So truly glad am I that the calendar has turned to March. The countdown to baseball can now begin in earnest. I’ll keep the preamble to a minimum, here; you all know the drill. Time for some fearless forecasting.
1. Victor Robles is a Top-30 Player
Everyone knows about Victor Robles. He’s, of course, no secret by any means. But I think in relation to Vlad Guerrero Jr. especially and to a bit lesser extent Eloy Jimenez, Robles is the one getting perhaps slightly less attention right now. Yes, those two are future stalwarts. I’m not disputing that in the slightest. Their hit and power tools are of the highest acclaim, but there is one thing those two don’t have that Robles does: speed.
It does, in fact, kill especially in fantasy. And Robles has it in spades. Overall, he’s has a great blend of skills that should translate really nicely for fantasy purposes. To get a better idea of him and other impact rookies for 2019, be sure to read our own Adam Garland’s great article here.
It’s kind of the perfect storm right now in terms of investing in Robles, specifically for redrafts. Guerrero has all the hype and, of course, has a world of talent, but I think part of it too comes with the territory of being the son of a Hall of Famer. So many waited with bated breath for a call-up that never came this past year. That eager anticipation continued to build all offseason. And the clamor continues now with every spring training at-bat.
Meanwhile, Robles is overshadowed even on his own team previously by Bryce Harper and now the precocious Juan Soto. Don’t forget Robles would have been promoted if it were not for suffering an elbow injury this past April. There is also added uncertainty in where he hits in the Nationals lineup; there is a real chance he starts the season hitting lower in the order. But talent finds a way. He won’t be sequestered next to the pitcher’s spot for long if he plays to his billing. I’ll say here that he’s a top-30 player in standard 5×5 and the highest-ranked rookie in 2019.
2. Francisco Cervelli is a Top-5 Catcher
Earlier this offseason, the brain trust here at Pitcher List ranked the top catchers for 2019. Spoiler alert: It ain’t pretty. And it just got worse. Salvador Perez is set to undergo Tommy John surgery and will miss the entirety of 2019. First, we wish the best for Perez in his recovery and hope to see him back in action this time next year. And now we are left to pick up the pieces. I could grumble about two-catcher leagues, but I’ll hold off. Let’s instead take a look at the projected wOBA and OBP of the remaining top catchers courtesy of The BAT.
Alright, so maybe saying Francisco Cervelli will be a top-five Catcher is more of an indictment on the dearth of talent at the position more than anything else. But I think that would be doing a disservice to Cervelli — the “Cisco Kid” as the longtime radio voice of the New York Yankees called him back during his days in the Bronx. He turned in a pretty decent campaign this past year, hitting a career-high 12 home runs before he was unfortunately hit by concussions, one of the many thankless job hazards that come along with catching.
There are a couple of interesting things to note with Cervelli: One, he actually has the second-highest OBP here behind Buster Posey. And his average launch angle was 15.7 this past year, a pretty significant jump from previous years, where it sat right around 6. But let’s get real here: We’re talking about a guy who has hit a total of 35 home runs in his entire professional career, so there’s a pretty darn good chance that what we saw this past year was just a mirage. But on the off chance of a mid- to late-career resurgence, there’s not exactly much standing in his way from being a top performer at the position. I’ll say he hits 20 home runs and ends the season as a top-five catcher.
3. Josh Donaldson Wins Comeback Player of the Year
I just want to throw out this past year entirely with regard to the former MVP Josh Donaldson. He was just never healthy. Now in Atlanta on a one-year “prove it” deal, healthy and reinvigorated by an exciting supporting cast, he’ll prove he’s still very much an elite hitter and tally 35 home runs while driving in more than 100 runs.
Per NFBC ADP he’s going at or around pick 100. Meanwhile fellow third basemen Eugenio Suarez is going nearly 50 picks earlier. I think that’s a mistake. No, Donaldson’s not young anymore, but there is some excellent profit potential with where Donaldson is being valued right now.
4. Andrew McCutchen Turns Back the Clock
Entering his age-32 season, people have soured on Andrew McCutchen. It’s not all that surprising coming off a season playing in the notoriously bad Oracle Park. But there is still some juice in this bat. This past year’s average exit velocity of 90 mph is very good. In addition, he has elite plate discipline highlighted by a career-best chase rate of 19.4%. He now finds himself immersed in the best lineup in which he’s ever been (excluding this past year’s brief stint in New York) and in by far the best home park in which he’s ever hit. I’ll say he hits a career high in home runs this year and finishes in the top three in NL MVP voting.
5. The 2019 New York Yankees Score 1000 Runs
Lots and lots of runs. After trading for Giancarlo Stanton this past year and coming off their surprising run to the 2017 ALCS, hopes were sky high in Yankeeland. But there was some pushback this past year. Aaron Judge got hurt, and the team went through a mid- to late-season malaise and yet still notched 100 wins.
I think that speaks to the impressive depth of this team. And that’s what distinguishes great teams from the rest: depth to withstand both injuries and the ebb and flow of player performance over the course of a full 162. Needless to say, this is a loaded lineup from top to bottom.
Now with a full year under their belts, the two youngsters in Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar will continue to thrive and build upon their impressive rookie campaigns. This past year, Stanton was a relative disappointment, they didn’t get a full season from Judge, and Gary Sanchez was a dud. I just feel like this Yankee offense is really loaded (duh), and they do something special this year.
I’ll say they become the first team since the 1999 Cleveland Indians to top 1000 runs scored.
