With less than a week before the season starts, it’s time for some BOLD PREDICTIONS for 2017! See how we put that in boldfaced type? These predictions are BOLD! Possible, in a longshot kind of way. Maybe some are bolder than others, or lame, or obvious. If you feel the need to object or tell me how great these picks are, please tell me so via Twitter (@jhalpin37).
Bird has seven homers this spring, and he’s obviously going to carry the power surge into the season, right? RIGHT? OK, maybe not, but Bird has good power – he hit 11 homers in 46 games for the Yankees in 2015 before missing 2016 due to a shoulder injury. He also plays in Yankee Stadium, the majors’ friendliest park to lefthanded power. Heck, Didi Gregorius hit 11 homers to right field in that park last season, and he’s 160 pounds soaking wet.
Ability plus environment could lead to a big season for Bird. Many short-porch home runs await his fantasy owners.
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Willson Contreras will have a better fantasy season than Gary Sanchez.
Let’s get this obvious point out of the way: Sanchez will not continue his power surge from 2016. If he did, he’d be Barry Bonds. He’s not Barry Bonds.
Contreras had a better OPS than Sanchez at Double A in 2015 and at Triple A in the first half of 2016. They were regarded similarly as prospects, with Sanchez usually rated better but not by much. Contreras’ .488 slugging percentage as a rookie ranked fifth among catchers with more than 200 plate appearances – sure, Sanchez’s was an otherworldly .657, but this prediction is predicated on Sanchez’s performance being an outlier. This one coming true wouldn’t shock me.
Getty ImagesDustin Bradford
DJ LeMahieu will be a top-five fantasy second baseman.
LeMahieu was terrific in 2016, batting .348 with 104 runs scored and reaching double digits in homers and steals. The BA was a career best for LeMahieu, and before you get skeptical about his .388 BABIP, note that his track record makes him a candidate for high BABIPs (.352 career, high numbers in the minors), and that Coors Field has big gaps which are friendly to line-drive hitters.
This prediction probably needs some improvement on the basepaths, as LeMahieu stole 23 bases in 2015 before dropping to 11 last season. New manager Bud Black says he wants the Rox to run more, so there’s reason to believe. Regression from second basemen such as Jean Segura, Brian Dozier and Ian Kinsler would help as well.
Getty ImagesDustin Bradford
Maikel Franco will be the best third baseman outside of the big four (Arenado, Bryant, Machado, Donaldson).
My biggest pet peeve of draft season might be people drafting and ranking Alex Bregman over Franco. Bregman has a bright future, but if he bats .255 with 25 homers and 88 RBI, his owners will be satisfied. Those are Franco’s stats for his first full season – we already KNOW he can do it.
Power has always been Franco’s calling card, and he’s got five home runs already this spring. With some BABIP luck, he could hit .280 with 35 homers thanks to his tiny home park. Watch your back, Josh Donaldson.
Orlando Arcia will hit 10 homers and steal 30 bases.
Milwaukee’s young shortstop is known more for his glove than his bat, but he hit 12 homers with 23 steals between the minors and majors last season. Now, he’ll play full-time on a team that led MLB in steals and attempts by a lot in 2016. To swipe 30 bases, Arcia probably needs Keon Broxton to flop, creating an opening near the top of the Brewers’ order. Broxton is a trendy fantasy sleeper, but his troubling K rate makes such a scenario possible.
APRick Scuteri/Associated Press
Jake Arrieta will not be a top-20 fantasy starter.
Arrieta is on my do-not-draft list. It’s not that I’d avoid him at a good price, but others will treat him like an ace, and I won’t. His K rate dropped last season, and his walk rate nearly doubled from its 2015 level. Maybe this is where he settles in, or maybe it’s the start of a decline. Arrieta is/was too risky to draft as a top-10 starter, and the downside seems a bit scary.
Noah Syndergaard will whiff 275 batters.
It’s Thor’s time. He was fantastic last season, but now he’s ready to cement his status as one of the game’s elite starters. How? Well … let’s assume he steps up to 220 innings from last season’s 183 2/3. And let’s give him another K improvement, up to 11 per nine from last year’s 10.68. Both reasonable, right?
220 x 11/9 = 268.888
Let’s round up to 275, which would have ranked second only to Max Scherzer in 2016. I thought about going to 300 for Syndergaard, but the necessary innings probably won’t be there. Maybe this prediction isn’t as bold as you’d like – sorry.
Mallex Smith will steal 40 bases.
With Colby Rasmus expected to begin the season on the DL, Smith could make the Rays’ Opening Day roster. If Smith hits and plays decent defense, he might never go back to the minors.
Smith’s fantasy value lies in his blazing speed – he swiped 57 bases in the minors in 2015, and 88 the year before that at A ball. He’s happy to take a walk, which is why his minor-league OBPs were pretty good. Steals are a bit scarce in fantasy baseball these days, making Smith an interesting late-round target. If he stays in Tampa instead of summering at Triple-A Durham and plays most days, he’ll steal 30 without breaking a sweat.
Hey, Dusty Baker! Can you scrap any plans to bat Eaton sixth and put him near the top of the order? Thanks.
If this happens, Eaton should score a ton of runs hitting ahead of Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. He had a strong .362 OBP with 189 runs scored for the White Sox over the last two seasons, and those teams couldn’t hit at all. Also, the Nats are likely to let Eaton run plenty more than the White Sox did, so he should be in scoring position more often.
Carlos Rodon will win the AL Cy Young Award.
What, you were expecting James Paxton? That bandwagon is overflowing, and even though I’m on it, you’ve heard enough about him around here.
Let’s assume - or pray, maybe - that Rodon’s biceps tightness isn’t serious, and will cause him to miss only a start or two in April. The 24-year-old lefty had a 3.45 ERA in the second half of 2016, with an excellent K rate of 25.3 percent and improved control. His stuff is nasty, and he appeared to figure something out last season. The sky is the limit here, and if Chris Sale or Corey Kluber struggle, the AL Cy is ripe for a surprise.
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY SporDennis Wierzbicki
Seung-Hwan Oh will lead the majors in saves.
Oh was terrific in 2016, saving 19 games after becoming the Cardinals’ closer in mid-July, and posting a 1.92 ERA with an excellent strikeout rate. But that’s not really why he’s here.
In 2015, Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal ranked second in MLB with 48 saves. Rosenthal ranked fourth in 2014, but was tied for the MLB lead with 51 save opportunities. Ed Mujica (37) was 11th in 2013, and Jason Motte (42) was fifth in 2012. Mike Matheny is going to get saves for his closer, and Oh is the man in St. Louis. If he doesn’t lead the majors in this category, it won’t be because Matheny didn’t try.