There’s nothing worse than reading a fantasy sports writer’s bold predictions and finding predictions akin to Starbucks’ breakfast blend — not bold at all.
Here at PitcherList we strive to make predictions that were possible but a little outlandish, with the intention of not boring you with milquetoast predictions that have a 50/50 chance of coming true.
I don’t believe I’ve ever gotten more than two predictions exactly right in any of my previous bold prediction pieces, and while the jury is still out on three of my predictions, I am going to take a few victory laps this year — while also admitting a few errors or overzealousness on my part.
Making predictions exclusively about prospects in a shortened season means many of my predictions won’t be answered for years to come, but we can (and will) discuss the ones that did (or didn’t) come true and our best guess going forward on the others as well.
1. Sam Hilliard is most valuable NL rookie (0/1)
I was so high on Sam Hilliard before the season began. I think I wrote about him five or six different places, hoping his high-octane 2019 season in Triple-A and strong MLB cameo would carry over into a starting role in Colorado’s outfield, where his raw power and speed would play exceptionally well at Coors Field and surrounded by a great lineup.
While Hilliard did end up winning a starting job, the strikeout issues reared their ugly head and he never managed to put things together, limping to a .210/.272/.438 slash line with two home runs, six stolen bases and an ugly 36.8% strikeout rate.
It’s hard to blame the Rockies, even if they are notorious for not playing young talent, as Hilliard really didn’t do anything with the playing time he got. He finished with a 71 wRC+ and a 0.2 fWAR, and likely won’t be on the radar in redraft leagues in 2021.
He’s still not a terrible dynasty asset if you’re willing to wait it out and see if he can return to form in a full season, but I think he’s a safe cut in shallower dynasty leagues as well, if you see someone else you want to gamble on.
2. Kyle Lewis is most valuable AL rookie (1/2)
I’ll take a win on this one. Even though the AL Rookie of the Year has not been voted on, Lewis has the highest fWAR among AL rookies — and he seems likely to win the Rookie of the Year award over Luis Robert, Justus Sheffield, and Willi Castro.
Lewis had an excellent 18-game cameo for the Mariners in 2019, leading to many believing he was a nice sleeper candidate in 2020. He proved to be that and more, slashing an excellent .262/.364/.437 with 11 home runs, five stolen bases and a 126 wRC+. His walk rate increased 10 full percentage points from 4.0 to 14.0, while his strikeout rate dropped to a respectable 29.3%.
Lewis is a former top-15 pick who saw his minor league numbers drop because of a horrific knee injury. However, he’s back and running around well now, making him a potential five category contributor — especially for those who count on-base percentage. While some underlying numbers are a tad concerning, his power and speed is enough to make him an interesting fantasy asset for years to come.
Lewis will be a highly sought after asset in redraft leagues next year, and those who were patient with him in dynasty are being rewarded handsomely.
3. Isaac Paredes is Detroit’s starting 3B by August 15 (2/3)
The Tigers called up 21-year-old infielder Isaac Paredes to be their starting 3B on August….17. So yeah, if you all don’t mind I’m going to take a win on this one. Thankfully my prediction didn’t say anything about how he will perform in that role, because the results were not great.
Paredes limped to a .220/.278/.290 slash line with just one home run in 34 games played. He walked 7.4% of the time and struck out at a 22.2% clip – respectable plate discipline numbers – but he just didn’t impact the ball enough to get hits.
The Tigers moved Jeimer Candelario over to third base and seem set with Willi Castro somewhere in the middle, so Paredes seems like a good candidate to play third base a lot in 2021. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him log a lot of time in AAA as well, however, as his age and performance last year indicate he may not quite be ready to be a big league regular.
Still: he’s an intriguing buy low candidate in deeper dynasty leagues, especially since this little cameo is likely not indicative of what he is capable of when he fully matures at the dish.
4. Five 2020 draft picks make MLB debut (2/4)
To be fair, this prediction was nuclear-level hot. The fact that we even got one, the first since Mike Leake to appear in the big leagues before ever playing in the minor leagues, is pretty wild. Leake and Xavier Nady were the only two players to do that since 2000, until they were joined this year by White Sox left-hander Garrett Crochet.
