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Ten fantasy baseball predictions

You can review rankings, sleepers, breakouts and busts all you want in the spring, but in the end, fantasy owners just want some bold predictions that stick a writer's neck out there. We'll give 'em to you right here.

It's like walking up cold and asking someone out, even if they might be out of your league. You can't get that date unless you ask and you can't win your fantasy league unless you do some bold things on draft day.

The problem with predictions is they can look bad at the end of the season. In order to be "bold," though, a prediction has to fly in the face of common sense, or public perception. We are willing to take the risk; that fantasy championship -- or hot date -- is worth it.

Here are the top 10 bold fantasy predictions for the upcoming season, which, remarkably, is just days away.

Why is this bold?

Price is coming off a sub-.500 season at just 12-13 last year, when he looked more like a mere solid pitcher than a complete ace. With Justin Verlander coming off an AL MVP and Cy Young Award, Roy Halladay still a rock-solid stud and Clayton Kershaw looking like the second coming of Sandy Koufax, Price might not get picked among the Top-10 starters in fantasy. He lists about there currently in average draft position on MockDraftCentral.com and in SI.com's Top 300, lower on other sites.

Why is this going to happen?

Price has built up his arm to handle 220-230 high-pressure innings and does it with a strikeout per inning and a walk rate that has declined each of his first three seasons as a starter. We love players at the age of 27, remember, and Price didn't quite enjoy his career breakthrough as a third-year starting pitcher. It happens this go-round for him.

Knowing this, what can we do in fantasy?

Draft Price a little bit higher than the masses. No, you don't want to pick him among Verlander, Halladay and Kershaw -- even if he will be better. A sleeper isn't a sleeper if you draft him too early. Instead, take the bold pick on Price where it's right: Anywhere after those premium three and maybe even before the likes of CC Sabathia, Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez, Cole Hamels and Jered Weaver.

Why is this bold?

Stanton is going to hit 45 homers and lead all of fantasy. This means the homer leader won't be Jose Bautista, Albert Pujols or No. 1 overall pick candidate Miguel Cabrera. But Stanton is just 22 years of age and will be playing half of his games in a ballpark that figures to play at least even, if not pitcher friendly. Further, Stanton is a relatively unprotected slugger who can get pitched around, which isn't good news for someone who isn't exactly a model of selectivity at the plate.

Why is this going to happen?

At 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds-plus, Stanton is a physical freak of nature, a la Mark McGwire, who hit 49 homers at age 23. Stanton is already coming off a 34-homer campaign in his first full season and there is still plenty of room to improve and -- God, help us -- grow. In SI.com's NL breakouts, we stand by our claim Stanton can rise to be the most productive outfielder in fantasy as early as this year.

Knowing this, what can we do in fantasy?

Like Price, Stanton is barely in the Top 10 at his position. And like Price, he is position to be on the rise. If you are late in your draft order, pick Stanton in Round 2. If you're early, draft him in Round 3. Don't let this potential homer and RBI monster -- with the speed of Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez whipping around the bases in front of him -- slip past that.

Why is this bold?

This is not a bold prediction when considering Justin, who is already going in the second half of the Top 10 outfielders. It is B.J. who is going to be the surprise: B.J. Upton hasn't hit .245 in any of the past three seasons. He has never hit 25 homers in a season. He has never driven in 100 -- or even 85 -- or scored 100 runs. Those facts after five seasons make the .300-30-100-100-50 expectations look a bit ridiculous.

Why is this going to happen?

B.J. Upton is in the perfect situation for a breakthrough. Again, we go back to our rule of thumb on 27-year olds, but Upton is entering his prime and in position to make himself a mint in free agency, too. While we don't love players in a contract year, you have to love one on the verge of free agency that has yet to reach his potential.

Knowing this, what can we do in fantasy?

You are going to want to consider Justin Upton around the turn from Round 1 to 2, but if you miss out on him, you can grab an even better value on B.J. between the start of Round 5 and end of Round 6. B.J. Upton still steals more bags than Justin and has proved he can hit .300; he did it in 2007 at age 22. Maybe this is B.J.'s .300-30-100-100-50 breakthrough year. He absolutely has the look of a player who rips off ridiculous numbers before signing a ridiculous contract.

Why is this bold?

