Folks, it’s March, and there’s no better way to get excited for the season than with some bold predictions!
1. Cavan Biggio leads the AL in runs scored
Currently, the soon-to-be 25-year-old is slated to hit second in the Blue Jays lineup ahead of Lourdes Gurriel Jr./strong>., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Travis Shaw, so there should be ample opportunity for him to get driven in, should he get on base. Oh, about getting on base: Biggio posted a 16.5% walk rate in his rookie season, after marks of 17.8% and 19.5% in Double-A and Triple-A, respectively. He’s been critiqued for being too passive at the plate, registering a swing rate among the lowest in the league, but I’m willing to bet it’s a cautious approach to a new level, making sure he doesn’t get fooled too often. He still has a ways to go as a hitter, whiffing on over 32% of both breaking balls and offspeed pitches, but if he continues to grow as a hitter and the hit tool advances, he could hit .270 with a .410 OBP and push for a share of the lead league in runs. Oh, and he could go 25-25 in the process. No big deal.
These sluggers are all very similar: big bodied players who have injury risks but, when healthy, absolutely mash. In 2019, these three players occupied two of the top four spots in exit velocity on FB/LD (Sano and Reyes, Sanchez #31) and two of the top five spots in Brls/PA% (Sanchez and Sano, Reyes #14). Reyes is actually an outlier in this group because he has played at least 130 games each of the last four years and 120 each of the last six, though only one season of 150 games is concerning. He belted 37 HRs in his 548 PAs last year and is projected for roughly the same in 2020 despite more PAs across the board. If his HR/FB holds at the same levels it has throughout his career thus far, he could push past 40 given enough playing time in Cleveland. Sano hit 34 in just 439 PAs in 2019 and should push for 40+ given health; same with Sanchez who hit the same number of HRs in 7 additional PAs. It’s extraordinarily unlikely that all of these players are healthy throughout 2020, but I’ll make a bold bet on it.
Nick Madrigal is basically a faster, more patient Luis Arraez, and I get very concerned about players who, at their peak, are three-category players. Madrigal’s calling card is his hit tool; he has batted well over .300 at nearly every stop of the minors and struck out just 16 times over 532 PAs in 2019. He’s getting some helium because he’s likely to unseat Leury Garcia and Danny Mendick in time. But if the hit tool doesn’t show up right away, which it doesn’t always, you’re looking at a guy who doesn’t walk a ton, has middling to above average speed, and doesn’t have even the slightest bit of power (4 HRs in 705 minor league PAs). Yes, he has speed, but if he’s not getting on base, the speed will go nowhere.
Victor Robles will be on a roster at season’s end because he’s too good not to be, right? We’re talking a guy with regularly hit close to .300 throughout the minors with elite speed and the ability to bop close to 20 HRs, so where’s the flaw? Maybe it’s his 0th percentile EV. That’s not a typo. Add a 10th percentile xBA, a 4th percentile HH%, and 10th percentile xwOBA and xSLG and you get someone who just hasn’t figured out major league pitching. If all goes wrong, we have basically Mallex Smith scoring more runs and that’s gross.
4. Byron Buxton finishes as a top 15 OF
I JUST CAN’T QUIT YOU, LORD BYRON. I know his variety of outfield defense means these injuries will keep happening. But when I look at his profile, I see an improved barrel rate and a decent xBA and xSLG, and an improved K%. Sure, it only came in 87 games, and he’s only played 100 games once… but maybe this is the year. He’s still got elite sprint speed (second best in baseball last year) and posted 14 SBs in 87 games. I know how unlikely this is, but I just wanna dream of a healthy Buxton fulfilling all his potential.
5. The Mets beat the Reds, followed by the Rays, to win the 2020 World Series
Last year, I predicted the Mets would win the World Series. I was wrong. I still think they have a very real shot to win the World Series again in 2020 for pretty much the same reasons as last year: Ramos, Alonso, Cano, Rosario, McNeil, Davis, Conforto, and Nimmo is one of the better lineups in baseball with a rotation headed by deGrom, Syndergaard, and Stroman and a potentially awesome bullpen to boot.
I’m also a big fan of both the Reds and Rays this year; the Reds added Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos to an already dangerous lineup and return one of the league’s best pitching staffs. If the back end can hold up, this team has a great shot at winning the NL Central and getting close to a title.
Call me crazy, but I think the Rays will win the AL East this year. The Yankees are the big dogs but they’re already hurting, and the Rays have the roster depth to bear losing pretty much anyone on their team. Not only are they deep, but the roster is very flexible and the farm is deep; they should be able to add whatever reinforcements they need during the season.
