(Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire)
This is my first go-round with Bold Predictions for Pitcher List, though I also just published my fourth edition for RotoBaller last week. It was a challenge to come up with 10 more predictions without either repeating myself or one of the other fine writers here, but I’m happy with the results. As a reminder/CYA, I feel as though the sweet spot with these is three out of 10. Anything more and you weren’t being bold enough; anything less and you probably went too far out on too many limbs. And hey, .300 is a gold standard for batting average in the majors – that’s good enough for me.
Let’s hit it.
1. Delino DeShields scores 100 runs and leads the American League in stolen bases
In my other life as a RotoBaller columnist, I boldly predicted two seasons ago that DeShields would steal more bases than Billy Hamilton. He stole eight bases, or one fewer than Hamilton managed in a three-day span that August. So, y’know…that could’ve gone better. I’m betting on The Dentist again this spring despite that. He’s penciled in as the starting center fielder and leadoff man for the Rangers, and manager Jeff Bannister told reporters he believes that 50 steals is a realistic goal. DeShields, of course, stole over 100 bases in the minors a few years ago. As long as he hits enough to stick at the top of the lineup, he should have plenty of chances to run, and to score runs.
2. Arizona Zacks: Godley > Greinke
Fantasy owners are wringing their hands over Greinke’s diminished velocity this spring, but the story was much the same a year ago, and Greinke pitched just fine. This is more a vote of confidence for Godley than anything. The 27-year-old increased his velocity and his curveball usage, which led to a huge spike in his K% to supplement his excellent groundball rate. With the humidor now installed at Chase Field, Godley’s already above-average home run suppression should take another leap forward. Godley’s available about 80 picks later, but he’ll outproduce his teammate/fellow Zack.
3. Luis Castillo fails to crack the top 50 starting pitchers…
Everyone loves Castillo this season, and it’s easy to see why. The Reds’ potential ace boasts an impressive repertoire: high 90s fastball, a changeup that flashed dominant against both lefties and righties, and a wipeout slider. He put it to extremely effective use as a rookie, with a 27.3 K% and 58.8 GB% backing up his strong ratios (3.12 ERA, 1.07 WHIP). So why the Debbie Downer routine? Mostly to troll Nick Pollack, who is at least 50 percent likely to be doodling hearts around Castillo’s name in a spiral notebook at this very moment. But I do have some concerns. Castillo had never pitched above Double-A before last season, for one thing, and we all know prospect growth is often nonlinear. He also enjoyed a .247 BABIP that’s likely to rise, and his ERA will rise along with it if he continues to have trouble keeping fly balls in the yard. Castillo also needs to prove he has the stamina to make it through a full MLB season. There’s real downside risk here, despite the evident talent and fervent hype.
4. But Nick Pivetta does
“Be Bold” is the mantra that new Phillies manager Gabe Kapler brought to training camp, and I’m certainly following his lead with this prediction. Pivetta posted ghastly ratios last season as a rookie (6.02 ERA, 1.51 WHIP), thanks in large part to allowing 25 home runs in just 133 innings. Look closer, though, and you can see reasons for optimism. Pivetta’s 18.2 HR/FB% isn’t likely to repeat itself in 2018, nor is his 67.1% strand rate. He also got rather unlucky with a league-worst .327 BABIP on ground balls, when his expected BABIP on those based on hard-hit rate would have come in at .249 – much closer to the .241 league average. The Phillies should boast a better infield defense this season, with Carlos Santana replacing slow, stone-handed Tommy Joseph at first and J.P. Crawford taking the reins at shortstop. Pivetta also struck out over a batter per inning despite his struggles last year, making him just one of 34 starters to accomplish that feat.
5. Chris Iannetta is a top 10 catcher
I wanted to tout Robinson Chirinos here, but Dave Cherman and Ben Pernick both beat me to the punch. Instead, here’s some love for Iannetta. He’s returning to my adopted home city of Denver for a second tour of duty with the Rockies, which by itself is enough to make him interesting. The 34-year-old played pretty well last season for Arizona, hitting .254/.354/.511 with 17 home runs in just 89 games. It was a return to his early-career levels of performance that neatly coincided with him playing his home games in a hitter-friendly park. They don’t get any friendlier than Coors, and Iannetta likely won’t face much competition for playing time from either Tony Wolters or Tom Murphy.
