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JB Branson's Bold Predictions for 2022 Fantasy Baseball

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Welcome back to everyone's favorite series, the time where we allow rowdiness to surpass rationale ever so slightly and plant our flags on hills across the fantasy landscape. It's time for 2022 Bold Predictions.

In case you missed it, my colleague Pierre Camus started us off with his bold picks from the leadoff spot. He did his job by getting on base, but now I step up to the plate ready to smack one in the gap to score a run for the good guys.

In case you were unaware, JB actually stands for Just Boldness. I tried my hardest to limit the reliever talk, but you know I can't help myself. Hit me up on Twitter to let me know how dumb I am and to let me know your own boldies for the 2022 season! Now, let's get started.

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JB's Bold Predictions for 2022

Andrew Kittredge is a Top-10 RP

There is only one player that I have drafted in 100% of my drafts in 2022, and it is Andrew Kittredge. His ADP is one of the greatest gifts of the 21st century. I do not believe he will repeat his fantastic 1.88 ERA from last year (see his low BABIP and high LOB), but the 32-year-old has increased his velocity and should serve as the backbone of Kevin Cash's deep bullpen. As is the case with most of my favorite relievers, Kittredge possesses a fine blend of weak contact-generating and bat-missing ability with his nasty slider-sinker combo and allows very few free passes. Saves projections for Kittredge are all over the place due to the Rays "Raying" but without Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks, and Nick Anderson (the last two for a while at least), it's hard to imagine less than 20 with great ratios and volume. You don't have to like it, but you can't deny it.

Justin Verlander Wins AL Cy Young Award

This guy is not human, just accept it. View him as the Tom Brady of MLB and don't question his age or his ability to get over a surgery. They don't make them like JV anymore. The last time we saw him he threw 223 innings, racking up 21 wins and 300(!) strikeouts, with a 2.58 ERA and 0.80 WHIP. This Spring, he has already struck out 10 batters through 8.2 innings without allowing a run to cross the plate - the only guy with double-digit K and zero runs scored. I don't give a rip about ST but what else can you want to see from him at this point? Corbin Burnes won a Cy Young Award last season with just 167 IP. If you don't think JV can reach 160 innings, prepare to be disappointed.

Franmil Reyes Hits 40 HR and 100 RBI, Finishes Top-75 Overall

I thought this would be bold until I saw Steamer was projecting Franimal for 86 R, 40 HR, 103 RBI, four SB, and .254 BA already. But regardless, I'm keeping it because the guy has projections like that and is still being drafted ~120th overall. Despite missing all of June with a brutal oblique strain last season, Reyes still smacked 30 bombs and drove in 85 in just 466 PA. He finished the year in the 94th percentile for both Max EV and Barrel%. He's still just 26-years-old, his power hasn't even peaked yet. Eloy Jimenez is just one year younger, and Steamer projects 85 R, 35 HR, 101 RBI, one SB, and .267 BA. He's being drafted ~61st overall. His 35-year-old teammate Jose Abreu is projected for 87, 32, 99, one, and .259. He's being drafted ~74th overall. Y'all be crazy. If you can't figure out how to construct a roster with a UT-Only stud, I will gladly instruct you.

Tyler O'Neill Finishes as OF5

Speaking of 26-year-olds that mash, Tyler O'Neill had one of the most beautiful "fantasy" statcast showings in 2021. He strikes out and doesn't walk, alright we're past that now. But did you know his sprint speed ranked in the top 98th percentile, higher than Ronald Acuna Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr.? His EV, Hard%, xSLG, Barrel%, and xwOBA were all also up over the 90th percentiles. 34 HR/15 SB was no fluke, in fact, I'd say it's his 2022 floor. Of course, the .286 BA isn't sticking around for long with a 30 K%, but he's still a .260 career hitter across 987 big leagues PA. To make up for the expected BA regression, I present you with 200 R+RBI hitting sandwiched between Tommy Edman/Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado/Dylan Carlson for a full season after only seeing 280 PA in the 3-4 spots last year. TON is going to terrorize the poor NL Central pitching in 2022.

