Nick Mariano's 10 Bold Predictions for 2017

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Howdy, folks. It's your favorite writer ever, Nick Mariano, here to join the battle against tempered expectations.

Over the next two weeks, our writers will be offering their most audacious projections for the 2017 fantasy baseball season. This is my second time around the sun with this Bold Predictions series.

If you listened to me last season then you got burned by the likes of Patrick Corbin and Kevin Pillar, but you would've really enjoyed owning Kyle Hendricks, Jean Segura, Ian Desmond and Jose Quintana.

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Nick Mariano's Bold Predictions for 2017

1. Gregory Polanco finishes as a top-10 outfielder.

In 2016, George Springer was the 10th best outfielder in 5x5 formats with his 116/29/82/9/.261 line. Before Polanco’s nagging shoulder and knee injuries seemed to get the best of him at the All-Star break, he was triple slashing .287/.362/.500 with 12 homers and nine steals alongside run and RBI totals of 50 in 344 first-half plate appearances. He then only hit .220 with a still decent 10 homers and eight steals across 243 second-half PAs, but his steadiness had left him. If health can hold – and admittedly shoulder issues scare me – then a 25/20+ season is within reach. Assuming Andrew McCutchen doesn’t slump again and Jung Ho Kang can play consistently, Polanco’s counting stats should bounce up to the 90s with an average in the .280s. Buy in.

2. Addison Russell finishes as a top-8 SS.

While the Cubbies lineup – and the 2017 shortstop class in general -- is a crowded one, Russell just turned 23 in January and is still really tapping into his six-foot frame for power. He has improved at every turn as his career has progressed, including last season’s jump from a .147 ISO to .179 alongside a nearly 6% drop in his strikeout rate (28.5% to 22.6%). The 95 RBIs are indicative of said crowded Cubs lineup, as he regularly bats fifth with plenty of rib-eye opportunities. While his power stroke has taken strides forward, his average didn’t follow thanks to a .277 BABIP (.324 in 2015). The thing is, that should step up in ’17 considering he actually improved his line-drive rate by nearly 3% last season while tacking on 0.2% to his ground-ball rate and improving his hard-hit rate by 2.2%. This should be a huge year. While finishing inside of the top eight doesn't sound life-changing, it really is something with the current field.

3. Kendrys Morales leads the MLB in RBIs.

I realize Nolan Arenado is a very strong candidate to repeat in this category, but don’t forget that Edwin Encarnacion tied for second place (and the lead in the American League) with David Ortiz at 127 RBIs batting in the same spot Morales now steps into for a potent Toronto offense. Morales averaged roughly 100 RBIs over his last two seasons for Kansas City, who scored 1,399 runs over that span (18th best) against a Blue Jay team that paced the league in that time with 1,650 runs. While Kendrys' robust 41.1% hard-hit rate is impressive on its own, the opportunity makes him a great buy despite a HR/FB rate that may regress a bit.

4. A.J. Pollock is a first-round pick in 2018.

I really don’t understand what has changed going into 2017 compared to this time last season? Yeah, Pollock had a gruesome elbow injury in Spring Training this time last season that took him out of the equation, but there is plenty of optimism surrounding his health at this point. If this were a shoulder, back or leg injury then I could get on the hesitancy train, but his speed and swing should be unaffected. He should still flirt with 100+ runs, 15-18 homers with room for more, 75-80 RBIs and 40 steals with an average above .300. That breakout season in 2015 wasn’t a fluke, it was the result of an adjustment to his swing that began in 2014. He’s only 29 years old, well within his prime, and batting in the most hitter-friendly park outside of glorious Colorado. I’ll see you next season with my trophy.

5. Tyler Anderson is the highest-ranked Colorado SP at the end of 2017.

Jon Gray who? The 27-year-old southpaw had succeeded in the Minors with strong control and BABIP-suppressing stuff (highest Minor-League BABIP at any level was .274) before his impressive rookie season last season. In 114 1/3 innings, he posted a 3.54 ERA that was supported by a 3.59 FIP, 3.64 xFIP and 3.84 SIERA. The metrics were fueled by a solid 10.7% swinging-strike rate (37th), 64% first-strike rate (31st), 5.9% walk rate (31st), 50.9% groundball rate (26th) and a 24.2% soft-contact rate that trailed only Kyle Hendricks’ 25.1% mark in that category for pitchers with at least 100 innings in ’16. This was all as a rookie. A rookie in Coors Field. Maybe he’s got the skillset to conquer the beast, so give him a twirl in 2017 as he looks to step forward.

