10 bold predictions for 2021 MLB season

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John Harper
·9 min read
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Francisco Lindor, Gerrit Cole, Juan Soto and Jacob deGrom treated art bold predictions
Francisco Lindor, Gerrit Cole, Juan Soto and Jacob deGrom treated art bold predictions

I didn’t plan it out this way but in making bold predictions for the 2021 season, I wound up favoring the boldest team of all this winter. Yep, the small-market San Diego Padres, who went all-in this winter by making blockbuster trades for star pitchers while investing $340 million in their 22-year-old superstar shortstop.

Maybe if the Mets had made that one more big-splash move I’d have taken a shot at picking them to win it all in a Subway Series. I still think George Springer was the difference-maker in center field they needed to put them on another level, but certainly they have a team that should be in the mix come October.

Same goes for the Yankees, of course, and I think this will be the first year since 2006 that both local teams will be in the postseason. Of course, I made the same prediction the last two years, so it’s up to the Mets to do their part.

On that note, here are my 10 bold predictions:

10. Jameson Taillon Wins AL Comeback Player of the Year Award

The Yankees need at least one of their two big gambles on pitching to pay off, and I believe Taillon has a better chance of staying injury-free than Corey Kluber. Age is a big part of it, as Taillon is 29 while Kluber turns 35 in April and has had an assortment of injuries in recent years, including to his shoulder, which is especially worrisome.

Taillon has looked sharp this spring as he returns from Tommy John surgery and could well pick up where he left off in 2018, going 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After all, getting traded by the Pirates has worked out rather nicely for a couple of other right-handers, Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow.

9. Jack Leiter is the No. 1 Pick in the Draft

If only MLB allowed teams to trade their first-round picks a la the NFL or NBA. Imagine the fun we could have fun speculating about whether one of Al Leiter’s old teams, the Mets or the Yankees, would make an offer to draft his son.

Alas, young Jack will be long gone by the time the local teams draft in June. In fact, the Vanderbilt right-hander is the talk of college baseball these days after throwing 16 no-hit innings over his last two starts: He completed a 16-strikeout no-no against South Carolina and then had another going Friday night against Missouri through seven innings with 10 strikeouts before being pulled for pitch-count preservation.

Coming out of high school in New Jersey two years ago Leiter was projected as a mid-first round pick but let teams know he had every intention of going to Vanderbilt, and so the Yankees wound up taking him in the 20th round merely as a you-never-know type thing. Now scouts say he’s zooming up draft boards and very well could go to the Pirates as the top pick overall.

8. Jarred Kelenic Wins AL Rookie of the Year Award

Sorry, Mets’ fans, but the pain starts getting real now. The Brodie Van Wagenen trade that Mets’ scouts unanimously opposed at the time because of Kelenic’s potential is about to start paying off for the Seattle Mariners.

Ranked as one of the top prospects in baseball and one of the best pure hitters, Kelenic won’t start the season in the majors, either because he missed some time in spring training with a knee injury or because the Mariners want to delay the start of his service-time clock. Either way you can bet he’ll be in Seattle soon, playing center field and likely hitting high in the lineup. Edwin Diaz better be spectacular in Queens this season to at least offer some justification for a trade that didn’t need to be made.

7. Trevor Bauer Shuts Down Twitter Account by July

Have you seen the video of Mariners manager Scott Servais mocking Bauer for essentially saying he wasn’t really trying when he gave up three home runs to Seattle hitters? Servais is as non-controversial as they come and yet he came out firing, albeit in understated sarcastic fashion, because it seems Bauer has a way of getting under everyone’s skin.

Bauer seems to enjoy creating controversy but he’s also sensitive to criticism. And with a higher profile than ever now that he’s the highest-paid pitcher in baseball for the best team in baseball, he’s bound to get in an ugly Twitter fight or three despite his pledge to take more responsibility for his account after his past harassment of a female college student came under scrutiny during his free agency this winter. It doesn’t mean he won’t pitch well but at some point it seems inevitable the Dodgers are going to quietly prevail upon him to take a break from social media.

