(Photo by David Berding/Icon Sportswire)
The start of spring can only mean two things: snowstorms and bold predictions. Everyone’s doing them these days, so drafters can deceive themselves into believing everyone is poised for an MVP breakout or catastrophic collapse. Remember that these are merely fun, low-probability dart throws meant to highlight players the picker likes or dislikes more than the pack.
Except for my bold predictions. These are obviously all going to happen.
Carlos Santana is a solid value outside the top 100 if hits .259 again with around 25 homers and 80-90 RBI and runs apiece. Now that he’s on the Phillies, there’s potential for more, particularly in the power department. Looking at his spray chart overlayed onto Citizens Bank Park, there’s roughly 15 doubles and fly outs that would have cleared his new home’s fence. That’s not counting a bunch of close calls. While he loses Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, the first baseman can instead drive in fellow underrated on-base fiends Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera. It’s a lineup downgrade, but not a cause for concern. I’m not sure if calling a 30-homer, 100-RBI season would even be bold enough, so I’ll instead say Santana is Philadelphia’s top fantasy first baseman over Rhys Hoskins, who is probably not going to maintain a 31.6 % HR/FB rate over a full season. According to FantasyPros’ consensus ADP, which aggregates six sites, the newcomer is going around 100 spots higher than Santana, who has logged over 600 plate appearances with a walk rate above 13.0 % in each of the last six seasons. Give me the bankable veteran over someone who wowed in 50 games.
2. Blake Treinen Is a Top-5 Closer
It’s possible I’m just writing up everyone I took in the site’s draft to feel better about my choices. Just like I wrestled between Blake Treinen and Mark Melancon in the 15th round, I debated which closer to highlight here. Melancon’s surroundings could lead to more save opportunities, but Treinen’s skills are more intriguing. Although both are elite ground-ball specialists, Oakland’s reliever paired his 58.4 GB % with a 22.8 strikeout % and 13.1 swinging-strike % last year. He showed his path to fantasy stardom by posting a 2.13 ERA, 42 strikeouts, and 12 walks in 39 innings with the A’s. Sustaining last year’s career-best 7.7 walk % is essential to him staying a closer, let alone a top-tier one. Save opportunities also make predictions like these even more of a blind guess, but Oakland could be a sneaky wild-card contender if it hits on a couple of starting pitchers.
3. Jean Segura Is a Top-25 Overall Player
KV beat me to the punch, but there’s plenty of love to go around for Jean Segura. Few expected him to repeat a phenomenal 2016 breakout, but it would have been far closer than anticipated had he played the entire season. In 125 games, Seattle’s shortstop batted. 300 with 11 home runs and 22 stolen bases. That made him one of five players (joining Mike Trout, Jose Altuve, Tommy Pham, and Lorenzo Cain) to post a .300/10/20 line, so his 75.0 consensus ADP is far too low. Give him 150 games, and he’s a top-50 player. That’s not bold enough, so let’s go top-25 with hopes of receiving a .300, 15/30 campaign. Look, a .290 average with 13 homers and 25 steals is more realistic, but his skill set is hard to find. Let’s also say this is based on ESPN’s Player Rater, which skews in favor of speed.
4. Wilmer Flores Hits 25 Home Runs
So no one told you life was gonna be this way (clap clap clap clap)/Your team’s a joke, they’re broke, your playing time is D.O.A./It’s like you’re always stuck in a bottom tier/The breakout might not come this day, this month, or even this year, but….
I’ll still target you (When Adrian Gonzalez and Dominic Smith’s springs are so poor)
I’ll still target you (Like the entire team has got hurt before)
I’ll still target you (‘Cause you’re going undrafted too)
But yeah, Wilmer Flores hit 11 homers in 138 second-half plate appearances with a 48.6 % fly-ball and 37.4 % hard-hit rate. This is only bold because he currently has no starting spot against righties, but those same playing-time concerns made Michael Conforto a steal last year.
5. Randal Grichuk Hits 40 Home Runs
The Cardinals demoted Randal Grichuk in 2016 and 2017, but the Blue Jays seem much more inclined to let the pull slugger do his thing at the Rogers Centre. For all his flaws–a .249 average average, .297 OBP, 5.8 walk % and 29.9 % can’t get swept under the rug–he also frequently crushed baseballs with a barrel every 9.5 plate appearances. Only six hitters fared better, and they’ll all go way higher than Grichuk. Per FantasyPros’ consensus ADP, he’s a mixed-league reserve pick at 316.4. Thirty bombs is a reasonable expectation if he stays in the lineup. but there’s room for more if he embraces his strengths on a team that doesn’t seem to loathe him.
6. Chris Archer Wins 17 Games
Before doing your best Bluth family chicken dance for not making it an even 20, consider that nobody recorded more than 18 wins last year. (Also consider that this was originally going to be about Jeff Samardzija before news broke that he will likely open 2018 on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.) This also seems sufficiently bold since Chris Archer has never tallied more than 12 in a season. Yet as we all know, it’s a fluky category that should not exist in fantasy baseball. Archer did not get credit for a win in 13 of his 20 quality starts, and he’s one of five pitchers (Samardzija, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, and Corey Kluber) who accrued at least 200 innings in each of the last three seasons. For those who will retort that the Rays stink and Archer gave up a .364 wOBA the third time through the order last year, well … hmm, you’re right. Whatever, wins are dumb, and I’m a sucker for strikeouts.
