- Ten bold fantasy baseball predictions for 2019.
Major League Baseball’s opening week has finally arrived. On Thursday, all 30 teams will take the field. With the exception of the All-Star break, there will be baseball every day between then and the end of October. All that’s left for us to do before the season begins is make some bold predictions.
Matt Chapman hits 40 home runs
What, you thought I wasn’t going to take one more chance to beat the drum for my favorite 2019 breakout star? Matt Champan’s already got one homer in the books after Oakland’s two-game series with Seattle in Japan, so he just needs 39 more to make this happen. I’ve already started a hashtag sure to gain traction this season to celebrate Chapman’s progress. Be sure to follow along with me on Twitter at #MattChapmanMarchto40, where we’ll mark each step Chapman takes toward the 40-homer threshold. We’re still making arrangements for a party should he get there. The date is TBD, but plan on it being sometime in late September.
Two Astros finish in the top three for AL MVP
If not for one of the most competitive MVP fields in recent memory, Alex Bregman could have been a top-three finisher last year. He came in fifth behind Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Jose Ramirez and J.D. Martinez and, at 25 years old with an elite pedigree and track record of high-level success, can likely still find a bit more consistency and power. Carlos Correa, meanwhile, might have been the AL MVP in 2017 if he didn’t tear a ligament in his thumb in July, costing him about seven weeks of game action. Last year’s back injury completely derailed his season, to what degree we may never know. It’s worth noting that he was hitting .295/.383/.521 with seven homers at the end of play on May 13, then slumped for nearly a month, missed four games in early June because of right side soreness, and went on the DL two weeks later.
Bregman and a healthy Correa comprise one of the best left sides of the infield in the majors. They’ll prove that this season by helping lead the Astros to the best record in the majors and ending in the top-three in AL MVP voting with—who else?—Trout.
Nick Pivetta stirkes out 200 batters
Nick Pivetta has been another favorite of the SI.com fantasy department all offseason, so we had to figure out a way to work him into our bold predictions. Pivetta had a 27.1% strikeout rate last year, good for 13th in the majors, which had him ahead of Aaron Nola, Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger and Jose Berrios. Inconsistency limited him to 164 innings and he completed six innings in just 11 of his 32 starts. Given what he has shown to this point of his career, there’s good reason to bet on enough growth in his age-26 season, which doubles as his third full year in the league, to get him to 190 innings this season. He fell just short of the 200-strikeout mark last season, fanning 188 batters. If he throws 190-plus innings and maintains a 27% strikeout rate, he’ll cruise past 200 strikeouts this year.
Trea Turner and Juan Soto meet expectations…but neither is the most valuable position player in Washington
Trea Turner and Juan Soto are the first two Nationals hitters off the board in a typical fantasy draft, and understandably so. Turner could give his fantasy owners 20 homers and 50 steals with strong rates. Soto hit .292/.404/.517 with 22 homers in 494 plate appearances as a 19-year-old. They’re bankable stars, and there’s no reason to think they’ll fall short of expectations. And yet, they have a teammate who will outperform both of them at the plate.
Anthony Rendon isn’t overlooked, but he is underappreciated. Save for a 2015 season wrecked by injury, he’s been one of the most consistent players of the last half-decade. He took things to a new level over the last two seasons, totaling a .305/.399/.534 slash line with yearly averages of 24.5 homers, 42.5 doubles, 96 RBI and 84.5 runs, all while missing 15 games in 2017 and 26 last year. So what does “more valuable than Turner and Soto” look like in numbers? How about a .300/.400/.530 slash with 30 homers, 100 RBI and 100 runs?
Kris Bryant is a top-five fantasy hitter
Kris Bryant won the NL Rookie of the Year in 2015, the NL MVP in 2016, and finished seventh in MVP voting in 2017, Over the first three years of his career, he hit .288/.355/.527 with yearly averages of 31 homers, 35 doubles, 91 RBI and 106 runs scored, with nine steals to boot. He was right on that trajectory last season, hitting .305/.427/.583 with eight homers, 14 doubles and 24 RBI at the close of business on May 19. On May 20, he got the day off because of what the Cubs called a sore left shoulder. One month later, that shoulder injury forced him to the DL. He struggled through that month, hitting .248/.317/.345, and wasn’t the same the rest of the season.
The shoulder injury is healed, and Bryant enters the season fully healthy. He may not be a 40-homer guy, but anything short of a .290/.400/.530 season with 30 homers would be a surprise.
