(Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire)
Everyone loves to try to come up with crazy baseball predictions. If you’re wrong, oh well; you weren’t supposed to be right anyway. If you’re right, you wind up looking like a cross between Bill James and Nostradamus. I’m happy to add my own bold predictions to the Pitcher List staff. I fully expect none of these to come true, but wouldn’t it be cool if they did?
1. Jesse Winker finishes the season as the Reds 2nd best hitter
I do not expect the Reds to be very good in 2018. Aside from Joey Votto, each of their hitters will be questionable at best. Billy Hamilton will play great defense and steal bases, but he likely won’t be a good hitter per se. Eugenio Suarez, Scooter Gennett, Adam Duvall, and Scott Schebler have each shown upside in the past, however, I am looking to another young hitter to help lead the team in 2018. Jesse Winker has shown a very advanced plate approach in the minors, hitting over .300 at AAA in 2016 and 2017. He handled himself very well in a short, 137 plate appearance stint in the majors this past year, slashing .298/.375/.529 with 7 home runs. Winker’s advanced plate approach, paired with the fantastic hitting environment of Great American Ballpark could make him a legitimate contender for a batting title over the next few years, maybe even in 2018.
2. Anthony Swarzak will lead the Mets in saves
Anthony Swarzak was brilliant last season striking out 30% of the batters he faced in his time with the White Sox and Brewers. Now, after signing with the Mets this offseason, he finds himself blocked from the closer’s role by Jeurys Familia and A.J. Ramos. Familia missed the majority of 2017 after having surgery to remove a blood clot in his shoulder. Now totally healthy, the Mets appear to be prepared to hand the closer role to him full-time. However, a situation could arise where Familia loses this trust. If he struggles in April and May, Ramos and Swarzak will be primed to swoop in and collect saves, especially if the Mets fancy themselves contenders for the National League Wildcard (more on that later). Ramos is a good reliever, but he struggled a bit last season when he walked 13.2% of batters faced. If Mickey Calloway prefers Swarzak, the role could easily fall to him, where I believe he could be an elite closer.
3. Marcus Semien finishes as the 7th best SS
Two weeks ago, a wrote a piece detailing the Sneaky Value of Marcus Semien. I firmly believe that Marcus Semien has legitimate top 10 SS potential. In the post, I detail a change in approach at the plate against RHP, leaning more toward line drives as opposed to fly balls; I also discuss an increase in stolen base rate along with the likelihood that Semien will serve as the Athletics leadoff hitter. I projected him to have a .265/.330/.425 slashline with 20-25 home runs, 20-25 steals—a projection I still stand by. I believe this line will be better than all but six shortstops in 2018: Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Alex Bregman, and Jean Segura. An argument could be made that Semien may outperform Seager or Bregman since they do not provide many, if any, stolen bases. Being taken in the 20th round, Semien is well worth the gamble in the late rounds of your draft.
4. The Mets will finish fourth in the NL East
Let’s explore this hypothetical. The New York Mets are only three years removed from a World Series appearance, yet have struggled in the past few years with injury woes up and down the roster. Their once dominant trio of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Matt Harvey now has three surgeries or major injuries on elbows, back, or shoulders between the three of them since their World Series run. While deGrom has been consistent, Syndergaard is coming off of a major back injury and Harvey has been a shell of his former self the past two years. With an Opening Day roster that will likely feature Adrian Gonzalez at first base, the Mets are really leaning on their pitching staff to lead their team to victory in 2018.
When we take a look at their competition in the National League’s Eastern division, you see two teams on the poles and two in the middle. It seems more unlikely that the Mets would compete with the Washington Nationals than it is that this prediction comes true, and even more ridiculous to say that the Miami Marlins won’t be last in the East. That leaves the Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves, two teams on the upswing of major rebuilds. I project the Phillies to finish second in the East with a much-improved lineup of young talent including Rhys Hoskins, Cesar Hernandez, and the newly acquired Carlos Santana. Pair that with a pitching staff led by Pitcher List darling, Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta and this Philadelphia team may have something going for them. The Braves are harder to project, with a much younger and fluctuating pitching staff. However, their lineup features Freddie Freeman along with breakout candidates Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies. The Braves are one of the teams with the widest ranges of outcomes in 2018, and if the Mets miss a step, the high end of that could be third in the division.
5. Danny Duffy earns 14 wins, despite pitching for the worst team in the AL
This prediction is two-fold: Danny Duffy will win 14 games and the Kansas City Royals will have the worst record in the American League. After being gutted by free agency, the Royals lineup is significantly less potent and their pitching staff is in shambles. They’ll have stiff competition for the worst record in the AL with their division mates the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers also gearing up for a rough year. However, I believe the Royals have it in them, have that special something, have what it takes to undercome all the odds and walk away with the #2 pick in the 2019 MLB Draft—the first pick going to Miami, obviously.
