Well, last year I hit on two out of eight bold predictions. I guess my prediction on Ozzie Albies wasn’t terrible. I projected 25 homers and 30 steals. I hit on the power, but he did not run as much as I hoped. I’m most proud of my long-shot (at the time) that Patrick Corbin would finish the season as a top 20 SP. I had him ranked in the low-40s and most sites had him between the 60th and 80th SP off the boards, so this was extremely bold. Yes, I’m bragging about my one really good bold prediction, but I also had some really bad ones like Delino DeShields over Starling Marte… Whoops. Alright, enough intro. I want to focus my bold predictions within the fantasy realm and write a quick blurb as to why I feel there’s a chance they come to fruition. Now that we are approaching the All-Star break, it’s time to reflect on where these predictions stand. I’ll review all my preseason bold predictions in this maroon color below. Remember, these were meant to be bold, so I am hoping to hit on a few of them rather than most of them.
2019 BOLD PREDICTIONS – FREEZESTATS
Michael Conforto leads the National League in home runs in 2019
Conforto ended 2018 with 29 home runs but spent a good portion of the first two months recovering and gaining strength from his offseason shoulder surgery. He showed us he was healthy in the second half by hitting 17 home runs in just 68 games. I don’t love the prorating game as much as the next person but that’s 40 home runs across a 160 game pace. Last year, Nolan Arenado led the National League with 38 home runs. The other candidates Conforto will have to overcome include Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Trevor Story, Rhys Hoskins, and I suppose my guy Hunter Renfroe (see below). The BAT projects Arenado to lead the National League with 40 homers. Can a healthy Conforto reach 40 this year? I think so, especially with power down across the board last year, Conforto is my guy this year and I’ve ranked him inside the top 60 overall.
OK, so Conforto has just 16 home runs when everyone and their mother is pacing to hit 30+ bombs this year. Conforto hasn’t really gotten hot in any month hitting 6, 4, and 6 homers each month thus far. If you remember, Conforto mashed nine home runs in Sept/Oct last year, so he still has a shot at reaching 40 home runs with a hot second half. However, I was not counting on a juiced ball this year and 40 home runs will fall well short of the home run leader this year. Christian Yelich already has 31 followed by Cody Bellinger with 29 and Pete Alonso at 28. All of which I expect to surpass 40. Conforto hasn’t shown any growth in the power department as his HR/FB rate is in line with last season. I give this prediction a less than 5% chance as it would require a ton of things to fall his way to come to fruition.
Jackie Bradley Jr. is a top 100 fantasy asset in standard 5×5 Roto
Bradley Jr. has modified his swing and is working with J.D. Martinez. I’ve been putting my money where my mouth is grabbing JBJ pretty much everywhere. I’ve got him in my PitcherList Best Ball draft, TGFBI, and my 12-team home league. Bradley finished 2018 with just 13 homers and a .234 average. As a result, he’s being drafted around 230 overall. However, he stole a career-best 17 bags on only 18 attempts. Yes, he’s faster than you think. He’s likely to hit seventh or eighth in a stacked Red Sox lineup which isn’t great but not a death sentence in a deep AL lineup. Bradley’s hard-hit rates and exit velocities are up with the big boys and he was extremely unlucky on his barrels last year. This is a guy who is still in his prime and hit 26 home runs while hitting .267 in 2016. If he gets back to 25 homers and 15 steals with a .260 average, that should be right near Aaron Hicks just inside the top 100.
Not a great start. He’s currently ranked 575 overall in Yahoo! but I don’t trust Yahoo!. On the ESPN Player Rater, Bradley is ranked as the 166th best hitter to date. That doesn’t include pitchers. I would suspect that at least 75 pitchers are ranked ahead of him, so Bradley is well outside the top 200 overall. I’m not even going to check the Razzball Player Rater. The point is, this one is going well. Although, Bradley’s been hot of late hitting .315 with five home runs and three steals in June. I can’t say for sure what JBJ will do going forward but hitting five home runs and stealing three bases per month is not out of the question. Given that production and a solid BA, he could finish with over 20 HR and 15 SB. That puts him in the conversation as a top 100 overall fantasy asset. I give this one a 15% chance of coming true.