6. Aaron Hicks is a Top-10 Outfielder
Not that it much matter what I think, but when he first came to the Yankees in 2016, I wasn’t too enamored with Aaron Hicks. He just didn’t look like a very good baseball player to me. In 2016, he had a .260 wOBA and 64 wRC+. Yuck.
Well, fast forward to 2018. Those marks are now .360 and 127 respectively. My goodness, how’s that for player improvement? And his plate discipline really sets him apart from the field. His 15.5% walk rate was fifth among qualifiers this past year. If I love this Yankee offense, then it stands to reason I also love their likely leadoff man, whom they also just locked up long term. If the Yankees are committed to Hicks, then so am I!
Now, hopefully this works out better than the deal with Jacoby Ellsbury, who was last seen on the back of a milk carton. With Hicks, there is good power along with double-digit steal possibility . The one thing is the batting average. You’re most likely looking at something around .260. However, the ceiling in counting stats is truly massive.
7. The Wild Bour is Unleashed
He’s had a storied career, and he was one of the best hitters I’ve ever had the privilege of watching. But at this point, Albert Pujols is just a well-paid specter. He’ll occasionally knock one out here or there, but penciling him in the lineup for any length of time is a liability at this point.
Justin Bour has power. Everyone knows that. He’ll force the Angels’ hand and be given near regular plate appearances. I was tempted for one transient and shimmering moment to say he’d lead the Angels in home runs.
But I’ll take a breath, collect myself from the precipice of insanity and instead go hog wild and say Bour ends up second on the team in home runs and finishes as a top-10 first baseman.
8. Martin Perez Leads the Twins in Wins
Reports out of the Twins spring training are that Martin Perez‘s fastball hit 97 mph several times. All of this past year, he threw just four pitches faster than 96.5 mph, and he averaged just under 93 mph. Yes that Martin Perez, the one who has had a SIERA over 5 the past three seasons. He’s currently the favorite to stick as the fifth starter in Minnesota. It could be a total mirage, or maybe there is something here.
Hey, Charlie Morton found another gear later on in his career, so why not the 27-year-old Perez? Granted, Morton’s late-career reinvention is unique, but this is supposed to be bold predictions after all. With a staff that features the young and heralded Jose Berrios and two other very capable arms in Kyle Gibson and Jake Odorizzi, I’ll say that Perez tallies the most wins. File this one under, “That’s baseball, Suzyn.”
9. The New York Yankees Trade for Brandon Belt
Greg Bird has largely been a disappointment. Outside of one glorious stretch in August 2015, the hits have been few and far between. A dramatic home run off then-Astros closer Ken Giles during the 2017 ALCS and not too much else. Luke Voit, on the other hand, took the job this past year and ran with it. He was impressive, no doubt. But let me play devil’s advocate here because it’s more entertaining.
Voit is far from a proven commodity. Yes, his Statcast data across a short sample is the stuff of legends, but there are some holes to his game. Contact with breaking and offspeed pitches is one of them, but it’s also worth noting that he’s a poor glove at first. The Yankees are already carrying a very much below-average defender at the other corner in Miguel Andujar. So if Voit should struggle, perhaps the Yankees would look to upgrade their defense at first while also adding a left-handed bat to provide more balance to the lineup.
Enter Brandon Belt. Playing for a Giants team that doesn’t expect to win anything and is very much in transition, they could look to free up first base for their franchise icon Posey. They also have Joey Bart waiting in the wings at catcher, so this makes a little bit of sense.
Belt has long been a player who many have felt would do well with a change of scenery. From 2015 to 2018, his high-drive rates are 17.2%, 16.6%, 17.9% and 14%. Those are exceptional marks and well above the average of approximately 10%. His left-handed bat and exceptional OBP skills would play, at least on paper, extraordinarily well at Yankee Stadium.
10. Mike Trout Breaks the Single Season Total Base Record
I’m saving the best for last. The total base record belongs to some fella named Babe Ruth who did it back in 1921 with 457 total bases. In that season, he collected 204 total hits, including 44 doubles, 59 home runs and 16 triples (Wow!). He also had a .846 SLG and .512 OBP.
Well, records were made to be broken. And if anyone can do it, it’s Mike Trout.
(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)
Bold indeed. Trouts career high in Total Bases is 339!
Very true. But hey, that’s why they call it bold predictions, right?
Yup. I’ll double down on your Dodger prediction and say Urias AND Stripling make 18 starts. 18 productive starts.
With Kershaw’s lingering issues and the fact that Buehler has yet to pitch in a spring game, both Urias and Stripling may open 2019 in the Dodgers rotation. Couple that with injury filled track records of Rich Hill and Ryu, I really like your prediction. Both guys are solid starters on a good team…
In a deep (16) team 12 keeper league, which SP do you like better? Stripling, Heaney or Strahm? I also like Bundy because he generates a lot of whiffs with his change and his slider the last four months of 2018. Also, IMO there’s a good chance the O’s trade him to a better park for a flyball pitcher. Elias is unlikely—as he did with the Astros—to do anything but a full rebuild in Baltimore. I could be wrong, but there’s a good chance IMO he gets dealt for some additional prospects (if he can stay healthy).
Really like all those guys. I would go with Heaney as my favorite though. With Bundy I agree getting him out of Camden Yards would figure to do him a world of good. That slider is something else.
Thanks! I really appreciate you taking the time on a Saturday to answer my question.
Happy to help!
The McCutchen one I could see happening. The rest of these are under 5% imo. I mean anything can happen in baseball but none of these seem remotely plausible. Maybe Hicks was before the back issues.
Gotta have a little fun with these I think. Fingers crossed but I wouldn’t be that terribly worried about Hicks. I think the Yankees are just exercising an abundance of caution with him in Spring Training.