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JB's 10 Bold Predictions for 2019

It is such an honor to have been selected to hit lead-off for the 2019 RotoBaller staff Bold Predictions. Sure, I asked for it due to time constraints but that's not how I will tell my story to the grand-kids. Bold predictions are everyone's favorite articles. They are fun, not always entirely plausible, while still possibly providing fantastic, league-winning advice.

The majority of these predictions hinge on some serious injury risk, but no one ever remembers the guy who finished in second place. Don't miss out on studs while trying to play doctor, unless of course you actually went to medical school.

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! But today is my day, so let's get rowdy.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

Trevor Bauer wins the American League Cy Young Award and is the third-ranked SP in Fantasy

I'll start off with probably the least "bold" prediction, because everyone loves this savage. Bauer is an expert at his craft and works his butt off to improve himself. He has continuously changed his approach and last year it finally paid off. In 175.1 IP, Bauer went 12-6 with a 2.21 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 221 strikeouts. If not for a stress fracture in his leg down the stretch, he would have given Blake Snell a serious run for last year's award.

He now possesses an arsenal of five lethal pitches that fooled batters to the tune of a 13.3 SwStr% and a lowly 70.4 Contact%. Due to pitch diversity, he can keep hitters at bay from both sides of the plate (.256 wOBA v RHB, .264 wOBA v LHB) and is able to maintain a sub-3.00 ERA and a 30+ K% his first, second, and third times through the order. Bauer has it all figured out, and all the tools are there.

The only thing preventing a Cy Young Award in 2019 is, of course, the possible residual effects from the stress fracture. But based on his first spring training appearance, in which he cruised through three innings with only 18 pitches, those worries are in the past. There are five AL pitchers currently being drafted before Bauer according to NFBC ADP. Bauer will finish ahead of all of them. Obviously, Chris Sale is the better pitcher inning for inning, but Bauer enters the free agent market after this season, and is less likely to be preserved or protected down the stretch like Alex Cora may want to do with Sale.

 

Zack Wheeler finishes as a top-10 SP

The pride of East Paulding High School, second to only me of course. After three seasons riddled with injuries and surgery, Wheeler pitched his first full season since 2014 last year. Over 182.1 innings, he boasted a 3.25 FIP and a career-best 16.7 K-BB%. The thing that gets me most excited about Wheels for 2019, besides last years second half which I will get to shortly, is the ability to avoid hard contact. He cut his Hard% from 32.8 in 2017 down to 24.8 - second-lowest in the league in 2018.

Wheeler found success by increasing his fastball usage. He threw the fastball 8% more this season and finished with a 22.7 wFA which was fifth highest among starters. The cheese was devastating, and it got better as the season wore on. Now, about those second half splits.

After posting a 4.44 ERA over the first half of the season, Wheeler was quite possibly the best pitcher in baseball after the All-Star break, posting a 1.68 ERA which was slightly better than even his Cy Young-winning teammate Jacob deGrom. His 21.1 Hard% in the second half was only bested by the god of thunder. 2019 is the year it all comes together for Wheeler. He is healthy, he is hungry, and I expect to see more of that 2018 second half over the full season. Wheeler is currently the 27th SP off the board in drafts this year.

 

Josh Donaldson finishes inside the top 30 overall

The Bringer of Rain is just two seasons removed from back to back 700 PA campaigns with 157 and 154 wRC+, respectively. The injuries started in 2017 however, but he still managed a 151 wRC+ in 113 games that year. Luckily for fantasy managers in 2019 drafts, the most recent season was just flat-out ugly and is fresh on everyone's minds. The shoulder and calf injuries limited him to just 52 games last year. Don't even pay attention to his stats from last year though, they are completely moot.

It's all about opportunity in fantasy, and this offseason Donaldson landed in one of the best possible situations in Hotlanta. Depending on how Snitker manages the lineup day to day, Donaldson will either be hitting behind Ender Inciarte and in front of Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna, or sandwiched in between Acuna and Freeman.

The run production will be near-best in the game. Assuming good health, which I always do until news proves otherwise, I see Donaldson destroying all the prediction models with mid-30s HR and a BA hovering around his career .275 mark. Pair that with a serious threat at triple-digit runs and RBI and you got one of the best draft-day steals of 2019.

 

Aaron Hicks is a Top-10 OF in OBP Leagues

Like Donaldson, this prediction hangs on by a thread due to "injury risk." But once again, I'd rather be burned by an injury than miss out on a fantasy All-Star because I was trying to be a fortune-telling doctor. Unlike Donaldson however, Hicks has never enjoyed a full healthy season in the bigs, but he did set a career-high with 581 PA last season in the Bronx.

