Welcome back to the most infamous series at RotoBaller, our pre-season bold predictions. Since the beginning of this week through the end of next week, our brightest baseball minds offer their most audacious projections for the 2017 fantasy baseball season. Thanks to the Army sending me to the swamps of Louisiana, I missed out on the fun last year, but I was available to make some bold calls at mid-season.
On numerous occasions I have been called the "Rowdiest of the Rotos" (but only by myself to my naked reflection in the mirror). Bold is my middle name, and just maybe it's what the "B" stands for in JB. The world may never know. Enjoy the boldness and continue to be on the lookout for more coming from my esteemed colleagues this week.
Editor's note: For even more draft prep, visit our awesome 2017 fantasy baseball rankings dashboard. It has lots of in-depth staff rankings and draft strategy columns. You will find tiered rankings for every position, 2017 impact rookie rankings, AL/NL only league ranks and lots more. Bookmark the page, and win your drafts.Editor's note: Get 50% off any MLB Premium Pass. Draft guide, cheat sheets, 200 days of DFS access, and over 20 premium tools. Dominate your leagues all year long! Sign Up Now!
JB's Rowdy (Bold) Predictions for 2017
1. Buster Posey has his best fantasy season since winning MVP in 2012, and hits 25 HR for first time in his career
In 2012, Buster Posey won the MVP award after hitting 24 HR and 103 RBI with a .336 BA. In 2016, he hit 14 HR and 80 RBI with a .288 BA. What was the difference? Not that much actually. He's still got the same great plate discipline, similar batted ball statistics, and now is even hitting the ball harder than ever. The one difference you can see is the percentage of his fly balls landing over the fence. In 2012 he hit an 18.8 HR/FB%, but only a 9.8 percent last year. Over the second half of last season, he only hit three HR, but owned a nice 35.1 Hard%. The man is just flat out tired; he has 400 more PA than any other catcher in the league over the last five seasons. Bruce Bochey has stated that Posey will receive more days off this year. That's not time at first base acting as rest, actual rest. This will keep his lower half fresh, and with his hard hit percentages he's been flexing lately, the power will return with a vengeance.
* I know you saw that shot to left-center last night.
2. Justin Bour hits over 30 HR
In just three months prior to his ankle injury last season, Bour had racked up 15 HR and an .873 OPS. The injury continued to nag, and eventually led to a stint on the 60-day DL. Bour did finally return in September, but was noticeably not in his first half form, failing to hit another HR in his last 20 games. His 21.4 PA/HR ratio was right up there with Anthony Rizzo, who hit 32 bombs in 2016. Based on his .258 first half ISO, there is no reason Bour can not belt 30 bombs in a full healthy season. He has experienced very little exposure to LHP at this point in his career, yielding ugly results in the small samples. But Don Mattingly has expressed his intent to get Bour that exposure this season, which is where some of those extra dingers will come from. None of the major projection systems peg Bour with more than 22 HR this year.
3. Jose Ramirez finishes the season as the seventh ranked fantasy Third Baseman
JRam doesn't necessarily excel anywhere, but is solid everywhere. He padded the stat sheets last year with 84 R, 11 HR, 76 RBI, 22 SB, and a sexy .312 BA. He doesn't have the power to blow you away with HR, but has that "gap power" that induces a high line drive percentage. That pop mixed with his good speed makes him a double machine and will ensure the BA stays north of .300. He owned the fifth best strikeout rate and was top ten in contact percentage. He doesn't experience bad matchups, thanks to his ability to mash from both sides of the plate (.841 OPS vs LHP, .818 OPS vs RHP). He continued to improve as the year went on, and for the second half hit .329 with seven HR with an .883 OPS.
He is still only 24 years old, but is so poised and clutch at the plate. With runners in scoring position he hit .355 and then went 5-10 against the Red Sox in the ALDS before going 9-29 with a double and HR in the World Series. Speed is so valuable in fantasy baseball this season, and Ramirez supplies enough of it paired with modest HR and a great BA to finish behind only the most elite guys at the position (Arenado, Bryant, Machado, Donaldson, Villar, Seager). He should continue to hit in the middle of the lineup that will easily produce at least 80 R and 80 RBI. For the time being, with Jason Kipnis injured and Michael Brantley still healing, a top of the order spot should be secured for JRam, giving him a quick jump on run scoring stats out of the gate.
