Edward Sutelan's 10 Bold Predictions for 2017

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It's time for everyone's favorite writer to give his Bold Predictions. Wait, Nick published his a couple days ago? Then I guess it's time for everyone's second favorite writer to give his Bold Predictions for the 2017 fantasy baseball season! Yes, that's right, it's me, Edward Sutelan.

I made some predictions last season, and if you remember, I predicted the Indians would win the World Series (close), Dansby Swanson would be the Braves' starting shortstop on August 3 (close), Kyle Hendricks is a stud (bingo) and A.J. Reed demolishes big-league pitching (ouch).

So, without further ado, let's see what kind of craziness I'm spewing out this season!

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Edward Sutelan's Bold Predictions for 2017

1. Nomar Mazara is a top-30 outfielder
In 2016, Mazara hit .266/.320/.419 with 20 home runs, a 6.9 percent walk rate and 19.7 percent strikeout rate. Oh, and did I mention he was 21 years old? Yeah, that's kind of impressive.

Scouts have raved about the thunderous potential in his bat, and he has largely proved them right throughout his pro career as he has almost always posted home run totals if not at 20, at least in the mid-teens. And for a 21-year-old, he posted some very impressive batted ball stats. He averaged an exit velocity of 88.5 mph (0.3 more than teammate Jonathan Lucroy) that included the seventh hardest hit ball all season in 2016 at 117.8 mph. He also hit a baseball 491 feet last season. That's Giancarlo Stanton territory right there. Let's also not forget the lineup he bats in the middle of. Mazara will be taking swings in the middle of a lineup that features guys like Adrian Beltre, Jonathan Lucroy and Rougned Odor. He will get plenty of RBI chances this season and should be able to cash in on a ton of those opportunities. If he can build off of last season's successes and slightly improve his plate discipline, he could be in store for a seriously productive season for fantasy owners.

2. The Tampa Bay Rays' rotation leads the Al in strikeouts
Have you all ever stopped to think about what that Rays' rotation could look like by season's end? We could see a rotation of Chris Archer, Blake Snell, Jose De Leon, Jake Odorizzi and Brent Honeywell. If those guys are all as good as scouts have previously hyped them up to be, this could be one of the best rotations in baseball despite having two rookies in their ranks.

Last season, Snell struck out 24.4 percent of opposing batters, which for him is low considering he historically works near 30 percent. De Leon is another guy who has typically sat in the 30 percent range throughout his MiLB career. Archer? Archer gets to the upper-20 percent range at the big-league level, so there's no question he can do it. Odorizzi is typically in the low-mid-20 percent range as has Honeywell throughout his MiLB career. This is a ton of strikeout potential hidden in a budding rotation and fantasy owners would be wise to look here for some serious strikeout production.

3. Jose Peraza leads the majors in stolen bases
Peraza is not the fastest player on his team, let alone all of baseball. So what makes me think he will steal more bags than anyone else? For me, it's a combination of a few things.

For starters, Peraza is a much better hitter than Billy Hamilton. Though he still lacks power, Peraza is a consistent hitter who can barrel up the ball and send line drives to all fields. I doubt he will hit over .300, but .280 is not an unreasonable number to strive for. He will also be the starting second baseman for the Reds in 2017 and should bat second in their lineup, giving him 600-700 plate appearances on the season. When he debuted in the majors last season, he ran about 34 percent of the times he reached base. So if he reaches base at a 32 percent clip, that means he will be on base 192-224 times in 2017. That means, he should (statistically speaking) attempt to steal 65 to 76 bases. Jonathan Villar led the league with 62 stolen bases and Hamilton was on his tail at 58, but if Peraza can attempt to steal 76 bases, he has a decent chance of reaching 60 or at least 50. He is too fast to be caught nearly a third of the time in 2017 and should be able to steal 55+ bags if given the kind of opportunities I believe he will receive.

