We’re less than a week from the start of the 2015 MLB season. We’ve ranked, re-ranked, and re-ranked again all the fantasy-relevant players. We’ve called out busts, sleepers and breakouts. We’ve tackled some of the most pressing questions facing fantasy owners this offseason. All that’s left to do is make some bold predictions. As always, correct predictions will be signs of my genius, while incorrect ones will clearly be the result of the vicissitudes of baseball.
Nolan Arenado will be a top-20 player and the No. 2 third baseman
Arenado broke out last season with a .287/.328/.500 slash line, 18 homers, 34 doubles and 61 RBI in just less than 500 plate appearances. He turns 24 years old in April, and his average true home run distance suggests more power is coming this year. Spring training stats don’t exactly mean very much, but he’s hitting .313 and slugging .667, and hhe as four homers and five doubles down in the Cactus League. A .280-25-90-80-5 line isn’t just within his reach. It will happen and make him the No. 2 overall second baseman, trailing only Josh Donaldson.
Mookie Betts will be a top-50 player
The Red Sox may have a crowded outfield, but Betts earned himself an everyday spot with a monster spring, during which he has hit .487/.512/.923 with a pair of homers and 11 total extra-base hits. Assuming he plays somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 games, he’s going to reach floors of 15 homers and 30 steals. Everything he did in the minors suggests his hit tool will carry over for his entire major league career, and he hit .291 with a .368 OBP in 213 plate appearances with the Red Sox last year. Betts will ride a spot high in the strong Boston lineup to 100 runs to go along with those gaudy homer and steals totals, landing him comfortably in the top 50.
Billy Hamilton won’t be a top-30 outfielder
This may seem like a stretch, but remember that these are bold predictions, not timid predictions. All the steals in the world can’t change the fact that Hamilton is a sinkhole in batting average and OBP. Even last year, when he was tied for second in the majors with 56 steals, he was the No. 84 overall player, No. 56 hitter and No. 27 outfielder. Hamilton isn’t going to hit more than five or six homers, and if the Reds struggle again this season, he may not bring very much run-scoring upside to the table, either. Hamilton will prove to be one of the most overpriced players this season.
A Chicago Cub will win the NL Rookie of the Year, but not the one you think
Kris Bryant has been the story of the spring, hitting a homer seemingly every other time he steps to the plate and spurring a discussion around baseball’s service time rules. He’s going to be with the Cubs before too long, and is expected to be one of the game’s best power hitters immediately upon his first trip to the plate. Yet he won’t even have the best rookie season on his own team. That honor will belong to Jorge Soler, the 23-year-old sensation in right field. Soler hit .292/.330/.573 with five homers in 97 major league plate appearances last year after rocketing through the Double-A and Triple-A levels. Soler has had a big spring, hitting .333, compiling a .980 OPS, and belting three homers in 50 plate appearances. Soler has a mix of power, hit tool and plate discipline that suggests he is a star in the making. He’ll launch that by winning the Rookie of the Year this season.
The Nationals will feature three of the 10 best starting pitchers
There’s a reason the Nationals have the best odds to win the World Series, and it’s located on the mound. They already had one of the elite starting rotations last year, and they found a way to upgrade it by signing Max Scherzer in the offseason. Scherzer, along with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, gives the Nationals three legitimate aces. Over the last three seasons, the trio has combined for 1,849 strikeouts. Scherzer and Strasburg are both strong bets to lead the league in strikeouts this year, and it wouldn’t be a huge shock if Zimmermann ended having the best year of the three. No matter who ranks as the best fantasy pitcher in Washington this year, all three will be top-10 fantasy starters and will carry the team to the best record in the majors.
Adam Wainwright is not a top-20 starting pitcher
Wainwright’s strikeout rate dipped to 19.9 percent last year, and he barely fanned more than seven batters per nine innings. He still had a great season with a 2.38 ERA, 2.88 FIP and 20 wins, but those are awfully hard numbers to reach if a pitcher isn’t getting a lot of empty swings. Even if he does have another standout year in the rate and wins categories, he’s not going to be a meaningful contributor in strikeouts, and that’s crucial for fantasy success. With pitching on the rise across the majors, a handful of pitchers ranked behind Wainwright at draft tables will slide past him as they miss the bats he cannot avoid. All of that extra contact will push him out of the top 20 at the position.
Chris Davis has a better season than Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder
Davis was one of the biggest disappointments last year, following up his 53-homer season with a trip to sub-Mendoza territory, hitting just .196 and missing the end of the year due to a suspension. Still, he hit 26 homers in 525 trips to the plate, and had some of the worst batted-ball luck in the league. It would be foolish to expect him to match the .286 batting average he had in 2013, but he has a ton of power and will take a walk. Assuming his luck evens out on balls in play this year, he’ll get back to a batting average fantasy owners can live with, while also hitting 35-plus homers. That’ll make him a more valuable commodity than fellow AL first basemen Pujols and Fielder.
Brandon Moss finishes in the top-three in the AL in home runs
Moss hit 76 homers over the last three season while playing about half his games in a terrible stadium for his skill set. Now that he’s in Cleveland, he’ll be aided by a home park that accentuates what he does well, namely drive the ball to right and right-center. If he was able to hit 33 homers per 162 games while calling the O.co Coliseum home, just imagine what he can do playing 81 games at Progressive Field. He’ll easily pass the 30-homer mark this year, and will trail no more than two players in the American League in round-trippers.
Tyson Ross contends for the NL Cy Young Award
Ross enjoyed a breakout 2014 season, posting a 2.81 ERA, 3.11 xFIP and striking out 195 batters in 195 2/3 innings. He also racked up a 57-percent ground-ball rate, one season after getting 55% of his balls in play on the ground. With his ability to get whiffs and induce grounders, there’s room for him to have an even better season. The only thing he lacked last year, from a fantasy perspective, was wins, thanks to the Padres fielding one of the worst offenses in baseball history. With Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks now in San Diego, everyone on the pitching staff should get a lot more run support this year. Ross will take another step forward, and be in the Cy Young discussion into September.
Two AL Central teams will make the playoffs, but the Tigers won’t be one of them
The White Sox made perhaps the biggest upgrades this season, adding Jeff Samardzija, Melky Cabrera, David Robertson and Adam LaRoche. With Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia and Alexei Ramirez, they could have a very dangerous offense. Samardzija joins Chris Sale and Jose Quintana to give the White Sox one of the best rotations in the AL. About 350 miles to the East, Cleveland didn’t make any significant moves, other than getting Moss. They didn’t need to make any significant upgrades, however, after winning 85 games last year while a handful of key players struggled through down seasons. If Jason Kipnis and Michael Bourn bounce back this year, the Indians will have plenty of growth from players who were already in house. Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco should end up being one of the best 1-2 punches in the league, Michael Brantley emerged as an MVP candidate last year, and Moss gives them the lefthanded pop they so sorely needed. The Indians will win the Central, with the White Sox claiming one of the two Wild Card spots. The Tigers and the Royals, last year’s AL champions, will be left out. And in a not so bold prediction, it will be the Washington Nationals who win the 2015 World Series.