I’ve been in the bold predictions game since 2015 and in that time I’ve had my share of successes. Befitting a premise that demands spicy takes, though, I’ve also wildly missed the mark a bunch of times (whither goest thou, Byung-Ho Park and Delino DeShields?) The format’s been around long enough that you almost certainly know the drill at this point, but just to cover our bases here: These are extreme outcomes, which means going out on some pretty long limbs. The predictions themselves may not hit, but the idea is to point toward players whom I believe the market may not be properly evaluating.
Last year, I published my predictions a few days before the world began to come to grips with the gravity of the COVID-19 situation, which of course included the suspension of spring training and ultimately gave us the late-summer 60-game sprint. We’re anticipating a normal slate this time around, but I chose to eschew specific statistical milestones as the basis for these bold calls in favor of direct player comparisons and rankings anyway.
Enough preamble. It’s time to get B O L D.
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This Is The Year Lewis Brinson Breaks Out
Kidding. That’s not bold, that’s clinical Brinsanity. Sorry, Pierre (and also sorry to everyone else for that pun).
The fantasy community has been cooling a bit on Biggio as we draw closer to Opening Day, in part due to the expectation that he’ll be buried in the bottom third of the potent Blue Jay’s lineup. Beyond that, however, there are some red flags. Biggio’s Statcast data doesn’t paint a pretty picture, we know he won’t hit for average, and his extremely passive plate approach could wind up working against him as well.
France may not be a legacy kid, but he followed up a bonkers performance at Triple-A in 2019 (27 home runs in 76 games) with an excellent .305/.368/.468 line in 155 plate appearances between San Diego and Seattle last year. He’s projected to hit in the middle of a Mariners lineup that could be better than expected, so the run production opportunities will be there. France doesn’t run, which makes this one a big ask. But when making bold predictions, I like to come out of the gate hot and this certainly qualifies.
This wouldn’t have even made most people blink a year ago, and maybe it still doesn’t register on the boldness scale. But fantasy managers are quite bearish on both of the Cubs’ corner infield mainstays this spring, with both being drafted outside the top 10 at their positions and the top 100 overall. This feels like an overreaction to the COVID season. Rizzo averaged a .283-90-29-103-8 in the prior five seasons (and 154 games – durability is valuable!). Nothing in his profile jumps out as a red flag; in fact, his peripherals remained pretty much identical. His BABIP cratered and that was it. Draft him with confidence and reap profit.
The community’s trepidation toward Bryant is a little more understandable. 2020 was the second time in the last three seasons that he missed significant time with injury, and it cleared impacted his performance when he was on the field last year. Still, much like his teammate, Bryant’s half-decade prior to 2020 was defined by consistent high-end production. While the hot corner is top-heavy, Bryant should be able to return to the form that made him a perennial high pick if he’s healthy.
All Five Members of the Marlins’ Opening Day Rotation Are Top-60 Starters
Three of the five projected starters for Miami (Pablo Lopez, Sixto Sanchez, and Sandy Alcantara) are in the SP39-42 range. Elieser Hernandez sits 74th, while Trevor Rogers languishes around 125th. Lopez and Sanchez have star potential, while Alcantara will give you quality volume in a year where that’s likely to be in short supply. They’re not the focus here; we’re all expecting them to fulfill this criteria with ease. Even Hernandez has gotten a little love in analyst circles – small wonder, given his steady upward trend since breaking into the big leagues three years ago. That culminated in a gaudy 27.4 K-BB% last year. He’s got a home run problem, but maybe the deadened ball, skills improvement and/or the vagaries of randomness conspire to keep that under control. Point being, it’s not a huge stretch to picture him putting up a rosterable season.
No one’s really talking about Trevor Rogers, though. His 13% swinging strike rate would have ranked in the top 25 among starters if he’d had enough innings to qualify. The problem was the other pair of true outcomes, as he walked too many batters and then gave up too many homers with them on the bases, leading to ugly ratios (6.11 ERA, 1.61 WHIP). But he’s a 6-foot-6 lefty who can touch 97 on the gun and has a plus changeup. Now imagine a workable slider added to that mix.
The craziest idea here is that a five-man rotation will make it through 2021 unscathed. The angle here is to express admiration for the Marlins’ collection of arms, none of whom are older than 26. Which when you’re a fan of a divisional rival is just…really great. You love to see it.
After missing the boat on Shane Bieber in 2019, one might be reluctant to damn Plesac in this space. And yet I am not. Bieber flashed excellent strikeout and walk numbers from the jump. Plesac didn’t pop in his own rookie year, but an eight-start run in 2020 has fantasy managers reaching for him in the top-75 overall (SP24). Even if you believe the changed pitch mix (fewer fastballs, more sliders) will help him hold most of the gains he made last year, the .224 BABIP is coming up and the 91.7% LOB is coming down. When they do, Plesac’s vulnerability to the long ball will be much more of a problem.
Cleveland does let their starters work deeper than most teams, so he has a chance to crack the top 60 through sheer volume. That’s not what the market is paying for, though.
Andrew Benintendi Rises From The Ashes, Notches Top-25 OF Season
Two years ago, Benintendi was a top-30 pick. In his first two full seasons, the outfielder had averaged a .280-94-18-88-20 line, and was entering his age-24 campaign with the defending world champion Red Sox. Baseball and the world have changed a great deal in that time, so it feels like longer, but I assure you this happened merely 24 months in the past. 2019 wound up a disappointment at that expectant price, as his batting average fell by 15 points and his counting stats declined by around 25 percent across the board.