4. Devon Travis is a top-10 second baseman
Travis in his MLB career has accumulated a total of 163 games, one more than what would be a full season of work. Unfortunately, injury after injury has limited his chances to shine in the majors and it could even do that again to start off this season as he is still questionable for Opening Day.

But let's take a look at those numbers over his 163 career games. He has 19 home runs, seven stolen bases, a 5.7 percent walk rate, 19.4 percent strikeout rate and .301/.342/.469 slash line. To put that in perspective, only four second baseman in all of baseball last season had 20 home runs with at least a .290+ batting average. Travis will also lead off in front of one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball (even without Edwin Encarnacion) and should be a great candidate to post 100 runs scored in 2017, a number only seven second basemen were able to reach in 2016. If (and it's a big if) Travis can play in at least 150 games in 2017, he should be able to at least be a top-15 second baseman and very possibly a top-10 second baseman in 2017 in what has become a very loaded position for talented fantasy performers.

5. Edwin Diaz is the top relief pitcher in the game
I don't know if you saw this last season, but Diaz was actually really dominant. Sure, that 2.79 ERA does not look super great, but how does the 40.6 percent strikeout rate sound? It should sound incredibly good, as only three pitchers in all of baseball had a higher strikeout rate than he did (minimum of 50 IP). Those three pitchers, Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances and Kenley Jansen. Notice something about those guys? Only one of them is going to be the closer for their respective team next season. Diaz will be the full-time closer for the Mariners and he should be able to lock down 40+ saves for a competitive team that figures to play it close with a lot of other teams.

Another reason to love Diaz's potential for next season is the fact that he actually was remarkably unlucky in 2016. Opposing hitters posted a crazy high .377 BABIP against him, and yet for all that they managed to hit just .226 off him. If he lowers that BABIP to below .300, you're looking at a guy who could easily allow a sub-.200 opponents' batting average. He is also a former starter who, throughout his MiLB career, has done an excellent job limiting the walks. That statement should tell you two things. One, the Mariners will not be afraid to use him for multiple innings and two, his walk rate of 6.9 percent could actually go down. Not enough to convince you he's a stud? Just a few more things. SIERA, which measures batted ball contact, was 1.82 for him last season, again indicating he should have posted a lower ERA than he did. He also averaged 97.3 mph on his fastball and 86.7 mph on his nasty slider, representing a pair of nasty pitches for the reliever. If I was you, I would jump on the bandwagon of the soon-to-be 23-year-old closer (yes, he is still only 23 years old) just as he is about to break out as one of the game's premier relievers.

6. Jose Bautista is a bad investment
As of right now, FantasyPros has Jose Bautista listed with an ADP of 88, putting him ahead of guys like Jackie Bradley, Andrew Benintendi, Edwin Diaz (ahem), Willson Contreras and a bunch of other studly bats and arms. Bautista is entering his age-36 season and is not getting any more help from his lineup. Kendrys Morales is a decent bat, but he is no Edwin Encarnacion. So the runs scored and RBI opportunities may be heading down for Bautista heading into next season. He has also seen a noticeable drop in BABIP over the past couple seasons and has never been a BABIP star in his career (.266 career vs. .255 in 2016). This is generally because he hits a ton of infield fly balls (17.8 percent last season) and has always been a serious pull hitter (50 percent pull rate every season in Toronto), making him very predictable. As he gets older, it gets tougher and tougher to count on a rebound and he may now be pitched to a bit tougher in 2017. I'm not going to say he will be a total bust, but his ADP of 88 has to be 60 spots too high.