Hunter Renfroe becomes Khris Davis
I wanted to go extremely bold and have Renfroe finish the season ranked higher than Davis, but that would be nuts. Davis is so steady with 40+ homers and 100+ RBI. Unfortunately, I don’t think Renfroe will get the at-bats to reach 100 RBI. So, how can Renfroe become Khris Davis? First off, Renfroe hit 18 home runs in the second half of 2018, so we know he has elite power. I tweeted out a comparison of Davis from 2015 and Renfroe from 2018 back in January. Their results and Statcast metrics were nearly identical. The outfield in San Diego is crowded so something does have to give in order for this prediction to come to fruition. To qualify, Renfroe needs to hit over 35 homers and drive in 90 runs in 2019 and become a consensus top-100 player in 2020 drafts.
Finally! I nailed this one. At the halfway mark, Renfroe already has 24 home runs which are only two fewer than his previous career-high. He’s also getting more playing time as he’s pacing out for around 520 plate appearances which would also be a career-high. He’s hitting .248 so I guess I missed on this one unless he finishes at .247. That was a joke. His strikeout and walk rates are almost identical to Khris Davis’ as he’s sitting at a 26.8% K rate and an 8.4% walk rate. He is pacing for just 90 RBI but the Padres don’t have high OBP players in front of him. My only concern is Renfroe being a top 100 overall player next year. If he hits 45 homers, then yes he will be, but if he slows down in the second half, he may not make it. Either way, I’m giving this one a 60% chance of coming true.
Victor Robles is more valuable than Vladimir Guerrero and Juan Soto in standard 5×5 Roto value.
The hype on both Soto and Guerrero is understandable. Soto, at age-19, looked like a 10-year veteran and by all accounts, Vlad has the best bat in the Minors since Mike Trout. Both are going inside the top 42 overall since February 1st. Robles, while has seen a massive jump in ADP, is still going just after pick 100. Here’s my thinking, coming into 2018, Robles was the second-ranked prospect after Ronald Acuña but a shoulder injury derailed his season. Robles has elite speed, like 40 SB-type speed. His power hasn’t quite developed as he’s just 21 but has been graded out with 50-raw power. We’ve seen plenty of low-to-moderate power hitters come up and increase their home run production. Robles’ high-Contact, high-BABIP profile gives him a solid batting average floor. A high-end, realistic projection for Robles is something like .290 18 HR 32 SB. That’s extremely similar to Starling Marte’s 2018 who finished 29th on the Razzball Player Rater. Vladitio is already dealing with an injury, but Robles over Soto would be extremely bold based on ADP. I currently have Soto at 39 overall and Guerrero at 60, so there you have it.
Robles is currently ranked 72 among hitters per ESPN’s Player Rater and that’s not bad, but not quite what I had hoped for. Meanwhile, Vlad is all the way down at 235 among hitters. Vlad could very easily go nuts in the second half and surpass Robles but I don’t see it happening with the speed component of Robles’ game. Then there’s Juan Soto. Mr. Phenom himself is ranked 33rd overall among hitters this year. Despite a low SB total, he’s just mashing hitting for average, power, and a ton of run production. The metrics don’t paint an optimistic picture for Robles going forward and it would be a long-shot for him the catch Soto. Assuming health from all three players, I give this one a 10-15% chance of coming true.
Anthony Alford is fantasy relevant in 12-team leagues in the second half.
That means, he’s either a top 260 overall player or a top 175 hitter in the second half of 2019. The Blue Jays have a stacked farm system, we know that. Before Vlad and Bo Bichette, there was Anthony Alford. He’s still just 24 years old with only 28 plate appearances in the big leagues. The outfielders currently on the Major League roster are Randal Grichuk, Kevin Pillar, Billy McKinney, and Teoscar Hernandez. I’m not sold on McKinney or Hernandez and the Blue Jays are rebuilding. They need to see what they have in Alford. He’s had a nice spring which is nearly meaningless unless you’re like Alford trying to fight for a spot on the roster. He’s going 750 overall in drafts and therefore undrafted in 99% of leagues; that’s what makes this bold. He has good speed and some pop and was a top 25 prospect once upon a time. With playing time, he could hit a handful of homers and steal double-digit bases in the second half to make this prediction a reality.