2020, meanwhile, was an unmitigated disaster that still carried an ADP not far outside the top 100. After two straight seasons of him busting, it’s understandable that the fantasy community has turned its back on the guy and relegated him to the dog days of drafts. But last year was 52 plate appearances in an injury-shortened season that was already off-kilter due to the pandemic, and even 2019’s numbers were primarily sunk by a rough September. Still just 26, he’s getting a fresh start with Kansas City, where he’ll hit near the top of what looks to be a frisky Royals lineup.
Clase arrived in Cleveland last offseason as the headliner of the Corey Kluber trade after showing well in his rookie year with the Rangers, but a PED suspension wiped out his 2020 campaign. The team let Brad Hand walk in free agency this winter, leaving them without a set closer. James Karinchak dazzled in a setup role last season, striking out an absurd 48.6 percent of the batters he faced, but he walked about a third of the rest, and as an extreme fly ball pitcher, he can’t count on running a 0.33 HR/9 again.
Clase will also have to beat out a quality veteran in Nick Wittgren, and as the game continues to move away from using primary closers, it’s entirely possible that this ends up a group effort. But unlike Karinchak, who will cost you a pick in the first eight or nine rounds, Clase is basically free to acquire.
Luis Robert has 30/30 potential. He’s a dynamic player with a ton of skill and evident physical gifts. But there are a lot more red flags here than you want to see from a guy who will cost a third-round pick to land: A league-worst 22.1% swinging strike rate (only four other qualified hitters even cracked 18%), A 61.3% contact rate that ranked third-worst. A 74.5% in-zone contact rate (sixth-lowest) and a 43.1% chase rate (fourth-highest). That he even managed to hit .230 is miraculous and a testament to those physical gifts. But on top of the scary plate discipline, he’s also projected to hit seventh in the White Sox lineup, with not a lot of places to go and with Yoan Moncada (projected sixth) as stiff competition for moving up. In the third, I want a high floor to go along with the high ceiling, and that just isn’t here.
Laureano doesn’t have the superstar potential that Robert possesses, but he’s available over 100 picks later thanks to a tough 2020 season. He was quite good the previous year, though:
This one was too amusing/interesting not to share.
Player A, 703 PA: .266 AVG, 106 R, 30 HR, 92 RBI, 15 SB
Player B, 682 PA: .260 AVG, 98 R, 35 HR, 114 RBI, 15 SB
There’s well over a 100-pick gap in ADP here.
— Kyle Bishop (@amoralpanic) March 13, 2021
The first player is Laureano’s cumulative effort in 2019 and 2020 (so including his subpar results in the latter). Player B? Bryce Harper in 2019. Obviously Harper is the superior option and that’s not the angle here – but aren’t the numbers a lot closer than you’d expect? And with Laureano looking locked in as the leadoff man in a solid Oakland lineup, he’ll get plenty of opportunities to produce.
As of now, Peralta doesn’t even have a guaranteed spot in the rotation. But with how much load management will be happening in MLB, and with how many injuries could happen despite teams’ best efforts, there will be plenty of chances for guys to get in on the action. There aren’t many more intriguing sixth-man types than Peralta, who has primarily worked as a multi-inning reliever the past two seasons but is being stretched out as a starter this spring. Even as a starter, he’s struck out 140 batters in 112 innings, so the high K rate isn’t just a function of relief work.
Peralta has largely been shielded from a third time through the order in the past, but he’s working on a changeup, which could be a considerable boost to his arsenal if it’s more than a show-me pitch. Woodruff and Burnes are quite good and you’ll hear no slander of them in this space; this is just a nod to Peralta’s potential. If he’s primarily a swingman again, that probably wipes this prediction unless he’s absolutely dominant in the role – but at his post-300 ADP he can provide plenty of value to your squad anyway with 100ish frames of solid ratios and gaudy strikeout totals.
The #1 Catcher Is Christian Vázquez
There’s been considerable backlash in some circles to JT Realmuto’s fourth-round ADP, and drafting a catcher in the fourth round is not my idea of a good time. But when you hear cheaper alternatives touted as viable top overall backstops, it’s a lot of Sal Perez this and Will Smith that. Christian Vázquez rarely gets mentioned as a possibility, but maybe he should.
You want volume? Vázquez caught 185 games and logged 710 plate appearances in 2019-20, one of only three catchers to reach those benchmarks (Realmuto and Yasmani Grandal were the others). You want power? He was one of just five catchers to hit 30 home runs in that span. Average? Led all catchers with a .278 mark. Run production? Top five at the position in both runs (88) and RBI (95). He even stole eight bases. In the fourth round, take a stud at another position, and snap up Vázquez eight or nine rounds later.
C.J. Cron Is A Top-100 Player
I was all-in on Cron last year after his Statcast data took a big upward turn in 2019, and now he’s in Colorado. Doubling down was a foregone conclusion. He’s officially been added to the 40-man roster after starting camp on a minor-league deal, and is currently projected to hit the middle of the lineup anyway behind Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon. If the Rockies’ decision makers don’t galaxy brain this (always a risk, admittedly), Cron could easily clear 30 bombs and 100 RBI with a respectable average – he’s a career .257 hitter, and Coors ought to help in that department.
That’s not a league-winner, but it’s a real nice CI anchor. Even with the helium attached to him since he joined the Rox in February, Cron’s ADP remains a modest 200 (1B21). If this prediction hits, he’ll still be a bargain.
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