6. Yu Darvish finishes as the SP1.

Hmm, that’s a funny way to spell Clayton Kershaw. It seems like Darvish’s absence has left many forgetting just how dominant he can be, or his late start last season left some missing just how good he was upon returning. There was no rust, as his 32.1% K rate led the Majors in the second half, as did his 3.01 SIERA. While returning from Tommy John surgery is normally marked by shaky control, his 7.5% walk rate was a career-best rate. He also induced soft contact at a 22.8% clip, quite the leap from 2014’s 16.4%. He threw 127 1/3 frames last season between rehab and the bigs, so perhaps the organization dampens him just enough to keep him from the top spot, but I’m buying him as my SP1 at a discount in 2017. He’s being selected as the SP8 at an ADP of 34.55 according to NFBC data. That’s behind Jake Arrieta, who I’d never dream of taking before Yu. Darvish will be drafted back in the Scherzer/Bumgarner/Syndergaard range next season, mark my words.

7, Brandon Drury is a top-12 2B.

Drury had a neat little 16-homer campaign for Arizona in a 499-PA rookie showing, but the versatile 23-year-old was still learning as he bounced around the diamond in a crowded lineup. With Jean Segura now gone, the youngster has a strong chance to step into the everyday job at the keystone position. Drury hit a solid .282 thanks to a healthy 20.3% line-drive rate and strong contact profile (90.4% Z-Contact, 32.9% hard-hit rate). We’ve already touched on Chase Field being hitter friendly, but here’s the ESPN Park Factor data to back it up. Look at what Brad Miller did last season once handed an everyday job – it can go a long way when a guy doesn’t have to sweat which role he’s filling when heading to the park. Drury could very well sock 25 homers with counting stats in the 80s and an average in the .280s.

8. Daniel Norris is a top-30 SP.

Norris has been a prized prospect since his days in Toronto, but it appears things really started to click last season. One of these was health, which has been an obstacle for the 23-year-old, but mostly it was just refining his secondary offerings and gaining confidence in attacking the zone. In his 10 starts from his Aug. 9 recall on, he posted a 3.04 ERA with a 55-to-19 K:BB ratio in 56 1/3 innings. His final five starts were what really impressed, though – as he struck out 38 against only eight walks in 29 2/3 September innings (2.73 ERA). That’s ace stuff, folks. Granted, he faced Kansas City twice, Minnesota, Atlanta and Cleveland in that span, but one still has to perform. With an NFBC ADP at 288.73 (SP77) as of March 13, what do you have to lose on this late-round flier?

9. Eduardo Rodriguez strikes out 200 batters.

E-Rod’s knee needs to hold up, but this is a guy whose 24.6% strikeout rate and 11.7% swinging-strike rate both checked in at 16th best in the MLB from the Midsummer Classic on. Those resulted in 79 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings alongside an also-notable 3.24 ERA and .207 batting average allowed. He logged 145 innings last season so roughly 190 frames is doable if health stands up, and we’ve seen he can be that guy who rings up a batter per inning already. His four-seamer, two-seamer, slider and changeup are all coming together in a fierce arsenal, with the versatility yielding a stronger ability to put away hitters and work deeper into games. As the 81st SP currently being drafted per NFBC data, I’ll easily buy in.

10. Ken Giles is 2017's RP1.

Y’all probably gather that I enjoy investigating late-season surges as well as swing-and-miss stuff from pitchers. Guess who led all relievers in swinging-strike rate in the second half? Yup, it was Giles. His 22% SwStr rate was over two percentage points higher than Kyle’s selection, Edwin Diaz. Giles’ 16.33 K/9 also the Majors from the All-Star break on. Yup, higher than Kenley Jansen (15.9), Dellin Betances (14.9) and Aroldis Chapman (14.33). I realize there is a lot to be said for the track record of those other names, but that aura of skepticism is what gives Giles value here. Mix in that Houston boasts one of the best lineups in baseball and you’ve got a team that should offer up plenty of save opportunities. Hopefully, his 1.10 HR/9 can work back to how he looked in 2014 (0.20) and 2015 (0.26), but the upside is worth that dice roll.

 

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