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10 Bold Predictions for 2019

March 23, 2019

1. Victor Robles will be this year’s Ronald Acuna. 
Still twenty-one years old, the one-time elite prospect has slipped a little under the radar a little bit. He’ll make the All-Star team this year, giving Acuna some competition as the best centerfielder in the NL East.
2. Jakob Junis is a pitcher you don’t know now, but will know by season’s end. 
Junis, a 29th-round selection by the Royals, had a modest 2018, posting a 9-12 record with a 4.37 ERA and displaying a slight penchant for giving up dingers (32 in 177 IP). His overall record masks what was a very outstanding last-season run, when Junis just stopped walking hitters. Over his last seven starts (44.2 IP), Junis walked a paltry three hitters, while striking out 37. While I’m not ready to commit to go full-bod and pick him to win the Cy Young Award, I think he’ll have a breakthrough performance this year, in excess of 4.0 WAR. 
3. Yasiel Puig will receive some MVP votes. 
While a lot of folks still talk about ‘contract year’ spikes in performance, I put a lot more faith in players enjoying changes in scenery. Yasiel Puig has had plenty of highlight moments of greatness with the Dodgers, but he’s never felt like a great fit with the team’s culture. Here’s a prediction that the mercurial talent will have the best season of his career in the friendly confines of Cincinnati. And speaking of changes in scenery…
4. Billy Hamilton will finally break out and steal 75 bases. 
I am not giving away this shot. 
I am not giving away this shot. 
Hey, I’m just like the team in K.C. 
I’m young, scrappy, and speedy,
And I’m not giving away this shot. 
I got low exit velocity and no on-base capacity, 
But don’t underestimate my defensive perspicacity, 
And hold on to witness my feet velocity, 
‘Cause I’m not giving away this shot. 
5. The best catcher in the NL will be a rookie in San Diego. 
At a moment when position players seem to hit the majors as fully-formed talents (Acuna, Trout, Harper, Bryant, Soto, Bellinger), it’s a little hard to get excited about a player who works their way up the levels. That said, Padres backstop Francisco Mejia, acquired in a trade for reliever Brad Hand, is a strong-armed catcher who has hit at every level except the majors, and should get playing time in a platoon role. Here’s a guess that he out-performs other NL backstops in wRC+, even in a half-time role. 
6. Brandon Nimmo will pace the NL in on-base percentage.
This isn’t all that bold, as Nimmo had a .404 on-base percentage last season. I’m just making this prediction to point out that Brandon Nimmo is a much better hitter than most people realize.
7. Cody Bellinger will lead the NL in home runs.
The NL Rookie of the Year in 2017, Bellinger suffered through a less-than-excellent sophomore season that saw his HR rate fall from once ever 12.3 at-bats to once every 22.3 at-bats. What changed? Almost nothing: Bellinger had a little more soft contact, but his general batted-ball profile was nearly identical from 2017 to 2018: he just got very different results. The mighty slugger’s results will rebound big in 2019, and Bellinger will pace the senior circuit in dingers in 2019.
8. Josh Donaldson will not bounce back.
Donaldson, one of the best players in the game in recent years, has been successful because he’s been able to walk a fine line, incorporating a pull-heavy, launch-angle reliant approach to develop into one of the game’s best hitters. But Donaldson’s groundball rate spiked last year, and he’s been chasing more pitches out of the zone while generating less contact. Hitters of Donaldson’s age frequently go through an adjustment: the bat slows down, and the approach that brought success is no longer effective. Some hitters make the adjustment (David Ortiz comes immediately to mind), and some don’t. Just a hunch, but I think Donaldson’s approach is going to prove difficult to adjust, and his days as an elite hitter are behind him. 
9. The Red Sox will repeat as 100-game winners. And they’ll lose the AL East.
It’s tough to repeat as a 100-game winner, but the Red Sox will pull it off, with the help of a Rafael Devers breakout, and sold seasons from Price, Porcello, and Eovaldi. But the Yankees are just as good as their rivals up I-95, and they’ll be a little better than Boston this year.
10. Andrew McCutchen will eclipse his single-season bests in at least two of these: homeruns, runs scored, and on-base percentage. 
The former NL MVP had a quietly strong 2018 season, and will start 2019 leadoff for an extremely strong Phillies lineup. Traded to the Yankees late, McCutchen excelled in the #1 slot for the Bombers, posting a .421 on-base percentage during his brief AL cameo. Here’s guessing he maintains that success, and benefits from the firepower behind him in Philly. 
Those are my predictions for 2019. Feel free to post yours in the comments section below, and we’ll check back on them at the end of the season. 
David Fleming is a writer living in western Virginia. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here. He very occasionally tweets at DavidFlemingJ1. 

