Go bold or go home -- that's what I always say.
All right, that's the first time I've ever said it. But seeing as so many of us have figuratively gone home, meaning we've been eliminated in our Fantasy Baseball leagues, there's seemingly nothing left to do but to set our sights on 2024. And at least for now, I suggest we do so boldly.
But what does bold even mean? What separates a bold prediction from, you know, a
good reasonable one?
I guess it's the fun factor. These predictions I'll admit are meant to push the boundaries of what's plausible. The odds are against them being literally correct, but hopefully they'll at least be directionally correct. I'm exaggerating to drive home a point, in other words, but with the important caveat that the exaggeration is at least within the realm a possibility.
Perhaps I should just shut up now, for fear of preemptively pouring cold water over my hot takes. The steak needs its sizzle more than I need to be understood, I've always said.
Yeah, OK, that's another first.
Tarik Skubal is the AL Cy Young winner
Having picked up a couple miles per hour on his fastball following last year's elbow flexor surgery, the left-hander has taken the form of a near perfect pitcher, boasting elite strike-throwing and swing-and-miss tendencies with a ground-ball rate in excess of 50 percent. The only remaining question was whether the Tigers would let him work deep enough into games to make the most of it, and they've answered in the affirmative here recently.
Nolan Jones produces like a second-round pick
Whether it's because of his high strikeout rate, his slow-to-mature prospect stock or the fact we've been burned by a number of Coors Field fakeouts in recent years, Jones isn't getting the appreciation he deserves in Fantasy. But he's a legitimate talent, his keen batting eye and high exit velocity readings having delivered numbers nearly as good on the road as at home. As for whether second-round production is attainable, his 162-game pace (a .286 batting average, 29 homers, 91 RBI, 93 runs and 29 stolen bases) pretty much says it all.
Second base has more 20/20 players than any other infield position
It's a bold claim given that not a single second baseman has joined the 20-homer, 20-steal club so far this season, but Jazz Chisholm, Ha-seong Kim and Bryson Stott aren't so far off while others like Mookie Betts, Jose Altuve. Marcus Semien and Ozzie Albies have done so previously. Meanwhile, Matt McLain and Zack Gelof seem like a cinch to do so with a full season of at-bats while Gleyber Torres, Jonathan India and Andres Gimenez at least have a puncher's chance. The point is that second base is brimming with upside, so it's not a position you'll need to prioritize early in drafts.
Cole Ragans leads the AL in strikeouts
I'm not bold enough to say he'll beat out Spencer Strider for the MLB lead, but Ragans has emerged as a bat-missing forced since adding a slider to his arsenal with the Royals. His changeup was already a wipeout pitch, one that has long been compared to Cole Hamels', and he pairs it with a fastball that occasionally reaches triple digits. The big question is if his arm will hold up for a full season.
Jackson Holliday, Jackson Chourio and Wyatt Langford all make the opening day roster
While still mere teenagers, the Jacksons are each getting a cursory look at Triple-A to close out the season, almost as if just to check a box prior to next spring. As quickly as they've moved so far in their minor-league careers, it wouldn't make sense for them to spend all of 2024 at Triple-A. If they're going to use up their rookie eligibility anyway, they might as well be there from the start so they can potentially score their team some extra draft picks (that's how it works, according to the latest CBA). Langford is a slightly different case as a 21-year-old who was drafted just this summer, but he's already taken a wrecking ball to the Rangers' entire minor-league system.
Justin Steele has an ERA north of 3.50
Steele's bumpy finish could be a simple case of a young guy wearing down, or it could be the inevitable reckoning for a pitcher whose xERA and xFIP have both been in the mid-threes all season. An ERA in the low threes would be a fairer estimate for next year, but given that he's not particularly adept at missing bats nor limiting hard contact, a mid-threes ERA is in the realm of possibility (as those ERA estimators also suggest).
Cristopher Sanchez has an ERA south of 3.00
Given his lack of prospect pedigree, his fairly advance age (he'll turn 27 this offseason) and his underwhelming minor-league track record, Sanchez doesn't fit the profile of an upside play, but there's a lot to like in the underlying data. He walks no one, puts the ball on the ground at a rate that would lead the league some years, and has a genuinely elite pitch in his changeup. If he gets the home runs under control, which seems likely given his ground-ball rate, there aren't a lot of ways for hitters to do damage against him.
Jake Burger becomes a 40-homer guy
Maybe 40 isn't such a stretch given that he's closing in on 35 despite being just a part-time player at the start of the year, but my point here is that Burger is genuinely an elite power hitter and not some goofy fly-by-night. Only four batters -- Ronald Acuña, Giancarlo Stanton, Shohei Ohtani and Matt Olson -- have hit a ball harder than him this season, and while he has toned down his swing a bit since joining the Marlins (which explains the improved strikeout rate and batting average), nine of his 15 hardest-hit balls have come with them.
Brett Baty breaks through as a top-10 third baseman
So his grand unveiling as the Mets starting third baseman this year didn't go as hoped. Big whoop. Baty still has a first-round pedigree, a middle-of-the-order profile and some of the most ridiculous Statcast readings we've ever seen at the minor-league levels. He gained valuable experience that he's certain to build on in 2024 with the Mets seemingly committed to a development year. I expect Baty's sophomore season to go even better than Spencer Torkelson's did for the Tigers this year.
