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Ellis Canady's 10 Bold Predictions for 2019


Bold predictions. The time where we come up with ideas that should happen because in our minds they make sense. Statistical analysis, prognostication, voodoo, card reader, etc. None of these are completely certain methods to achieve the forecast that we have in mind. So, we put our idea to text, bury them in the digital yard, and we come back in seven months to see how they've aged. We will check all of them, not just proclaim the ones we got right.

There have been a few of my predictions that have been deleted/replaced as other writers felt the same way. These would include the soothsaying of JB (Domingo Santana and Trevor May), Nick (Jorge Polanco), Pierre (Nomar Mazara), Dave Emerick (Joey Gallo). I've linked their articles so you do not miss out on their predictions.

We have a great lineup for you this year in our Bold Predictions series. Make sure you check in every morning to catch the latest edition, which includes more writers than the ones I mentioned above! But today is my day, so let's get started.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off. Exclusive access to our Draft Kit, premium rankings, projections, player outlooks, top prospects, dynasty rankings, 15 in-season lineup tools, and over 200 days of expert DFS research. Sign Up Now!

 

Andrew Benintendi is the AL MVP

Not as impressive as his rookie campaign, but deserving in its own right, Benintendi hit 16 homers with 21 stolen bases, 103 runs, and a .290 batting average in 2018. The big question is whether he can achieve another level. Let’s hear from the critics that state Benintendi will not make it. “He doesn’t have a swing built for it.” “He only has a 4.7% barrels per plate appearance rate.” “His average exit velocity is only 88 mph.” “He is more of an above-average power/speed guy.”

Well, those are interesting points but let’s look towards a similar profile in Christian Yelich. The year before his 2018 National League MVP campaign, Yelich was known as an above-average power/speed guy, and he had a 4.7% barrels per plate appearance rate. Hmmm, looks familiar. Also, he had an average exit velocity of 90 mph. That’s not too far off from Benny’s level.

While there are similarities, there are also distinct differences. Yelich accomplished all of that at the age of 25, while Benintendi split his season between 23 and 24 years old. Benintendi has a 41% ground-ball rate, which was 11% lower than Yelich had in 2018 (52% was the best of his career). The walk rate is similar, but Benintendi’s strikeout rate is five percent lower. He will also be hitting atop an elite lineup, so there will be more run opportunities than RBI.

He already has similar skills to a recent MVP; the next step will be to continue his naturally progressive improvement. Benintendi will need to fight off the pinstripes duo of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, but his complete five-tool package should put him at the front of the race.

 

Christian Yelich falls from NL MVP to third-round value

In the game of ‘What Have You Done For Me Lately,’ few can compete with Christian Yelich’s 2018 performance. He slammed down his cards to reveal a career-year of 36 bombs, 110 RBI, .346 AVG, and 22 stolen bases. As such, the Yelich groupies have come out in droves and put an exclamation to their commitment with an ADP of six.

There is no more explicit definition of reactionary than that as Yelich had an ADP of 65 to start 2018. People don’t want to miss out on a good thing, because “what if it is real?” “What if it is true?” We could go on and on with those hypotheticals. What if Steve Perry really is rejoining Journey? What if Meatloaf would do anything for love and he WOULD do that? What if Tawny Kitaen didn’t really love cars? Anything could happen, but we can’t concern ourselves with hypotheticals. Just be happy with what we have and be realistic about the future.

There is no doubt that Yelich had a career-year in 2018. But it is not an indication of what he will do in the future. I will not say that it is impossible to maintain these stats, just that he is near the top-end of his upside.

The power output (36) was tremendous, but 21 HR was the most he had hit in any season prior. He accomplished his feat of having the 12th-most homers in 2018 by having a torrid pace in the second half; he hit 11 homers in August and 10 homers in September. This pace cannot be expected to be maintained over the length of the year. Also, the improvements are not attributable to an increase in plate discipline as Yelich continued to pound the ball into the ground. He tied for the 11th-worst in ground-ball rate with 51.8%, and at the same time, his fly ball rate dropped to 23.5%.

The discussion doesn’t even address the former first-round talent who fell in ADP that have the potential to earn first-round value again in the likes of Kris Bryant (32), Manny Machado (19), Bryce Harper (18), or Aaron Judge (16); even Jose Altuve (15) will push to raise his value. A regression is on the horizon, as many would expect. However, with an ADP of six, people aren’t allowing that knowledge to deter their heart.

 

Victor Robles is the National League Rookie of the Year

Robles had the potential to set himself apart and be the standout rookie for the Nationals in 2018. Unfortunately, a hyperextended elbow injury in early April delayed those plans, allowing Juan Soto to bypass him and become the young darling for many championship teams.

