It is officially (early) bold prediction season. While you know the deal by now: this wouldn’t be a Bold Predictions article if most of these came to fruition (getting one out of 10 Bold Predictions is the sweet spot). I am hoping to get some of these calls right after my disastrous showing in a version of this game on an episode of Wins Above Fantasy last year. With that said, let’s get right to it and look at who I am going bold on in 2022 and why. All pitching rankings will be based on The List. For hitter rankings, the Razzball Player Rater will be used.
1. Byron Buxton Wins AL MVP
Byron Buxton may be on my bold prediction list from now until the time he retires. I simply cannot quit him, the raw talent is too good. I am a sucker for upside and the Twin’s centerfielder is the poster boy for just that. The Buxton BreakoutTM has been waiting to happen since the former top prospect broke into the league in 2015. While there were some serious questions about plate skills during the first few years in the bigs, the questions about Buxton’s talent have been essentially put to rest. Over the last three seasons, Buxton’s per-162 line looks like this: .277/.321/.897 with 36 HRs, 22 SBs, 101 runs, and 91 RBIs.
The proration game is never a smart one to play, but those numbers paint the picture of the upside of an MVP. The proration game is even more dangerous with Buxton, and the reason this prediction is bold is the elephant in the room: Buxton’s injury history.
I have not been shy about my love affair with Dylan Cease this offseason. The breakout potential for Cease as an SP1 is legit. He led the majors in K-BB% in the second half last year, a stat that is one of the best in-season predictors for success for starting pitchers. Plus, an increase in the usage of his elite slider (-8 run value, 43.1% K%) and the emergence of a curve (48% K%, .152 xBA) as a useful third pitch provide the template for a true SP1 in 2022.
I will defer to the one and only Nick Pollack for the ruling on this prediction — Cease will have to continue to improve his walk rate to finish as a top-five SP on The List for this prediction to come true. The White Sox starter is ranked 32nd on Nick’s current rankings.
Francisco Lindor is another guy I was high on last year that I am doubling down on for 2022. No matter how you frame it, last season was a disappointment for Lindor and the Mets. Combined with the shortened 2020 season, that’s two down years in a row for the four-time All-Star; however, I am betting on that trend ending next year and a return to fantasy stardom for Lindor.
Players with 150 PA in 2021 and
-Avg EV >90 MPH
-Sweet Spot% >35%
— Steve Gesuele (@stav8818) January 4, 2022
The Razzball Player Rater will be the judge for this prediction. Last season, Lindor finished as SS22.
The East Divisions are home to some of the best starters in baseball: Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Gerrit Cole, Zack Wheeler, Chris Sale, Kevin Gausman, and Sandy Alcantara call the East home. Two of 2021’s breakout pitchers will have to out-pitch some of the best arms in the sport for this prediction to hit.
Both McClanahan and Rogers have shown flashes of ace potential, and have the makings of top-tier SPs: good fastballs with swing and miss secondaries. The hard-throwing lefties have elite pitches to build on in Shane’s filthy slider and Rogers’ devastating changeup. Each of these guys could just be one small tweak away from becoming SP1’s in 2022.
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) June 16, 2021
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) June 30, 2021
I am usually quick to make fun of the Colorado Rockies, but if there is one thing that they have been decent at over the last few years it is finding decent position players (when they don’t sign an aging Ian Desmond to play out of position to steal playing time from them). Ok, ok, I can’t help myself when it comes to making fun of the Rockies, back to the actual bold prediction. I think the two next great Rockies hitters that will benefit from the friendly hitter confines of Coors Field are already here: Brendan Rodgers and Ryan McMahon.
McMahon put together a mini breakout last season, and Rodgers quietly put up 15 homers in 102 games. Both appear ready to take the next step and will outproduce their former teammates in Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story finishing above them on the Razzball Player Rater for third basemen and shortstops, respectively.
6. Andrew Vaughn is the Most Valuable White Sox Hitter
Andrew Vaughn is the quintessential post-hype prospect that everyone should love to target. Coming into the big leagues after not playing at any level above high-A in 2019, expectations were sky-high for the Golden Spikes Award winner from Cal Berkeley. Vaughn held his own in his first 127 major league games last year, but the 15 homers and 94 wRC+ fell way short of what many thought would be a Rookie of the Year campaign.
