it possible that decline was a harbinger of a lost step or two. But assuming relative health I don’t see any reason he can’t dial it back up for a rebound season that returns substantial reward on investment.
4. Jose Abreu will lead the American League in Homers
I don’t really have any fact-based analysis to offer on this one, other than to say that I love this guy’s swing and based on its beauty I’m willing to say with 90% confidence he’s going to be a good hitter. He appears, at least in limited Spring Training viewing, to be a very smart hitter who brings a sound plan of attack and an intense expectation of success into every at-bat. His setup is quiet, he gets easy extension on the outer half, and he appears strong enough to where concerns about his bat speed on the inner half may just be significantly overblown. I’ll be curious to see how his walk rate shakes out, but he’s going to hit, and he’s going to hit for power. Book him for 42 bombs and the AL crown.
5. Denard Span will be a top-15 outfielder
New Nats manager Matt Williams has already hinted that he intends to bring a more aggressive approach to the Washington basepaths, and Span will be the biggest beneficiary of the new approach. After years of tormenting everyone who bought into his freshman and sophomore campaigns Span will finally, mercifully put together the career year we thought was possible this year. He gets back to his roots, reverses a terrible walk rate decline, and kicks his recent pop-up habits. It all adds up to a .312 average, 31 stolen bases, and 96 runs. Toss a career-high 11 homers into the mix for good measure, and he sneaks him into the top 15 in a weak year for outfielders.
6. Oscar Taveras will still be rookie-eligible at the end of the year
We’re already a couple months past the ostensible timetable for Taveras’ recovery from ankle surgery, and as of this writing he’s sitting again after tweaking his leg leaving the batter’s box. Either the injury was worse than reported, the surgery was less than perfect, or Taveras is a slow-healing man. Hell, could be all three of those things combined. None of those options bode well for his potential to contribute at the big league level in 2014, however. The Cardinals are flush with depth above and immediately below Taveras on the outfield depth chart, and he’s still just now entering his Age 22 season. There’s absolutely zero reason for the Cardinals to push the envelope here. I’ll say he has another minor setback this spring, but it’s enough that the Cardinals keep him in Florida for extended spring training. After making his AAA debut in late April he takes a few weeks to get going, starts raking, and then BAM! The same hamstring that’s bothered him this spring tightens up on him again and he hits the DL. He finally meanders his way to St. Louis by mid-August, but logs just 126 at-bats over 34 games down the stretch, frequently giving way to defensive replacements during the roster expansion period in September and requiring a day off every couple games. He’s still a top-10 prospect next winter, but the lost developmental time and questions about his durability have evaluators rethinking their projections of guaranteed superstardom.
7. Jered Weaver will not be a top-75 starting pitcher
It’s like an annual rite of passage for fantasy baseball writers: penning a Jered Weaver obituary piece for the coming season. But I’ve never gotten to do one, so here goes: his velocity, first-pitch strike percentage, and overall strike percentage are all in the midst of four-year linear freefalls, and the velocity in particular was hanging out on the very farthest margins of viability for a quality Major League righthander at season’s end last year. Weaver’s results have never matched expected outcomes, as his career ERA betters his FIP by over .40 and his xFIP by almost a full point. But those results were predicated on excellent control (which has also declined exponentially) and a plus-plus change-up that last year barely played to league average. After a slow start that’s punctuated by a disgusting 4-start stretch in May he develops a mysterious “side” issue to earn a charity trip to the disabled list. He returns in late June and remains largely ineffective, ultimately losing his rotation spot down the homestretch as the Angels claw for an ultimately elusive Wild Card spot.
8. Josh Bell will enter 2015 as a consensus top-25 prospect
I loved Pittsburgh’s aggressiveness when they drafted the assumed-to-be-unsingable Bell out of high school in the second round of the 2011 draft, and after an injury-aborted 2012 debut in A-ball he finally started to show flashes of his potential over a full season last year. His .279/.353/.453 line may look solid if unspectacular on the surface, but in the Sally League that’s good for a 131 wRC+. Scouting reports have been generally glowing, pointing to a patient hitter with excellent present strength and power projection still in the tank. Bradenton in the Florida State League is an awfully tough hitting assignment, but I see him putting together a monster campaign that impresses everyone who lays eyes on him and earns him a second-half promotion to Altoona. After he holds his own over 200 Eastern League plate appearances, the 22 year-old Bell spends next off-season helium-engorged and riding high from his perch inside countless industry top 25’s.
9. Brad Peacock will be the most valuable pitcher in Texas
I’ll admit it, Darvish’s neck thing has me a little jittery. While he’s thus far avoided any arm injuries to speak of, his gigantic workload at a young age may just be contributing to some chronic aches and pains that are a part of the package for fantasy owners. He misses a couple starts here and there, and he gives back last year’s control gains, struggles with the homerun ball…all of a sudden the door is open for a new sheriff to walk into town. And even despite Houston management’s bizarre decision to relegate him to the bullpen out of the gate, walk into town Brad Peacock shall. Boy were his last eight starts after returning to the rotation last year pretty to watch. Peacock’s always been a guy who’s needed an adjustment period at each level, and between that career norm and the knockout slider he flashed down the stretch there’s every reason to dream big on this guy. While befuddled by Astro brass’ decision to waste him in the bullpen initially, I’m buying a full-on breakout that forces a quick about-face. I think he claims a rotation spot by the first week of May at the latest, racks up 165 innings at a whiff-per, 16 of the luckiest Wins you’ve ever seen, an ERA in the mid-3’s, and a WHIP that checks in at 1.21. That’s a decent #3 line in a 12-team league, and it’ll be enough to narrowly edge out Darvish for the sheriff’s star.
10. Grady Sizemore will log over 435 plate appearances
That’s how many he’s had over the past four seasons combined. Dare to dream, kids. Reach for the stars and so forth.
11. Brett Lawrie will enter 2015 as a post-post-post-hype sleeper after failing to break out again
Not my boldest prediction perhaps, but I’m including it because frankly I’ve owned him in my primary league for three years now and I’m angling for a reverse jinx on this one. Since nothing else seems to be working, might as well give it a shot, right? As Lawrie’s breathtaking 2011 debut falls farther and farther into the hazy past, it’s worth reminding ourselves that his skillset has not shown any kind of positive trend lines since that fabled small sample of glory. About half of the at-bats in which he puts a ball in play end with that ball skipping along the turf, which is a groundball figure way too high for a player with his skillset and power projection. His walk rate sits south of seven percent in the majors with no signs of improvement, and his stolen base efficiency is dreadful. He also plays just the kind of balls-to-the-wall style that has produced four DL stints and several nagging day-to-day ailments in just the two and a half years since his debut. I’ll say we see more of the same this year and a final line of .263/11/49/42/7 over 464 plate appearances. But on the bright side, he’ll still only be 25 in 2015!