Tommy Pham goes 30-20
A 30-20 season is within Tommy Pham’s realistic range of outcomes. We know this because in 2017 he belted 23 homers and swiped bags in 530 plate appearances. Give him some growth, s little better luck, and a full season, and he gets to 30-20. He struggled through 98 games with the Cardinals last year, but still hit 14 homers and stole 10 bases in that time. Pham was rejuvenated after a July trade to the Rays, hitting .343/.448/.622 with seven homers and five steals in 174 plate appearances. His 162-game pace with the Rays translates to 29.1 homers and 20.8 steals. Believing a player can do something because he was on pace for it over 39 games is obviously faulty logic, but that’s not what we’re doing here. We’re taking Pham’s last two seasons and realistically projecting an improvement now that he’s in, for him, a better environment with the Rays.
Eloy Jimenez is a top-10 fantasy outfielder
Yes, outfield is a really deep position. It has guys like Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Christian Yelich, Aaron Judge, Ronald Acuña, Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, Giancarlo Stanton, Charlie Blackmon, Andrew Benintendi, Starling Marte, Rhys Hoskins, George Springer and Tommy Pham, just to name 15. Eloy Jimenez, then, will have to outperform six of those guys to be in the top 10 at the position, and even that assumes that no one else makes a similar leap. Those guys could all meet, and some could exceed expectations, and Jimenez will still find himself in their midst. The guy hit .337/.384/.577 with 22 homers, 28 doubles and 75 RBI as a 20-year-old between the Double-A and Triple-A levels last year. His numbers at the highest level of the minors are worth considering particularly. In 228 plate appearances with the White Sox’ Triple-A affiliate in Charlotte, Jimenez slashed .355/.399/.597 with 12 homers, 13 doubles, 33 RBI and a 13.2% strikeout rate. Had Jimenez not signed a contract extension, the White Sox would have sent him to minor league camp to extend his service time. Those two weeks he would’ve spent in the minors during the regular season could’ve cost him a shot at the top 10 in fantasy’s deepest position. Not anymore.
Jack Flaherty finishes ahead of Jacob deGrom and Aaron Nola in NL Cy Young voting
Jack Flaherty’s not going to win the NL Cy Young. There’s only room for one longshot Cy Young prediction, and that’s going to Mike Clevinger in the AL. Flaherty, however, will come in second behind Max Scherzer, outpacing most of his more famous peers. Flaherty was excellent in 28 starts with the Cardinals last year, his first year in the league. At 22 years old, he pitched to a 3.34 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 29.6% strikeout rate in 155 innings. If he didn’t have the misfortune of having the same rookie year as Ronald Acuña and Juan Soto, he would’ve cruised to the NL Rookie of the Year Award. You don’t see pitchers do what Flaherty did at 22 years old and then suddenly regress. It’s a much better bet that 2018 was just the tip of the iceberg for the Cardinals’ ace. He’ll be considered one of the 10 best pitchers in MLB after this season.
Gleyber Torres is a top-20 fantasy hitter
The argument defending Gleyber Torres as a top-20 hitter is similar to that for Jimenez, with whom he once shared the Cubs’ farm system. As a 21-year-old rookie in 2018, Torres hit .271/.340/.480 with 24 homers, 16 doubles, 77 RBI and six steals in 484 plate appearances. He had his service time manipulated at the beginning of the season, and then spent about three weeks on the DL with a hip strain in July. Give Torres a 162-game season, and his pace translates to 32 homers, 21 doubles, 101 RBI and eight steals. As is the case with Jimenez, we should be betting on the come with Torres. This is the season he goes from promising regular to established star.
Ross Stripling is a top-20 fantasy starter
Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill will open the season on the IL, meaning Ross Stripling has a safe spot in the rotation. The Dodgers have an injury-prone rotation, with Hyun-jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda joining Kershaw and Hill, which is part of what makes Stripling and Julio Urias so important to them. Stripling may technically be the team’s No. 6 or 7 starter, but it’s entirely possible he starts 20 or more games this season. If he does, he’s going to be an absolute steal in all fantasy leagues. Consistently overlooked, Stripling has mostly succeeded in whatever role the Dodgers have asked him to fill. He has made 104 appearances, including 37 starts, over the last three seasons, amassing a 3.52 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 284 strikeouts in 296 1/3 innings. His strikeout rate is a solid 23.2%, while his walk rate is a mere 5.8%. Stripling wouldn’t need an injury to make the roster out of spring training as a starter on many teams, but he finds himself in a great spot on a Dodgers’ team that will lean on him out of both design and necessity.