A few things to get out of the way right from the top.
First, I’m a positive, glass-half-full kind of guy. Married with three young children, my aim is to teach my kids to try to see the good in everything. So when I do player evaluations, my default will always be to one of optimism – to root for a player/team to achieve something great (or remain healthy), as opposed to predicting someone will struggle, get injured, or fail to perform. That doesn’t mean critical analysis isn’t sometimes warranted, but overall I’m simply not in the business of tearing people down, especially athletes who are incredible at what they do for a living.
Second, I was tasked for this article to make some bold predictions for the upcoming 2021 season – everyone loves bold predictions during draft season – with the caveat that said predictions should only have roughly a 10% chance of actually happening. I interpret that as “Spence, swing for the fences buddy – let’s channel our inner Joey Gallo here. Go big or go home”.
Lastly, I chose to do nine predictions because nine is just a magical number in baseball. Nine inning games. Nine positions on the diamond. Bases are ninety feet apart.
So here we go.
1.) Yoán Moncada wins American League MVP.
I’m coming out swinging, ripping the first pitch of the game down into the corner for a leadoff triple. The Chicago White Sox offense is a fantasy merry-go-round. Exciting, talented players up-and-down their lineup with an abundance of both speed and power which profiles as one of the best offenses in all of baseball. Players who will be getting on base constantly and moving station-to-station, scoring loads of runs in the process. I find myself wanting any piece of this offense in fantasy drafts that I can get my hands on, from reigning AL MVP José Abreu to Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert, Tim Anderson, or even cheaper options such as Yasmani Grandal, Adam Eaton, or Nick Madrigal. I’ll take whatever I can get at the right price point because this offense is loaded.
And sitting right in the middle of this well-oiled machine is a blossoming 25-year-old superstar. Yoán Moncada was the top prospect in all of baseball in 2016-2017 before being traded from Boston to Chicago in the blockbuster Chris Sale trade.
After a couple of seasons spent acclimating to the league, Moncada had a full-fledged breakout in 2019, hitting .315 with a .915 OPS to go along with 25 home runs, 83 runs, 79 RBI, and 10 stolen bases despite playing in only 132 games, after suffering a hamstring injury in August that season. That’s a 162-game pace of 102 runs, 31 home runs, 97 RBI and 12 steals to go with the sensational batting average. Those are MVP numbers.
Then entering the 2020 season as one of baseball’s brightest stars, Moncada unexpectedly contracted the COVID-19 virus during summer camp in July shortly before the regular season began. He rushed himself to get back into the lineup, but his 2020 season simply never got off the ground thereafter. Moncada has been very forthright in discussing how much the virus impacted him physically last season, dealing with persistent fatigue and weakness, which directly attributed to his struggles in the batter’s box in what was a bit of a lost season for the dynamic Cuban third baseman.
Thankfully, by all accounts, Moncada is all-systems go this spring. feeling 100% healthy and strong. He even stole a base in his first game of spring training – a very encouraging sign after not stealing a single bag in 2020.
In fantasy drafts thus far, however, the bloom is off the rose for Moncada, who currently boasts a significantly diminished ADP of 85.66 per NFBC and 79.0 per FantasyPros, behind teammates Abreu, Jimenez, Anderson, and Robert. The fantasy community seems reluctant to give him a pass for 2020.
Well, I’m giving him a pass. And I’m predicting an all-out coming-out party for Moncada in 2021 with a continuation of the prolific numbers he posted when he took the league by storm during the first half of 2019.
The White Sox offense proved last year that it is more than capable of supporting an American League MVP, and it would not surprise me at all if Moncada kept that award in Chicago for another season in 2021.
2. Byron Buxton FINALLY steals third base.
My favorite current statistic in Major League Baseball is that Twins center fielder Byron Buxton – one of the fastest players in all of baseball – has never stolen third base in his MLB career. Not once. 62 career steals with an 87.3% success rate. And yet he’s never stolen third base.
It’s hard to say if this qualifies as a “less than 10% chance of happening” sort of prediction, but since it’s NEVER happened before, I think it’s fair game.
The leading theory for this statistical anomaly is that Buxton is so fast that he will score from second base on virtually any type of hit, so why would he risk getting thrown out trying to steal third base? In some situations, this makes perfect sense. But what about when he leads off an inning with a double? Or advances to second early in the inning? Surely getting over to third base with less than two outs would prove beneficial in the event of a sacrifice fly, RBI groundout, or even a wild pitch. There has to be a reason for this.
By virtually any sprint-speed metric, Buxton ranks near the top of the list in all of baseball over the past few seasons, one of the things that makes him an all-world defender in center field. But for whatever reason, he is gun-shy about stealing third base.
