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Harris Yudin's 10 Bold Predictions for 2019

Despite whiffing on more than half, my 2018 predictions were highlighted by the claim that Christian Yelich would return first-round value. I was also justifiably optimistic about Matt Chapman’s breakout and Khris Davis’ impending title of Home Run King.

So, I figured, the best plan of attack for 2019 was to use the same template for some of those accurate predictions: “___ returns first-round value,” “___ leads the Majors in home runs” and “___ is a top-10 *insert position.*

Beyond that, I ran with a few other breakout or bust candidates, playing it too safe in some cases and flying off the rails in others. At least I fought the urge to give Amed Rosario a spot among fantasy baseball’s top-five shortstops. Let’s see what bold predictions I came up with this year!

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Mitch Haniger returns first-round value

As mentioned, last year, I made this exact claim about Christian Yelich (I also picked him as my preseason MVP, no big deal), and that worked out pretty well. I broke it down into four important aspects of hitting-- not chasing pitches out of the zone, making contact on pitches in the zone, hitting the ball hard and reaching base when putting the ball in play. Yelich thrives in all four of those categories, and so does Haniger.

The Mariners’ right-handed hitting outfielder broke out in 2018, mashing 26 home runs with a .285/.366/.493 slash line to go along with a 25.9 percent chase rate, an 87.1 percent zone-contact rate, a 37.1 percent hard-hit rate, and a .336 BABIP. There’s still room for improvement as Haniger enters his age-28 season, and he could be in store for one of those overachieving seasons that Yelich just enjoyed.


Rhys Hoskins leads the Majors in home runs

I know Nick already wrote about Hoskins outperforming Bryce Harper, but I wanted to get more specific. Hoskins smacked 34 homers in his first full season, despite a 16.0 HR/FB that is merely well above-average, rather than other-worldly (31.6 percent as a rookie in 2017). The Phillies’ first baseman has good plate discipline, with a 22.8 percent chase rate, but he also posted a relatively low zone swing rate.

With his fly ball-heavy approach and propensity for hard contact, Hoskins could see more balls leave the park if he were to be a little less selective. I said this exact same thing about Khris Davis last season, and apparently, he listened to me. So Rhys, if you’re reading this… swing more!


Josh Bell is a top-10 first baseman

In two and a half big league seasons, Bell has been pretty consistent-- his wOBA has sat between .335 and .340 each season, his wRC+ between 108 and 112. The power, however, has been far from consistent-- 26 HR in 2017, 12 in 2018. His fly ball rate, hard-hit rate, exit velocity and launch angle all increased from 2017 to ‘18, but for whatever reason, balls just didn’t leave the park last year.

At 6’4”, Bell is more than capable of muscling out at least 20 dingers again in 2019. He posted the fourth-highest walk-to-strikeout ratio among qualified first basemen, and continues to improve upon his plate discipline.

This may not seem THAT bold, but Bell is currently being drafted as the 27th-ranked first base-eligible player. In reality, though, the position is not that strong, and Bell could find his way into the top-10 in his age-26 season.


Walker Buehler is a fantasy SP1 this year

Buehler posted a 2.03 ERA in the second half of his rookie season, continuing his dominance deep into the postseason. That should continue into his sophomore campaign. With a fastball that touches triple digits and three above-average breaking pitches, the 24-year-old might just have the nastiest stuff in baseball-- not to mention above-average command and control of all of his pitches (32.6 percent chase rate, 47.0 percent zone percentage).

Buehler pitches on a team with 100-win aspirations, in a division with three of the six most strikeout-prone teams in baseball last year. He’s my NL Cy Young choice, and I think fantasy baseball’s top spot (among pitchers) is within reach.


Joe Musgrove posts a sub-3.00 ERA

In his first year with the Pirates, Musgrove managed just a 4.06 ERA, but also a more impressive 3.59 FIP and a 3.92 xFIP. He finished in the top 10 among pitchers with at least 100 innings in chase rate (35.9 percent), first strike rate (68.3 percent) and zone percentage (50.9 percent-- tops in the Majors). Opponents’ wOBA dropped from .327 to .270 in the second half, during which he threw his changeup and slider more, and his cutter -- which wasn’t particularly effective early on -- less.

