(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)
As we get closer to the season, the whole Pitcher List staff is putting together our bold predictions for the year. I want to emphasize, before you start angrily commenting on this article telling me I’m stupid (which, it’s ok, I am), that these predictions are not things that are likely to happen at all, but they could happen. Anyways, you and I both know you just want to read the predictions and not whatever I’m writing for an intro so here we go:
Honestly, I think if he stays healthy, this one might be easy. Giancarlo Stanton hit 59 home runs in the National League with one of the five-worst parks for home runs as his home ballpark last year. Now, he’s moving to Yankee Stadium, one of the best parks for home runs, and he’s heading to the American League. And not just anywhere in the American League, the AL East, which means he gets to enjoy such hitter-friendly venues as Fenway Park and Camden Yards. I’m also optimistic about Stanton’s chances of staying healthy, given that he’ll have the ability to DH in New York fairly frequently. In 2001, Alex Rodriguez hit 52 home runs with the Texas Rangers and in 2002, he hit 57. That’s the last time a player has hit more than 50 home runs in two consecutive seasons, and I think Stanton could be the next one.
2. Adam Eaton scores more runs than anyone else in the National League
Before he hurt his knee last year, Adam Eaton was on pace for over 150 runs on the season. Of course, I’m joking, he wasn’t going to do that, but he had 24 runs in 23 games, he was raking, and I don’t see any reason he can’t do it again. The most runs he’s scored in his career was 98 in 2015 with the Chicago White Sox. I’d argue that it’s not a stretch to say that the lineup Eaton is in with the Washington Nationals is a bit better than any lineup he’s been in before. He’s likely to lead off, and he’ll have the likes of Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, and Anthony Rendon behind him to drive him in. Last year’s NL runs leader was Charlie Blackmon with 137, I think Eaton could get around that and lead the league in runs.
3. Kevin Gausman finishes the year as a top-30 starting pitcher
Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice I don’t care I’m betting on Kevin Gausman again. For last year’s bold predictions, I said that Gausman would finish the year as a top-20 starting pitcher. He promptly had the worst season of his career and was just terrible. BUT I’m here to tell you that it’ll be different this time! I promise! I hope at least. I wrote in-depth on why it’s ok for you to believe in Gausman this year, but in short, he made adjustments at the end of the year that he hasn’t made in his career. He moved his position on the mound, adjusted his horizontal release point, and it all led to some noticeable success, as his ERA, FIP, xFIP, and walk rate all started dropping and his strikeout rate started rising. His biggest problem last year was a lack of control, and he regained that with this adjustment. There’s no doubting how good his pitches are, it’s just a matter of him using them effectively, and maybe, just maybe, he can do that this year.
4. Luis Castillo finishes the year as a top-10 starting pitcher
Nick isn’t the only one in love with Luis Castillo. I am super pumped to see Castillo pitching this year, and I think it’s entirely possible that he ends up being one of the best pitchers in the league this year. He’s actually somewhat similar to Luis Severino from a repertoire standpoint; both have high-velocity fastballs with a slider and a changeup. Severino relies more on his slider than Castillo does (and for good reason, because Severino’s slider is amazing), but Castillo still gets a lot of whiffs with both his slider and changeup. If Castillo can tone down the walks a bit, he could easily work his way into the top-10 starting pitchers by year’s end.
5. Carlos Gonzalez bounces back and finishes the year as a top-25 outfielder
#SorryNotSorry I love CarGo, I’ve written about him all over this site for what feels like forever. He had a terrible year last year, I get it, but there’s reason to believe he’ll bounce back. I wrote a bit more in-depth (with GIFs!) about the changes CarGo made to his swing last year, along with a few other changes, that led to a really solid second half for him. If those changes stick (and I think they could), CarGo could be in for a bounce back season. The season feels ripe for it, CarGo’s on a one-year deal with the Rockies, if he wants to have any more of a career in the MLB, he needs to prove that he’s not old and done this year. Plus, he’s back in Coors Field where he has thrived in the past. I understand the worry about the crowded Rockies outfield, but here’s how I see it shaking out: I think CarGo gets a starting gig in right field and Blackmon has his position in center. Gerardo Parra is questionable for opening day after having hand surgery, which means Ian Desmond might start the year in left field. Once Parra’s back, I could see either Desmond taking over first base from Ryan McMahon, or splitting a platoon with McMahon. And if you’re asking “Well where’s David Dahl in all of this?” I think he ends up starting in the minors as the team eases him back in.