There is plenty of reason for optimism for Buxton overall heading into 2021, after the 27-year-old set career-highs last season in barrel percentage, exit velocity, and xSLG – hitting the ball as hard as ever. If he can ever finally stay healthy for a full season, there is plenty of value to be had despite the consistently below-average walk-rate.
I venture to predict that 2021 will be the season he finally steals third base., which hopefully will be a very small sprinkle on the icing of what will be a true breakout season for the oft-injured former top prospect.
3. Giancarlo Stanton plays 155 games and leads the majors with 50+ home runs.
I wrote a piece about Stanton back in early December, so be sure to check that out for a far more in-depth analysis of the Yankees slugger. But I’ll take this space here today to continue banging this drum. STANTON IS UNDERVALUED IN DRAFTS. I understand all the injury concerns, I truly do. I’ve had Stanton on several teams over the past couple of seasons, been burned before, and yet I must be a glutton for punishment because I want him back in 2021. I’m a blackjack player doubling-down until I either strike it rich or go completely broke.
It’s difficult to quantify if the odds of Stanton playing 155+ games this season and hitting 50+ bombs is actually less than 10%, but based on his current ADP in fantasy leagues, I would say this qualifies.
Stanton played in 159 and 158 games in 2017-2018 respectively – the only two seasons he’s ever played 155+ games in his career – before biceps, knee, and hamstring injuries derailed him in 2019-2020. In those two healthy seasons, he combined to hit 97 home runs to go along with 225 runs and 232 RBI with the Marlins and Yankees. That’s first-round fantasy production.
Last we saw him, Stanton was an absolute wrecking-ball during the 2020 postseason, hitting .308 in seven games with six home runs, 13 RBI, and a 1.426 OPS. He even crushed a moonshot home run off Rays starter Tyler Glasnow that set a Statcast playoff record for exit-velocity at 118.3 mph. Stanton, who looked notably trimmer and spry last season, has also had the benefit of a completely normal and healthy offseason – something he has not had many times during his career. Arrows are all pointing up.
And yet his ADP has absolutely plunged heading into 2021 drafts. Per NFBC and FantasyPros, Stanton currently is being drafted outside the top-100, in the 110-120 range. The injury risk has been baked into his draft price (and then some). And while Stanton has lost outfield eligibility in some league formats, he is healthy (for now) and remains a towering fixture in the middle of a loaded Yankees lineup.
Stanton’s average ADP over the past four seasons (per NFBC):
I mean, I get it. I guess. But at the same time, I don’t really get it.
Look at what he did on Wednesday night:
This Giancarlo Stanton home run left the yard in one second and may not have landed yet! pic.twitter.com/h3zzh2KNNM
— Talkin' Yanks (@TalkinYanks) March 11, 2021
This is a simple matter of risk versus reward, and the reward far outweighs the risk at this price. I’m willing to gamble that Stanton can remain healthy-ish this season. He’s still just 31 years old. Great lineup. Great ballpark. He’s an absolute specimen physically who surely will be doing everything in his power to avoid the injured list this season, after virtually living on it the past two years. And if he does, he will shatter his current ADP and carry fantasy managers to championships in the process.
4. Baseball will welcome its fifth member to the 40/40 club.
It’s been 15 years. It’s time. My Pitcher List colleague Max Greenfield (@GreenfieldMax18) wrote a terrific piece last month about this very topic, so let me be one to simply get in line behind Max.
There have been four different 40/40 seasons in MLB history:
- Alfonso Soriano (2006 – Washington) – 46 HR, 41 SB
- Alex Rodriguez (1998 – Seattle) – 42 HR, 46 SB
- Barry Bonds (1996 – Giants) – 42 HR, 40 SB
- Jose Canseco (1988 – Athletics) – 42 HR, 40 SB
The first-round of fantasy drafts this spring is stacked with superstars who boast a unique blend of power and speed capable of making a run at a 40/40 season.
First and foremost are the next wave of baseball’s elite – Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña, Jr. and Padres shortstop Fernando Tatís, Jr. – who would appear to be the most likely candidates to join this illustrious club.
Additionally, established stars Mookie Betts (if his power picks up where it left off in 2020) and Mike Trout (if he starts running again) are certainly legitimate threats to make a push for a 40/40 season as well. And then there’s Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich (if he bounces back) who flirted with this accomplishment as recently as 2019 with 44 home runs and 30 steals.
Not to mention guys like Jose Ramirez, Trevor Story, and even a neophyte like Luis Robert who certainly possess the tools needed to make this leap into this stratosphere.
