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Anthony Franco’s Bold Predictions

Bold Predictions

Khris Davis eclipses 50 home runs

It is unquestioned that Davis is one of the league’s elite power hitters; he has hit 42 and 43 homers, respectively, in the past two seasons. He still seems to be improving, though. Davis became more selective at the plate last season, he trimmed his ground-ball rate a few percentage points, and there seems to be some remaining upside for Davis based on his batted-ball profile. Despite ranking second among qualified hitters in average exit velocity on balls in the air last season, he ranked fifth in HR/FB rate. Oakland’s pitcher-friendly park probably played some role in that. Nevertheless, it was mostly because he was hitting the ball to all-fields more than ever. While Davis has the elite raw power to make an approach like that work (and did last season), pulled fly balls remain the best possible batted ball for home runs. Davis should be able to pull a few more fly balls this season to take advantage of his raw power. Oh, and there is no sign that the league-wide home run barrage is going to slow down this season. If Davis can retain his plate discipline improvement from last season while becoming a bit more pull-happy, he could get to 50 homers in 2018.

Magneuris Sierra steals 30 bases

Sierra has long been lauded for his elite speed among prospect writers. He showed that top-of-the-scale speed in his limited MLB time with the Cardinals in 2017. He was also overmatched at the plate, with contact-quality metrics near pitcher levels and subpar plate discipline. Still, he has a slash-and-dash approach that should allow him to post some well above-average batting averages on balls in play, and he has always been willing to run in his minor-league career. He might not be completely ready to play in the major leagues, but he certainly has the opportunity in Miami, competing with Cameron Maybin, Derek Dietrich, and Rafael Ortega for playing time. Clearly in rebuild mode, Miami may elect to give the 21-year-old Sierra substantial playing time this year, particularly if Maybin struggles. Still, Sierra is not the type of elite prospect who teams hold down in the minor-leagues for service time reasons. He will not offer fantasy owners much beyond a decent batting average otherwise, but Sierra has a chance to fly under the radar as a stolen base grab in roto leagues.

Domingo Santana hits fewer than 20 home runs

Santana is coming off an age-24 season that, on the surface, looks like a breakout. He slashed .278/.371/.505, and owners have taken notice, popping him 79th overall on average. Still, Santana’s peripherals have warning signs. He led all qualifiers in HR/FB rate while ranking sixth in BABIP, obscuring a few massive red flags. The most obvious of these is that he strikes out … a lot. His career strikeout rate in MLB sits at a ghastly 31.7%, and, even last season, he struck out nearly 30% of the time he came to the plate. High-strikeout approaches can work, of course, so long as a hitter draws walks and hits for power. Santana did both last season, and he has always had great plate discipline. His batted-ball data, though, is more good than great, casting doubt on the sustainability of his power. He does not hit many fly balls, with his average launch angle last year 226th out of 387 hitters with at least 100 batted balls. He ranked 61st among that group in exit velocity on balls in the air; that’s good, but hardly supportive of a league-best HR/FB rate. While spring training statistics are far from absolute, Santana’s league-worst 48.9% strikeout rate in the Cactus League thus far is alarming. With a full season of playing time, he would easily eclipse 20 home runs, but given Milwaukee’s work this offseason to fortify their outfield, Santana’s defensive shortcomings, and their place in the projected standings, he may not have that long of a leash. It would not be surprising if he finds his playing time dwindling as the summer approaches.

Sonny Gray will be a top-15 starting pitcher

Sonny Gray used to be an ace, a ground ball machine who avoided walks and had passable strikeout rates. The ground balls never went away, but spotty health and some bad home run luck plagued him in 2016. He was almost entirely back in 2017, though. He is coming off a career-best season in strikeout rate, and his stuff almost returned to its prior levels. The run environment has changed since Gray’s prime, and he has fallen victim to the home run over the past two seasons. Especially now that he has moved to the AL East, he’s risky, but backed by an elite offense and bullpen, he is in a great position for wins. He has a real chance to sink his way to another low-3.00s ERA.

Robbie Ray will be a top-five starting pitcher

Maybe this isn’t that bold, since others at Fantrax have predicted even bigger things for Ray this season. Still, he’s coming off the board 13th among starters, barely within the top 50 overall. Owners seem skeptical, potentially writing off his 2017 numbers as an unrepeatable breakout year. It’s more like two years at this point, though. Ray’s strikeout numbers were elite in 2016 as well, but, because he struggled to strand runners, he posted an ERA near 5.00. Strand rate tends to fluctuate wildly year-to-year, and Ray proved no exception. In 2017, he boosted his strand rate by 14 percentage points, cutting his ERA by two runs as a result. In 2018, he will likely settle somewhere in between those two extremes. Any strand rate regression, though, seems likely to be offset by the installation of a humidor at Chase Field, a contact-suppression device that stands to benefit Ray more than any other pitcher on the Diamondbacks staff. Better contact management coupled with elite strikeout totals have Ray poised for a huge season.

Quick Hits

  • At age 34, Zack Greinke finally slows down and settles in as a mid-rotation type rather than a true ace.
  • Ozzie Albies combines for 50 stolen bases and home runs.
  • Nicholas Castellanos hits 30 home runs and outperforms Alex Bregman.
  • Freddie Freeman stays healthy and finishes as the top fantasy option at first base.

Previous Bold Predictions

Keith Farnsworth

Eric Cross

Ryan Cook

Van Lee

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