If only the unfortunate thumb injury had not ended the monstrous rookie season for Trevor Story, then maybe y'all wouldn't be looking at this as a bold prediction. In 415 PA he smacked 27 HR, owning the second highest ISO and third highest SLG among all players with at least 400 PA. He hits a ton of fly balls, as evident by the third lowest GB/FB ratio in the league, and he hits them very, very hard. His 44.9 hard hit percentage also ranked second among hitters with 400 PA. The kid is POWERFUL. Everyone kept waiting for him to crash and burn when that poor plate discipline was supposed to "catch up to him", but Story never slowed down. For the 16 games he played after the All-Star break (prior to the injury), he hit six HR with a blistering .358 ISO. He also plays half his games at Coors Field, where he hit a .381 ISO with a 52.1 Hard%. Yeah, that dog will hunt.
*Story already has four HR in only 29 AB this spring. Safe to say the thumb is healed.
5. Andrew Benintendi wins A.L. ROY in a landslide, and finishes top 75 in fantasy
The newly-crowned number one prospect in baseball according to MLB.com, Benintendi is slated to be the starting LF for the World Series-contending Red Sox in 2017. In just 34 games at the big-league level last year, the rookie really held his own, hitting two dingers with an impressive .359 OBP. He has hit at every level through Double A. We are looking at 15/15 potential, with an average that will play in any fantasy lineup. Essentially we could have Francisco Lindor stats, from a player being drafted in the 11th round in NFBC leagues.
The biggest news concerning Benintendi this offseason is his projected spot in the Boston batting order. The youngster could fluctuate between the two and three spots to break up the Betts/Pedroia/Bogaerts/Ramirez right handed party. Xander Bogaerts was in the same situation last season, splitting the season as both the number two and three guy in the lineup. He finished with 115 R and 89 RBI. It also doesn't hurt the cause that Benintendi is off to a nice showing in Spring Training, going 11-34 with five doubles, two HR, with only four strikeouts. Aaron Judge or the plethora of options on the White Sox won't even come close in ROY voting, and Benintendi will see enough PA against southpaws to eclipse 100 R and 75 RBI in that high octane Beantown offense.
6. Stephen Strasburg doesn't go on the Disabled List..... and finishes the season as the second ranked starting pitcher
In the past two years we have seen two halves of fully healthy Strasburg. For the second half of 2015, he earned a 1.90 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, and a 12.48 K/9. For the first half of 2016, he earned a 2.62 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and a 11.14 K/9. As you can see, when he is firing on all cylinders, Stras is one of the best in the game. I mean, add those two halves together and you basically have a Clayton Kershaw with even more strikeout upside. Why would I think he avoids injury this season? He has made a huge change in the way he pitches in order to remain healthy. In 2017 he will exclusively pitch out of the stretch. No more wind-up. Stras stated that he gets better command and less stress of his elbow this way. I don't really understand the science behind it, but if he says it helps, I'll hop on board.
7. Jose Bautista is a Top 10 Outfielder and wins Comeback Player of the Year
I know you've heard a lot about Bautista being undervalued in drafts this season, and then fellow RotoBaller Ed Sutelan dropped this bomb Wednesday in his bold predictions. But I am here today to tell you Joey Bats is going ham in 2017. There might not be a player with a bigger chip on his shoulder, and he is going to treat each at bat like he has everything to prove. He declined an offer from the Blue Jays and tried to test the waters of free agency this off-season, but much like Mark Trumbo it did not go as planned, and Bautista had to swallow his pride and return on a one year deal. He is 36 years old and struggled with two injuries last season, one to his toe and the other to his knee, leading to only 22 HR. But this is a guy that is one year removed from a 108-40-114 campaign, and he looks like he's in the best shape of his life. I have poor eye-sight and was watching the USA versus Domincan Republic game in the WBC. I could not for the life of me figure out who this monster was at the plate until I cranked up the volume and discovered it was my man Bautista.
I dropped Mark Trumbo's name in the last paragraph for a specific reason. In 2016 he hit 47 HR, 108 RBI, and scored 94 R, finishing the year as the ninth ranked outfielder in fantasy. These are the exact type of numbers I expect Jose Bautista to finish with this season. Even with power losing value in our crazy world, he sneaks into the top 10 outfielder ranks and wins Comeback Player of the Year.
8. Marcus Stroman finally breaks out, finishes the season with the lowest ERA among American League Starting Pitchers
In 2016 Stroman suffered some awful luck. He pitched the 11th most innings in baseball, and out of the top 16 in IP only David Price had a higher BABIP. Out of the top 20, Stroman owned the lowest left on base percentage. Those both hurt, but they were actually right on par with his 2014 season. But out of the top 30, Stroman also owned the highest HR/FB%. This is the major blip on my radar. His 16.5 HR/FB% was ten points higher than in 2014. But even though he gave up far more long balls, he managed to increase his O-Swing% and SwStr%, while lowering his Cont% from the previous two years. In his 14 starts after the All-Star break he boasted a 3.01 xFIP with almost a strikeout per inning.