Musgrove, who is entering his age-26 season, is by no means a strikeout artist, but he did generate swinging strikes at an 11.4 percent clip, so the strikeouts could start to show up more frequently. He boasts a profile similar to that of Miles Mikolas, so Musgrove’s 2019 could resemble Mikolas’ 2018 (2.83 ERA).


Jesus Aguilar loses his job and all fantasy value

Aguilar was an incredibly fun breakout story in 2018, crushing 35 dingers with 108 RBI in his first sting as an everyday major leaguer. But how likely is he to replicate that performance? Very little, it seems. Aguilar’s breakout came at age 28, so it’s not as though he’s a young kid finally figuring it out. He posted an exceptional 23.8 percent HR/FB, but even if the power is real (44.0 percent hard-hit rate is encouraging), the plate discipline is very concerning.

He boasts an ugly combination of a high chase rate (35.6 percent) and a low zone-swing rate (60.1 percent). Nine of the 11 players with a lower z-swing rate were very selective in general, each posting a chase rate of 26 percent or lower. Eric Thames still has superb raw power, and a move to first base is inevitable for veteran Ryan Braun, so the reigning NL Central champions should be quick to replace -- or at least platoon -- any struggling hitter. Even a platoon with Thames would severely diminish Aguilar’s value.


Kyle Freeland is not a top-75 SP

Freeland was a stud in 2018, plain and simple. He missed more bats while remaining a groundball-heavy pitcher, finishing the season with a 2.85 ERA and a fourth-place Cy Young finish. However, a 4.22 xFIP indicates some regression, and baseball’s fourth-highest left on base rate (82.8 percent) is difficult to maintain for someone who doesn’t strike out many batters.

The soon-to-be 26-year-old posted a low zone rate, which is understandable for a sinker-baller, but his chase rate was merely average. He also doesn’t induce a ton of swinging strikes, so he won’t be much help in the strikeout category, and if his ERA inflates a little bit, his value will tumble. Freeland could still be an effective pitcher for the Rockies without making much of a fantasy impact, which could be the case in 2019.


Nick Senzel goes 15/15 while batting .300

Senzel was on track to make his Major League debut early in 2018, but a finger injury derailed his season. But that promotion should come sooner than later, and Senzel remains one of the better hitters in minor league baseball. He slashed .310/.378/.509 with six homers and eight steals in 44 games before the injury, and he is polished enough at the plate to make a quick transition to big league pitching.

Only three players managed this stat line last year -- Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich -- and while this won’t be enough to land Senzel among the top-tier of fantasy players, it will certainly provide him with a ton of value-- even more so if he does play multiple positions.


Joe Jimenez finishes as a top-10 RP

Jimenez exploded out of the gate in his first full season, posting a 2.63 ERA over his first two months. He endured a rough August but still managed a 4.31 ERA with a 2.91 FIP on the year. He has proven the ability to miss bats, striking out hitters at a 29.2 percent clip with a 13.4 percent swinging strike rate.

Shane Greene, who is under contract through just 2020, is bound to be traded midseason and is coming off a 5.12 ERA season. If Jimenez doesn’t earn the closer role early on, he’ll likely take control of the ninth inning by July at the latest. Strong numbers for an entire season coupled with a good chunk of save opportunities could land him among the top 10 fantasy relievers.


Kyle Zimmer leads the Royals in saves

There’s really not much to back this up. Zimmer is a 27-year-old former first-round draft pick who has yet to reach the Majors, got lit up in Triple-A and didn’t throw a pitch in 2018. However, with some help from Driveline Baseball, the right-hander is tearing up Royals camp, hitting the upper 90s with his fastball and generating whiffs with his curveball. He could even break camp as part of Kansas City’s improved bullpen and make his long-awaited debut.

Both Brad Boxberger and Wily Peralta are midseason trade candidates, meaning the closer role could be up for grabs at some point. Plus, both guys yielded a walk rate above 13 percent last year. Zimmer’s incredible comeback story could see him racking up saves by the second half of the season-- even if the Royals don’t win many games.

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