He hit 27 HR, stole 11 bases, and scored 90 runs. But what is most impressive about Hicks to me is his plate discipline. His 15.5 BB% was fifth-highest in the league, behind the likes of Bryce Harper, Joey Votto, and Carlos Santana. Out of the top 30 players in OBP last season, 17 were outfielders. Out of those 17, only Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich, JD Martinez, and Harper hit more homers than Hicks.

The whipped cream on that sundae is the 11 SB, and his 7.0 BsR (seventh-highest in the league) suggests that we can reasonably expect 15+ SB over a full season. The cherry on top is the fact that he is currently slated to hit leadoff for one of the most powerful lineups in recent history. Of course, the guy is already sitting out spring training games due to a stiff back, but I won't fret over a 29-year-old taking it easy before the season starts. If the stars align and Hicks plays the whole season, I'm predicting 30 HR, 15 SB, top-five run totals, and one of the best OBPs in the league.

 

Eduardo Rodriguez breaks out, finishes as a Top-15 SP

ERod is a popular breakout candidate this year, and for good reason. In 2018 the southpaw went 13-5 in 129.2 innings, with a 10.13 K/9 and a 3.65 FIP. Honestly, he should have already enjoyed a "breakout" but a thrash of injuries has held him back. He had a bum knee last spring training which delayed his season debut a couple of weeks, and then in July hurt his ankle covering first base.

The good news is neither were arm injuries, and neither are still lingering in 2019. He has been working with Chris Sale and Pedro Martinez this offseason, and by the looks of his slider so far this spring, whatever they are teaching him is working.

Unless you are predicting someone runs over his ankle on first base again this season, any projection under 150 IP is silly. I see him hitting the 180 mark, which translates to at least 15 wins, with a serious shot at 20 on the Red Sox. His 10.13 K/9 from 2018 should easily carry over, especially considering his offseason work on his slider - which would translate to 202 K. If you are looking for the potential 2019 Blake Snell or Patrick Corbin, this is the guy. ERod is currently being selected as the 39th SP this year.

 

Eric Hosmer continues his odd-year voodoo, is a Top-50 player

Eric Hosmer wRC+ in 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018: 80, 98, 102, 95

Eric Hosmer wRC+ in 2013, 2015, 2017: 120, 124, 135

I'm not superstitious, but I'm a little stitious. I mean, elementary pattern analysis tells me 2019's wRC+ has to be over 135 right? But in all seriousness, I am willing to discard 2018 from my mind for Hosmer. It was the first year of a massive contract on a horrible team. Who actually thought that was going to go well?

His 21 K% was nearly five points higher than his career average. He enjoyed his highest Hard% since 2013, but hit a career-low fly ball percentage. Hopefully, the new-contract pressure is gone, and Hosmer can enjoy what will be a sneakily awesome lineup in San Diego. I know he won a World Series in KC, but I don't think he was ever in a better run-scoring situation than being surrounded by Manny Machado, Wil Myers, Franmil Reyes, and eventually Fernando Tatis Jr.

There's no way in hell with baseball's obsession with launch angle that Hosmer continues this sub-20 FB% madness as his FB% should bounce back to up around his 25.7 FB%, which means the HR will climb back up into the mid-20s. The last odd-year campaign finished in a 98/25/94/7/.318 for Hosmer, and was good for #25 overall in fantasy leagues. I think those numbers are easily in reach for 2019, save the BA. But even with a more realistic BA, a top-50 finish is inbound. Hosmer is being drafted outside the top 150 in drafts this year.

 

Ryan Braun figures out launch angle, finishes inside the Top 75

Similar to Hosmer, Braun had a dip in flyballs from his career average last year, but is also far too talented to let it drag down his value. Even though his 28.4 FB% wasn't the lowest season total of his career, it was still six points lower than his career average and it seems he has had enough of it. He has worked with a private trainer this offseason in order to increase his launch angle and I am here for it, especially considering he boasted an absurd 43.0 Hard% last year.

2016 was the last season Braun had over 500 PA (565), and he finished with 30 HR despite his career-low 25.1 FB% and a 34.4 Hard%. Just imagine the HR possibilities in 2019 when he brings up the fly ball numbers and carries over his monster hard hit rates. As for the speed, despite being 35 and oft-injured, he stole 23 bases in 872 combined PA the past two seasons. So I think he has 12-15 SB left in the tank for 2019.