Analytics in baseball have rendered the stolen base a dying art form these days, so who knows how long the window to achieving such a milestone will remain open. But for now, a crop of exciting young stars certainly possess the skills necessary to join one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs.
5. Shohei Ohtani achieves the first ever 10-HR/10-SB/10-win season in baseball history.
Now this one falls more in the category of hoping it will happen rather than feeling confident that it actually will happen. But how cool would this be? From what baseball records I’ve combed through, the only season in baseball history that I’ve found where a player had 10+ home runs and 10+ wins was Babe Ruth in 1918. Not known for being fleet of foot, The Great Bambino had only six steals that season.
Ohtani is perhaps that biggest wild card I can ever remember in fantasy baseball. There seems to be a consensus opinion – despite a lackluster 2020 season – that he is a terrific hitter, which is backed up by his performance at the plate in 2018-2019.
And there is also a common opinion that (when healthy) he’s a solid-if-not-well-above-average starting pitcher. Yet thus far his attempts to be both simultaneously have failed miserably.
However, Ohtani has looked terrific on the mound this spring, and the Angels have stated publicly that they plan for him to have a regular turn in the rotation. Hope springs eternal.
You love to see the Ohtani filth. 🤮 pic.twitter.com/i9ikpQRGXr
— MLB (@MLB) March 5, 2021
The 2018 Ohtani hype train feels like it was far more than three years ago, when he registered a 3.31 ERA and 1.16 WHIP across 10 starts (4-2 record) with 63 strikeouts in 51.2 innings before getting injured.
Clearly the 10 wins will be the biggest hurdle to clear here, as he has already achieved the other 2/3 of this prediction twice. And that will simply come down to sustained health.
Having a dynamic two-way player is precisely something that could help draw loads of fans back to the ballpark coming off a pandemic. I’m rooting for Ohtani to stay healthy and excel in all facets on the diamond this season. It would surely be incredibly fun to watch.
6. The Dodgers break the 2001 Mariners wins record
I’ll make this one brief. The Dodgers won the World Series last season. They are the best team in baseball and betting favorites to repeat again this season. Then, they signed a Cy Young winner (Trevor Bauer) to join a deep rotation that already features Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, David Price, Dustin May, and Tony Gonsolin.
Their lineup is equally loaded with Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Max Muncy, A.J. Pollock, the returning Justin Turner, Chris Taylor, and features plenty of younger players still on the rise such as catcher Will Smith and Gavin Lux.
The 2001 Seattle Mariners – led by American League MVP and ROY Ichiro Suzuki along with Bret Boone, Edgar Martinez, Mike Cameron, John Olerud, Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer, Paul Abbott, and Kazuhiro Sasaski – won 116 games during the regular season, good for a 0.716 winning percentage.
Last season, the Dodgers went 43-17 in a shortened 60-game season, good for a 0.717 winning percentage. And with the Bauer acquisition, they are now arguably even better this year. History could be made in 2021.
7. The San Diego Padres will feature three pitchers who finish in the top-five of NL Cy Young voting
This one is admittedly a stretch but hear me out. If there is any team in baseball – much less the NL West – that would accomplish this feat, it would seem likely to be the Dodgers (Kershaw, Bauer, Buehler). But the Padres have a stable of pitchers themselves with the potential to finish amongst the best in the league this season – and reward fantasy owners in the process.
Acquired from the Cubs in an offseason trade, Yu Darvish finished second behind Bauer in the NL Cy Young voting in 2020 and is viewed by most as a top-five pitcher in baseball, as he has been absolutely dominant dating back to the second-half of 2019. He’s a bit of a given in this hypothetical scenario, as he has looked brilliant this spring.
All four of Yu Darvish's spring training Ks pic.twitter.com/I7bLGlWGKp
— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) March 7, 2021
Then there’s southpaw Blake Snell, another blockbuster offseason trade acquisition for the Padres who was brought over from the Rays this winter, himself having won a Cy Young award in the American League in 2018. Last we saw Snell, he was overpowering the mighty Dodgers in the World Series before receiving the worst hook since Robin Williams battled Dustin Hoffman. The move away from the powerful AL East to the much more comfortable NL West and Petco Park (sans the DH) is a huge boon to Snell’s fantasy value this season, as well as the fact that the Padres should allow him to pitch deeper into games. I’m very high on Snell this season in his new environment.
Then we have Dinelson Lamet, Chris Paddack, and Joe Musgrove. Could one of these guys force their way into the Cy Young conversation?