Austin Hays absolutely raked in the minors last year. I mean he hit the ball like a man, slashing .330/.367/.594 with 32 home runs between single-A and double-A. Now, I’m not 100% sure that he’s going to start the season in the majors. The Orioles have decided that apparently Colby Rasmus and Alex Presley need to be playing in the majors, but I think it’s going to be inevitable that Hays ends up in that outfield, likely sooner rather than later. As it stands, Mark Trumbo is slated to start the year on the DL, which likely means either Rasmus or Trey Mancini starts as DH (probably Mancini because Rasmus is a good fielder) which opens up left field. Now, the Orioles could elect to put Presley there or Anthony Santander who is out of options, but I think whatever experiment they do out there isn’t going to last long. Eventually, the team has to put Hays out there, and if he starts the year in triple-A, I’m betting he hits just as well as he did in the other levels. If he’s raking in triple-A and the Orioles are juggling the mediocrity of Rasmus/Presley/Santander, I’d imagine Hays comes up, and once he does, he could have some major success. I mean, it was just last year that Mancini hit .293/.338/.488 with 24 home runs out of nowhere, why can’t Hays?
7. Aaron Judge bats worse than .250
I believe in Aaron Judge’s power, but his average is something I’m a little less convinced on. You’ve probably heard these stats a billion times at this point, especially if you’ve heard me talk about Judge, but his .284 batting average last year came with a 30.7% strikeout rate and a .357 BABIP. Judge’s hitting profile doesn’t strike me as one that can maintain a high BABIP, and that would be the only way he could keep a high batting average with that kind of strikeout rate. I think regardless Judge’s average is due for regression, but could it drop as low as the .240s? Yea, I think that’s definitely possible. Power hitters are streaky, and Judge showed that by hitting .228 in the second-half last year. Yes, I know, he hit .311 in September, but then he had a rough playoff stretch. He’s going to be up and down in the average department, last year he had a lot more ups than downs, this year I could see him having more downs than ups.
8. Brad Brach finishes the year as a top-10 closer and on a team that isn’t the Orioles
Brad Brach is a pretty darn good closer. He’s just been blocked by Zach Britton for so long, but with Britton dealing with injuries (including an Achilles injury that’ll put him out several months this year), Brach’s been able to step in and shine. In the first half of the season, Brach was looking excellent, with a 2.58 ERA and a .084 WHIP going into the All-Star Break. He struggled with some control issues at the end of the year, but Brach has an excellent repertoire, with a killer changeup that’s got about two inches more horizontal movement on it than your average change. Britton’s going to be out for a while next year, and honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if he misses even more time recovering from his surgery. Here’s how I see the season playing out: Brach is the Orioles’ closer and does really well. Being that he’s a free agent after this year, the Orioles trade Brach to a closer-needy team right around the deadline for a prospect(s) (or, knowing the Orioles, a Rule 5 30-year-old Triple-A outfielder), and Brach finishes out the year closing on another team. If he’s given the opportunity, Brach could be an excellent closer, and I think he’s going to get that opportunity next year.
9. Lucas Giolito finishes the year as a top-25 starting pitcher
Is it time for Lucas Giolito, the post-hype fantasy sleeper? I think it definitely could be. The former top prospect in all of baseball has had some significant struggles in the majors, but he’s looking different this spring. He’s changed his arm slot, upped his velocity, and is seeing a lot of swing and misses. The velocity is here and he’s locating his curveball, if this all sticks, he could easily be in for a breakout season this year. Even if he doesn’t hit my bold prediction of top-25, he could still be very good and is worth a snag at the end of drafts.
10. Christian Yelich has the best season of his career and it’s not close
If you ever get bored, take a quick look at Christian Yelich’s home/road splits (that’s what you do when you’re bored, right?). You can see that, to this point in his career (which has been entirely with the Miami Marlins), he’s got a .396 slugging and a 10.9% HR/FB rate at home, and a .465 slugging and 20.5% HR/FB rate on the road. As I said earlier with Stanton, Marlins Park is very pitcher-friendly, and now Yelich is leaving that park for a very hitter-friendly park in Miller Park. Not only that, but he’ll have a really solid lineup around him. He’s flirted with 20/20 before, I think that’s almost a given this year. These are bold predictions, I need to be bold, so I’m gonna predict Yelich comes exceptionally close to a 30/30 year this year.