Robles missed three months and returned the first week of July. In his time at Triple-A Syracuse, both before and after the injury, he tallied two homers and 14 stolen bases. Thankfully, he was one of the September call-ups, and in 66 plate appearances, he hit two three homers, stole three bases, and had a .288 batting average.

Robles also had a 6.3% barrel percentage on batted-ball events in 2018. While it isn’t great, it is reassuring that he is in the same company as Andrew Benintendi and Anthony Rizzo. At 21 years of age, Robles has room and time for growth. However, it is clear his a player that will provide not only speed but some power and average as well, roughly in the 15 homers and 30 stolen base range. Let’s count the number of hitters that went 15/30 in 2018. Don’t worry; you’ll only need one hand. Mookie Betts, Starling Marte, Jose Ramirez, and Trae Turner.

If we want to be conservative on his power and he only hits 10 homers and steals 30 bases, Robles would still be among excellent company (add Whit Merrifield, Lorenzo Cain, and Jonathan Villar to the previous list). Currently, he is being drafted with an ADP of 98, primarily for his speed. Those individuals will be surprised and happily rewarded for their commitment to youth when he provides power and a solid batting average.

Soto might be drafted 65 picks higher but do not be surprised if Robles is the better of the two youngsters in 2019.

 

Michael Conforto is a top-15 outfielder in roto

Conforto’s 2018 numbers are completely out of whack. Take them and those grains of salt and toss them. Ok, that is extreme but let’s be statistically selective since this is my prediction. Conforto came back from shoulder surgery too soon, so that makes the first-half numbers skewed. Injuries are frustrating and affect your ability.

Conforto came on strong in the second half with 17 homers (tied for seventh overall), 52 RBI (fourth overall), a .266 ISO (12th overall.), and a solid .273 AVG. The point is not to extrapolate those numbers over a whole season. I’m just saying that Conforto was healthy in the second half and those were the results. Now, imagine the potential of a healthy Conforto over a full season. Smiles, right?

The Mets lineup, despite already sustaining injuries, is improved from last season. Hitting in the middle third of the lineup, Conforto will have ample RBI opportunities. 2019 will be the first fully healthy season for Conforto; the results will skyrocket him up the OF rankings to start 2020.

 

Aaron Nola will win the NL Cy Young

Nola had an outstanding campaign in 2018 with a 17-6 record, 212 strikeouts, and a very sharp 2.37 ERA. Unfortunately, he finished third in the Cy Young voting. The “wins don’t matter in Cy Young voting”-card has already been played with deGrom in 2018. He unquestionably had an outstanding season, but that card can’t be used again. Therefore, wins will help be a deciding factor and Nola is in line to receive more than his fair share in 2019.

Not only does he have an improved defense behind him — which wasn’t hard to do compared to the team's atrocious defense in 2018 —, but the offseason additions of J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, and Jean Segura also form an improved offense to provide Nola with the necessary run support. Additionally, David Robertson was brought in to help close down games.

The offense and defense are taken care of, which leaves one last thing for Nola to have peace of mind — his personal life. Right on time, that was taken care of this offseason as well. A four-year, $45 million extension will help alleviate any performance pressure and allow him to focus even more on his tasks. The rest of the team will do their jobs, and Nola will be rewarded with his first Cy Young award.

 

Rafael Devers will be Top-10 third baseman

Devers is currently selected as the 18th third baseman off the board. C’mon. That is crazy. I’m not even talking about the prospect love once bestowed upon him. I’m talking about the other intangibles and not his beautiful boyish cheeks, which are also NOT TANGIBLE. Do not touch. Remember, he has a swing that generates a 90.8 mph exit velocity. That could do some damage if you try to touch his baby face.

Devers had a letdown season by some people’s estimates, even though he hit 21 homers with a .240 batting average - anchored by a .281 BABIP. He also snuck in five bag thefts as well. Going into the third year of his young career, Devers will continue to improve upon his contact rate (75%). He’s already improved both his walk (8%) and strikeout (25%) rates. Also, with improved confidence at the hot corner will come improved confidence in his overall game, including at the plate.

In the postseason, Devers had a .294 batting average with one homer and nine RBI. If you don't think that is impressive, consider that he didn’t turn 22 years old until the second game of the World Series. That’s right; he played the entire season and playoffs at the age of 21. Now is not the time to consider your age 21 days spent in Desert Storm or some college-town bar. Now is the time to ensure you have a top-10 third base talent on your roster for the price of a 146 ADP. Steal.

 

Corbin Burnes is Brewers' best starting pitcher

The Brewers staff is all over the place, talent-wise, but it is definitely without an elite starter. As such, it doesn't take much to lead the group. There are a couple of wild cards that will attempt to displace this prediction. Jimmy Nelson is set to see the mound from his shoulder injury finally, and people are hoping that he can return to his 12-6 record and 199-strikeout form of 2017. Also, Brandon Woodruff has some serious followers in part to his 3.61 ERA across 42 innings in 2018. I would mention Jhoulys Chacin, but I think I’ve said enough.