THE BAT is the most favorable projection system on Braun this year, and it has him hitting 23 bombs with 14 SB and a .271 BA. With my lofty HR expectations from him, we'll say 30/14 and .275 hitting in the middle of a stacked Brew Crew lineup. Sign me up. For reference, Cody Bellinger went 25/14 with a .260 BA last year and finished as the 68th-ranked player in fantasy. Braun is currently being drafted outside the top 175.

 

Domingo Santana bounces back to 2017 form, hits 30 HR 

The second Santana was dealt to the Mariners this off-season, I boarded the hype train. He wasn't going to get the necessary amount of PA in Milwaukee's crowded outfield and is too talented to be sitting on the pine as a reserve. Last season he only received half a season's worth of big league at-bats, and could never get in a groove to reinforce an incredible 2017 season. That season, his first full MLB campaign, saw Domingo hit 30 HR and a .278 BA with 15 SB. Mike Trout and Paul Goldschmidt were the only other players to go 30/15 with a BA above .275. A year and a half later, fantasy owners are letting one playing-time-induced poor season determine 2017 as a fluke?

His NFBC ADP is currently at 253, so maybe that isn't entirely true but compared to his 45th overall ranking in 2017 it's still a great potential value. I am locking in 30 HR over his first full season with the Mariners despite him hitting just 13 combined dongs between AAA and the bigs last year. First off, he's done it before. Secondly, he increased his Hard% for the third straight season last year to an impressive 40.1%.

The real question for me with Domingo is the BA. Should a repeat of the .278 BA be possible with a K% over 30%? No. But it oddly seems like Santana is able to defy all BABIP odds, after posting a .359, .368, and .386 BABIP in his last three MLB seasons, respectively. He even boasted a .425 BABIP through 55 AAA games last year. Strong line drive numbers and an almost Joey Votto-esque career IFFB% (2.9%) shows that even if the BA does fail to replicate his 2017 breakout, it shouldn't fall too far. FWIW, Domingo is hitting .455 with four HR in just 22 AB so far this spring. He's feelin' it, and I'm feelin' it.

 

Trevor May is a Top-10 RP

After a one-inning clunker in July, Trevor May went on to pitch 24.1 innings out of the bullpen for the Twins last year. Over those last 24.1 IP he boasted a 1.85 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and a 13.32 K/9. The 32.6 K-BB% is just stuff of dreams. It's a very small sample size but I am the biggest sucker for starter-converted relievers, especially when they are the lead candidate to be the teams closer. He missed all of 2017 due to Tommy John surgery, but across 42.2 IP in 2016, he flashed a 12.66 K/9 and a 3.47 xFIP.

He's still "only" 29, even though it seems like he's been a Twins prospect for forever, and his velo looked great last year coming off TJS. His FB/CH/CB trio are pretty gnarly - and each separated by eight mph. May should easily win the closer job this spring over Blake Parker, and we will continue to see his new harnessed powers coming out of the pen. A year removed from surgery, there should be no holding him back and we could even see some two-inning saves to give the peasant career-relievers like Parker and Taylor Rogers a rest. I'm predicting 70 IP, 100 K, 30 SV, and an ERA in the low 3.00's - which is essentially a slightly more HR-prone version of Brad Hand.

 

Ryan Brasier closes for the Red Sox all season, racks up over 30 Saves

Like I was gonna write a bold predictions piece with only ONE Red Sox player....

Since the beginning of the off-season, I have been aboard the "Please Don't Pay Kimbrel" train. I won't get into all the reasons for this, but Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes are two of those reasons. Anyone that watched the epic postseason run of the Sox last year knows that these two studs plus Joe Kelly were so much more valuable, and all showed abilities to succeed in the highest of leverage situations. I am certainly not worried about the eighth-ninth innings for 2019.

The reason why I see Brasier getting the job and keeping it is that Alex Cora is too smart to use Matt Barnes as a traditional ninth inning-no matter-who-is-due-up kind of guy. If there was a Red Sox pitcher to call upon with the bases loaded and only one out, its 100% Matt Barnes. His curveball is just filthy and his 14.01 K/9 is exactly what you want in a critical do-or-die at-bat late in the game. Despite his filth, however, I have never once felt comfortable having him start off an inning with a Boston lead. His 4.52 BB/9 makes it one hell of a tight-rope feel every time. This is where Brasier gets the nod. His control is far superior and he has that cocky ninth inning attitude down pat already. Poor Gary Sanchez wasn't ready...

Bottom line, I am fully aware Matt Barnes is the better pitcher. But I also believe that Alex Cora is too smart to tie his best reliever down to one inning. I believe they give the first crack to Brasier, and he never does poorly enough to lose it. 30 saves is a lock.

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