(Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)
This type of assignment is a peculiar one. In crafting bold predictions, one has to get sexy with the task and push the boundaries of what can reasonably be expected from the baseball season. But it’s a natural human impulse to want to be right about that which no one else foresaw. My haphazard attempt at flirting with the chance of being baseball’s next Nostradamus is what follows below. As Nick Pollack would say, if you’re wondering whether it’s a bold prediction, it isn’t. So, with that in mind, buckle up for a peculiar ride.
1. In spite of the implementation of the humidor at Chase Field, the Arizona Diamondbacks will still have three players eclipse 30 home runs. The club will also ride quality pitching from its starting rotation all the way back to the playoffs as an NL Wild Card team
You’re in pretty good shape when Zack Godley and Patrick Corbin are considered bottom-two hurlers on your SP depth chart. The D-backs should be extremely competitive this year, although they have the unenviable fate of likely being several games behind the Dodgers on a regular basis in their division all over again. I really want to expect big things from A.J. Pollock, but his health has certainly been a recurring concern so I’ll reserve the juicy power projections for just the trio of Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb, and new acquisition Steven Souza, Jr. The humidor may well cause a period of adjustment early in the year, but these three sluggers will find a way to right the proverbial ship. No one of the three players will have surpassed a dozen home runs at the June 1 mark but they will all turn it on to finish with 30+ by season’s end.
2. Vaunted hybrid SP/DH Shohei Ohtani will hit 12 homers and win 12 games this year with the Angels
I’m liking what I’ve seen of the Japanese two-way phenom thus far in spring, although that’s hardly a meaningful sample set on which to confirm the advent of the Second Coming. But I think exceptional defense from a skilled outfield and a revamped infield that includes Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart helps Ohtani stay in games even when his command and/or FIP wavers a little. He’ll have Mr. RBI Hog himself, Albert Pujols, to contend with for playing time at DH, but the Angels didn’t invest in a player this dynamic to not utilize his bat so the platoon situation doesn’t concern me. I can’t wait to monitor his contact numbers as the season unfolds. I also like Ohtani for 180 Ks this season while posting an ERA no higher than 3.75.
3. MLB’s new policy limiting teams to six mound visits per nines innings as an attempt to up the pace of play and shorten game length will cause confusion and force an unintentional pitching change at least twice this year
There are stipulations to the new rule about what constitutes an official visit to the mound that still allow for players to clean their spikes in inclement weather and to check on a pitcher who might have sustained a sudden injury. But with the added factor of time ticking down during inning changes and breaks, I can see a scenario happening where players don’t realize they’re using a mound visit or that it counts against the six. There will be a miscommunication between the officiating crew and the pitching team regarding which visits counted and which didn’t that will force the exit of a pitcher from the game on two separate occasions this year. I’d love to see an ejection result from a manager getting bent out of shape when this happens, but I’ll change my tune from my IBB prediction last year and maintain faith that coaches keep their cool during the mix-ups.