6. Chris Davis is a top 12 1B
The hype train is leaving the station folks! At the time of writing this, Chris Davis is 5/8 with 3 HRs, 6 RBI, and 5 BBs for a .625/.714/.1750 triple slash. It’s nuts. It won’t last. But what if the elite producer of 2012, ’13, and ’15 is back? The Orioles have no reason to play Davis, especially with Ryan Mountcastle on the rise, but I’d love to see him put together a banner season again out of nowhere. Who wouldn’t?
7. Grayson Rodriguez is the consensus top pitching prospect this time next year and a top 200 pick entering 2021
TWO Orioles predictions, and they’re both good? I know, it’s crazy. My offseason goal going into 2020 was to better understand prospects. To that end, I joined two dynasty leagues and read a few prospect-exclusive publications, and I have my first prospect crush: Grayson Rodriguez. The Orioles first round pick of the 2018 draft absolutely jumps off the page: 6’5, 220, with no less than three above-average offerings, including a fastball that sat 95 and touched 97 in 2019. He pairs that fastball with an elite slider and a curve that’s not far behind. His changeup has also flashed elite potential, helping him more consistently retire left-handed hitters. Add that to a delivery that is very repeatable and strong command and you’ve got a potential frontline starter in the making. He should start the season repeating High-A ball but could make it as far as Triple-A by the end of the year, preparing him for a shot at being the league’s best rookie in 2021. Man, I want things to work out for him so badly.
8. Daulton Varsho is among the most common names on championship rosters in 2020
And now to my second prospect crush. Varsho is a bit of a unicorn because he plays catcher, but he could also hit .300 with 20-20 counting stats to boot. The catch is actually the best part; he’s not a good catcher. Varsho does not profile as a catcher in the bigs, but he could catch just enough to maintain eligibility despite getting most of his time either at 1B or OF. He hit .301/.378/.520 in 452 PAs at Double-A last year and should move up to Triple-A to start the year, unless the Diamondbacks really think keeping him down in favor of John Hicks is the right move, which puts him an injury away from a call-up. As of now, he has limited experience away from C (only 36 innings at Double-A in CF), but the Diamondbacks should use their catching depth at Triple-A to move Varsho around the diamond and find out where he can fill in when not catching.
9. Jurickson Profar finishes with 30 HRs, 15 SBs, and a .280 average
This comes down to two things: playing time and improved production. To the first point, Profar is projected for between 510-545 PAs per the five main projections systems. OK, now that we got that out of the way, so let’s get to the improved production.
Let’s start with the batting average. While Profar’s history and batted ball profile does not lend itself to a high BABIP, a .218 mark is just unrealistic. If he’s able to spread the ball around the way he did in 2017 and 2018, he should be able to carry a higher BABIP, maybe even somewhere close to .300. Maybe .280 is completely crazy, but I think it’s very possible.
With an improved BABIP comes two things: more power and more on-base opportunities. The power will come if he’s making better, stronger contact. You can’t look to his savant profile for any inspiration, but if he can get to 20 in back-to-back seasons with a poor BABIP, I think he may be able to get to 30.
Lastly, Profar has just 19 SBs over the last two years suggesting he may not have 15 SB upside, but I’m inclined to think that if he gets on base at a significantly higher clip than 2019, he’ll have more opportunities to swipe bags. It’s unlikely, but it’s not impossible.
10. Giovanny Gallegos finishes as the best closer in 2020
I just know this one will be wrong and not because I don’t think Giovanny Gallegos is the best pitcher in that Cardinals bullpen. Rather, because saves are dumb and keep getting dumber. The first part of this bold prediction is built on a very faulty premise: The St. Louis Cardinals were second in baseball in save opportunities in 2019, presenting a clear opportunity to whoever gets the lion’s shares of saves there should they repeat in that statistic. The second part is the more reliable part: Gallegos is awesome. The Yankee prospect who went to the Cardinals for Luke Voit posted a 2.31 ERA over 74 IP with a 11.3 K/9 (33.3 K%), 2.89 SIERA, and an elite fastball/slider mix (6.7 and 13.9 pVAL last year) that will continue to keep batters on their toes in the late innings this coming season. Unfortunately, he’ll have to beat out Andrew Miller, John Brebbia, and Ryan Helsley to get the job, which he can because he’s likely the most talented of the group. This also assumes that there is a “job” to win and not just a mix and match of different guys depending on Mike Shildt’s mood that day.
Photos courtesy of Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)