All rankings based on ESPNs Player Rater.
1) Brandon Crawford finishes outside the top 20 at SS.
Crawford finished as the 6th SS in 2015 and it was almost entirely based on career highs in HR and RBI. As we know, RBI are correlated to HRs and if his HRs drop, his RBI should drop too. Crawford nearly doubled his career HR/FB to 16.2% last year. According to ESPN, he was lucky in the HR department with four lucky HRs (tied for 2nd) and 11 just enough HRs (tied for 12th). Given his home park, I think it’s safe to forecast a drop-off in HR. I think the HR drop-off might be severe. Given his poor SB success rate, I also think his SB total might drop. Putting those together gives us a player outside the top 20 at SS.
2) Gregory Polanco finishes as a top 15 OF.
I’ve already professed my love for Polanco and I’m willing to go even further. I think Polanco truly breaks out this year. He can be a five category contributor with the only lagging stat being batting average. I think there’s .270 upside there for the coming year which should put him into the top 20 for OF. I think he ticks up in power as well (and thus RBI) which pushes him into the top 15.
3) Yan Gomes finishes as a top 3 C.
Gomes is another guy I’m really high on. Posey and Schwarber have the top spots on lockdown barring injury but its wide open after that. Gomes is currently being drafted outside of the top 10, but I think he finishes the year as the top catcher behind the big two. Injuries held back Gomes last year but he appears to be healthy heading into 2016. I expect a bounce back to his excellent 2014.
4) Billy Hamilton steals 80+ bases.
Billy Hamilton was able to steal 57 bases in only 454 PA last year. He was only caught 8 times for a success rate of 87.7%. Hamilton did all of that while taking the majority of his PAs from the 9th spot in the order. He was also on base only 27% of the time due to a horribly unlucky BABIP. In 2016, Hamilton should be batting leadoff which will get him a lot more PAs. More PAs combined with a better BABIP should get him on base more which should lead to more SB opportunities. If he can maintain his high success rate from last year, he could easily top 80 steals.
5) Aaron Hicks goes 20/20
I am all in on Aaron Hicks this year. The only thing holding him back is playing time and I am confident that playing time won’t be an issue as soon as April. Once Hicks gets in the starting lineup, he may never leave it. I think Hicks can get 500+ PA if things break right. If he improves on what he did last year, 20/20 is within reach.
6) Either Max Scherzer or Carlos Carrasco win the Cy Young this year
Scherzer was fantastic last year. What held him back with the traditional crowd was the 14-12 record. The Nationals should be a better team this year and that could easily bump Scherzer’s wins up into the high teens. Scherzer was 3rd in the NL in WAR last year and that was with an up and down second half. If Kershaw fatigue hits and Scherzer repeats what he did last year, he can win the Cy Young. Scherzer is currently +1000 to win the NL Cy Young for those into gambling.
Carrasco was very unlucky with defense last year which caused his 3.63 ERA. His FIP was 2.84 and his xFIP was 2.66. It’s safe to say that he was better than his ERA last year. A full year with Lindor at SS and some positive luck should keep his ERA below 3. He has never thrown 200 IP before and that’s a concern, but he looked great at the end of last year. I’m not worried that he will breakdown as he approaches the 200 mark this year. The AL is much more wide open than the NL in terms of Cy Young. If Carrasco can K 200+ with a 2.5 ERA, sub 1 WHIP and 18 wins he should be the guy on the podium at the end of the year. Carrasco is currently +800 to win the AL Cy Young.
7) Mookie Betts beats either Mike Trout or Bryce Harper on the player rater this season
Trout and Harper are the consensus number one and two OFs. I think Mookie Betts can challenge their hold on the throne. Mookie Betts is a five category stud. It wouldn’t take much of a bump for him to move into the top three range. If Betts can get to 25 HR and a .310 average (both within the realm of possibilities) he could find himself on top the OF player rater. Given his age (23), I see improvements across the board for Mookie and a seat atop the throne at the end of the year.
8) Xander Bogaerts hits 20 HRs
Xander Bogaerts has 20 career homeruns in almost 1,300 MLB PA. His career HR/FB is only 6.5% and he’s only his 32.2% of balls in the air. None of that points to a big HR breakout. On the positive side, Bogaerts is a very advanced hitter and has already shown the ability to adapt his swing in individual seasons. Entering his age 23 season, he should be nearing his physical prime. I think he increases his fly ball rate and starts to hit for some real power.
9) Cory Spangenberg finishes as a top 15 2B
Brett Lawrie was the 15th 2B in 2015. He posted a fantasy line of 16 HR, 64 R, 60 RBI, 5 SB and a .260 AVG. I think Spangenberg can beat all of those numbers except for the HRs and RBI. The Padres were the 9th highest scoring team from the 2nd spot in the order last year with 101 runs. Justin Upton is gone, but he’s being replaced with a hopefully healthy Wil Myers. As long as Spangenberg can get on base, he should be able to score at a healthy rate. Spangenberg’s career BA is .274 in the majors. He’s had a .344 BABIP, but he also hits a lot of line drives (25.1%) and has some wheels. Speaking of wheels, Spangenberg could threaten 20 SBs this year over a full season. He really needs to up his SB success rate (career 68%) but he should have the opportunity to run frequently at the very least. According to NFBC, Spangenberg is going as the 27th 2B so there might be a ton of value.
10) Jake Arrieta and Zack Greinke finish outside the top 10 SPs.
Arrieta and Greinke finished 2015 as the #1 and #2 SPs respectively. They were both unbelievable with ERAs well under 2. I think both are still great pitchers, but I think we see a bit of regression from both. That part alone isn’t bold as it’s nearly impossible for them to repeat their 2015s. I think Arrieta is the better of the two SPs moving forward but there are some things that bother me. Last year was the first year he’s ever made it over even 160 innings. The jump from 156.66 to 229 (plus playoffs) is quite large. Arrieta seems like the kind of guy who takes care of his body, but that is a big jump. He also had a .246 BABIP against. Even with the Cubs great defense, that seems very fortunate. Arrieta will be the one who burns me in this prediction but I think we see something closer to 2014 with more innings. Still incredibly valuable, but not top 3 SP valuable.
It’s a little easier to make the case for Greinke finishing outside the top 10. He doesn’t generate the same big Ks as Arrieta but makes up for it by walking practically no one. As fortunate as Arrieta was, Greinke was even worse. He had a .229 BABIP against and an 86.5% LOB rate. Both of those numbers will come back from outer space this year. He’s also moving to a worse park for pitchers. Interestingly, Dodger Stadium and Chase Field are similar in HR park factor, but Chase is a significantly higher run scoring environment. Greinke is good enough to mitigate some of that but it’s still a concern. Greinke also had a 3.22 xFIP last year. If his ERA jumps up above three, he will have no shot at the top 10 with his low (for a top SP) K rate.