The season is closing in and we’re weeks away from the start of the 2019 MLB season, so you know what that means—it’s time for some bold predictions!
To clarify what these bold predictions are before you read this article and run to the comments section to call me mean names—bold predictions are things that I think could happen, as in, they’re not outside the realm of possibility, but not things I think will happen.
In fact, I would even argue that these predictions are not likely to happen at all, and if I end the year with more than like three of these correct, I’m either not bold enough or I’m some kind of prescient baseball psychic.
So, with all of that in mind, here are my 10 bold predictions for the 2019 season.
1. Chris Davis turns things around and becomes a top 10 first baseman
No, I’m not having a stroke, I’m really predicting that Chris Davis, the man who had the worst offensive season in MLB history last year, could have a bounce back this year. Davis is broken. Very broken. And it’s grown abundantly clear that he’s given up and has no idea how to fix himself, and that all culminated in former Oriole and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer calling Davis out last year. So why on earth would I think Davis could bounce back? For a few reasons. First, there’s honestly nowhere to go but up. When you end a season batting .168/.243/.296, there really isn’t much lower you can go (I mean, there is, but you get my point). Second, it’s a new era in Baltimore. There’s a new regime in place, a regime that is analytics-focused, with new coaches, including Don Long, the Orioles’ new hitting coach who seems dedicated to working with Davis. Could this new group of coaches and analysts find something in Davis’ approach that he hasn’t seen before, that the previous Dan Duquette/Buck Showalter regime didn’t show him (because they cared about analytics like I care about NASCAR, which is to say not at all)? I think that’s possible.
The Orioles also no longer have a veteran leader in the clubhouse with Adam Jones gone. There’s Mark Trumbo, I guess, but he doesn’t strike me as a clubhouse leader type. Could that be Davis? He’s certainly noticed he’s the veteran now. So here’s how I see a Chris Davis bounce back happening—Davis realizes he needs to step things up and be the leader of this team, he realizes that he needs to get his stuff together and step up for these young players in the middle of a rebuild, and the new, analytics-focused regime in Baltimore gives him the tools to do it. Could it happen? As an Orioles fan, I sure hope so.
2. Trevor Richards is a top 20 pitcher
If you kind of forgot Trevor Richards existed, it’s okay. He played for the Miami Marlins last year, so it’s understandable if you’re not 100% sure who he is. But give me a moment to preach the good gospel of Trevor to you, because this man has an absolutely filthy pitch—his changeup. How filthy is it? It logged a 52.3% chase rate, 24.2% SwStr rate and a 14.7 pVAL. That chase rate was good for the seventh most-chased pitch in all of baseball, and that pVAL was good for the third-highest pVAL among all changeups. So why isn’t he on more peoples’ radars? Because he also had one of the worst fastballs in baseball last year. Seriously, it was terrible, logging a -14.0 pVAL and a .212 ISO against. But this was his rookie year, and in that rookie year, he flashed one of the best pitches in all of baseball. If he can refine that fastball and command it better, and improve on his mediocre curveball, he could be an extremely dangerous pitcher. And it doesn’t hurt to pitch in a pitcher’s park like Miami.
3. Yasiel Puig finishes the year as a top 10 player and is in the running for MVP
I’ve always loved Yasiel Puig‘s skills, but I’ve been dying for him to leave the Los Angeles Dodgers for years. Even in L.A., he’s had some really great success, especially over the past two years. But now, he’s with the Cincinnati Reds in what looks like a pretty darn good lineup in a good hitter’s park, and I think he could run wild. Last year, he saw the best barrel rate of his career at 10.6% and he tied the best hard hit rate he’s had in his career at 40.3%. Assuming he stays healthy, I could easily see him taking advantage of his new surroundings and having an insane year.
4. Cedric Mullins goes 20/20 and bats at least .280
Two Orioles entries in my bold predictions? Sure, why not. Cedric Mullins was really impressive in the minors in 2018. Through 487 plate appearances in double- and triple-A last year, Mullins slashed .289/.346/.472 with 12 home runs and 21 stolen bases. He’s got power for sure, he hit 14 home runs in 2016 in single-A and 13 in 2017 in double-A. He’s also going to get playing time on a garbage Orioles team because they want to see what their rookies can do, and Mullins is one of their most promising ones. I also think new Orioles manager Brandon Hyde is going to let the team steal as many bases as they want. All of that combined with the skills Mullins has shown in the past and the fact that he’s hitting in the AL East, a 20/20 season I think is definitely in the cards.