Corbin Burnes is the guy who will come out on top at the end of 2019. He demonstrated that he had the stuff pitching out of the ‘pen in 2018. In 38 innings, he amassed seven wins and 35 strikeouts. Burnes has a dominant slider, and he used it 31% of the time in 2018, resulting in a 26% whiff percentage. His fastball sits at 95 mph and is extremely effective, generating groundballs 50% and whiffs 11% of the time. Returning to a starter role, Burnes will be able to bring his excellent curveball back to his repertoire as he barely used it last year. An ace (of a pitching staff) can be had for a mere 296 ADP. That’s my kind of price.

 

Corey Seager finishes 2019 as a top-five shortstop

He didn’t even play much in 2018, and here we are forecasting a top-five finish at the position. The answer to the unasked question is simple; this is not your father’s Seager; this one is new and improved.

The 2018 season was sacrificed for Seager to have Tommy John surgery and repair his torn hip labrum. With those issues now resolved, Seager can return to the masher he was the two years prior. He had 71 extra-base hits in 2016 with a .308 batting average. In 2017, Seager hit .295 with 55 extra-base hits. It is easy to see a few of those hits going over the wall and increasing the 26 and 22 homers he hit in those two seasons, particularly if you consider he was walking wounded during that time.

He’s currently drafted as the 12th-best shortstop with an ADP of 85. Seager will turn 25 years old when the 2019 season starts. He has the high-average and power to easily outperform many of those chosen ahead of him in drafts. This is, of course, assuming the doctors were better than I was at Operation.

 

Sonny Gray will be a Top-50 starter

Peaches and Herb. Oh yeah. Sing it together, now.
Reunited, and it feels so good.
Reunited, ‘cause we understood.

Gray finds himself in a great situation. First of all, he is out of New York to the more low-key, albeit pitcher-unfriendly confines of Great American Ball Park. Gray also has the luxury of getting the assistance of new pitching coach Derek Johnson, who worked miracles with the staff in Milwaukee in 2018. Not only does Derek Johnson have a history of success, but he recruited and coached Gray at Vanderbilt. Reunited, and it feels so good.

His overall performance in 2018 isn’t particularly attractive. However, the silver lining is that he did quite well away from Yankee Stadium with a 3.17 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 71 innings. The new venue isn’t ideal, but the overall environment is more suitable for Gray. The key will be for him to use his sinker and fastball to generate ground balls, while the slider and curve become the enforcer to create strikeouts. Gray currently is going as the 75th-starting pitcher off the board with an ADP of 270. It costs nothing to find out if Peaches and Herb (and I) are correct.

 

Five players with an ADP beyond 200 will achieve 15/20 status in 2019

As you will see, there are varying degrees of skills and each player has their obstacles to overcome. However, 2019 will be a spectacular year for all of them as they triumph over these hardships for an achievement that only 12 players accomplished in 2018.

Ramon Laureano - In 176 major-league plate appearances, Laureano accrued five homers and seven steals. Stealing bases has been more common for him, but he finally loaded up and smacked 14 bombs in Triple-A to start 2018 before he was promoted. A full season at the big leagues is enough time for him to not only reach 15/20 but push even further towards 15/30.

Jackie Bradley Jr. - He finished the year with 13 homers and 17 stolen bases. JBJ may have finally found his stroke at the plate as he has started working with a hitting instructor recommended by J.D. Martinez at the All-Star break. The results have been positive in the short time he implemented them. In the second half, he had a .269 average with seven homers and six steals. The newly-acquired knowledge likely assisted in Bradley earning the ALCS MVP honors as well. With an offseason to soak in and get repetition with the newly-adapted techniques, Bradley could fix his periodic inconsistencies and indeed break out this season.

Gregory Polanco - He hit 23 homers and stole 12 bases in 2018. As he usually is every year, Polanco was hampered by an injury during the year; this time it was the knee that gave him problems. He also had shoulder surgery that affected his offseason and spring training regimen. He will start late, but the power and speed are still enough for him to accomplish the task, even with fewer at-bats.

Brett Gardner - Say what?! The injury to Aaron Hicks will almost certainly solidify playing time for Gardner. Hitting atop the Yankee lineup will give him even more at-bats to accrue stats. It wasn't that long ago that the 35-year-old Garner achieved numbers similar to these. While he only reached 12/16 last year, he did achieve 21/23 in 2017.

Kevin Pillar - The Blue Jays have nothing to lose so they’ll keep letting their players smack the crap out of anything they can. Pillar hit 15 homers last year and 16 the year prior. So, the only question is stolen bases. He has stolen 14 (twice) and 15 bases in each of the last three seasons. The center field job is his which will give him regular at-bats and give him the opportunities he needs to achieve both stats.

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