Every year there are a slew of solid arms that rise from the depths of fantasy and outpitch their draft position. It is one of the main reasons so many fantasy drafters wait so long on pitching and why auction dollars are not equally allocated to arms as bats. Still, Hughes isn't assured of winning a spot in the Yankees' rotation and the signing of Andy Pettitte makes it even less likely he stays there. Also, Hughes was out of shape and his velocity was down a season ago, when he went just 5-5 with a ghastly 5.79 ERA and 1.49 WHIP.

Why is this going to happen?

Hughes isn't a .500 pitcher on the Astros. He has the potential to win 18 games with the Yankees , as he did just a couple of seasons ago. With just 71 career starts, he still fits (roughly) in the category of a third-year starting pitcher. Behind Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees have no sure things in their rotation. Hughes is going to be the best value relative to draft position of not only of that pitching staff, but any staff in baseball or fantasy.

Knowing this, what can we do in fantasy?

Trust this writer even if the New York media is down on this once-prized arm. The negativity is more a function of the failed expectations than the true '12 potential. He just might be the best sleeper on the board in AL-only leagues. The Yankees are smart enough to know what they have in Hughes, evident when they gave up on the likes of '11 breakthrough pitcher of the year Ian Kennedy. Hughes is going to catch one of our top NL busts, Kennedy, in fantasy production this year. Go the extra round or dollar late on Hughes.

Why is this bold?

Ramirez is coming off a disastrous '11 that ended with shoulder surgery. His numbers have declined across the rotisserie categories in each of the past three seasons and his home run totals are in a four-year swoon after hitting a career-high 33 as a leadoff man in '08. Ramirez no longer leads off and hasn't had more than 600 at-bats in five seasons.

Complicating Ramirez's ranking is the notion that Troy Tulowitzki and Ramirez teammate Reyes will have something to say about who the No. 1 fantasy shortstop is, while Bautista and Evan Longoria don't look all that ready to give up the crown at Ramirez's new position, third base.

Why is this going to happen?

The injury risk on Ramirez, 28, isn't due to the talent, or even his supporting cast. It relates to health. The reports from Marlins camp are all glowing and fellow Dominican Reyes is going to keep a friendly competition going for who the alpha dog is in Miami. It will turn out to be neither Dwyane Wade or LeBron James: It's Hanley.

Knowing this, what can we do in fantasy?

The problem with Ramirez now is where to pick him. He has gone as high as late in Round 1 in some drafts, SI.com mock draft included. That is a lot of risk to accept on '11's fantasy bust of the year. The reward will outweigh the monumental risk at that elevated draft position due to the great spring reports.

Why is this bold?

Well, because everyone loves them some Brett Lawrie. The Jays' third baseman was a stud in his 150 at-bats last season. Further crowding the field are Braves reliever Craig Kimbrel, the No. 1 closer in fantasy already, and Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson, both of whom have yet to reach their ceilings after Year 1. Belt did little to stand out in his extended opportunity a year ago (.225) and is not a surefire starter at first base for the Giants.

Why is this going to happen?

Well, getting Lawrie at a reasonable price is the tricky thing -- if not impossible. You are going to have to pay a premium for a player with just a 150 at-bat sample. Kimbrel is tops at a position that is notoriously erratic year-to-year, and Hellickson has his detractors in the stat-guru section of the seamheads (justified or not). It will be easy to get Belt at a reduced rate at the deep first base position and he can have a bigger year than even Mark Trumbo did as a rookie.

Knowing this, what can we do in fantasy?

We love drafting overlooked sophomores, and Belt is a perfect example of one. The rookies coming off great years won't provide the value that Belt can late. He is a burgeoning monster fantasy run producer who is going to be on the board into the late rounds in a standard mixed league. A .280-30-100-80 season is not out of the question for one of this spring's favorite sleepers in the NL.

Why is this bold?

This is one of the most-anticipated rookie classes in years. Bryce Harper is a once-a-generation talent who could be starring for fantasy owners as a teenager. Mike Trout is so promising some even consider him a better prospect than the chosen one, Harper. And Matt Moore is coming off a cup of coffee that was as hot as one from a fast-food restaurant that nets some clumsy customer a multimillion dollar settlement when he spills it on himself. Also, there has been a significant stigma attached to Japan's top league that it is akin to that of America's Triple-A, particularly since Daisuke Matsuzaka was the Japanese chosen one before Darvish was.

Why is this going to happen?

Harper is already back in Triple-A, Trout will be headed there soon and Moore opened camp with an abdominal injury and was roughed up in his last spring start.

