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As we steamroll toward Opening Day, our experienced writers will be offering their most bold predictions for the 2018 fantasy baseball season.

These are always a fun exercise that allows us to really trumpet our more outlandish stances heading into 2017. I promise it comes from an educated place, but these are far from "probable" outcomes!

I'm going to try to stay positive for most of these. Let's get to it.

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Bold Predictions for 2018

1. Trevor Story goes off for 35 homers, 100 RBI, 10 steals while hitting .270

You know we've got to start off #onbrand for this! After Story's rookie season, I scoured local baseball card shows and eBay for his autograph, and while I'm a fiend, I couldn't justify paying nearly $100 for a basic auto of his. Then Chapter 2 happened, where the inconsistencies in his swing led to an insane amount of K's -- even by 2017's standards -- and way too many pop-ups. I went to another card show a few weeks ago only to find a very nice Story auto mixed into the $5 box with several other names that you would never consider drafting in your fantasy league.

While baseball card demand and fantasy production are not connected, it does represent what the general perception of Story is heading into 2018. But his hot finish to '17, his great spring thus far and strong words from manager Bud Black that Story could bat cleanup against lefties has me buying in for Chapter 3.

2. Yu Darvish is the SP1 in traditional 5x5 roto leagues

We can all agree that Darvish has the strikeout stuff to make this happen, yes? If he reaches 190 innings then 220 K's are very doable (he had 186 2/3 IP and 209 K's last year). His 3.86 ERA was not what SP1s are made of, however, but I think the remedy comes from this Cubbies defense. I don't quite trust Kyle Schwarber in the outfield yet, but losing weight definitely helps the mobility. While folks bug out about his potentially-tipped-pitch-laden postseason performance, I'm comfortable taking him as my ace. His only getting 10 wins last season only helps tamp down his expectations and most projection systems, but the Cubs' over/under for wins is set at 94.5 and the possibility of Yu standing tall with 20 wins is too great for me to ignore.

3. Xander Bogaerts ascends with a 25HR/20SB/.300 campaign

Some are saying that Bogaerts simply isn't going to come around and be the hitter we dreamed about as we watched him develop in 2015 and '16, but I see a guy who has been playing hurt and overcompensating/Trevor Bauer-ing himself in the batter's box. He's admitted that he tried to pull the ball instead of just letting the barrel go at times, and I remember how awful life was after I broke my thumb and damaged my UCL in high school when baseball season came around, so maybe I'm just empathizing too much.

That said, Boston's lineup is stacked right now and X is set to hit fifth right now, which isn't as great as the top-third but he'll still see a ton of opportunities behind the big boppers and ahead of Rafael Devers. Alex Cora has already talked about being more aggressive on the basepaths and considering Bogie went 15-of-16 on steal attempts last season, I can't see those being scaled down. All he needs to do is relax and play his game, aka stop trying to be a specific type of hitter, which I'm willing to bank on.

4. Whit Merrifield ends 2018 as a top-20 player, enters 2019 as a top-30 pick

Here are the guys who hit 15 homers and stole 25 bags in 2017: Jose Altuve, Elvis Andrus, Mookie Betts, Byron Buxton, Tommy Pham and Whit Merrifield. Of those guys, Merrifield is the one who swiped the most bags and he's the only one with multi-position eligibility. Of those guys, Merrifield's ADP is easily the lowest as it sits outside the top-75. I dislike KC's lineup, but his power looks real to me and he's shown the ability to run like crazy for a team that needs all of the offense it can get. His RBI tally may be what keeps this from coming true, but I'm still in.

5. Sean Manaea and Tyler Chatwood are both top-30 SPs.

Manaea is a big guy. The southpaw stands at 6'5" and entered April of 2017 at 255 pounds, which helps him be the power pitcher that owns a career 11.5 percent swinging-strike rate. He had struck out 93 batters in 93 1/3 innings while yielding a paltry .228 batting average against in the first half last year, but then his velocity dropped and his stats suffered. As it turns out, he was prescribed ADHD medication in the spring and it led him to drop 25 pounds over the course of the season. Personally, I can't believe the guy managed as well as he did throughout that occurring. I see big things coming from him in '18.

As for Chatwood, his arsenal is the perfect kind to get the hell out of Coors Field. His breaking stuff had been great at generating grounders (which, like Darvish, should be helped by the Cubbies defense behind him) but he would get into trouble with walks and he doesn't have huge strikeout potential. He's currently rocking a 2.81 ERA and 1.19 WHIP with 18 K's in 16 spring innings though, and I think an ERA identical to his 3.49 road ERA in '17 is in order. Expecting the 1.69 road ERA of '16 is a bridge too far (but would be fuuuun).