Much has been written about the 28-year-old Lamet’s huge injury risk this season after an elbow ailment ended his 2020 season prematurely, which has caused his ADP to plummet faster than Mayor Humdinger’s approval rating (that’s a Paw Patrol reference for all you parents of young children out there, like me). But Lamet and his dominant slider – the best pitch in baseball last season by run value – finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting just last season, as he ranked top-five in the league in strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP in a truly dominant season. Will he remain healthy and pitch enough innings to qualify for a Cy Young award in 2021? Likely not – but early spring reports have been positive thus far. If he remains healthy – which is a considerable if – this one is not that farfetched.
The 25-year-old Paddack took a major step back last season, after posting a brilliant 3.33 ERA and 0.98 WHIP across 140.2 innings as a rookie. Paddack has reportedly embraced analytics this offseason in an attempt to get back on track, working to improve the spin-rate on his fastball as he was notably “amazed and blown away” by the differences between his 2019 and 2020 seasons. It’s certainly within reason that Paddack could make the necessary adjustments to his arsenal, allowing him return to ace status this season and contend for a Cy Young award.
The last of the offseason pitching acquisitions for the Padres, Joe Musgrove was acquired in January from Pittsburgh. Admittedly, he falls much more in the category of ‘fantasy sleeper’ than ‘Cy Young contender’, but I felt he was at least worth mentioning after striking out 55 batters across 39.2 innings last season with a 3.86 ERA and 1.24 WHIP.
8. Rhys Hoskins leads the National League in home runs.
Okay. I don’t really think this is going to happen. But I also wouldn’t be shocked if it did. More than anything, I just wanted an excuse to write about Hoskins for a few paragraphs.
Hoskins is currently working his way back from Tommy John surgery (on his left/non-throwing arm) and appears poised to begin the season on time with the Phillies. Recovering from a major injury, albeit much less major for a non-pitcher, the 27-year-old first baseman will certainly be eased along at the beginning of the season, making this outrageous prediction even less likely.
A notoriously streaky hitter, Hoskins burst onto the scene in 2017 when he hit 18 home runs in just 50 games (a 58-HR pace over a full season). He followed that up with 34 home runs (2018) and 29 home runs (2019) despite some struggles and inconsistency at the plate.
Hoskins has “an eye like DiMaggio” – always willing to take a free base and has ranked among the best in the league in drawing walks over the past two seasons. He also hits in a terrific hitter’s ballpark and bats in front of one of the best hitters in baseball, Bryce Harper, as well as J.T. Realmuto, which affords him plenty of lineup protection and run-scoring opportunities.
But Hoskins really impressed me last season. He struggled miserably out of the gate, failing to hit a single home run in the first 16 games of the season while slashing an anemic .208/.408/.283. He was still drawing walks, scoring some runs, but was attempting to be less pull-happy which seemed to have completely sapped his power.
Then, whether it be a change in his approach or simply getting his timing down after a lack of a true spring training, everything suddenly clicked into place and he started driving the ball all over the field again, most notably to the left field bleachers. Over his final 25 games before getting injured, Hoskins homered 10 times, more than tripling his OPS in the process, and finished the season with a more-than respectable .887 OPS while posting a career-best 14.8% barrel-percentage, ranking amongst the league-leaders.
First base is admittedly a deep category in fantasy baseball, but Hoskins’ current ADP of 165 per NFBC feels like incredible value in drafts, even though he won’t be winning a batting title any time soon. If the injury reports remain positive and he can pick up where he left off in 2020, he’s an intriguing threat to lead the NL in round-trippers and a terrific target in the later rounds of fantasy drafts.
9. Josh Staumont takes over the closer job in Kansas City and is a top-five fantasy closer heading into 2022.
After the Royals re-signed closer Greg Holland after a bounce-back 2020 season, I see one of two scenarios unfolding. Either A) the 35-year-old pitches well this season and likely gets traded, as the Royals don’t profile as playoff contenders. Or B) he pitches poorly and then theoretically would be removed as the team’s closer.
Enter Josh Staumont.
The 27-year-old features an overpowering 100+ mph fastball with a devastating hammer of a curveball, a closer’s arsenal, which propelled him to a dominant 13.0 K/9 last season with 37 strikeouts across 25.2 innings in his second major-league season. The walks are notably a concern (career 5.2 BB/9 with a 1.49 WHIP) so this is by no means a sure thing, but if he is able to better harness his stuff and cut back on the free passes, he possesses the repertoire to rank among the elite closers in baseball when he finally gets the opportunity. He’s not so much a target in re-draft formats, at least for the time being, but makes for a very smart stash in keeper/dynasty formats.
Josh Staumont's Unfair stuff.
82mph 🔨 and 100 & 101mph ⛽️ pic.twitter.com/88xXejnvfV
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 10, 2020
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)