Darvish, for his part, is displaying upper-90s stuff and will be starting games for the two-time defending AL champion Rangers, who can get him great run support. Darvish comes labeled as the best Japanese pitching prospect in history, so naturally you have to see him as a threat to better the numbers of first-year imports Hideo Nomo (13-6, 2.54 with 236 strikeouts in 191 1/3 innings) or Daisuke Matsuzaka (15-12, 4.40 with 201 strikeouts in 204 2/3 innings).

Knowing this, what can we do in fantasy?

Darvish can beat those numbers, so he is going to be the most important rookie picked this spring. Consider him a bargain after the top 100 players are off the board.

Why is this bold?

This won't take much convincing. Beckham has looked like fantasy garbage. He won't even get picked in many mixed leagues, slotting out of the top 18 fantasy second basemen even in the most optimistic of rankings.

Why is this going to happen?

When he came up in '09, he looked like a future leader at second base in fantasy. Now he looks like mixed-league cannon fodder. It is easy to forget he is still just 25-years old. New manager Robin Ventura went through a slow start and broke through, so the new manager should help get the best out of this lost talent. Beckham is going to be a great breakout in AL-only formats, and sleeper in mixed ones.

Knowing this, what can we do in fantasy?

If you miss out on Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia or Ian Kinsler at second base, wait a long, long time to fill the position. Beckham is going to be on the board and we are anticipating a .280-20-80-100-10 season that might not only make him a top-10 producer at the position, but top five.

Why is this bold?

Bautista has earned top-five status overall. He has put back-to-back fantasy monster seasons together and has convinced even the most cynical fantasy drafter he has arrived in the elite to stay.

Why is this going to happen?

We list Bautista as one of the top busts in the AL, because of the higher-than-ever expectations coupled with the as-marginal-as-ever production in the second half of last season (.257-12-38-32-4-.419-.477). This is a case of Murphy's Law, and if our worst fears happen with @JoeyBats, we might rename it Bautista's Law: After back-to-back huge years, when most are comfortable enough to pick Bautista in Round 1, it figures this might exactly be the time he disappoints. Beastista hit .302 with an OPS over 1.000 -- legend range -- but he is still more of a .255 career hitter, as he showed in his pedestrian second half last year. Maybe '10 was not a flash in a pan after all, but you have to be wary of him performing at Albert Pujols levels annually after how many years it took this 31-year old to find himself.

Knowing this, what can we do in fantasy?

Avoid Bautista all together. Let someone else take the risk on him in the middle of Round 1. Take Cabrera, Pujols, Braun, Matt Kemp, Tulowitzki and even Adrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Cano and Longoria before Bautista. You can even justify taking Jacoby Ellsbury or a couple of the top pitchers before Bautista in rotisserie formats.

Why is this bold?

You couldn't have liked what you have seen from Salty since his rookie season, and you shouldn't be considering him as a No. 1 catcher in mixed leagues, even in AL-only formats where he is out of our top 10. He is a career .244 hitter and had not played 100 games in a season before barely reaching that plateau while sharing time with Jason Varitek in Boston a year ago.

Why is this going to happen?

Saltamacchia is 27 and finally will be an unquestioned full-time backstop in the major leagues. He is ready to step forward as a game-caller, Bobby Valentine said, and run producer at the position. Boston has a hitter-friendly ballpark and hitting-heavy lineup, particularly for a right-handed slugger. You might not have noticed, but Salty slugged 10 homers in 175 at-bats in the second half last year, which sets him up for a potential 25-homer breakthrough. He might even trump Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana -- widely considered the top picks at the position -- in the homer department.

Knowing this, what can we do in fantasy?

One of our favorite sleepers in the AL. Saltalamacchia is a great fallback option as a No. 2 catcher on draft day, but he is going to perform like a No. 1.

After reading the above, you are well within your rights to doubt. And if that's so, we've done our job in asking you to consider some non-traditional opinions.

And don't forget our track record after these predictions from last year come true::

1. A Brewer will lead you: Ryan Braun enjoyed a career year and Prince Fielder had a huge contract year.

2. Jacoby Ellsbury will be the most important Red Sox player: He was arguably the fantasy MVP.

3. The OF rankings will shuffle: Hello, Mr. Kemp.

4. Top fantasy rookies will be closers: Yahtzee, young Kimbrel.

5. Your Yankees will disappoint you: So long early rounds, Alex Rodriguez.

OK, so five out of 10 ain't bad. Hey, being bold isn't easy, but at least it is worth trying. That answer from your out-of-your-league date will always be no, if you don't ask.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. You can also find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).

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