4. Free-agent 1B Mark Reynolds hasn’t played his last MLB action and will be a member of a 25-man roster by June 15
Here we have a guy who reaffirmed his mettle and viability during a spring training opportunity in the minors last year and then went on to earn a spot on the Rockies, for whom he crushed 30 homers in 2017. I refuse to accept that he could be done with big-league baseball entirely. And yet Opening Day approaches while the 34-year-old free agent remains unclaimed. Reynolds was definitely a surprise story last year, sure. And some skepticism is warranted when considering the power stats of a guy who gets to work at Coors Field half the time, as they are likely inflated far higher than league average. But beyond the off chance of the Colorado front office re-signing him for cheap, teams legitimately in need of some help or depth at the position do exist. The Rangers have Joey Gallo, but he’s an ultra-low-AVG power bat who is far from a defensively sterling 1B; as soon as he is arbitration-eligible, Texas is really going to have some evaluating to do as far as long-term answers. Tampa Bay acquired C.J. Cron from the Angels during this offseason but he is only spoken for through the 2020 and two more bouts of arbitration. The Rays would probably love to give Cron the odd maintenance day and do so with a serviceable veteran understudy—one who’s been The Guy before. A talented reserve could be the role Reynolds fills, say, if Cron were to go down with injury. Brad Miller is your really only depth as is, and he hasn’t logged time at 1B since 2016. It’s worth mentioning that Luis Valbuena is the uninspiring heir apparent at first back in Anaheim, so the Angels have reason to look past the support of an aging Pujols for some help there. Hell, the Royals might want to add a RHB to the lineup who can back Lucas Duda up. If last year is any testament, injuries absolutely will happen and teams will end up needing a spark of some kind. Think of what Adam Lind was able to do for the Nats when Ryan Zimmerman was day-to-day, and that’s what I’m envisioning for Reynolds. His walk rate is solid, and his HR/FB ratio should still be decent even accounting for some regression. A need is going to arise very soon for him, and he can earn employment quicker if he agrees to be positionally flexible for an interested club (3B, OF, etc.). I can see an executive wanting results now rather than hoping a prospect in the pipeline can pan out from Day 1 in The Show. Those results would be relatively inexpensive with Reynolds. Mark it down, pun intended.
5. J.D. Martinez will take the 2018 American League home run title
What takes this from a regular ol’ prediction to a bold one is twofold. Firstly, Martinez is a right-handed slugger with a career pull rate of 39.1% who will be playing half his games having to deal with the imposing façade of the Green Monster. Secondly, he’s projected to finish with fewer bombs than Mike Trout, Manny Machado, Aaron Judge, and the aforementioned Gallo. I’m not buying it. He beat all of those guys in hard contact percentage last year with a monumental 49.0%, and he hasn’t registered lower than 40% in four years. Martinez is winning the AL HR crown outright. This studmuffin clobbered 45 balls into the stands last year. Doing that as a member of two different squads makes such a feat all the more impressive to me, since one can basically rule out park factor and thereby mitigate any accusations of it being a fluke. It’s a pro and a con that he only saw action in 119 games while enjoying all that clout: that’s insane production, but injury woes for Martinez are the biggest roadblock to this becoming reality, in fairness, if he’s kept off the field. I really dig a league-best .690 slugging percentage in 2017, too. I think he’s going to really thrive in Boston, so double me down on this prognostication even if he only plays in 135 games.
6. Indians 3B José Ramírez and Padres 1B Eric Hosmer will repeat as Silver Sluggers at their positions
Average draft positions for these guys sit at No. 20 and No. 75, respectively, according to data from the NFBC drafts that have already transpired in 2018, and they’re both going to be fantasy gold mines all over again. But for BOTH to repeat as award winners as their league’s best hitters at the position is no easy feat, particularly now that Hoz will be hitting in San Diego’s stingy Petco Park. I’m personally confident he’ll have no problem slashing .295/.360/.480 in a Padres uniform, and 23 dingers seem like a reasonable thing to expect from Hosmer at this point in his blossoming career even in a different stadium. J-Ram, meanwhile, should be able attain a .300/.370/.490 with no problem. I am predicting that Ramírez enjoys a renewed membership in the Not-Quite-20-20 Club with 23 bombs and 19 SB for Cleveland. (I wanted to make a joke here about a guy having almost 20/20 vision and squinting that would reference Michael “Squints” Palledorous from “The Sandlot,” but it felt clunky and not funny when I wrote it out. I just wanted you all to be aware of my noble dadjoke intentions.)
7. Nick Castellanos finishes the year as a Top-8 fantasy 3B
He’s going to be logging plenty of starts as an OF with Jeimer Candelario presuming to man the hot corner for Detroit, and that is only going to make Castellano’s more appealing once the eligibility kicks in. The Pitcher List staff’s consensus Top 300 rankings slotted Castellanos in as the 16th-best 3B, while ESPN’s categories rankings have him 11th at the position. NFBC draft data have him manning the 10th-highest spot among players with 3B eligibility. After I had personally ranked him as my 98th overall fantasy player, it was validating to discover the fact that his ADP is 99th overall right now. Others seem low on him as a starting 3B in 12-teamers, but I feel he’s going to provide excellent fantasy value, especially for where you are able to draft him. OK, so the list of guys I expect to outdo Castellanos in fantasy this year comprises Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Josh Donaldson, Ramírez, Machado, Alex Bregman, and Anthony Rendon. And even though I came up with this prediction before the Monday injury to Justin Turner, his DL stint only opens that much wider of a door for Casty to barge through. I like him for a triple-slash of .283/.330/.485 to go along with 28 homers and 94 RBI.
