Fantasy baseball 2013 draft preview: Bold predictions
Bold predictions can seem crazy, but they can also set you apart from the crowd. Many are based on statistics and historical analysis. Some simply come from the gut (like saying Tampa Bay's Wil Myers will belt 30 home runs when Myers has yet to register a single major league at-bat).
Here are 10 bold predictions that can help you win your 2013 fantasy league:
1. Stephen Strasburg will tally 300 strikeouts
It's payback time.
Since last August, when he was controversially shut down for the season to preserve innings and, in turn, his career, Strasburg has been gritting his teeth and preparing to prove himself as a full-season workhorse. Now, Strasburg is going to take out last season's disappointment and frustration on his opponents. He's too smart to be overzealous, meaning he'll meticulously break down hitters one by one, pitch by pitch.
If last year was all about conservation, this year will be all about unadulterated destruction. No more pitching to contact with five-run leads to save pitches and go deeper into games; no more quick hooks by manager Davey Johnson.
"It's going to be a test," Strasburg told the Gannett News Service. "I think I'm really ready for it. I've trained really hard this offseason. Hopefully, answer the bell and throw 200-plus innings and be a guy in the rotation who can be reliable and go hopefully seven, eight, nine innings this year every time out."
Strasburg is thinking like a pitcher who wants to pitch full games; last year, he rarely made it through seven innings. He's said he wants to be prepared to throw at least 110 pitches every start, like the game's top aces.
If Strasburg maintains the 11.2 K/9 ratio he posted after returning from Tommy John surgery, he would need to pitch more than 241 innings to reach 300 strikeouts. He won't be allowed to do that, even if the Nationals truly let him pitch "without restriction." But if Strasburg can again achieve his pre-surgery 12.2 K/9 rate, he would need only 221 1/3 innings to reach 300 strikeouts.
The bet here is that Strasburg pitches closer to a Randy Johnson-like 12.5 K/9 rate, which would require him posting only 216 innings to reach 300 strikeouts. Suddenly, this bold prediction doesn't seem so unattainable.
2. Mike Trout will step up, not back
Many fantasy analysts, including some of the same guys who were angry about Trout finishing as the runner-up to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera in the AL MVP race, expect the bulked-up 21-year-old to regress this season.
Trout is No. 1 overall in SI.com's Top 300 player rankings, and we aggressively project numbers better than .300/30/100/115/50. To put those in perspective: Barry Bonds went 30/50 just once in his career, at the age of 25. Trout fell just one steal short at the age of 20, and he's poised to do it at the age of 21. Incredible.
If you're looking for further proof that Trout (and Bryce Harper) will avoid a sophomore slump, check out Michael Beller's take in Part I of his Burning Questions series.
3. Josh Hamilton will be the biggest fantasy bust
Last season Hamilton finally proved capable of playing more than 135 games for the first time in five seasons, and it led to a huge contract with the Angels. But buyer, beware. The over-under on games played should be placed at 125 for the oft-injured and generally brittle Hamilton -- which is one game for every million L.A. gave him this winter.
Big-money free agents have historically disappointed in fantasy in their first year with the new club. We already saw how tough it was for Albert Pujols to transition to Anaheim a year ago. Hamilton has an awful injury history working against him and also has to deal with no longer playing half his games in Texas' hitter-friendly park.
All of that makes it a bad year to pick Hamilton. He'll be the first player off the board to suffer a serious injury that requires a lengthy DL stint.
To read more about Hamilton and other unwise picks, check out our team-by-team look at AL busts.
4. Kris Medlen will be another big bust
Medlen, who's already had Tommy John surgery, won't go down with a big injury. Instead, he'll stay healthy enough to disappoint owners with his pitching.
After Medlen posted a ridiculous 10-1 record and 1.57 ERA in 138 innings last season, many consider the Braves' 27-year-old a rising fantasy ace, and he is currently going off the board as a top-15 pitcher according to the MockDraftCentral.com ADP. However, he has the lowest career-high innings total of any pitcher drafted in that select group; that lofty draft position is usually reserved for the 200-inning aces of baseball, not two-month phenomenons.
Beller disagrees about Medlen, but even he can't deny that something happens to a pitcher's shoulder when it is stretched to limits never reached before. Medlen was great in his 12 starts from late July through September, going 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA, but those numbers aren't sustainable for a full season, something Medlen has yet to deliver.
