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Every day from now until Opening Day, our writers will be offering their most audacious projections for the 2018 fantasy baseball season. This is my fourth go-round with this series.

I've had some great successes and some equally terrible calls in both previous attempts, and this year should be no different. Hopefully the former outweigh the failures, but even if not, it's always fun to look back and laugh.

Let's get to it.

Editor's Note: Get a full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off before Opening Day. Exclusive access to our Draft Kit, in-season lineup tools and over 200 days of DFS. Sign Up Now!

 

Bold Predictions for 2018

1. Bradley Zimmer and Manny Margot both outearn Byron Buxton.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s kept up with my work this offseason, as I’ve made a point of hyping both Zimmer and Margot as the low-cost alternative to Buxton. You can get Margot around 100 picks later, and Zimmer 150. Having consistently been a Buxton defender in the past, this is more about my optimism toward the other two players, but owners shouldn’t overlook the fact that the Twins’ center fielder still has very real downside given his contact issues. Zimmer has problems in that area himself, but he’s got just as much upside in the power and speed departments and comes at a steep discount. Meanwhile, Margot will hit for a higher average than either and showed both improving pop and better instincts on the bases as he progressed through his rookie year.

2. Carlos Santana is a top-10 first baseman.

Santana has been quite consistent and durable since becoming a full-time player in 2011. Over those seven seasons, he’s averaged 153 games played, 24 HR, 79 R, 80 RBI, and 5 SB. While his career .249 batting average is mediocre, he’s bested that mark by at least 10 points in three of the last five seasons. Moving to Citizens Bank Park should provide a slight boost to the switch-hitter’s production, as it’s friendlier to hitting from the right side than Progressive Field. He’ll also hit near the top of what looks to be a pretty frisky Phillies lineup, likely between OBP machine Cesar Hernandez and serial baseball murderer Rhys Hoskins.

3. Giancarlo Stanton is not a top-25 outfielder.

Even granting that a couple of the injuries in Stanton’s extensive history were fluky, there are also a lot of soft tissue injuries sprinkled in there. Before last year, he’d played in more than 130 games just twice in seven seasons. We shouldn’t just hand-wave that away. But even if he stays healthy, regression is likely. Going back to 2003, there have been just seven 50 HR seasons, excluding Stanton and Aaron Judge last year. The average total for those players declined from 53 to 37 the following season. In a neat bit of coincidence, 37 was Stanton’s career high in homers before 2017. Point being, it’s extremely difficult to hit 50 bombs. Most of the game’s best hitters haven’t done it; only a few have managed to do it even once. And this would be far from the first time Stanton has let fantasy owners down.

4. Jorge Polanco finishes in the top 10 at shortstop.

Polanco was awful in the first half last season, but made tangible changes to his approach that clearly paid off. He hit .293/.359/.511 after the break, with 10 homers, seven stolen bases, and 74 R+RBI in just 63 games. Extrapolate that to a full season and it’s Francisco Lindor’s 2017 with bonus batting average and speed. Is Polanco going to pull that off? Almost certainly not, but he doesn’t need to do that to make a winner of this prediction.

5. Javier Baez falls outside the top 20 at second base.

The Cubs’ slick-fielding second baseman hit .273 with 23 homers, 10 steals, and both scored and drove in 75 runs. That performance and his brand recognition have his ADP just outside the top 100 players, but there are some serious red flags in his peripheral stats. In 2017, Baez lost all the gains he’d made in contact rate the prior year, and posted a higher SwStr% than any player in baseball who qualified for the batting title. He also benefited from a sharp uptick in HR/FB% despite pulling the ball less and putting it on the ground more often than in previous years. Roster Resource has Baez projected to hit eighth in the lineup, and he could see some at-bats siphoned away by Ian Happ or Ben Zobrist as well.

6. Jon Gray finishes in the top 25 starting pitchers.

Gray added a curveball last season to complement his high-90s fastball and wipeout slider. It was a plus pitch…away from home. Therein, of course, lies the rub; Gray must contend with Coors Field for half of his starts. He’s got the foundational skills he needs to succeed even in that tough environment, though – lots of strikeouts, solid command, and the ability to keep the ball in the yard. Despite missing a couple of months with a broken foot, Gray produced a respectable 3.67 ERA and his 17.7 K-BB% was 28th among pitchers who threw at least 100 innings. If the curve continues to develop, Gray will have the weapon he needs to truly break out.

7. Roberto Osuna is the No. 1 fantasy reliever.

Just three relievers finished with at least 3.0 fWAR in 2017 – Kenley Jansen, Craig Kimbrel, and Osuna. He’s not quite their equal in strikeouts, but Osuna has similarly elite control and does an even better job of suppressing home runs than either of his more lauded counterparts. The only reason his ERA started with a 3 last season instead of a 1 like Jansen or Kimbrel’s was that the latter each enjoyed a strand rate over 90 percent, while Osuna’s checked in under 60 percent. That number’s headed sharply upward, and taking Osuna’s fantasy value to its own lofty heights.

8. Jose Martinez hits 30 home runs.

The 29-year-old is intriguing for both his 6’7” frame and the overhaul of his swing last year, as he added loft and put up a .309/.379/.518 line with 14 home runs in just over 300 plate appearances. While Martinez doesn’t have a starting job locked up for the Cardinals, the market has priced in playing time concerns – to a fault. The roster has enough moving parts that he should see the field plenty, especially since one of those parts (Matt Carpenter, slotted in the first chair at first base) is already questionable for Opening Day. Marcell Ozuna, Tommy Pham, and Dexter Fowler can all play at any of the outfield positions, which means Martinez can be plugged in anytime one of them needs a day off. As they say, bet on skills rather than roles.

9. Joey Gallo gets his average above .250 and is a top-50 player overall.

Trey Baughn over at FanGraphs beat me to the punch on this one, but I definitely agree with the rationale here. The crux of the argument is that Gallo has consistently shown the ability to adjust as a pro. He improved considerably upon repeating both Double-A and Triple-A, and showed similar gains across the board between the first and second half in the majors last year. He’s never going to be Ichiro, but even a 30% strikeout rate would be acceptable with his mammoth power, and given his batted ball quality and surprising speed, he should be able to do better than a .250 BABIP.

10. Trevor Bauer finishes outside the top-60 starting pitchers.

In each of the three times I’ve written this column previously, the last of my 10 bold predictions has been regarding a starting pitcher that everyone else seems to love. Julio Teheran, Sonny Gray, and Aaron Sanchez all lived down to my wet blanket expectations, and this year it’s Trevor Bauer’s turn. There’s no doubt his performance down the stretch was impressive, but we’re talking about a guy who has never produced an ERA below 4.18 or a WHIP below 1.31. Even during last year’s hot streak, Bauer remained vulnerable to the long ball. And let’s not forget that we’ve seen flashes of dominance from him before, only to watch him tinker his way right back into resembling a batting practice pitcher.

 

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