Lucas Sims is a Top-15 RP

I know Sims is a little behind this offseason and won't be ready for Opening Day, but since this is causing his ADP to drop further every day, it's really just making it easier to target him. After breaking out in his first full season out of the bullpen in the shortened 2020 season, it might've appeared he took a step back in 2021 with his 4.40 ERA. If you look under the hood of the surface stats, however, Sims made some pretty eye-popping progress. Among relievers with at least 40 IP, he owned the sixth-highest K% and his xERA was almost two full runs lower at 2.49. He struggled at the beginning of the season and then missed time with an elbow injury, but after the All-Star break, he boasted a ridiculous 42.0 K-BB%, 1.90 xFIP, and 0.76 WHIP. That's Liam Hendricks level stuff and shows the ceiling for Sims once he gets up to speed sometime in April.

Cole Sulser Saves 25 Games

Since the recent news of Tyler Wells being potentially stretched out as a starter this spring, I have been hammering Sulser late in drafts. Baltimore may elect to roll with a committee in the ninth inning to start 2022, but Cole Sulser will be the most effective and heavily utilized arm on the team (again). In his first extended big league appearance during the COVID season, things looked pretty ugly. But there was one bright spot, and that was a pretty nasty changeup. So Sulser not only threw his best pitch more often in 2021, he found a way to make it even better by adding over SIX inches of vertical drop. His K% jumped from 19 to 28.4. He should also be one of the many Orioles pitchers benefited by the new left-field dimensions at Camden Yards. Four of his five HR allowed in 2021 were to RHB at home. I don't foresee there being any doubt on any site's Orioles Closer Chart after April. The only thing standing in the way of an even higher prediction, besides the Orioles' win count, of course, would be a trade-deadline move to a contender as a setup man.

Jorge Alcala Leads Minnesota Relievers in Saves

Last year, I predicted that Jorge Alcala would finish the season as the highest-ranked Twins reliever in fantasy. Obviously, he didn't wind up seeing as much ninth-inning work as I expected, but he definitely earned a very important role in Minnesota's bullpen. Things started out pretty ugly, as Alcala limped to the ASB rocking a 4.67 ERA and a sad 23 K%. But the potential was fully released in the second half as the 26-year-old boasted a 2.88 ERA and 32 K% over the last 25 innings to include just two ER over his last 18 IP. His stuff is electric, and his command is equally impressive. Due to the past usage of Taylor Rogers, whom I love very much, I do believe Alcala is going to be on many standard league waiver-wire lists fairly early this season after about his third save. Get ahead of the game now.

Everyone Regrets Forgetting About Marcell Ozuna

Look I don't love Ozuna or condone what he allegedly did. But the man is not injured, nor are there any playing time concerns. The veteran is playing in the heart of the defending World Champs' lineup and he's kind of a great hitter. His ADP is ~180th overall. In 2017, he hit 37 bombs and 124 RBI with a .312 BA. In 2018, he hit .280. In 2019, he went 29/12. In 2020, he hit .338 with 18 bombs in just 60 games. ATC projections have him pegged at 27 HR and a .265 BA. ATC has Lourdes Gurriel Jr. projected for 23 HR and a .268 BA, yet he's being drafted ~137th overall. More power-hitting fifth for the Braves versus less power-hitting fifth for the Jays should not equal an ADP gap at all, much less 40 picks.

Trevor Story Has Bounce-Back Year, Returns First-Round Value

Homer alert! Yes, I am a Red Sox fan, but can anyone doubt that despite leaving Coors, Trevor Story gets a fantasy boost by joining Boston? First of all, this is the deepest lineup he's been a part of. It appears as though he will hit sixth against RHP and second against LHP. So basically all the RBI against RHP and all the Runs against LHP. He's never surpassed 196 R+RBI in his career, but that changes in 2022. Despite fewer at-bats compared to hitting second or third all season, for the majority of games now, he essentially has four hitters ahead of him with ~.350 OBP in Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and Alex Verdugo. As far as power goes, he was extremely unfortunate to only hit 24 HR in 2021. Coors dimensions actually played against him in this regard. His xHR for the AL East ballparks were as follows: 36 (TOR), 42 (BAL), 33 (TBR), 38 (BOS), and 48 (NYY). His -13.0 HR-xHR was the lowest in all of baseball. The steals will never be in question, and his .293 BABIP from 2021 was far too low. He's going to embrace finally being in a baseball town and he's going to pop off with somewhere in the neighborhood of a 90/30/110/20/.270 roto line.



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