6. Francisco Lindor Signs Extension, Wins Gold Glove

Lindor has put some not-so-subtle pressure on contract extension talks in the last week with his hot bat, hitting four home runs as a reminder of what he can do as one of the top shortstops in baseball. The Mets need to lock up Lindor as a payoff to their blockbuster trade this winter, and I expect they’ll get it done before Opening Day to the tune of, say, 10 years and $310 million,

Much as Lindor’s home-run power makes the Mets’ lineup among the most dynamic in the National League, his defense should be a difference-maker as well. He won two Gold Gloves in the American League and here’s betting he wins his third this season, which would end the Mets’ drought as the team that has currently gone the longest without one in either league. Juan Lagares in 2014 was their last player to win a Gold Glove. The last Met shortstop to win one was Rey Ordonez in 1999.

5. Juan Soto, Bo Bichette Win MVP Awards

There’s so much more intrigue in the National League these days on this topic than the AL because of the influx of young stars. As many as 10 legit candidates come immediately to mind: Soto, Lindor, Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, Ronald Acuna, Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich, Nolan Arenado, and last year’s winner, Freddie Freeman. And who knows, Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto, and Dom Smith could emerge as contenders if the Mets have a big year.

I’ll go with Soto because, at age 22, he’s looking like the best hitter in baseball still getting better after hitting .351 with a .695 slugging percentage last year when injuries limited him to 47 games.

As for the AL, at age 23 Bichette is a dynamic young shortstop with huge offensive potential who was held back somewhat by a knee injury last year. He could be ready for a monster year with the Blue Jays.

4. Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole Win Cy Young Awards

It would be pretty cool to see deGrom and Cole further establish themselves as the best pitchers in baseball by each winning the Cy Young Award this season, and at this point, the way deGrom looks this spring, routinely throwing 100 mph, it’d be hard not to pick him in the NL.

As it is, over a full season he might have overtaken Bauer last season and made it three straight, but if he does add that third one this year, all he needs to do is stay healthy into his late 30s and he’ll be a Hall of Famer.

Cole, meanwhile, may well have just been hitting his stride 60 games in last year after a few rough outings early, and should be better in his second season as a Yankee. He just has to hope Shane Bieber can’t pitch to a 1.63 ERA over 30 starts.

3. Mets Earn Second Wild Card, Lose to Padres

I’m still giving the edge to the Braves to win the NL East, based on what should be a strong starting rotation and an explosive offense. Plus, the Mets need to prove they can play to their talent level and put an end to the mistakes, poor situational hitting, and bullpen failures that have cost them over the last couple of years.

They may be in the most competitive division in baseball as well, but I think they can nail down that second wild card spot with 89 wins, and then anything is possible. Problem is, I have the Padres winning the first wild-card spot, making for a great matchup, and while deGrom will hold up his end, I’d give the edge to the home team in a game probably settled by the bullpens.

2. Yankees Finally Make It Back to the World Series

The clock is ticking loudly in the Bronx after the Yanks have fallen short in each of the last four postseasons, and their championship drought is now 11 seasons and counting since 2009. They look like the best bet in the AL this season, all the more so after the Rays traded Blake Snell and let Charlie Morton walk as a free agent.

Over 162 games the Yankees should bash their way to the best record in the AL, and then they have to hope that come October: their starting pitching is healthy; they get more timely hits than in recent postseasons; and Aroldis Chapman doesn’t give up another crushing home run. Getting to the World Series would be a nice accomplishment but ultimately I think they’ll have to wait another year for that elusive 28th world title, as I have them to the Padres.

1. Padres Win It All

They set the table for this winter with big-splash signings of Eric Hosmer and Machado the last couple of years, and then they went all-in, making big trades for Snell and Yu Darvish that should put them on even footing against the mighty Dodgers. LA has the edge in the NL West over 162 games with its abundance of overall talent, but I think the Padres have the pitching to take them in a five-game series, as they would likely meet in the NLDS.