It’s hot-take season! Anyone and everyone has their share of bold predictions for the upcoming season as it approaches because — well, it’s easy. We all want to be the one who come season’s end can proudly say, “called it!”
I can’t lie, though. If I am able to say in October that I got just one of these predictions correct, I would run through the streets of Buffalo wearing nothing but a crown and a robe screaming, “I told you all!” Not the image you were hoping for? Fair enough. Well, then pull up a chair and warm up next to these scorching hot takes.
And we’re off and running. There is no question that the 59 home run, 138 RBI pace that Luke Voit was on in his 39 games with the Yankees was and is unsustainable. So why the Paul Goldschmidt comparison? I found myself watching Voit’s spring at-bats and racking my brain to try and figure out a comp for Voit’s ability at the plate as well as a best-case scenario outlook for the 2019 season. A big, strong first baseman who hits the ball incredibly hard and can drive it to the opposite field with as much power as anyone. Goldy immediately came to mind. They even sit at the exact same stature of 6’3″ and 225 lbs.
Now, I am not saying Voit will end up as an MVP candidate come season’s end, but when looking at Goldschmidt’s 2018 season, if all goes well, is it farfetched to see Voit finishing with that type of production? He hits in an absolutely stacked Yankees lineup and in one of the best hitter’s parks in all of baseball, especially for a guy who drives the ball as well as Voit does. Goldy finished 2018 at .290/.389/.533 33 home runs and 83 RBI. Here we are gearing up for the new season, and the newest addition to the Cardinals lineup is shaping up to a be an early second round pick in fantasy drafts. If Voit posts a line of .285/.350/.500 30 home runs and 85 RBI, while it being very optimistic, would it be that outlandish?
2. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will start the All-Star game
This may not be all that bold at first glance, but when you consider the amount of talent at third base in the American League, it would definitely raise some eyebrows. But that is exactly what Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has done his entire pro career. The soon-to-be 20-year-old top prospect finds himself in a hot corner class that includes Jose Ramirez, Alex Bregman, Miguel Andujar, and Matt Chapman in the Junior Circuit. Although let’s be real: Once Guerrero hits the big leagues, he will be the talk of the town. And seeing as the positional starters of the “Midsummer Classic” are voted on by the fans, one can certainly see Vladito getting plenty of support on the ballot.
As I am typing this, of course, the news of Vlad suffering an oblique strain has just come out. Even with the report of him missing the next three weeks, and obliques definitely being a lingering, tricky injury to predict upon, I stand by my take.
3. Andrew McCutchen finishes top 5 in NL MVP
Those who are close to me know it is no secret how big an Andrew McCutchen fan I am. Since he was called up to the bigs back in 2009, I have loved his ability, passion, and attitude toward the game. Even being the huge fan of Cutch that I am, I know that he may have lost a step over the past couple years. This being said, McCutchen is in a situation this year that he has never experienced before. At no point in his career has McCutchen played regularly in a ballpark (11 games in Yankee Stadium notwithstanding) that is such a benefit to hitters as Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Since 2014, Citizens Bank Park has allowed the most home runs per game to right-handed hitters in all of baseball. Yes, even more than Coors Field.
Park factors aren’t your thing? Then let’s take a look at that Phillies lineup atop which Cutch is projected to hit. The 32-year-old outfielder will be hitting in front of the likes of Jean Segura, Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, and J.T. Realmuto. Even dating back to his earliest years in Pittsburgh, McCutchen has never hit in a lineup with as much protection as this 2019 Phillies squad. Cutch is coming off a season in which he walked a hair under 14% of the time and had the best hard-contact rate of his career at 43.4%, so while the batting average may not be the plus that it used to be, he is still an elite on-base machine hitting in front of all that firepower. If he is able to stick in the leadoff spot, he could definitely be poised for a huge season. And while all the spotlight will be on Harper, Realmuto, and even Hoskins going into his second full season in the show, McCutchen could very easily become the unsung hero of the success of this potent lineup.
With a little bit of better BABIP luck, which is certainly possible hitting in such a hitter-friendly park, and this lineup firing on all cylinders, Cutch could really turn back the clock this year. With a total of 180 to 190 runs plus RBI, somewhere between 25 and 30 home runs, all while throwing in 10 to 15 stolen bases, McCutchen is going to be a fantasy steal this year and arguably the most valuable addition this offseason.