COMMENTS (13 Comments, most recent shown first)

Michael Taylor will end up back in the minor leagues
10:11 AM Mar 26th
To Maris's point: I'm MORE optimistic about him because he was a free agent acquisition for the Royals. I don't think the Royals would have committed $5 million without having an intention of playing him, and I don't see a whole lot of reasons for the Royals to not roll the dice and see what he can bring to the table.

I think changes of scenery can help players, and it was obvious the Reds wanted to in a different direction. For Hamilton, he moves from a hitter's park to a pitcher's park where his speed has more value on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. And...he gets to be leader on a young team. A change of teams allows a change of roles, of identities. Hamilton was always going to be a busted prospect on the Reds: he wasn't going to shake that. He gets to be something different in KC. I'm interested in what he'll be.

He might not be any good. Speed goes quick, and almost all of Hamilton's value is as a fast player. But he's having a good spring, and he's with the right team. We'll see what happens.

4:29 PM Mar 25th
Also: thanks for the predictions, Terry (VB), and the deep dive into Junis.

The one note I've seen on his spring is that his velocity has taken a nice spike upwards, which is always a nice little indicator in the early goings. I'm optimistic about him. I think if he hits 4.0 WAR by any of the versions, it'll be the BB-Ref one, which is a little less slanted to the high-K pitchers.

I'm also all-in on Garrett Hampson...I just didn't want my bold predictions to ALL center around the guys I targeted for fantasy this year. I think he'll be a lot of fun, though he could get some competition from Nick Senzel for NL ROY.
4:21 PM Mar 25th
I'm with everything you're saying about that type of player. I love to see them, I love to see them do well, and I'm skeptical of the common sabermetric ism that those 'dynamic' aspects don't have considerable value. It's easy to see why you like him, but I don't think it's so easy to see why you're high on the possibility that he'll do well.
Maybe you don't really 'mean' that -- maybe you're just allowing yourself a 'fan' prediction that you know will probably be wrong....
3:15 PM Mar 25th
Well...I like Billy Hamilton because he is an interesting player.

When Billy Hamilton reaches base...granting that he does not reach base with any respectable regularity...he changes the dynamics of play. The pitcher and catcher change their approach, and the infielders and outfielders change their approaches. He pressurizes the game in a way that is very rare, and thus very interesting. Do you turn the channel when Hamilton is on first? I don't. I want to see if the catcher is going to get him.

Hamilton has had an interesting career arc. He was a career right-handed hitter who started hitting lefty in Double-A. That doesn't happen a lot: a prospect who has already been drafted asking to switch hands. That definitely doesn't happen to prospects who is having a record-breaking minor-league season, as Hamilton was having.

He was a shortstop who learned how to play center in the majors, and turned out to be really great at it. That's interesting, too, that he could learn that skill so quickly. He's fun to watch as a defensive player. He makes plays that no one else can make.

He's gotten chances that other players haven't received. Dyson is probably 90% the player Hamilton is, but Dyson hasn't gotten the chances Hamilton has. So that's interesting: we get to see what other burner-first players might be like, and theorize how they can be utilized.

And Hamilton seems like a very nice person. He has gotten a lot of attention, and his successes and failures have been covered with more attention than most player receive. He's been asked to do a lot by the teams he's played for, and he's been granted some faith and then seen that faith taken away. He hasn't grouched about it significantly; as far as I can tell he's just tried to be the best player he is capable of being. He's easy to root for.

He's certainly not perfect, and we can argue whether or not he's even good. What draws me to him has nothing to do with any measure of his value, and everything to do with the nature of who he is as a player. I like him because the combination of what he can do and can't do is fairly unique to today's game, and because the arc of his career has been unique. He's interesting. I like interesting things.
2:26 PM Mar 25th
I have never understood your love affair with Billy Hamilton. Easily one of the worst offensive players I've ever seen who has received a real shot at being a regular. Might get another one with the Royals. I wouldn't bet on Hamilton even playing 75 games let alone getting 75 SBs. You can't steal 1st base.
11:48 AM Mar 25th
Another weird thing about Junis is his home run distribution. In 30 starts, he allowed none 14 times and one eight times, but three or more six times. In those six games he allowed 20 home runs in 29 innings. For the rest of the season, he allowed 12 home runs in about 150 innings.