7. No Astro Finishes as a Top-25 SP
There’s a feasible timeline in which every Astros starter delivers immense fantasy value. I actually don’t particularly dislike any of them either, but they all have warts. Including the playoffs, Justin Verlander tossed 242.2 innings this year. One of these years the 35-year-old won’t bounce back after laboring for months. While Dallas Keuchel is a steady No. 2 who can especially help in ERA, he wields a 19.4 career strikeout percentage and has thrown 313.2 combined innings in the last two seasons. Gerrit Cole certainly brandishes ace abilities, but he hasn’t performed like one since 2015. Maybe the Astros help him rediscover that next gear by having him throw more sliders and curveballs. Or maybe relocating from PNC Park into the AL keeps his ERA in the high-3s, low-4s range. Before falling down a Lance McCullers GIF rabbit hole and instead giving him the AL Cy Young Award, let’s remember that he has never pitched more than 125.2 innings in a season. To keep him and Charlie Morton fresh, the Astros will likely redistribute some of their starts to Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock, so it’s risky projecting either of them for 150 innings.
8. Blue Jays Have 4 Top-45 Starters
Houston obviously has a better rotation than Toronto, but it’s all a matter of price and expectations. Here’s the consensus ADP, as of Thursday, for the Blue Jays’ top-four starters:
- Marcus Stroman – 133.8, No. 36 SP
- Aaron Sanchez – 192.8, No. 50 SP
- J.A. Happ – 253.8, No. 72 SP
- Marco Estrada – 303.3, No. 79 SP
While it wouldn’t be particularly daring to tout either of Sanchez, Happ, or Estrada as a top-50 option, putting all of them in that category would certainly deviate some preseason expectations. The case for Sanchez isn’t too difficult; he’s a 25-year-old who registered a 3.00 ERA and 54.4 % ground-ball rate in 2016. Don’t read too much into eight ugly starts derailed by a blister on his throwing hand. Even though his breakout wasn’t fully supported by the peripherals, repeating a 20.4 strikeout % with an ERA closer to his 3.55 FIP would make him a value at his current cost. Happ may be boring, but he has quietly posted a 3.43 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 21.3 strikeout % over the last three seasons. Some may say Estrada was overdue for ERA regression, but he continued to induce feeble contact with a 21.4 soft-contact % and 16.6 % infield-fly rate. He could once again overcome a higher FIP by repairing a disastrous 1.50 HR/9 clip.
9. Lonnie Chisenhall is Cleveland’s Best Outfielder
This pick also requires some ADP context:
- Bradley Zimmer – 214.3, No. 61 OF
- Michael Brantley – 249.0, No. 66 OF
- Lonnie Chisenhall – 405.0, No. 123 OF
I wouldn’t mind gambling on Zimmer’s game-changing speed in the right spot, but his strikeout woes establish a low floor. While a healthy Michael Brantley could go 15/15 with a high average, he has not avoided lengthy DL stints since playing 137 games in 2015. Bringing up a bad health record seems hypocritical before hyping Chisenhall, who has averaged 89 games over the last four seasons. Then again, he’s practically free because of those concerns. Otherwise drafters would express far more interest in someone who batted .288/.360/.521 with 12 homers and a 129 wRC+ in 82 games last season. The Fly Ball Revolution may have recruited another member, as he generated a career-high 45.7 FB % while also setting a personal best in hard-hit rate (33.7 %). While he sacrificed some contact, it didn’t show in his .288 average because he shaved his outside-swing % by five points to 33.7. There’s plenty of post-hype promise if he can stay on the field.
I should probably hate Kevin Gausman. After all, I drafted him with high hopes in my home league last year, only to drop him when it became impossible to justify keeping someone with a .318/.387/.480 opposing first-half slash line. You know how this story ends. He woke up after the All-Star break with a 3.41 ERA and 18.6 K-BB %, a far cry from the opening half’s horrid 5.85 ERA and 8.9 K-BB %. His turnaround coincides with a heavier reliance on his splitter, which induced a .204 average and 44.2 whiff % on all swings. The bad Gausman may return to haunt me again, but I’m giving the 27-year-old one more chance to unlock his ace ceiling. His Orioles teammate, Dylan Bundy, also benefited from altered pitch usage late in the season. Over the final two months, he filed 60 strikeouts over 50.1 innings while leaning more on his slider. A sensational August (36 IP, 23 H, 8 ER, 6 BB, 45 K, and a 16.3 swinging-strike %) should remind everyone that the 25-year-old can still meet the exorbitant prospect hype a couple years later than anticipated. The boldest part about predicting 200 strikeouts from Baltimore’s anchors is the underlying prerequisite that they each work around 200 innings.