4. Josh Donaldson finishes top 5 in fantasy
Amidst all the huge multiyear deals that have been dished out this offseason, Josh Donaldson makes his way to the Senior Circuit after inking a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves. The now 33-year-old third baseman has only played a total of 165 games over the past two years combined with a series of calf and shoulder ailments. Though Donaldson has had his difficulties staying on the field, he has still produced at a near-elite level when he has been able to play. In those 165 games from 2017 to 2018, Donaldson hit .262/.375/.525 with 41 home runs, 101 RBI, 95 runs, and an OPS+ of 139. If Donaldson is able to compile those numbers while battling injuries off and on, one has to believe that if healthy, he’s still got plenty of game left.
“The Bringer of Rain” is entering a great situation in Atlanta, playing alongside a plethora of young talent including the Braves’ face of their franchise Freddie Freeman, so there isn’t a ton of pressure on Donaldson. While it can be argued that only being signed to a one-year deal makes this a huge season for him, it also provides him a ton of motivation. As it stands right now, Donaldson is healthy, and the Braves are doing everything they can to keep it that way for their $23 million investment. Currently slated to hit second between second-year phenom Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freeman, Donaldson is going to have every opportunity to succeed for the defending NL East champs. He has always been an elite source of OBP, and while he posted a career-high strikeout rate this past year, which I am going to associate with the ongoing shoulder issue he had, I think if Donaldson can stay on the field for around 145 games, he can be at least a top-10 hitter in the game.
5. Eloy Jimenez hits 35 HRs and wins AL Rookie of the Year
If Guerrero did not exist, Eloy Jimenez would be the most-hyped prospect going into 2019, and for good reason. The slugger from the Dominican Republic has mashed at every level of the minors and is slated to make an impact almost immediately for the White Sox. He will likely be held down for the typical two to three weeks to gain the extra year of service time, but Jimenez will have no problem sliding right into the middle of the South Siders’ lineup. I cannot foresee the likes of Jon Jay, Adam Engel, or Daniel Palka holding Chicago back from calling up their top prospect as soon as that waiting period is over.
Eloy’s hit tool is one of the best we have seen in a long time. The guy does not strike out, hits the ball well to all fields, and has legit light tower power. No, really.
With Guerrero set to miss some time because of the previously mentioned oblique strain, Jimenez should get a head start on the race to American League Rookie of the Year. Expect him to hit the ground running and never look back.
6. Buster Posey regains form, finishes as a top-3 fantasy catcher
Although it may feel like an eternity, it was not all that long ago that Buster Posey was the top fantasy option at the catcher position. The Giants backstop is coming off surgery to not only repair a hip impingement but an additional surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. Posey is coming off his worst offensive season of his career and failed to reach 140 games for the first time since his injury-shortened 2011 season. One has to believe the hip and shoulder ailments contributed to his career-low HR/FB rate, which was an abysmal 4.7%. Without the solid foundation of his hips and lower body and the strength of his right shoulder, it is very difficult to generate any power whatsoever.
Even as a soon-to-be 32-year-old catcher coming off two major surgeries, Posey will have every opportunity to make a fantasy impact because of his reported workload and the position of catcher being an absolute dumpster fire. Posey is currently going off the board around pick 142 in NFBC drafts as the seventh catcher off the board. Stating he is going to finish top three at the position, it kind of goes without saying the other two at the top of the list will be J.T. Realmuto and Gary Sanchez. In my opinion, those two are going to be very difficult to surpass this year. The other four guys going ahead of Posey are difficult to sell me on at their current prices when you take a look at their recent productivity.
Averages from 2015-2017:
*2016-2018, Contreras made MLB debut in 2016
Am I cherry picking a little bit excluding 2018? Maybe. But I really feel like Posey cannot be completely overlooked because of his age and poor season a year ago. Now healthy and playing a very thin fantasy position, I expect Posey to bounce back much closer to that line from the previous three years.
7. Noah Syndergaard follows his teammate, wins NL Cy Young
Despite the massive upside of Noah Syndergaard, this one is definitely a tough sell. He has only surpassed 180 innings once and seemingly carries the most risk of any of the elite starters in the game. That being said, the man is outright filthy. He arguably has the nastiest pitch repertoire of anyone, and this is a guy who plays on the same team as one Jacob deGrom. Syndergaard is equipped with an upper 90s sinker and a four-seamer that touches triple digits, as well as a low 90s slider and changeup with movement for days. So how on earth could he not win the Cy Young eventually?
Thor has had his share of durability and consistency issues, but we have seen him be one of the most dominant pitchers in the game across 183 innings in 2016. Therefore, the question has to be asked: If Syndergaard can churn out 31 or 32 starts and muster up 180 to 190 innings, could he sustain his dominance and put up a Cy Young-caliber season? While historically you certainly do not think of a winner only tallying 180 innings, the Rays’ Blake Snell only racked up 180.2 innings in 2018 and took home the hardware.