As for Danny Duffy, he may just luck himself into a few extra wins, but I think he’ll have a very good and criminally unsupported season. In 2018 Duffy pitched 6.1 innings per start, a mark he could easily improve upon if he sees success this year. Seemingly, that success depends heavily on his velocity. If his velocity sits closer to that of his 2016 season (95.5 mph average fastball) as opposed to his 2017 season (92.5 mph), then I will be expecting good things from Duffy.
According to the ESPN player rater, Jon Lester was the 50th SP in 2017 while Johnny Cueto fell all the way to the 99th SP spot. Both of the veteran starters had a rough year, and I believe that 2018 will be more of the same for the pair. Cueto was plagued by blisters all year, limiting him to only 25 starts. The starts that he did make weren’t exactly pretty either; he recorded an unimpressive 4.52 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in his limited time.
Lester’s year was not much better. Despite starting 32 games for the fourth season in a row, his innings pitched per start fell below 6 for the first time in his major league career. His velocity was significantly down and the results he got mirrored that drop in skill.
Both pitchers will need to overcome health concerns and skill degradation to return to their prime form, but if I had to pick one of these predictions to most likely come true, this would be the one.
7. No Dodgers pitcher will record more than 150 innings pitched
One of the overarching stories of 2017 was the implementation of the new 10 Day DL. The Dodgers, in particular, seemed to put the shorter Disabled List to good use, constantly moving pitchers on and off of the list and essentially using a six-man rotation, based on who was healthy. If we take a look the Dodgers staff, it isn’t exactly full of innings eaters.
Clayton Kershaw has missed significant time over the past two seasons with a recurring back issue, one that very well may rear its ugly head in 2018. Alex Wood had a breakout first half of 2017 but was hampered by injuries to his shoulder and ankle throughout the year. Rich Hill is the poster child for the blister increase plaguing MLB pitchers, Kenta Maeda still hasn’t proven he can be effective pitching every five days, and Hyun-Jin Ryu is just waiting for his arm to fall off.
Considering that the Dodgers top pitching prospect Walker Buehler is waiting in the wings, it seems like the Dodgers are primed to utilize their starting staff similarly to how it was handled in 2017. The one factor that will make or break this prediction is health.
8. Trevor Bauer finishes the year as a top 15 SP
Trevor Bauer might be my favorite breakout candidate for 2018. We’ve known about the upside, we’ve known about his unorthodox warmups, and we know how he likes to tinker with his repertoire. In the second half of 2017 that tinkering seems to have clicked. I discussed his second half success in my Targets and Busts piece, and I believe that success will continue into 2018. A top 15 pitcher sounds like high praise, but I would like to acknowledge that Gio Gonzalez and Ervin Santana finished 2017 as the number 11 and 12 starters respectively. An extended string of success is possible for Bauer in 2018, making this prediction a bit less bold than some of the others.
9. Randal Grichuk puts it all together, hitting .270 with 40 home runs
Cardinals fans have been waiting for years to see the upside of Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty. Now, neither outfielder remains in St. Louis, and I honestly am more interested in them because of it. A change a scenery can mean a lot for a player; a new surrounding cast and new hitting environment may be just what a batter may need to take their talents to the next level. Well, Grichuk is now hitting in one of the best hitters parks at the Rogers Centre, hitting behind Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak. Like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion before him, Grichuk may be the Toronto Blue Jays newest breakout slugger.
10. The Atlanta Braves finish 2018 with a top 10 starter’s ERA
Stick with me here. The Atlanta Braves have a starting rotation that will be in fluctuation likely for the entirety of 2018. Thier Opening Day rotation looks to be the following: Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, Brandon McCarthy, Sean Newcomb, and Scott Kazmir. While none of these names strike fear into hearts of hitters. Teheran, Foltynewicz, and Newcomb have shown upside beyond their pedestrian 2017 numbers.
The Braves will likely see many of young pitching prospects at the major league level this year. Seemingly guaranteed to make a significant number of starts for Atlanta this year are Luiz Gohara and Max Fried, two lefties that each had a fair amount of success in their MLB debuts last season. With other top pitching prospects such as Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard, Touki Toussaint, and Kyle Wright progressing well, it would not be entirely surprising to see the Braves give any of them a cup of coffee in Atlanta. The sheer number of high upside arms in the Braves farm system is impressive, to say the least. If one or two of these young starters find some success at the major league level, the Braves have the flexibility to give them more opportunities for success. If they falter, another pitcher will ready to take their place.
The key to handling a young pitching staff is a confident catcher. The Braves have one of the best defensive catchers in the business in Tyler Flowers. Flowers had a breakout offensive season in 2017, but it’s his defensive abilities that set him apart from the crowd. Widely acknowledged as the best pitch framer in MLB, Flowers led all catchers in framing runs in 2017. His aptitude for stealing strikes and getting his pitchers to trust their stuff gives the Braves a notable advantage over other teams.
With a staff full of young pitchers with sky-high upside led by Tyler Flowers, the Atlanta Braves pitching staff may surprise baseball fans in 2018.