I understand that this one is a prediction for the second-half but I would have hoped that Alford would have at least been up at the big league level for a few weeks heading into the break. Alford is hitting .256 with five homers and 17 steals at Triple-A but his strikeout rate is just a hair below 30%. I was optimistic we would see a power spike given the Triple-A ball but it hasn’t shown up with Alford. The good news for Alford is McKinney (just sent to Triple-A) and Teoscar are not performing well even though Teoscar has picked it up of late. Only Lourdes Gurriel Jr is playing well in that outfield and given Alford’s double-digit walk rates in the minors, he could see quite a bit of play in the second half. Like I said above, if he can hit 6-8 homers and steal 12-15 bases in the second half, he should be owned in 12-team leagues. I’m still not sold, let’s give this one a 20% chance.
Lewis Brinson is more valuable in Standard 5×5 Roto than A.J. Pollock
Now, this is BOLD! Brinson hit .199 with a 30% strikeout rate last year. Yikes. He was the top prospect from Milwaukee in the Christian Yelich trade before the 2018 season. His 2018 was brutal, there’s no doubt but he was a top 20 prospect as recently as one year ago. Brinson is crushing this spring but I’m not putting much weight into that. He’s modified his swing to stay in the zone longer increasing his probability for contact. That’s a small adjustment but one that could help vault Brinson to the next level. Last year he’s was very unlucky with a .257 BABIP. His xBABIP was .301 and xHR was 14 per xStats.org. Keep in mind, that’s in just over 400 plate appearances. Per BaseballSavant, he was just inside the top third of hitters on average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives (EV FB/LD). Where things really get interesting is his speed. He hasn’t stolen many bases but regularly stole 20+ bags in the minors. His sprint speed is in the top 96% of the league. If he can hit 22-24 HR with 15-18 steals, he will provide more value than an often injured Pollock. I like Pollock and I think if he’s healthy, he’s a top 50 player. I just don’t expect more than 400 plate appearances from him and believe these two players are more similar than you think. I need quite a bit of help here, but Pollock’s injury history gives this prediction some life.
Injuries. That was part of the selling point for this one though. Even with Pollock missing 90% of the season so far, he still holds more value than Brinson. This one is a 50-50 toss-up but if I don’t want it that way.
Robbie Ray Wins the NL Cy Young
Ray’s walk rate was brutal in 2018 at 13.3% and over five walks per nine innings. Walks always seem to be an issue for Ray. Even in his breakout of 2017, his walk rate was over 10%. What he can do and always has been able to do is strike batters out at a high clip. Do you know who else had issues with walks but transformed into a Cy Young winner? How about Blake Snell? Snell’s walk rates the years prior to 2018 were 12.7% and 10.8%. Both pitchers throw hard and have good breaking balls. Snell ramped his fastball velocity up in 2018 averaging over 96 MPH. Ray, on the other hand, saw a slight dip in his velocity last season. I think for Ray, velocity is key because his fastball used to be a plus pitch for him with a 12.3 pitch value in 2017 but down to -3.2 in 2018. Obviously, Ray needs to get his walks under control as well but if his velocity looks good and he cuts down on the walk rate, we are a lucky BABIP away from a Blake Snell-type season.
A 4.10 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. Boo. However, 129 strikeouts in 98.1 innings are pretty nice though! The O-Swing is good and his Z-Contact is a career-low. In 2017, he had a 2.73 ERA with a 1.04 WHIP in the second half. He’s not that far away from those numbers if the BABIP and LOB% fall his way. Given those ratios and about 110 strikeouts, he would at least be in the NL Cy Young conversation. The problem for Ray though is Max Scherzer. He’s running away and hiding in the NL despite Ryu’s insane first half. This one is down to a 5% chance.
Matt Strahm is a top 50 Starting Pitcher
It’s finally happening, Matt Strahm is likely joining the Padres starting rotation. He was a starter in Royals system in 2015 and 2016 and has never thrown more than 125 innings in a single season. But, Strahm put on a bunch of weight in an unorthodox way to help build strength to hold up over the course of a full season. He’s reportedly hitting 96 MPH on the gun this spring. He throws four pitches and has a great fastball and curveball. If he can develop either his change or curve, he could not only have great strikeout rates but go deeper into games. I’d only expect a maximum of 150 innings this year but with 160+ strikeouts and good ratios, that’s easily top 50. Now for part two.