Syndergaard has all the tools to be the top pitcher in the league. And while he pitches in a vastly improved NL East, his supporting cast in Queens has also improved immensely and should provide him every chance to succeed and finally make his push to the top of the starting pitching ranks. As long as Thor can harness the command of his four-seam fastball and work it up in the zone, the sky is the limit.
8. Daniel Murphy wins NL batting title, hits .360
This is one of those matches made in heaven. A guy who holds a slash line of .326/.375/.542 over the past three years will now play his home games in Coors Field. Now, nobody has hit .360 since Joe Mauer in 2009, but if there is anyone who could, it’s Daniel Murphy hitting in Colorado. In 26 games played in Coors, Murphy has hit .330 with a .358 BABIP. It may be a small sample size, but few in the game have better bat control than Murphy. He will likely be hitting third in the Rockies order behind Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado and in front of Trevor Story. Chances are he’s going to see a ton of pitches.
Health will always be a question for Murphy as he has not reached 160-plus games played since 2013, but you can’t knock the production. If he is able to tally 140-150 games, which playing first base will hopefully preserve the eventual 34-year-old, he will undoubtedly rake. Offseason knee surgery should help Murphy get his legs back under him (pun intended) and improve upon his lowest hard-hit rate since 2012.
9. Joey Gallo hits .230!
BLASPHEMOUS! This may be the most outlandish prediction on this list seeing as Joey Gallo is a career .203 hitter across over 1200 plate appearances. This very well might be who Gallo is, the quintessential “three true outcomes” hitter. But I just cannot accept that. For a guy who hits the ball so hard, I just cannot fathom the fact that this major league hitter can only barely stay above the Mendoza line.
Gallo led the majors in barrels per plate appearance this past year and finished third in average exit velocity; he has also never hit below .240 at any level of the minors and has had an xBA of .221 and .228 over the past two seasons. The underlying evidence is there that makes it a very real possibility. I know he strikes out more than 36% of the time, and that is overwhelmingly alarming. Aaron Judge is also a guy who strikes out more than 30% of the time, squares the ball up just as much, and is able to maintain a solid average. Gallo can do this, and it would truly do wonders for his fantasy value.
10. The Indians have 3 of the top 15 SPs in fantasy, none of whom are Corey Kluber
I am, for the most part, out on Corey Kluber this year. As someone who had several shares of the Indians right-hander a year ago, despite his final numbers being pretty elite, I could not help but feel disappointed. You take a look at his 20 wins, 2.89 ERA, and 26.4% strikeout rate, how on earth could I be so down on Klubot? While the overall outcome was very good, the road to get there was somewhat of a bumpy one. In 14 of Kluber’s 33 starts, he surrendered three of more runs. Yes, I know, three runs in six innings or more is technically a quality start, but we all know a 4.50 ERA is far from a quality pitcher. The most startling stat from those 14 starts was that eight of them were against teams who finished below .500 in winning percentage. In a way, Kluber was a bit of a Cherry Bomb in 2018. He got hit harder than ever before in his career, his velocity continues to dip, and he is starting to miss fewer bats. Kluber will more than likely continue to produce very steady numbers, but there are more than enough warning signs for me to fade him and favor three other guys in the Tribe’s rotation.
Those three guys are Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and Mike Clevinger. I can safely say that I will have many more shares of this trio than Kluber, especially when you consider draft price and return value. Bauer is coming off an absolutely sensational 2018. If he had not missed over a month with a fibula fracture, he very well may have taken home the AL Cy Young award. The 28-year-old has been on a completely different level dating back to the All-Star break of 2017. Since July 21, 2017, Bauer holds a 2.33 ERA, 10.87 K/9, and a 12.3% swinging-strike rate. Bauer appears to be here to stay, and everyone needs to take notice.
Carrasco has been one of the most consistent pitchers over the past three years, posting a 3.33 ERA, 3.14 xFIP, 13.7% swinging-strike rate, and nearly a 28% strikeout rate. One can definitely see “Cookie” leapfrogging Kluber come season’s end with any sort of negative regression to Kluber’s game.
As for Clevinger, the 28-year-old righty took a huge step forward this past year, amassing 200 innings with more than a strikeout per inning and established himself as a bona fide horse. Currently sitting as the No. 4 (!) in the Cleveland rotation, Clevinger has a very good four-pitch repertoire that resulted in a 12% swinging-strike rate. He looks primed to take another step forward pitching in an altogether weak division and could easily find himself outperforming his current SP19 ADP.
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