I thought the pandemic and the use of 60-man taxi squads would force more teams into making wild roster moves to stay afloat during the regular season. While we did see an increase in big league debuts — teams were understandably weary of calling up 2020 draft picks having not seen them in any sort of competitive baseball game since their high school or collegiate seasons wrapped up.
Crochet was the exception, a flame-throwing left-hander who Chicago used out of the bullpen in five games. Across his six scoreless innings of work, Crochet struck out eight and walked none, only allowing three hits. He’ll likely be transitioned to being a starter next season, especially considering Chicago’s history of developing pitchers out of the bullpen first, a la Chris Sale.
While 1/5 isn’t a great ratio, I do think we will see a handful of 2020 draft picks debuting in 2021, with Reid Detmers (Angels), Austin Martin (Blue Jays), Max Meyer (Marlins), Emerson Hancock (Mariners), Nick Gonzales (Pirates), and of course Spencer Torkelson (Tigers) as the primary names to watch.
5. Jackson Rutledge throws meaningful innings in 2020 (2/5)
Didn’t quite get this one, although there were rumors floating around that Rutledge was in contention for a call-up as a bullpen piece. But Washington’s lack of competing for a playoff spot ultimately sealed his fate. Had the Nationals been in the hunt, perhaps he would have gotten Crochet treatment and found his way into the show.
The 17th overall pick in 2019, Rutledge had a 39/15 K/BB ratio in 37.1 innings last year, posting a 2.30 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in Single-A.
Standing six-foot-eight, Rutledge brings a 97 mph fastball that easily touches triple-digits, along with a slider that has earned 70 grades by some scouts, and a curveball that is well above-average. His changeup is lacking, as is his command, but the stuff is there for him to be a true ace.
While I suspect we won’t see him in the big leagues until 2022, he could be a late season call-up next year, as either a bullpen piece or a spot starter. His overall dynasty value hinges on him sticking in the rotation — and if he does he could be a steal. He’s well worth keeping an eye on in shallower formats, and should absolutely be owned in deeper leagues.
6. Erik Swanson leads the Mariners in saves (2/6)
Swanson finished tied for sixth on the Mariners in saves this season with zero. So fine, last. Whatever.
The hard throwing right-hander made his season debut on August 2 and was demoted to the alternate site on August 16 after giving up nine earned runs in 5.1 innings pitched. He came back on September 16 and promptly gave up three earned runs in 0.1 innings before finishing the campaign with two scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 12.91 on the season. Yikes.
The Mariners had a pretty disastrous bullpen this season, and Swanson was sneaky good as a reliever last year (3.28 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and a 9.85 K/9 rate in those 19 appearances) even picking up a pair of saves, so that’s where the optimism came in.
Things did not pick up where they left off for Swanson this year, however, and at this point it looks like his career is in jeopardy.
I doubt he gets another look as a starter, but there is still enough intrigue in his fastball/slider combo for me to believe he could reach a ceiling as a quality late inning guy – although he’s completely irrelevant in all dynasty formats at this point.
7. Drew Rasmussen is a top-100 prospect by next year (2/7)
Looks like I picked the wrong Brewers reliever prospect to hitch my wagon to this year. Thanks, Devin Williams.
Technically the 2021 top-100 lists have not been released yet, but Rasmussen was nowhere near anyone’s top-100 last year and he is not going to jump on after posting a 5.87 ERA and a 12.7% walk rate in 15 innings out of the bullpen in 2020.
Rasmussen is still a prospect crush of mine, thanks to his ridiculously hard fastball and devastating slider combination. His lack of a true third pitch, plus his serious injury history (he’s had TJ twice) makes it almost certain his future is coming out of the bullpen. And unless his command picks up he may struggle to even make a career out of that.
