Jonathan Metzelaar’s 10 Bold Predictions for 2019
Fortis Fortuna adiuvat. It’s an old Latin saying. Roughly translated, it means “fortune favors the bold.” Back in ancient Rome, the phrase was spoken regularly. It was less as a piece of sage advice and more as a way of goading imperial soldiers into battles where the odds were stacked against them. It was effective—hundreds of thousands of men to charge bravely into skirmishes they had no hopes of winning. All in the name of glory.
Like the Roman soldiers in this fictional historical account that I just completely made up, I too shall boldly fling myself upon the swords of my enemies and haters in search of glory by sharing my 10 bold predictions for the upcoming baseball season. And though my name may not resonate throughout the hallowed halls of history when all is said and done, dozens of people shall look back at these proclamations and think to themselves, “Well, hey, he wasn’t that wrong.”
Before we jump into my 10 bold predictions for the year ahead, I think it’s worth mentioning that these predictions are meant to teeter right on the edge of being possible while still remaining highly unlikely. It’s important to focus more on the spirit of these predictions than the specific details, more for the sake of my pride than anything else.
1. Fernando Tatis Jr. is called up around the All-Star Break and is a top-5 shortstop from his promotion through the end of the season.
It was looking like Fernando Tatis Jr. was going to have to wait until 2020 before getting any big league action. Then the Padres signed Manny Machado and pushed their window of contention–and Tatis Jr.’s ETA–up by a season or two. Machado even went as far as to lobby for Tatis Jr. to break camp as the team’s starting shortstop. To which Luis Urias responded, “Um, seriously dude? I’m standing right here.”
As a 19-year-old in AA last season, Tatis Jr. managed to posted a .286/.355/.507 slash line with 16 homers and 16 stolen bases over just 394 plate appearances. He still has some kinks to iron out, as evidenced by the 27.7% strikeout rate he posted during that span, but the sky really is the limit for him. San Diego likely won’t be super competitive this year on account of their starting rotation (or lack thereof). But considering how quick they were to anoint the 21-year-old Urias with a starting role, I don’t think they’ll be shy to promote Tatis Jr. once the Super Two deadline passes early this summer. And I’m pretty confident he ends up hitting the ground running and becomes one of the hotter fantasy commodities heading into 2020.
2. Yusei Kikuchi finishes the season as a top-20 starting pitcher.
I say Kikuchi, Yusei Kikuchi, let’s call the whole thing off. I’ve been burned far too many times by people telling me to temper my expectations about the next hot international import. Cespedes was supposed to strike out too much to be much more than an average offensive outfielder. Tanaka was expected to be nothing more than “a solid, potential No. 3 starter.” Darvish was pegged as being too wild to ever be an ace. Ohtani would need a lengthy adjustment period.
Well fool me once, shame on you. Fool me four times… still shame on you, because you’re clearly taking advantage of someone with limited mental faculties. Kikuchi has the tools to be an ace: good control, a fastball that sits 92 but can touch 97 from the left side, a wipeout slider, and a decent curve. Having watched some video on him, I’m impressed by how mature his approach is for a 27-year-old. He’s not afraid to back-door his slider or curveball against lefties, as we saw in his spring debut when he made Joey Votto look silly:
Yusei Kikuchi surprised Joey Votto with a big curveball for his first strikeout pic.twitter.com/bLEEk2iGPF
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) February 25, 2019
Even better though, he’s also okay with working righties inside with those breaking pitches:
— Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim) October 14, 2017
Add to this the fact that his delivery is incredible deceptive and I think he’s destined to give the league fits in 2019.
3. Juan Soto finishes outside the top-100 players on ESPN’s Player Rater.
I was pretty low on Juan Soto when he was first recalled last season. The chances of a 19-year-old who had only played 62 games above rookie ball dominating at the major league level seemed unfathomably slim. Of course, he went on to do just that and make me look like a gosh-darned fool.
Well I’m not one to allow myself to be embarrassed only once—let’s go double or nothing. Soto has had a history of high ground-ball rates in the minors, and not surprisingly, he carried them over to the majors last season, posting a very high 53.7% rate. High ground-ball rates can be a big drain on power and/or batting average, but he was able to overcome it last year thanks to a 24.7% HR/FB and .338 BABIP. I don’t think either of those numbers are sustainable–especially given that he’s not known to possess a ton of speed.