That might be fairly normal, I don't know. But on the good side of the ledger, just one of the 3-homer games came after August 1, when he reverted to his old 2-pitch repertoire. He gave up six home runs in his final 60 innings, after 26 in his first 117, five of them in two starts, one total in the other eight.

That's in line with Ervin Santana's career, loosely anyway. Santana was always like that, the little girl with the curl who, when he was off, got knocked off the mound like Charlie Brown. For the record, Santana had three seasons of at least 3.9 WAR.

11:10 AM Mar 24th
Junis is an interesting player; a 29th round draft pick in 2013, he worked his way steadily through the minors with an Ervin Santana-esque repertoire of 60 percent four-seam fastballs, 39 percent wipeout sliders, 1 percent bugs bunny curves and a 58-foot change that rolled to the backstop about twice a month. Once he made it to the show, he was told his 2-pitch combo wouldn’t work in the big leagues, so he tried to expand it.

He got off to a terrific start in 2018 (no runs on 4 combined hits in a pair of 7-inning starts), but quickly hit a rough patch after an 8-inning start on April 20, posting a 6.04 era in 16 starts, 89.1 innings over the next three months. He still wasn’t walking huge numbers of hitters, but for him a 3.1 bb/9 rate was massive, nearly double his typical rate.

Pitching coach Cal Eldred convinced him to go back to his basic 2-pitch repertoire and throw mostly 4-seamers, and it seemed to work. After his August 1 start, his era was 5.12. From there to the end of the season, in 60 innings over 10 starts, his k/bb ratio was 58/8 and he posted a 3.00 era.

I agree with you, Maris, that 4 WAR will be a stretch, but it’s supposed to be a bold prediction. The largest problem with getting 4 WAR will be that he’s an unusual pitcher. He doesn’t get tons of strikeouts, and most versions of WAR – for logical reasons – punish pitchers for getting the wrong sorts of outs.

I could go seven paragraphs about why this makes sense for WAR but artificially lowers the value of a pitcher like Junis, but either you already know what I mean or you won’t believe me, so I’ll skip it. The simple answer is that there are exceptions to every rule, but generalizations (WAR is necessarily a generalization) need rules.

Anyway, Junis, even through the control issues, consistently pitched 5-6 innings every start with the occasional foray into the 7th and 8th innings. I would not be surprised if he pitched 200 innings and posted a 3.50 era. Mike Clevinger tossed 200 innings last year, striking out 207 and posting a 3.02 era, 5.2 WAR according to BBR. Junis could do that, at the top of his Pecota prediction range.

Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if that 3.50 era was 4.50, the innings count was 175, and he posted another 1-and-change WAR number. That’s why it’s a bold prediction. :)

9:50 AM Mar 24th
I think nettles9 could be right -- and that the wrong ones will be Junis and Hamilton.

About Junis, speaking admittedly beyond-ignorantly, having never heard of him.... just looking at the numbers, I would think that his slightly-below-average K rate (including in that late-season sample) is just as significant as the great K/BB rate....
Well actually, looking just at what you have in boldface about him, which is that we'll know him by year end, I can easily see that being right; heck, you've got me knowing him now :-) .....but I'd guess (casually, which is all I can do) that he'll have a nice little 3rd year but not anything like a "breakthrough" year.
How much "WAR"?
You're saying 4+.
Let's see.... (goes to look at some pitching WAR numbers....)
In his 2 years, he's had 1.4 and 1.2...

WOW -- saying 4+ is going pretty far out on a limb.
Here are some WAR numbers from last year:
James Paxton had a darn good season; he had 2.9 WAR.
Tanaka had 2.9.
Kevin Gausman, who had a quite good year, had 2.2.
I'll say '2' for Junis for this year -- and that will represent a pretty good year.


Hamilton: Dunno what makes you think he'll reach base enough to have a chance for that many SB's, or what makes you think he'll reach base enough for the Royals or whatever team he winds up on to play him enough to have even half that many.
12:02 AM Mar 24th
My bold prediction is that 8 out of 10 of Dave’s predictions will be correct.
8:32 PM Mar 23rd
Hamilton will be reduced to pinch running by the all-star break. And that's optomistic.
5:23 PM Mar 23rd
I forgot to say it, but I agree about Puig, too. I think he's poised for a big season, and he might go 30-30.
2:39 PM Mar 23rd
I was starting to worry that you weren’t going to do this article this year, Dave. It’s one of my two favorites you do (the 20-game improvement team is the other one).