Still, Milwaukee has turned two-pitch pitchers into stars in the past, and if Rasmussen can stay healthy and dial in the wildness — two big ifs — I don’t think it’s crazy to consider him the next solid homegrown reliever in Milwaukee, a la Williams, Josh Hader, Freddy Peralta, and so on.
8. Lucas Erceg becomes a stellar two-way player (N/A)
Now we are getting into the predictions that are still unknown. I’m going to leave part of what I wrote last year about Lucas Erceg, although I will point out the injury to Shohei Ohtani and the lack of pitching from both Jake Cronenworth and Jared Walsh — two alleged two-way players — makes it far less likely that Erceg, or really anyone for that matter, will be used this way going forward.
“Erceg has been a top prospect in Milwaukee’s system as a slugging corner infielder, but the past two seasons have exposed some obvious flaws in his swing. With far too many pop-ups and a dramatic increase in strikeouts, most believe Erceg won’t be anything more than a platoon bat or pinch-hitting specialist.
However, Erceg ran his fastball up to 95 as Menlo College’s closer, and though he would have a lot of work to do to be a viable relief option in the big leagues, it would certainly make him more valuable. The loss of a minor league season limits his chances to work off a mound against live hitters, but perhaps he will use his time on the taxi squad to throw against his teammates.
Erceg could have a future as a 26th man who can come in as a pinch-hitter against tough righties and also as a relief arm, which would be a nice, flexible use of a roster spot for Milwaukee.”
Less likely now, but worth monitoring in deeper or NL-only dynasty formats.
9. Taylor Jones has multiple 25+ home run seasons (N/A)
Another prediction that is too early to tell, the Astros did give 1B/DH Taylor Jones a handful of call-ups this season, and the hulking right-hander blasted his first career home run, while also posting a .190/.227/.381 slash line in seven games played. At 26, it seems less and less likely he’ll get any full-time opportunities in the big leagues, which is what he will need if he’s going to approach 20 or 25 round trippers per season.
While this year didn’t do much to further the cause, I’ll still leave some of what I wrote a few months ago before the season began in case anyone in a deep AL-only league is intrigued:
“Jones crushed, I mean crushed, the ball last year. He had an average exit velocity of 91 miles per hour and hit 48% of his balls over 95. His 35.7% hard-hit rate was indicative of this, and—perhaps most importantly—Jones showed the ability to get some lift on the ball, with an excellent 27.1% line drive rate in 2019 at AAA. His sky-high 18.3% HR/FB rate was thanks in part to the super balls the PCL was using last year, but Jones proved he can put really solid wood on the baseball and can generate plenty of barrels and fly balls as needed.
Jones also stands an imposing six-foot-seven and 225 pounds, and while his swing is (understandably) long, it has not hurt him in the strikeout department—in fact his 21.1% strikeout rate last year was exceptional for a guy with his build and raw power, and his 12.8% walk rate indicates a guy with an above-average knowledge of the strike zone and patience at the dish.
All this is to say that Jones is a guy who could easily produce a .250 or so average with 25+ home runs annually, if given everyday at-bats. That almost certainly won’t happen in Houston, however, so there’s probably not a need to rush out and snag him in dynasty leagues just yet.”
10. Zach Wolf becomes closer of the future in Miami (N/A)
Wolf was not added to Miami’s alternate site, and while their bullpen wasn’t anything to write home about in 2020 it would be my greatest bold prediction ever if Zach Wolf ends up closing games for the Fish at any point. Here’s some of what I said last year, for those interested:
“Wolf posted a nice 3.07 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 26% strikeout rate in 2019 at Single-A as a reliever—while also racking up 15 saves with strong peripherals.
The fact that he’s getting saves already is a good sign the Marlins want to see what he’s capable of in a late-inning role, so perhaps he’ll continue to move up the chain while remaining in the ninth inning.
Of course, Wolf is just five-foot-eight with a relatively flat fastball and fringey secondaries, so at this point he has some work to do to reach that high ceiling. Still, if you are in a very deep dynasty league, he’s at least worth keeping an eye on. Miami could use more late-inning studs, and Wolf is a guy who could rise through the system quickly.”
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)