The area that hurt Stroman the most last year was his inability to make it through the order a third time. For the season, he only gave up one single long ball the first time through a batting order (2.9 HR/FB%), along with a 2.63 ERA. The third time opposing hitters saw him, they took him for a ride, hitting 14 of the 21 HR Stroman allowed all year (26.4 HR/FB%). I expect his sustainability and consistency to increase as he gains experience and confidence in his six pitch arsenal. This kid has the stuff, and this year the ERA will back it up.
*I realize how this pick may look the day after giving up four runs in the first inning to Puerto Rico in the WBC. But it was six singles (three ground balls and a blooper) in the first inning and then he cruised through the fourth only giving up two more hits, one of which was a broken bat infield single into a shift by Carlos Beltran. The epitome of bad luck. Did you see what he did to those team Dominican Republic bats though?
9. Sam Travis plays a large role for the Red Sox down the stretch, and hits over .300
This man gets no love in the fantasy prospects department, but I am completely infatuated with him. Last year it was Andrew Benintendi who I made the bold prediction about, saying he would be in the starting lineup for the Red Sox in the playoffs. Nailed it. This year it will be Sam Travis. He hit over .300 with 10 HR and 22 SB across three levels of minor league ball in 2015. A torn ACL ended his 2016 campaign early after only 47 games. ZIPS projects Travis at 368 PA in 2017 with nine HR, eight SB, and a .266 BA. I completely agree with the PA, HR and SB. But he is a much better hitter than .266, and will hit over .300 for the time that he is with the club. Whether Mitch Moreland hits himself out of the everyday lineup, or Hanley Ramirez gets hurt again, Travis will be a vital piece in the Red Sox playoff run.
*In his first 32 AB this spring, Travis is 11-32 with three doubles and three HR.
Last year, Barraclough's 14.00 K/9 ratio ranked fifth highest among all relievers, while his 2.11 FIP ranked eigth lowest. He proved he can handle a large workload, amassing 72.2 IP as a rookie. AJ Ramos on the other hand had a rough second half and greatly decreased his groundball percentage while his hard hit percentage spiked. That is a recipe for some long-ball damage, which he has already suffered through twice in his three innings of Spring Training.
Hard-throwing Nate Jones owned a 2.29 ERA in 2016, with a 10.19 K/9 after posting a 12.79 K/9 in 2015. David Robertson on the other hand owned a 3.47 ERA after posting a 3.41 ERA the previous year. He experienced a large increase in walks, and also struggled in the second half. I honestly believe he will be traded before the deadline, but the sooner they can move him, the higher the return would be for the Sox.
Tommy John surgery took Capps out of baseball for the entire 2016 season, but in his 31 IP in 2015 he posted a mind-boggling 16.84 K/9 and 1.16 ERA. His control may be off for a bit early in the season but he has plenty of room for that with his skillset. He was acquired by the Padres this offseason, where Brandon Maurer is the leading candidate for the closer role. Maurer earned a 4.52 ERA last year, which was actually better than his career average. That's all I've got to say about that.
What a story Matt Bush is. After spending three and a half years in prison, Bush returned to baseball for the first time since 2011, and got his first taste of the major leagues in 2016. He pitched 61.2 innings and earned a 2.48 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. He has a flaming fastball that hits 97 mph and two great offspeed pitches in his slider and curveball that produced a 13.1 swinging strike percentage. Sam Dyson has done a great job in Texas, after recording his third consecutive season with a sub-3.00 ERA last year. But his FIP was less desirable at 3.62 due to a low BABIP and very high left on base percentage. He is an elite groundball pitcher, with low strikeout ability. All it takes is a small fluctuation in those balls in play for a disastrous streak. Eventually Jeff Bannister will realize how much more valuable it is to have a strong strikeout guy in the ninth inning.
This one's a no brainer. The son of a legendary closer that won a Cy-Young Award, Cam Bedrosian could very well have this gig sealed up by the end of spring training. After his call up last year, he threw 40.1 innings in which he earned a 1.12 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP, along with a 11.38 K/9. Huston Street is still owed money, but no amount of money should keep a man in a position after a 6.45 ERA and 5.64 K/9 season like he suffered through last year. Plus the man is currently shut down for a lat strain. Like I said, easy.