Welcome to the first day of March Madness, but more importantly the 4th edition of RotoBaller's Bold Predictions series. Over the next two weeks, our writers will be offering their most audacious projections for the 2017 fantasy baseball season.
Last year I named Mookie Betts the fantasy MVP. I also noted Trevor Story would be a top-5 SS and JT Reamulto would be the only catcher to post a 10/10 season. Pretty good, huh? As for the Ender Inciarte being a top 30 OF, we'll chalk that up to bad luck.
Ready to see this year's picks? Let's get started.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!
Max Petrie's Bold Predictions for 2017
1. Freddie Freeman finishes as the #1 1B.
It was only one year ago when the Atlanta Braves offense masqueraded as a AAA-quality lineup. How times have changed. Freeman spent the first half of 2016 turning water into wine, with the only protection coming from Nick Markakis (.396 SLG). Things changed drastically with the additions of Matt Kemp and Dansby Swanson, along with a healthy Ender Inciarte. Freeman posted a .323/.433/.634 line in the second half along with 59 runs (3rd in MLB), 18 HR and 57 RBI. He finished 6th in MVP voting. Freeman posted career highs in ISO, OBP, SLG, and wRC+. Now with a full year of Swanson and Kemp at the top of the lineup, I fully expect Freeman to improve upon last year's numbers in what should be a more hitter-friendly SunTrust Park. His only competition for the No. 1 spot is Paul Goldschmidt thanks to steals, but Freeman will beat his already high ADP by year end.
2. Dansby Swanson finishes as a top-8 SS.
Am I a Braves fan? Maybe, but there's also plenty for fantasy players to be excited for, starting with the rookie Dansby Swanson. Swanson barely maintained his rookie status in 2016 but didn't look the part, hitting .302/.361/.442 in 145 PA. Yes, his .383 BABIP was absurdly high, but Swanson did not look like the .250 hitter ZIPS and Steamer project him to be. He will serve as the No. 2 hitter for Atlanta, sandwiched in between Inciarte and Freeman. It's a perfect spot for Swanson, who posted over a 10.0% BB% in the minors and hits to all fields. I expect Swanson to finish closer to the Fans projections (.280/.350/.408, 12 HR, 15 SB) which should be enough to crack the top-10 at short.
3. Keon Broxton is a top-20 OF in OBP-formats.
Broxton seemed to come out of nowhere in 2016 after spending the previous seven years in the minors. He showed massive potential (and limitations) in 75 games, posting 28/9/19/23/.242 in 244 plate appearances. He struck out an astonishing 36% of the time, but he also had an impressive 14.8% BB%. His speed/power combo has made him an enticing breakout candidate for 2017. He is expected to bat 2nd between Jonathan Villar and Ryan Braun, an excellent situation. Asking for anything more than 15 HR is a stretch, but a 15/35 season is not out of the reach.
4. Andrew McCutchen is not a top-40 OF.
I try to keep the predictions positive, but I need to touch on Cutch. Yes, he had a wrist injury in the first half and hit .287 to wrap up 2016, but what happened to the speed? His steal totals the past four seasons: 27, 18, 11, 6. His .256/.336/.430 line were all career-lows, while he struck out 21.2% of the time (another career-worst). Perhaps the move to right field would help him focus on his offensive approach, but he did not seem thrilled by the idea in Spring Training. At this rate, McCutchen is the same player as Curtis Granderson, which is not more than OF4 for fantasy purposes. Avoid in all formats.
5. Mitch Haniger is a top-30 OF.
Every year there is a player who crushes in Spring Training and carries it over to a breakout campaign. This year's version is Haniger, one of the key pieces in the Jean Segura trade this offseason. Haniger is slashing .406/.472/.719 in 32 AB this spring and has drawn high praise from manager Scott Servais. It's not like Haniger didn't mash in the minors -- he slugged .670 with 20 HR in AAA before hitting five HR in 35 games for Arizona. Haniger will be the starting right-fielder for the Mariners and should reach 30 HR at virtually zero cost on draft day.
6. Andrew Benintendi is a top-15 OF.
It's not often a top-3 offense inserts a rookie into the top of its order, but that's exactly where Benintendi finds himself in 2017. Benintendi is expected to bat 2nd between Dustin Pedroia and Mookie Betts, the equivalent of fantasy heaven. He was fantastic in his 2016 debut, hitting .295/.359/.476 in 118 plate appearances. He struggled with lefties (.179) but I'm willing to give the rookie a pass as he gets more acclimated. Benintendi isn't amazing at any one thing, but really good at all aspects of baseball. He should provide value across the board in 5x5 formats, with an excellent chance to eclipse 100 runs in the stacked Red Sox lineup. Benintendi is going for an average of $10 in auction formats, which is a steal. Buy Buy Buy.
7. Matt Harvey doesn't make over 15 starts.
How the might have fallen. The Mets rotation, once considered the future of baseball, has come on hard times over the past two seasons. Harvey notably has had trouble getting it together. In 17 starts last year, Harvey compiled a 4.86 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. Both were easily career-worsts. His strikeout rate dropped to 7.3 K/9, his walk rate rose to 2.43 BB/9, and most importantly, his fastball stopped fooling hitters. His fastball had a -1.9 rating according to FanGraphs. His fastball was sitting at 92 MPH this Spring and has been shaky to say the least. My guess is if he doesn't pull it together in the first two months, the team takes a deeper look at his arm to ensure they aren't causing further damage to his elbow. On the bright side, at least he's dating Adriana Lima.
8. Greg Bird will hit 30 HR.
Bird is the word in New York. [Throws tomato]. Even with the additions of Chris Carter and Matt Holliday, Bird is expected to be the starting first basemen for the Yankees. Bird missed the entire 2016 season due to a torn labrum but has picked things right back up this Spring. He is hitting .452 with four home runs so far including an absolute bomb. He hit 20, 20, and 23 home runs in his final three minor league seasons and had a .268 ISO in first year in the majors. He's prime breakout candidate and should have a great chance for a 30/100 campaign.
9. Mike Foltynewicz is a SP30.
There's a lot to like here. Folty features a 95 MPH fastball with a sharp slider, all while limiting the free passes (2.55 BB/9). For a 25-year old with 37 career starts, that's not too shabby. His biggest issue is going deeper into games; when an opponent faced him for the 3rd time in the order, they slashed .336/.367/.542. The key will be developing an effective third pitch, either his curveball or changeup. Early money is on the changeup to provide hitters with a ball on similar plane but various speeds. He is all but guaranteed the No. 5 spot in the Braves rotation, and in turn will face the opponent's No. 5 on most occasions. This should lead to some easy wins, making a 10-win season a reasonable bet with the potential for 15.
10. Jered Weaver will throw a fastball over 83 MPH.
OK, that was kind of cruel. But really, the Padres rotation is going to be so bad, I predict they will finish with an ERA above 5.25. Only the most desperate will venture in this group.