6. James Paxton is a top-5 SP

Paxton is currently being drafted as the 20th SP on average, and its no secret why. Big Maple simply can't stay on the mound for long before hitting the DL. But he boasts one of the best three-pitch mixes you'll ever see from a pitcher, let alone a lefty (I'm a southpaw, we have to stick together,) and while everyone is over there swooning about what Noah Syndergaard will do when healthy, I'm happily taking Paxton rounds later.

He just went 12-5 in 24 starts with 156 K's in 136 innings with a 2.98 ERA that still trailed his 2.61 FIP and a 1.10 WHIP. The 29-year-old also owns a career 0.66 HR/9 mark, posting a 0.60 figure last season when homers were being given out like tootsie pops on Halloween. Neither his .300 BABIP or 75.5 percent strand rate screams regression, so I'm all in. If I thought Seattle would win as much the Cubs then I'd tag him in for my Darvish prediction.

7. Both Joey Gallo and Matt Olson stumble, combining for just 55 homers and a .220 average

Edgy right? Some people are practically chalking one or the other up for 50 dingers on their own, though the batting average will put up less of a fight. I get the appeal in OBP formats with Gallo (and Olson), but I'm just worried that both have such a wide range given their big swings that I might as well get something in about them both turning in their floor. Homers alone don't mean as much as they used to, and if you take a guy (or two) who can turn into 2017 Chris Davis then you better have a Plan B at the ready.

8. Delino DeShields is a more valuable 5x5 player than Billy Hamilton...and Dee Gordon

DeShields is set to be Texas' everyday centerfielder and, more importantly, leadoff hitter. No matter what we do, we're only human and will ding him a bit for slighting us back in 2016. As the great Kevin Malone said, "it's only human natural." Indeed, Kevin. But DeShields is back and ready to give fantasy owners a keleven in stolen bases and runs scored (I hope you watch The Office) from atop this lineup. He scored 32 runs with 10 swipes and a .264/.362/.365 slash line from Aug. 13 on last season, aka when he got everyday play. DeShields could run away with over 60 bags and 120 runs scored, but the rub is how to beat Dee Gordon, who will also hit around .300.

My hope is that Delino's comfort with a secure role will lead to some more growth. His strikeout rate fell from 28.2 percent in the first half to 21 percent in the second while his walk rate rose by 50 percent alongside a three-percentage-point bump in line-drive rate. I think he can hit nearly .275 and make up the difference by hitting around 10 homers to Dee's two or three. DD did hit six homers in 440 PAs last year, after all.

9. Carl Edwards Jr. is the most valuable reliever to enter Opening Day without a closing role

There are plenty of talented arms to target if you draft under the "skills not role" mantra, but Morrow and Edwards Jr. actually appear back-to-back when you sort by RP per Yahoo's 5x5 rankings. Morrow has had a ton of injuries in his time, ranging from his finger, forearm, shoulder, back and leg issues -- he could practically have his own "Head, Shoulders, Knee and Toes" dance -- but no one's really questioned his skills when on the rubber. But he appeared in 45 games for the Dodgers last season before entering all 15 of their playoff games, which scares me quite a bit.

Meanwhile, Edwards had a brilliant 2017 of his own by posting his second season with a strikeout rate above 35 percent (35.9 percent in '17, 37.7 percent in '16) with a 2.98 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. Yes, the 14.5 percent walk rate represents his only real negative attribute, but his stuff is so nasty that he carries a career .185 BABIP over 107 frames. I don't want to bank on Morrow lasting long given his track record and 2017 workload, which should vault Mr. Edwards.

10. Adam Eaton is the most valuable Washington OF in traditional 5x5 roto leagues

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I KNOW. Bryce Harper is in a contract year and is certain to take the world by storm, but what about Mr. Eaton? He's practically an afterthought in drafts thanks to losing most of 2017 due to requiring ACL reconstructive surgery. Ouch. In case you forgot, he scored 24 runs in the 23 games that he played in with a .297 average and .854 OPS! I can see a 120-15-65-20-.300 season from Eaton, who is only 29, which of course means that both Bryce Harper and Trea Turner must have succumbed to an injury at some point in the season to make this come true. It's really just combining different events with a decent chance at occurring and using that to make a point: Adam Eaton is being criminally underdrafted and you all better recognize!

 

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