Ronny Mauricio has more combined home runs and stolen bases than Francisco Lindor
What a double-play combo this could turn out to be. Lindor is a safe bet for somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 combined home runs and stolen bases, which would be a tall -- nay, bold -- order for Mauricio in his rookie season. But he's equipped to do it if everything breaks right. He's still learning how to elevate and what to swing at, but he hits the ball as hard as anyone -- like, his first batted-ball in the majors was the Mets' hardest-hit ball of the year. And if nothing else during his brief big-league trial, he's demonstrated that he's not shy on the base paths.
Ryan Pepiot leads the majors in WHIP
It's not just that Pepiot has gone from being a bad control pitcher to a good control pitcher this year. He's walking no one. He's also putting the ball in the air a lot, but with the sort of weak contact that results in harmless flyouts. For all the ups and downs during his climb to the majors, his final form is uniquely suited for limiting baserunners, it seems, and seeing as he's no slouch in the strikeout department either, it's possible he's much more than just a WHIP specialist.
Anthony Rizzo bounces back to hit 30 home runs
We haven't seen Rizzo play since Aug. 1 because of a concussion, but he suffered that concussion way back on May 28 and was batting .304 (62 for 204) with 11 homers and an .880 OPS at the time. Neurological testing (better late than never) revealed cognitive impairment and slower reaction times, which really puts his poor performance this year into perspective. Presuming a full recovery is on the table (and we sure hope it is, for reasons that go beyond baseball), his swing remains perfectly suited for Yankee Stadium.
Kyle Harrison has a rookie season to rival Kodai Senga's
If you take a look at Senga's numbers this year -- a 2.96 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 4.1 BB/9 and 10.8 K/9 in 161 1/3 innings -- that's what I think Harrison is capable of next year. There will be control problems, as there have been for Senga, but Harrison has made considerable strides in that area in recent weeks. There will be workload considerations, as there have been for Senga, but the Giants have handled Harrison more conventionally than they have most of their starters, at least so far. And there will be strikeouts, lots of them, as evidenced by Harrison's 14.6 K/9 over his minor-league career.
The Reds have three players with 30-plus homers
Spencer Steer is the one Cincinnati player who'll eke out even 20 homers this year, so how do I think three will get to 30 next year? Well, the Reds still play in the most homer-friendly ballpark and just graduated a bunch of ridiculously talented hitters this year. If you were to pin me down on which three, I'd say Elly De La Cruz, Christian Encarnacion-Strand and, believe it or not, Noelvi Marte (check out the exit velocities), but that park could potentially turn a 20-homer guy like Steer, Matt McLain or even Jonathan India into a 30-homer guy with a little luck.
Vinnie Pasquantino slashes .300/.400/.500
No, I haven't forgotten about him, and I also haven't forgotten that the torn labrum that ended his season may have lingered for weeks prior to it, originally being classified as "shoulder discomfort." Pasquantino was slashing .298/.383/.539 through 38 games, which isn't so far from from this bold prediction, and he was more or less that caliber of hitter for his entire minor-league career.
Tim Anderson becomes Tim Anderson again
With only one home run and the third-worst OPS among qualifiers, Anderson is having such an embarrassingly bad season that most will presume he's just done at age 30. But the exit velocity readings, the strikeout rate and even deeper plate discipline measurements like chase rate and zone-contact rate all suggest his skills haven't actually diminished that much, if at all. It could be one of those cases where an early injury (i.e., a sprained knee in April) wrong-footed him and he wasn't able to right himself over the course of play.
Michael King makes the All-Star team as a starting pitcher
The one-time ace reliever's velocity hasn't slipped even a smidge since the Yankees began transitioning him to the starting rotation in late August, and the first time he pushed beyond six innings, he went seven and struck out 13. Boasting two offspeed pitches with better than a 40 percent whiff rate, King looks like he'll be just as effective in a starting role, such that he may resemble an ace for the first half of 2024, before the innings management kicks in.
Jonathan Aranda and Michael Busch get traded somewhere and thrive
The Rays could use a shortstop and the Dodgers a starting pitcher. Aranda and Busch could use an opportunity as 25-year-olds who've put up just insane numbers, whether traditional or advanced, at Triple-A. They've gotten looks in the majors already but deserve to have a job handed to them at this point, and it doesn't seem like the Rays or Dodgers are going to make that happen. Of course, I had also hoped Aranda and Busch would be moved at the deadline.
Chris Sale gets back to being a 200-strikeout guy
I deserve at least one layup amid my bold predictions, and I consider this one to be that seeing as it only require Sale to remain relatively healthy for a full season. There's a perception that he just doesn't have it anymore, but throughout his fits and starts over the past five years, the strikeout rate has remained elite. I'm not making any predictions regarding his ERA, though I suspect if he does hold up physically and continue to strike out 11 batters per nine innings, it would simply have to improve.
Alec Burleson is the Cardinals' most productive outfielder
Burleson's .331 batting average and .905 OPS in the minors last year obviously didn't translate to his rookie season, but he was 95th percentile for strikeout rate and about 60th percentile for average and max exit velocity. That's a good combination, especially when you consider that his preternatural bat-to-ball skills were actually undermining his power, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Cardinals stressed to him all year to lay off pitches he could hit in favor of pitches he could clobber, and the results were beginning to show just before he fractured his thumb in late September. For as much upside as Lars Nootbaar and especially Jordan Walker have, it's possible Burleson maxes out his first.