Having read your choices, I’ll pick along the same lines, using your picks to set the general area, and respond to yours in the comments below them.

1 (hot rookie): Garret Hampson, my pick to win the NL Rookie of the Year award, will steal more bases than Victor Robles.

I think Vladdie2 is going to win the AL award, but that’s about as bold as predicting rain in Hawaii. I think Robles has some Buxton in him, in that he hasn’t really put up the numbers people expect him to put up yet. I think he’s a better bet to be good, though, and I think he’ll be good this year. I just think Hampson will be better.

2 (sneaky pitcher): Tyler Glasnow will be a top-20 fantasy pitcher, with 200+ strikeouts.

Last year I drafted Blake Snell and Charlie Morton late in just about every draft; Snell won the AL Cy Young award while Morton struck out 200 batters and finished among the best pitchers in the league. This year I’m getting Glasnow late in every draft; I won’t pick him to win the Cy Young award (I got Bauer again, doubling down), but I think he’ll have a Morton-ish year.

3 (sneaky position player): Yoan Moncada will make the AL all-star team.

See what I did there? Moncada has been largely forgotten by the gushing scouts who anointed him after the Sale trade, but he was actually kind of ok last year, even with 217 punchouts. He drew 67 walks and kept his slugging percentage over .400 (by an inch, but it counts). His defensive numbers are pretty bad at second base, but they were good in 2017, so there’s still hope there. His best shot at the all-star team is that there might not be that much competition. Gleybar Torres will likely get the start, but there really aren’t any other high-level pivots in the American League. Most of the pivot talent is in the other league.

4 (stubborn double-down): Chris Archer will make the NL all-star team.

Like you and Hamilton, I think every year is going to be THE year, the year when Archer explodes into the dominant mound force I think he can be. It’s never been a bold prediction before – lots of people thought Archer was on the verge of greatness – but he lost his bandwagon after the worst season of his career. He’s with the Pirate pitching gurus now, though. Can they get him turned around? Archer still has the stuff, the velocity.

Regarding your boy Billy, it’s possible. The Royals look like they might decide to just run like crazy and have fun with it, in which case Hamilton might have a chance. But I suspect it’s more likely that Whit Merrifield will be the one who win the team steals title. You can’t steal first base, unfortunately.

5 (unknown standout): Shane Bieber will give the Indians five pitchers with at least 200 strikeouts, along with Bauer, Kluber, Carrasco and Clevinger.

I already did Hampson (unknown rookie) and Moncada (surprise positional leader) so I’ll use this slot to pimp my boy Bieber. No, not that one. Also, I’m doubling down on the Indian staff, who I think I picked to have four 200-k guys last year.

6 (pimping my ride): Trevor Bauer will win the AL Cy Young award.

It’s not as bold this year as it was last year, of course. I’m just making this prediction to point out that Bauer is a much better pitcher than most people realize. ??

7 (breakout bat): Danny Murphy will win the NL batting and ops titles.

The move to Colorado is a huge help, obviously, but he’s old and oft-injured, which doesn’t help. Is this bold enough to be called bold? I guess it’s sort of bold. Bellinger is about that sort of bold too, I think, so it’s about an even level of boldness.

8 (Donaldson): Direct challenge time: I think Donaldson goes 30-100, and gets some MVP votes.

A really bold prediction would be 35-120, a .300+ batting average, 120 runs scored and he WINS the MVP. I’m not that bold.

9 (team prediction): The Cincinnati Reds will win more games than the second-place team in the AL Central, but finish fourth in their own division.

I should go really bold and say last place, but I think the Pirates might be terrible. Well, except for Archer.

10 (old guy renaissance): Miggy Cabrera will stay healthy enough to play 120 games and reach his career averages in two of the three slash categories.

They are .316-.395-.551. I think you are right about Cutch, by the way. He was really good last year, but the stadium hid it; the 2019 Phils will be the best offensive context he’s ever played in.

As always, Dave, thanks for the great article, and the chance to toss out my two cents.

2:36 PM Mar 23rd
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