Nomar Mazara is a name I can’t help but think of when I think of Soto, in the sense that Mazara was a top prospect who burst onto the scene at a very young age, but has had such high ground-ball rates over the past few years that he hasn’t been able to take that next step forward. I wouldn’t be completely surprised if Soto ended up hitting just .270 with 20-25 homers next year, and I don’t think that will be enough to crack the top-100.
4. Corey Dickerson posts a higher wRC+ than Marcell Ozuna, Nicholas Castellanos, Mitch Haniger and David Peralta.
This one might seem oddly specific, but I was trying to find outfielders with similar skillsets to Corey Dickerson that were going way, way, way ahead of him in drafts. Ozuna, Castellanos and Haniger are all getting picked right now inside the top-100 players, and Peralta’s ADP is 134. Dickerson, meanwhile, is being taken around pick 216.
The fact that Dickerson significantly reduced his swinging-strike rate and upped his contact rate last year is no secret. It helped him produce a .300 average and .288 xAVG while cutting his strikeout rate from 24.2% to 15%. And while critics might look at the 13 homers he produced and intuit that he sacrificed his power to make those gains, the 8.7% HR/FB—which was nearly half his career rate—tells me the power downturn was more a byproduct of bad luck, especially considering that his average launch angle, hard hit percentage and barrel rate weren’t significantly different than what he posted in 2017, when he hit 27 homers. I think his power numbers rebound this year, and he pairs it with his newfound contact rate to post a .285 average with 25 homers and 10 stolen bases while hitting in the heart of the Pirates lineup.
5. Garrett Hampson wins the Rookie of the Year Award.
Colorado doesn’t have the greatest reputation for how they handle their prospects. If you listen closely, you can hear Raimel Tapia screaming from the inescapable depths of their farm system. But I think Hampson might be a guy that they actually take a chance on to hold down the second base job, especially given that he’s 24 years old and has nothing else to prove at the minor league level.
I like Hampson’s profile quite a bit. He mixes 70-grade speed with double-digit pop that I think will definitely play up in Coors Field. He’s shown an exceptional eye at the plate and has really advanced contact ability. I see a poor man’s Carl Crawford in Hampson, and think he has a legitimate shot at hitting .285 with 12 homers and 35 stolen bases. That is, of course, assuming the Rockies don’t go full Rockies and re-sign Carlos Gonzalez to handle second base this year.
6. Joey Gallo is out of a job by the All-Star Break.
If you’ve been anywhere within earshot of me over the last few months, you’ve likely heard me muttering incoherently to myself about how much I dislike Joey Gallo and think he’s vastly overrated in standard fantasy formats. I could write a book thick enough to kill a horse with about the subject, but I’ll try to be as concise as possible about why I think his current ADP of 99 is absurd.
Gallo had the worst Z-Contact% among all qualified hitters last year, and the second-worst O-Contact%. He’s never hit above .210 and he’s never posted an xBA above .228. He hits a ton of pop-ups (11% career), which are completely useless outs. He pulls the ball a ton, and has produced a 48 wRC+ in his career against the shift. His SwStr%, contact rate, zone contact rate and chase rate were all worse than Chris Davis last year, and they both had identical strikeout rates. Chris Davis hit .168 with a 46 wRC+.
Joey Gallo does one thing well as far as standard fantasy leagues are concerned: he hits home runs. But 40 homers is not worth the hit job Gallo performs on your batting average, which you’ll have to work hard to cover later in the draft at the expense of your other team needs. Furthermore, home runs are not a scarce resource. In 2018, hitters combined for the fourth-most home runs in baseball history.
I think Gallo’s profile is a complete mess, and that he’s either benched or platooned by the All-Star Break when we look up and see that he’s hitting .190 on the season.
7. The Texas Rangers starters finish the year with a cumulative ERA below 4.00.
This might be my boldest prediction considering that the Texas rotation is staffed by two guys returning from Tommy John surgery (Shelby Miller and Drew Smyly), two guys who were real stanky last year (Mike Minor and Lance Lynn), and the reanimated corpse of Edinson Volquez. Only 12 teams received better than a 4.00 ERA from their starters last season, and the Rangers were not one of them. Their starters’ 5.37 ERA ranked 29th in baseball.
