Nine bold Fantasy Baseball predictions for 2017

Yoenis Cespedes is back with the Mets after signing another big contract. (AP)
Yoenis Cespedes is back with the Mets after signing another big contract. (AP)

Let’s wrap the draft prep series by making some bold predictions based on my research and some late-breaking news.

1. Bryce Harper wins the Triple Crown this year. He’s locked in already with eight homers and just eight Ks this spring. He’s a likely future Hall of Famer in his age 24 season when epic campaigns happen with great frequency. Think Mickey Mantle, 1956. Add 15 steals, too. Let’s call it .335-44-135-15. Hey, you wanted BOLD.

2. Yoenis Cespedes reaches a new level and battles Harper for some of those Triple Crown categories. He has only struck out six times this spring with six walks. The walk rate keeps creeping up because who wants to pitch to him plus he’s being more selective. Pitchers make enough mistakes that Cespedes will crank 40 homers even in the tough park, as no park can contain him.

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3. Miguel Sano is going to be a bust this year, hitting .230s or worse for the second-straight year. He has not made any progress in making contact, striking out 22 times in spring training as of this writing. Consider that spring training pitching is AA quality. And note that he hit .236 last year despite a .329 BABIP. He’s almost certainly going to have one or two long, benchable slumps.

4. Delino DeShields steals 50 bases. He’s 12-for-12 this spring, reckless running given the games don’t even count. Think of what you have to pay for Billy Hamilton and save that money and roster DeShields instead at a droppable price.

5. Jose Ramirez is at top 30 hitter. I can’t believe I’m saying this either. But there’s nothing flukey in his profile. He’s only 24. He has speed and some power. He rarely Ks. Why pay retail on Francisco Lindor when Ramirez is half the price and does everything Lindor does?

6. Sam Dyson keeps the closer job all year. And the kicker is, you still shouldn’t own him. Dyson throws hard but induces ground balls. I value Ks above all else with closers. So Dyson for me is a third closer. But if you pay for Ks with your starters, he’s perfect given his price and what I believe is a perfect arsenal to keep a pretty easy job. Dyson basically only gives up walks and singles. That’s a hard way to blow a save and especially a string of saves (homers do that).

7. Robert Gsellman is a championship-making $1 pitcher/late-round pick. This is Jake deGrom 2.0. Another guy who was supposed to throw low-90s and threw mid-90s instead. Add that plus slider/cutter and you have the possibility and I would say even probability of a No. 3-level mixed-league starter. He’s also 54 percent grounders last year, which is extreme. I’m not saying a K/9 close to 9.00 is bettable but low-3.00s ERA is.

8. Vince Velasquez is a top 30 pitcher for as long as he’s able to throw. Yes, innings are the fly in the ointment. But worry about them later. Take quality ones now. Velasquez is the best value relative to price on a very intriguing and cheap Philadelphia staff. Oh, he has 25 Ks in 19.2 innings this spring as of this writing. With a 2.75 ERA. But who needs spring stats when you had a 16 K, 0 BB game in the majors. That’s signature significance.

9. Sabermetric darlings Michael Pineda and Robbie Ray again disappoint fantasy owners. I looked at all pitchers since 2000 who like Pineda and Ray had actual ERAs one run or more above their FIP ERA (strikeout-and-walk ERA, essentially). I wanted to see how they fared the next year.

There were 27 pitchers sampled and they made it about 74 percent of the way back to their FIP the next year, on average. This model thus projects Pineda’s ERA this year at 4.08 and Ray’s at 4.04. Plus Pineda has fallen far short of FIP twice in a row now. So odds are greater that he’s not unlucky, he’s just not good. So 4.08 for Pineda is more like a ceiling. The Yankee righty is a two-pitch pitcher with a fastball that hitters crush. So what should we expect?

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