8. Marcus Stroman won’t let a little pesky preseason shoulder inflammation deter him, and he’ll go on to be a Top-25 fantasy SP
I don’t think I trust the likes of Rich Hill, Alex Wood, or Lance McCullers, Jr., to be fully healthy and firmly in command of their repertoires for 26 consecutive weeks, and those are examples of guys projected to finish above Stroman in fantasy. If anything, I’m encouraged by Stroman being cautious early and properly rehabbing a little inflammation. I’m picking up good vibrations from Toronto being smart and not wanting to rush him back. For me, that instills a sense of confidence in the relationship between pitcher and training staff. Anyway, I love Stroman’s dual-wield approach to glory by way of sinker and slider so much. I am torn, though. He’s so good at those two pitches that he can get away with using them even though batters know they’re coming, but I want him to be able to consistently harness a heater and a curve to really keep the offense honest and humble. His low strikeout ceiling isn’t a concern for me, per se, because I know what I’m getting when I take Stroman as a guy who should do excellent ERA work and above-average WHIP work with his tendency to invoke the groundout. But one would love to see his K/9 creep up into the 8.0 range and his K% surge into the 20s, and that’s going to be the key to his ascent to proving this prediction right. Give me an ERA cap of 3.30 and an easily doable WHIP of 1.20 (career 1.25), and I like Stro to be an undeniable No. 2 ace on all fantasy squads by season’s end.
9. The Cleveland Indians will not lose a single game to the Detroit Tigers in 2018
These in-division rivalries are always fun to speculate upon, as they tend to know each other so intimately that a season sweep of series sweeps (say that 10 times fast) becomes nearly impossible. I like the Tribe’s chances to go 19-0 this year, though, even if Detroit does a bang-up job of scouting them before each series. Contextually, Cleveland has a better chance of pulling this off now than in any other upcoming season if they can strike while the iron is hot. The Indians are expected to be the squad to beat atop the AL Central, with a resurgent Minnesota club being the stiffest competition in the way of that goal. Meanwhile, the Tigers are a team at the nadir of a rebuild cycle that realistically only features three relevant fantasy plays in Castellanos, Miguel Cabrera if he can shake off the yips of an aberrant 2017, and SP Michael Fulmer. I am admittedly a Cleveland fan, so this would give me great joy, but the low likelihood of it actually happening makes it a bona fide shot in the dark. Your move, CLE. A boy can idealistically dream of moonlighting as a fortune-teller.
10. Clayton Kershaw will register his second career pitching Triple Crown
Kershaw has some work to do to ensure he Ks the most batters this year, as Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, and Corey Kluber will not go quietly in that metric. But, let’s be honest with ourselves. Just because such a rare feat is difficult to accomplish doesn’t mean that Kershaw isn’t ideally suited to be the one to do it (again) this season. The Dodgers were only an 82-win team when Kershaw accomplished the Crown back in 2011; it really puts into perspective the enormity of how much he helped his club back then when they just barely got over .500. But now, fresh off the experience of their most recent World Series run, I think the team around him is better than ever as far as providing him both defense and run support en route to another NL West title. He is undeniably the best pitcher in real life and in fantasy because of his demigod-level ceiling, and the dropoff between peak healthy Kershaw and peak healthy Next Guy is still steep even in 2018. Give me an absolutely attainable 2.65 ERA, 17 wins, and 237 Ks. Of course, it goes without saying that he has to stay off the DL because the counting stats will need every boost they can get against the aforementioned elite guys who are almost locks to sniff 200 IP.