Fantasy is a speculative game. Predict the future, and you look like a genius. Don't, and you're painfully human. Gazing into the crystal ball, here's our view on nine intriguing over/unders entering spring training.
Eric Hosmer, who failed miserably to cash in on his spring success last year, home runs 19.5
Brandon – OVER. I definitely think Hos will rebound from a forgettable '12, and he's having a strong spring, but I doubt he ever gets too far above this number. It's just not his profile. I'm putting him down for 22 HRs for next year, and for the many years that follow.
Andy – OVER, but not by much. Hosmer is probably too much of a line-drive/ground-ball guy to ever deliver a huge homer total, but 20 certainly isn't out of reach in a healthy season. The guy hit 19 in 128 games in 2011.
Brad – UNDER. The man is a nuisance to ground vermin sporting a 1.72 GB/FB over his first two big league seasons. Unless he experiences a dramatic shift in fly-balls, he's a 15-18 HR contributor, nothing more.
Category killer Dan Uggla batting average .239.5
Andy – UNDER. Uggla wasn't especially unlucky last season. His problem was that he was bad at baseball, delivering one of the game's worst contact rates (70.1). This is not a player who's going to age well.
Brad – UNDER. He's trending south in a hurry in several key batted ball categories while his strikeout/swinging strike rates continue to climb. He's officially the Rob Deere of second basemen.
Scott – UNDER. Keep this radioactive batting average off my roster, mack. Uggla has already collected 11 whiffs in 21 spring at-bats, which is difficult to do. And entering his Age-33 season, I can't excuse what's gone down the last two years. He is what he is.
Chase Utley, who's knees are held together by paperclips and Big League Chew, games played 119.5
Brad – UNDER. His knee will explode randomly on a routine trot to second base ... Opening Day.
Scott – I'd love to see it, but Utley is in a three-year cascade with respect to health and most key stat indicators. The prudent call is UNDER.
Dalton – OVER. Utley hasn't played in 120 games since 2009, and he's 34 years old. Still, he's had one of his healthier offseasons in recent memory and is already appearing in games in spring training, which has been a rarity of late. I'll say he plays in 125 games in 2013.
Buzzy 2B/SS eligible Rock Josh Rutledge combined homers/steals 29.5
Scott – UNDER, perhaps emphatically so. Rutledge collapsed over his final 31 games last year (.181/.235/.276, six walks, 33 strikeouts), as pitchers figured him out. Why throw Rutledge a strike when he'll gladly hack away at a ball? I could see him being one of the biggest letdowns of the 2013 season.
Dalton – UNDER. I get that he combined for 15 in just 277 at-bats last season as a rookie and benefits from playing in Coors Field. But this is someone who also had a 34:6 K:BB ratio over his final 32 games, batting .197 over that span. I'm not a huge believer.
Brandon – OVER. Slated to start at 2B and hit in front of CarGo and Tulo, I see Rutledge getting over this number. He was 21/21 last season split near-equally between Double-A and Colorado. And let's remember that there's not a more forgiving place to hit than Colorado.
Andy – I wasn't originally asked this question, but I'm volunteering an answer: WAY UNDER. Rutledge was schooled over the final month of 2012. This is a player who probably needs an extended visit to Triple-A, a level he skipped. I won't be surprised if he opens with a .190-ish month and finds himself in the minors in May.
Slow-growing Starlin Castro home runs in year-three 17.5
Dalton – OVER. Castro just hit 14 homers (including zero in April) as a 22-year-old last season and could be in store for a true breakout with 1,783 major league at-bats already under his belt. A 20/30 type season can be expected.
Brandon – OVER. Like Hosmer, this is another "just barely over." I'm guessing Castro will peak in the mid-20s power range in a few years, with incremental steps towards that plateau coming over the next 2-3 years. He had 14 last year. I'll give him another four on top of that total (18) for '13
Andy – I'll take the UNDER here, because he's never reached this total. I see this as the outer range for his power projection this year, so it's possible. Wrigley is a strange park, capable of playing as extremely pitcher-friendly or extremely hitter-friendly, depending on wind and weather. If Castro gets favorable conditions, perhaps he can increase his power totals ... but again, I'm not betting on it.