Strahm is currently 131st among starting pitchers per the ESPN Player Rater. That’s not good and he was just blown up by the awful Giants. At this point, I don’t see Strahm turning it completely around to finish inside the top 50 for starting pitchers. His velocity and strikeouts are down as well as a starter, so I’m essentially burying this one giving it a 2% chance.
The Padres have 3 starting pitchers that finish inside the top 50 for SPs
This is a spin-off if the Matt Strahm bold prediction because I had the Strahm prediction, pegged about a month ago. Now, he’s being drafted just outside of the top 50 SPs. This is bold because the Padres don’t have a single pitcher drafted as a top 50 starter. Lucchesi is the closest at 55 and 195 overall. I love Lucchesi this year who was successful last year with two pitches and is adding a cutter this spring. The other possible top 50 options include extreme riser Chris Paddack (441), Matt Strahm (386), and Robbie Erlin (577). Paddack has had massive inflation with a dominant spring. He looks like a prime candidate to make the rotation out of spring. He’s just 23 years old and coming off of an injury. Don’t expect more than 125 innings, but he might just be good enough to sneak into the top 50.
Well, Strahm is basically out. That leaves us with Chris Paddack and Joey Lucchesi. Paddack is ranked 26th and Lucchesi is at 41 on the ESPN player rater for starting pitchers. That’s great and I believe both can maintain top 50 status, especially Paddack. We already discussed how far down Strahm is and the next Padre starter is Eric Lauer currently the 98th SP. That’s followed by Strahm at 131 and Cal Quantrill at 162. Lauer doesn’t possess the strikeout upside required to make that jump into the top 50 but at least he has an outside chance. Also, Dinleson Lamet returns to action this week but given his lengthy layoff, his innings will be limited. I also don’t believe his command will be consistent going forward in 2019. So while both Paddack and Lucchesi will likely exceed expectations, I don’t have the third SP to complete this bold prediction.
Zach Eflin outperforms everyone’s favorite sleeper and teammate Nick Pivetta
While I had this prediction drafted up about two weeks ago, I’ve got to give some credit to @BatflipCrazy for throwing this out first on his podcast this week. Great call! I get the hype on Nick Pivetta, I’m not even low on him as I have him as my 35th SP. His K-BB% is fantastic. He seemed to be unlucky in terms of ERA and BABIP last season based on all ERA-estimators. The Phillies had one of the worst defenses by Fangraphs DEF metrics last year. They upgraded by adding Jean Segura at shortstop and replacing Rhys Hoskins in left field with Andrew McCutchen and the aforementioned Hoskins moving over to his natural position, first base. So while I expect both to improve, let’s compare the two by the numbers.
Pivetta has the better strikeout upside, that’s evident in the K-BB% and SwStr%. However, Eflin’s FIP matched Pivetta’s thanks to inducing more weak contact and limiting hard contact/home runs. Elfin has a good slider and changeup to go with a 95 MPH fastball. That sounds similar to Pivetta’s repertoire, doesn’t it? I actually think Eflin has some more strikeout upside in that arm as well. Given his well-above-average control and ability to limit hard contact, I think the strikeout rate could push Eflin over the top of Pivetta in 2019. I’ll add to this prediction that Eflin will be drafted above Pivetta in 2020 drafts as well.
Eflin 39th SP on ESPN Player Rater, Pivetta 173 SP. I give this one a 90% chance of coming true. Eflin would have to fall flat on his face in the second half and Pivetta would have to become Chris Sale. Eflin hasn’t quite had the strikeout ceiling I had hoped for but he’s also pitching with great command. I think he should limit terrible outings and maintain success even if he’s unable to keep such a low ERA. Pivetta has the skills to go on a second-half run but will still have the occasional outing that kills ratios. I don’t see him catching Eflin and Pivetta will not carry any inflated love going into the 2020 drafts. This one is close to being in the books.