If you draft Medlen, you are drafting a .500 pitcher. He is this year's prime example of why pitching is too volatile to target early in drafts.
To read more about Medlen and other unwise picks, check out our team-by-team look at NL busts.
5. Evan Longoria will finally become a top-five player
Longoria has already been around for five years, but he hasn't been able to consistently stay healthy, which has prevented him from matching the elite levels (.281/33/113/100/9) he hit in 2009, his first full season.
But something happens when a player is 27 years old, which could make Longoria the best fantasy player picked after the first round this year. If you can assume the injury risk, pick Longoria when you're thinking of picking Hamilton.
If Longoria plays even 145 games, he is capable of hitting .300 with 35 homers, 120 RBI and 110 runs scored. The hamstring is fixed surgically, so he might even return to being a 15-steal threat.
6. Victor Martinez will be the comeback player of the year
A 34-year-old catcher coming off major knee surgery? No problem. Martinez is our favorite injury-risk sleeper and will provide big bang for the buck this year.
Standard fantasy formats allow a player to maintain position eligibility from the most recent season played in the majors, so Martinez should have catcher eligibility in your league. However, he won't have to actually play the physically demanding position of catcher, since he is going to be the regular DH in a lineup that features two monster hitters, Cabrera and Prince Fielder, in front of him.
That means V-Mart should post huge numbers among fantasy catchers. Instead of reaching up to pick reigning NL MVP Buster Posey in the early rounds, select a 500 at-bat monster or a 200-plus-inning ace and take the risk on Martinez as your fantasy backstop many rounds later.
7. Rookie Wil Myers will hit 30 homers
The Rays outfitted two-fifths of the Royals' starting rotation by trading for Myers, a player who has yet to post an official MLB at-bat. The Rays know how to evaluate young talent, so we're on board with Myers.
Myers has already been assigned to the minor leagues to start the season, but he's too good to stay at Triple-A for long. He hit .304 with 24 homers and 79 RBI in just 99 games at that level a year ago. It won't take long for the Rays to succumb to the temptation of making him their everyday right fielder.
In Part VIII of Beller's Burning Questions, he projected Myers' ceiling to be 25 homers and 90 RBI. We'll go one step further, predicting this year's poor man's Trout will hit 30 homers for the Rays once he arrives. This is your fantasy rookie of the year.
8. Fellow rookie Jedd Gyorko will hit 20 homers
Fantasy owners are rejoicing about Gyorko's move from third base to second base, because more viable options are needed at the notoriously thin position.
Gyorko won't just be the Padres' starting second baseman on Opening Day: He will hit 20-plus homers and win NL Rookie of the Years honors. Only four second basemen hit that many homers a year ago (Robinson Cano, Aaron Hill, Rickie Weeks and Ben Zobrist) and Gyorko will join that elite group -- even while slugging in San Diego's Petco Park.
9. Tim Lincecum will enjoy a renaissance
The former No. 1 pitcher in fantasy hit rock bottom a year ago, but Lincecum has a few things on his side: He's in a contract year, and he is still just 28 years old, by no means an expiration date for a fantasy ace.
Lincecum proved he can regain his form when he was demoted to the bullpen in the postseason, and his arm and velocity have shown more life in spring training. He will again surpass 200 innings, which will mean 225-plus strikeouts. He won't be the NL Cy Young award winner, but he will provide great value relative to his suppressed draft position and earn himself a huge free-agent contract.
10. Fernando Rodney will go from riches to rags
Closers go bust in bunches every year, often representing some of the most wasted dollars and picks in every fantasy draft. For the biggest closer bust, look no further than 2012's best closer in baseball: Fernando Rodney. Other than the ridiculous career year Rodney posted at age 35 -- got an age-35 breakout closer theory, anyone? -- this prediction is arguably not even bold. Even Beller agrees with this in his review of the Tampa Bay Rays. Rodney was also the most likely closer bust in our relief pitcher primer.
Last spring Kyle Farnsworth entered the season as the Rays' closer of choice, but the rejuvenated Rodney wound up being the better option. Rodney is this year's Farnsworth, so if you want this year's Rodney, look to erstwhile prospect Jake McGee. He will be the first undrafted reliever to become a top-10 fantasy closer.