Still, I like what the Rangers have done in filling their rotation with high-upside bounceback candidates on cheap deals. Miller, Smyly, Minor and Lynn all have career ERAs below 4.00. Smyly in particular looked like he was blossoming into a potential top-30 pitcher before going down. And Lynn pretty clearly ran into a lot of bad luck last year. Miller’s a bit of a coin-flip, though he did seem to iron out some of his severe mechanical issues prior to getting hurt. And I think a minor adjustment to Minor’s approach could help him reign in his home run issues, as he has a varied pitch mix, but just fills up the zone a bit too much. It’s a long shot, but I do think there’s a lot of potential in that Texas rotation.
8. Wilmer Flores hits .280 with 20 homers, 80 Runs, and 80 RBI.
Fun fact: Wilmer Flores’ 9.8% strikeout rate last year was the fourth-lowest among hitters with at least 400 plate appearances. Flores had some good company in the category too, as guys like Michael Brantley, Jose Ramirez, Andrelton Simmons and Jean Segura also placed inside the top 10.
Now strikeout rate isn’t everything—Jose Iglesias and Victor Martinez also produced some of the lowest overall rates last year—but it does correlate fairly well with higher batting averages. And Flores has teased us with 20+ homer power in the past, including 2016 when he hit 16 homers in 335 plate appearances, and 2017 when he hit 18 homers in just 362 plate appearances. With him heading to a more hitter-friendly ballpark and division this year, I think he’ll easily eclipse that plateau now that he’ll likely have more consistent playing time.
Flores’ biggest weakness is his propensity for hitting pop-ups. His 13.2% career infield fly-ball rate is one of the highest in the league and over twice the league average. But I think it’s something within his capacity to fix, given that he’s still just 27 years old. Straightening out those pop-ups might be the only thing standing between him and a breakout year, and I think he’ll have every opportunity to flash the pedigree that made him a regular top-100 prospect in the minor leagues. Baseball once made Flores cry. Now it’s Flores’ turn to make baseball cry.
9. The entire Cleveland Indians starting rotation finishes inside the top-25 starting pitchers for the year.
This is kind of a roundabout way of saying that I think Mike Clevinger repeats his excellent 2018 and Shane Bieber makes all the haters ask themselves, “Is it too late now to say sorry?” My apologies, I subsist primarily on low-hanging fruit.
Bieber didn’t throw many innings last year, but the ones he did throw were impressive. His K-BB% was the 24th best in baseball last year among pitchers with at least 90 IP, and he carried over the impeccable control he showed in the minors while still generating a ton of strikeouts. The 4.55 ERA was blegh, but the 3.23 FIP and 3.45 SIERA point to him having run into a lot of bad luck. He never posted a HR/9 above 0.55 in the minors, and his pitches all generate a healthy amount of ground balls, so I think the homers come down next year. And even though his fastball is described as being “too hittable,” I think his 70-grade control will help it play up, especially when it tunnels as well as it does with his slider:
In summary, Cleveland has a rotation full of aces and you should draft as many of them as you can.
10. Jon Lester finishes outside the top-80 starting pitchers with an ERA north of 4.50.
Lester is currently being picked inside the top-50 starting pitchers in drafts, and although that’s a hefty drop compared to where he’s gone in years past, I don’t think it’s nearly low enough. Sure, he posted a 3.32 ERA last year, but much of that was the result of a first half in which he got extraordinarily lucky. He posted a 2.58 ERA in the first half thanks in large part to a .253 BABIP allowed and 83.6% left-on-base rate. In the second half though, his luck abandoned him, and he produced a 4.50 ERA while surrendering homers at a 1.41 HR/9 clip.
Lester saw significant deterioration in his ability to elicit chases out of the zone and get swinging strikes last year, and he couldn’t keep the ball in the yard. What’s more, he was actually worse against lefties than righties last season after generally having good success against same-handed batters. At 35 years old, I think this is the year everything falls apart for Lester and he becomes unrosterable in almost all formats.
Photo by Jeff Chevrier/Icon Sportswire