5. Teoscar Hernandez leads the league in home runs
If you look at the leaderboard for barrel rate last year, you’ll see some familiar names in the top 10. Guys like Joey Gallo who led the league, Khris Davis at third, Mike Trout at fifth, and Aaron Judge at sixth. And if you scroll down to number 10, who do you see but Teoscar Hernandez with a 15.5% barrel rate—better than Giancarlo Stanton, Mookie Betts and Justin Upton, among others. Then, if you sort those leaderboards by hard-hit rate (percentage of balls hit at least 95 MPH), you’ll see Hernandez ranked 28th in baseball, ahead of Trevor Story, Bryce Harper and Jose Abreu. And then, if you look at the list of the leaders in xStats’ high drive rate (the best kind of hits a hitter can get) last year, you see Hernandez ranked seventh at 19.9%, just below Trout and ahead of Judge and Story. All of this is to say Teoscar hit the ball really hard last year, yet he ended with just 22 home runs. However, that also came with 29 xHRs, suggesting he should’ve had much better power numbers last year. Hernandez has the power, clearly, and as a result, I think he could demolish the ball if given the opportunity. But that last part is the key—he’s not going to play over Randal Grichuk or Kevin Pillar in the outfield, so we’ll have to see if he gets the nod over Billy McKinney. If he consistently does, the power potential is amazing.
6. Jonathan Schoop finishes the year as a top five second baseman
I’ve talked about this before, but I think you can almost entirely ignore the season Jonathan Schoop had last year. For a lot of the year, he was hurt, and I think the injury affected him most of the season (which would explain why his hard-hit rate dropped from 37.2% in 2017 to 30.6% last year). It’s clear that Manny Machado‘s trade affected Schoop in a major way (he even said as much last year), and I think that combined with his trade and his injury, a lot of the problems he had last year can be explained. Now, he’s in Minnesota on a one-year deal with a chance to bounce back. He’s also with Nelson Cruz, a guy he knew from the Orioles who I think could serve as a mentor for him. In 2017, Schoop slashed .293/.338/.503 with 32 home runs because he became more disciplined at the plate. I could see him picking things back up where he left off this year.
7. Ramon Laureano goes 20/20 and bats at least .290
Ramon Laureano is a hot sleeper around the fantasy community, and for a good reason. He’s shown great speed in the minors, stealing as many has 33 bases in 2016 (in just 80 games), and he’s shown good power. Last year in just 48 games, he hit five home runs, stole seven bases and batted .288. Pace that out to a full season and you’re looking at 15/20 season roughly, and that was in his rookie campaign. He’ll likely get a full-time gig with the Oakland Athletics given how good of a fielder he is, and if he does, I could see that power developing alongside his speed, making a 20/20 season totally possible (and maybe even better).
8. Daniel Palka hits at least 35 home runs
Similar to Teoscar Hernandez, Daniel Palka hit the ball really hard last year. On that barrel rate leaderboard, Palka was tied for 13th with a 14.4% barrel rate. And for hard-hit rate, he ranked 16th, with a 49.2% hard-hit rate. And on that high drive rate leaderboard, Palka ranked 16th with a 17.4% high drive rate. He hit 27 home runs last year already, so bumping up to at least 35 is not all that crazy I don’t think, and if he does that, his 328 ADP will be an absolute steal, even if he hits in the .240s.
9. Jackie Bradley Jr. finishes the year as a top 20 outfielder
I wrote a whole long thing about Jackie Bradley Jr. earlier this month, so if you want the deep explanation as to why I think he’s a good pick this year, I’d recommend reading that. But to summarize, JBJ has made a lot of effort to adjust his approach, and part of that was working a bit with Craig Wallenbrock, a hitting coach who worked with J.D. Martinez. The work has rocked JBJ’s world and you could see the effect it was starting to have on him in the second half of last year, when he slashed .269/.340/.487 compared to .210./297/.345 in the first half. He also started hitting the ball better than ever, with a career-best barrel rate and a career-best hard hit rate. All of this is to say, it looks like JBJ has made some definitive changes to his approach, and I think he really could finally tap into the athletic talent he’s got.
10. Anibal Sanchez finishes the year as a top 20 pitcher
I also wrote a whole long thing on the season Anibal Sanchez had last year, and again, I’d recommend reading that for an in-depth explanation of why I believe in him. But in short, Anibal toyed with his repertoire a lot, using a cutter instead of a four=seam fastball, and that cutter was excellent—good for the fourth-best cutter in all of baseball when ranked by pVAL. His changeup got way better too, ultimately being the 10th most-chased pitch in baseball and the 10th best changeup in the MLB by pVAL. Anibal made a lot of significant changes to his repertoire last year, and I think if those changes stick, he could be in for an excellent year again (and it doesn’t hurt that he stuck around in the NL with the Washington Nationals).