While growing pains are to be expected for any first-year player (especially one skipping two levels to the Majors), Vaughn had to overcome another learning curve- playing the outfield. When Eloy Jiménez went down with a pectoral injury in Spring Training, Vaughn was forced to learn the outfield and fill in on the fly. Learning a new position, skipping AA and AAA, and still providing some value with the bat? I cannot wait to see what Vaughn does as he gets more comfortable in the bigs. The underlying skills show that he has the talent to do it, and may have been a bit unlucky last year.
15 hitters w/ biggest gap in plus HR skills (barrel rate > 7.9%) but mediocre results (HR/FB < 13.6%) last year.
— Ryan Bloomfield (@RyanBHQ) January 17, 2022
The top White Sox prospect has the raw talent to take the next step, and it could be a huge one. A monster season would be needed for him to finish ahead of the likes of Luis Robert, Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, and Eloy Jiménez but with an uptick in fly-ball rate, the sky is the limit for Vaughn.
7. Steven Kwan Finishes as a Top-30 OF
The Cleveland outfield has mostly been a fantasy wasteland since the prime of Michael Brantley, but under-heralded prospect Steven Kwan will change that in 2022. All Steven Kwan has done is hit in the minors; he was at least 15 percent better than league average at every level in two and a quarter minor league seasons. In 2021, Kwan got even better. He bumped up his ISO from .102 in High-A in 2019, to .202 in AA (51 games) and .194 in AAA (26 games). All this while maintaining a batting average above .311, possessing plus speed, and walking more than he striking out.
FanGraphs’ Alex Chamberlain gushed about Kwan on the latest edition of Peripheral Prospects for Hitters (an article that every fantasy player should have bookmarked which highlighted “non” prospects like Jeff McNeil, Ty France, Jose Urquidy, and Jake Cronenworth before they were fantasy relevant). The combo of Kwan’s skills and the opportunity in the Guardian’s outfield provides the perfect mix for a breakout. Kwan could be an OF2 at OF10 prices when all is said and done.
8. Jordan Montgomery is the Highest Ranked Yankee SP
Jordan Montgomery has everything I look for in a breakout starting pitcher. Strong K% (24.5%), good command (7.7% BB%), good secondary pitches for whiffs (changeup 39.2% Whiff%, slider 42.9% Whiff%), and a suppressed price (83rd pitcher off the board at NFBC at the time of this writing). Grey at Razzball wrote in his sleeper post how the Yankee’s lanky lefty may be a pitch-mix tweak away from a breakout, and I couldn’t agree more. By Run Value, Monty has two elite pitches in the change and curve (-10, -9 RV respectively), along with a passable four-seam fastball (-1 RV). If he can up the usage on his secondaries while ditching the sinker ( 4 RV) as he did as last year went on, he can beat out an aging Gerrit Cole as top Yankee starter in 2022. Plus, if Bailey is in on Gumby this prediction has to come true.
you have $15 to build the ideal starting rotation pic.twitter.com/9e98ZV9wDq
— Foolish Baseball (@FoolishBB) January 14, 2022
I recently provided the case for using the number one pick in drafts on Trea Turner, so I am clearly high on him for 2022. The main points of that argument were Turner’s underrated power and the lineup context that will be afforded to him now that he has a full season in Dodger blue ahead of him. Turner’s previous career highs for the aforementioned categories are as follows:
Turner will be one of the best players in baseball if he is able to build off of his 2021 season while threatening to become a member of the 30/50 club and slide into one of the best fantasy seasons ever. Blackmon earned $44 per the Razzball Player rater in 2017 (the highest value of the non-shortened seasons), Turner will eclipse that value with a career year.
10. Robbie Ray Finishes Outside the Top-75 SP
I guess one of my bold predictions had to be negative, right? We have seen amazing seasons with solid command by Robbie Ray in the past (2.89 ERA, 10.7 BB% in 2017) followed up by disappointing ones (3.93 ERA, 13.3% BB% in 2018). Eno Sarris of The Atheltic has talked at length about how command is less sticky year-to-year than stuff is, which is why I will not be getting any shares of Ray in 2022.
With even a slight regression in walk rate (10.3% for his career; Steamer is at 9.0% for 2022) and a return to a plausible LOB% (90.1% was 13 points higher than his career 77%), it would be hard to envision Ray coming close to his 2021 numbers again. Perhaps the move to a pitcher-friendly park in Seattle will mitigate some of these issues for the pitcher currently ranked ninth on The List, but I am not betting on Ray or his tight pants this season.
Photos by Joe Robbins & Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)