6. Elvis Andrus is not a top 10 shortstop
Andrus hit 20 home runs last year after hitting 24 in the prior five seasons combined. Even in this juiced ball/fly ball revolution/whatever you want to call it era, that raises an eyebrow. So too does the fact that Andrus hit .297 despite posting career-worst marks in both K% and SwStr%. Last season was also the first time he’d scored more than 75 runs since 2013, and the first time he’d ever surpassed 70 RBI. You can definitely count on 20 – 30 steals if nothing else, but Andrus is the first SS off the board after the elite tier, and that seems rather optimistic.
7. Fernando Rodney leads the American League in saves
I’m convinced that Rodney is going to be shooting invisible arrows from MLB mounds until long after I am dead. He just turned 41 last week and showed no signs of slowing down, notching 39 saves for the Diamondbacks and posting a strikeout rate above 26 percent for the sixth consecutive season. Rodney will always be an adventure due to his slipshod control, but he makes it work by limiting hard contact and home runs to go with the punchouts. Per FanGraphs, the Twins are currently projected for the narrowest positive gap between runs scored and runs allowed, which means there should be plenty of save situations in Minnesota. That’ll be enough for Rodney to continue defying the laws of time and rewarding smart-shopping fantasy owners.
8. Ozzie Albies is a top 40 overall player
With how much I’ve hyped Albies all offseason, I should probably be wearing a Viking helmet and a giant clock around my neck. Seriously though, he only turned 21 in January and while 57 games isn’t the largest sample in the world, Albies already looks like he belongs in the majors. He hit .286/.354/.456 in those contests, with six home runs and eight stolen bases in nine attempts. Throughout his minor league career and its aggressive promotions, the Braves’ less-heralded phenom has shown great bat-to-ball skills, along with a good grasp of the strike zone and blazing speed. Last season, he also put up the best isolated power marks of his career (.156 at Triple-A, .171 in the majors), demonstrating that he can provide more than just an empty batting average. The 5-foot-9, 160-pound Albies will never be a big-time power hitter, but he has enough pop in his bat to crack double-digit home runs. He’ll hit second in the Braves’ lineup between Ender Inciarte and Freddie Freeman, giving him plenty of chances to score runs. So far in his career, he’s stolen bases at a 35 SB per 600 plate appearances clip. That 600 PA benchmark, by the way, is one he’s surpassed in each of the last two seasons. An area often overlooked when weighing the pros and cons of young players is the grind of a full season’s worth of plate appearances; Albies has proven he can handle it. He’s a superstar in the making.
9. Eugenio Suarez is a top 10 third baseman
Suarez has clearly been taking cues from teammate Joey Votto. Since landing in Cincinnati in 2015, Suarez has more than tripled his walk rate. He’s also doubled his home run total in that, with last season’s 26 representing a career best. There may not be much batting average upside beyond last season’s .260, but Suarez was likely better than you realize last season. He outproduced Kyle Seager (who’s going 75 picks earlier on average) and more or less equaled Jake Lamb’s output (55 picks earlier). And in 2018, he’s slated to hit cleanup behind Votto, making 100 RBI extremely feasible. The hot corner is stacked with studs, so Suarez an afterthought in most drafts – which means there’s a ton of profit potential here.
Marte missed half of last season after being suspended for PEDs. A quick glance at his numbers suggests he more or less picked up where he left off, with seven home runs and 21 steals in 77 games. Marte’s contact quality, however, declined enough to be a concern; he managed only nine extra-base hits other than those homers. Power was never his calling card, but the lack of authoritative contact may also cap his batting average. Marte is only 29, but he’s battled injuries basically every season as a pro and it’s not crazy to think they might be catching up to him. Inciarte, meanwhile, is coming off a season that approached vintage Marte – .304, 93 runs, 11 homers, 22 steals. He’s not quite the SB threat that Marte is/was, but Inciarte should outpace him in the other three categories.