Human kite-in-a-hurricane Evan Longoria RBI 99.5
Andy – OVER. He can reach this total even if he makes a DL visit at some point. Longoria is just 27 years old, with a pair of 100-RBI seasons to his credit.
Brad – UNDER. He possesses the baseline talents to easily destroy this number, but he hasn't registered 500 at-bats in a season since 2010. Smart money says bet on the trend continuing.
Scott – This feels like a games-played question and opinions are all over the map: Bill James gives 154 games to Longoria, while ZiPS checks in at 125. While I'm somewhat reluctant to pay an expectant price for Longoria given how he's broken the last two years, I'm still projecting him for 140 or more games in 2013, and that will push him OVER the RBI count.
Shortstop Speed Showdown: Jean Segura or Everth Cabrera
Brandon – CABRERA. Segura is pretty unproven at the MLB level (151 AB), whereas Cabrera is coming of a season with the Padres in which he swiped 44 bases. I'm taking a "show me" stance with Segura.
Andy – CABRERA. As much as I like Segura, I think 30-35 steals is the right number for him in his first full season. Cabrera just led the NL with 44 steals in 48 attempts, and he only appeared in 115 games.
Brad – SEGURA. Both have cheetahs taped to their backs, but gut feeling says the electric youngster bests Everth by the slimmest of margins.
Pick your favorite M&M color: Mike Moustakas (BLUE) or Will Middlebrooks (RED)
Brad – MOUSTAKAS. His split-brained 2012 doesn't lend much encouragement, but the Royal worked hard this off-season in an attempt to become a more consistent player. I like Middlebrooks, but Moose's long-term ceiling is higher. Duplicate his first half and spread it out over a full 162 games, and he's a 30 homer, 95 RBI stud.
Scott – Both of these players need to improve their zone judgment and contact skills; Middlebrooks walked just two times on the road in 2012, while Pigpen Moustakas (he finds dirt as soon as the game starts) has a career OBP of .301. The allure of Fenway Park nudges me in the direction of MIDDLEBROOKS.
Dalton – MOUSTAKAS. Middlebrooks plays in the far better hitter's park, but Moustakas has the better pedigree and minor league track record (and is also younger). Not that Moustakas has shown great plate discipline, but Middlebrooks' 70:13 K:BB ratio last year is highly worrisome moving forward. Give me the blue M&M.
Lightning rod catcher Salvador Perez long-balls 17.5
Scott – UNDER. As much as I love Perez, he still might be more of a gap hitter at this point in time (he's never gone past three homers in any MLB month). You'll like his full output, but I'm going to stop in the 15-17 homer range.
Dalton – OVER. Only 12 catchers hit 18 or more homers last year, and I don't expect Perez to beat this mark by much, but he can approach 20. He belted 11 home runs over 289 at-bats coming off knee surgery last season as a 22-year-old.
Brandon – UNDER. I'll be targeting Perez in all my leagues, but he's not a straight-up power guy. My guess is that he lands in the 15-17 range with a very pleasing batting average. And that's all I'm looking for.
Baby Bats Three-Way. Pick one: Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo or Freddie Freeman
Brandon – GOLDSCHMIDT. Gotta be Goldy. He's in a great hitting environment in Arizona, he's got 30-HR power upside, and he steals bases (18 last season), which is a huge bonus coming from the 1B spot in your lineup.
Andy – GOLDSCHMIDT. I'm apparently not as bullish with any of these kids as I'm supposed to be, ranking them ninth, 13th and 15th among the first basemen. Goldschmidt gets a small edge, thanks mostly to his modest contributions in steals.
Brad – THE SCHMIDT. Rizzo and Freeman should offer similar productoin in the power cats, but Goldy's stolen base contributions gives the Snake the advantage. Recall from June 1 on last year he ranked top-five among first basemen.
Scott – It's very tempting to go Freeman here (I'm a believer and I love that lineup), but GOLDSCHMIDT gets the nod because of his home park (not that it helped him in 2012) and his willingness to swipe some bags, maybe 20-plus.
Dalton – GOLDSCHMIDT. However, I think this is extremely close, while ADP has Goldy comfortably ahead. For me, these three (among a handful of other first basemen) are coin flips.
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