7. Rafael Devers will bat seventh for the Red Sox on August 15th
I made a bold prediction about a prospect ETA last season, and I'm doing it again this season. Swanson was an easy pick in 2016 because the Braves really didn't have a great shortstop and Swanson had spent several years playing at Vanderbilt. Now I'm picking Devers for some of the same reasons. The Red Sox are currently looking at Pablo "Best Shape of My Life" Sandoval and Brock Holt as the two guys ahead of Devers in the third base depth chart. If Sandoval crashes and burns like he seems to do every season, Holt will not be near enough to keep Devers down in the minors. Now consider this also. The Red Sox promoted Yoan Moncada at the end of the season despite him having even less MiLB experience than Devers who will open 2017 at Double-A. Not to mention the fact that Devers is a far more advanced hitter with great discipline and a power bat that could have an impact on a potential playoff contender. Devers will have to hit extremely well to warrant this promotion, but if his season at Class-A Advanced is any indication, he is certainly capable of crushing Double-A pitching.

8. Gary Sanchez proves haters wrong, finishes season as top catcher . . . also slugs 30 home runs
This may initially not read as a bold prediction, but here is some context. He will do battle with Jonathan Lucroy and Buster Posey to become the No. 1 catcher in the league. I believe he does it by proving his power is no fluke. The haters right now are saying that he never showed this kind of power in the minors and I am here to say that while there is some truth to that statement, it is not entirely accurate. He was on pace for 34 home runs in 2011, 25 in 2012, 20 in 2013, 19 in 2014, 39 in 2015 and 39 in his fabled 2016. So he hasn't shown that kind of power yet because he had really just never played enough. Now granted, those rates are assuming he plays 162 games which he will not, but I think he could still hit 30 home runs in 140 games. He plays in the ninth-most home run friendly home ball park to right-handed hitters with two division rivals ahead of Yankee Stadium (Baltimore is eighth and Toronto is sixth) while Boston lags only two spots behind New York. Sanchez will play a lot of games in hitter-friendly stadiums and will receive well more than the lion's share of playing time behind the plate. He could provide owners with value of a first or second round pick by the time the season is over.

9. Bryce Harper posts the best season of his young career
There is no denying Harper scuffled through his 2016 season. That .243/.373/.441 slash line was just painful for owners counting on a 2015 repeat from the former first overall pick. But there are a lot of promising indicators for Harper to improve. He spread the ball around the field significantly more in 2016 than he did in 2015. He dropped his pull rate from 45.4 percent to 39.3 percent and raised his opposite-field hit rate to a career-high 26.3 percent. In addition to his promising spray charts, he also recorded a career-high 21 stolen bases and a career-low 18.7 percent strikeout rate. So there's a lot to like.

If you want to find the reason he struggled, it was largely due to his hard hit rate dropped nearly six points from the 40.9 percent of 2015 to 34.1 percent in 2016, resulting in the lowest BABIP of his career at .264. He also dropped his HR/FB rate to 14.3 percent, nearly four percent below his career average. For someone who still makes a fair amount of hard contact and a guy capable of not only waiting a pitcher out, but taking a pitch to all fields, Harper should be able to pull that BABIP up and hit more home runs while now making 20 stolen bases a legitimate possibility. He may be able to pay off on the hype train in 2017.

10. The Astros will win the World Series
Yes, this will finally be the season the 'Stros raise that gold trophy above their heads. By season's end, they could have a rock solid starting rotation with guys like Lance McCullers, Dallas Keuchel, Francis Martes and David Paulino leading the way with stellar arms in the bullpen like Chris Devenski, Luke Gregerson and Ken Giles. And that's before we even get into the lineup.

Houston will send out a starting lineup that looks like this: George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Yulieski Gurriel, Josh Reddick, Brian McCann, A.J. Reed (or Evan Gattis) and Carlos Beltran (could eventually be the dynamic Derek Fisher). Now they will likely have to go toe-to-toe with Chicago in order to get this title, but this is a team that on paper can hang with anyone. They appear to have one of the most dynamic young cores in baseball and with a couple prospects like the aforementioned Martes, Paulino and Fisher (and others like Garrett Stubbs and Teoscar Hernadez), they have a lot of depth to replace an injury or two. This is a very strong team and barring a remarkably disappointing season, they should easily win their division and make a very deep run into the playoffs that I believe ends with the team lifting the Commissioner's Trophy.

 

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