We talk a lot about “ceiling” in fantasy baseball, and this is mine. This is as good as it gets, at least in my wildest dreams, anyway. It’s the bold and the stupidful, with 75% of it likely to never occur. With less than two weeks to go until real baseball starts up, here are my bold bullpen predictions for 2018. As always, remember to forget this article ever existed come midseason.
Archie Bradley Finishes as a Top 10 Closer
Let’s start off light and ease into things, shall we? If Bradley was entering the season as the Diamondbacks closer, he’s ALREADY a top-10 closer. However, since Arizona continues to flirt with this whole Brad Boxberger thing, we play the waiting game. In Boxberger’s defense, he’s been good this spring, allowing just one run in four innings, making life hard for Bradley owners living in hope of some serious save opportunities. What’s interesting to note, though, is a) Boxberger’s on again/off again arm soreness, and b) how manager Torey Luvollo is handling this whole thing. None of Boxberger, Bradley, or Yoshihisa Hirano has earned a save opportunity or been kept in long enough to finish a game during March, which makes me think Bradley could find himself in the closer role sooner than later.
Whether that arm soreness turns into something more sinister, or Boxberger simply begins to struggle, Bradley with ball in hand in the ninth inning = must own. He features a fastball that can reach 99 MPH and a curveball that induced a 73% groundball rate. If outside factors like Boxberger’s health/performance don’t thrust Bradley into the closer spotlight, the fans just might — they love him in Arizona, and you only have to look back at last year’s Wild Card game to know why.
Shohei Ohtani Winds Up in the Angels’ Bullpen
This is probably as bold as I go, but since the hype train has started to slow down, I do feel like this doesn’t sound quite so crazy. All right, so Spring Training has looked like this for the Angels’ $2.3 million man: 2.2 innings pitched, nine hits, eight earned runs, three home runs and just five strikeouts. No wonder Ohtani is popping up on “do not draft” lists everywhere, right? Okay, the leash is probably pretty long here, but if Ohtani continues to struggle through April/May/June, at what point does the Angels’ front office stop sacrificing wins for the sake of their pride?
I’m not saying Ohtani can’t figure this thing out rather quickly, and I certainly don’t like putting too much stock into spring numbers, but there were always question marks surrounding some of his pitches. A fastball that can clock 102 MPH looks great on paper, just like it does against Japanese hitting, but with such little movement, we’ve already seen elite Major League boppers like Nolan Arenado take him to town. There are also the minor injury concerns surrounding October’s ankle surgery. All in all, sometimes I think Ohtani and his fastball could work better in a bullpen role. I’ve been wrong before, but if his slider and forkball aren’t on point come midseason, the bullpen is a very real possibility.
We Finally See Joe Jimenez … For Good
You and I both have been waiting for this one. This time last year, Jimenez was the must-stash prospect that every dynasty league owner had to have. 2017 then fizzled into an injury-plagued disappointment that’s left us wondering if this story will ever work out. The good news is that Jimenez is only 23 years old, and with the state of the Tigers’ overall pitching situation, it’s a guarantee that we’ll see him sometime this year. But will it be successful? We’ve seen already this spring that Jimenez’s 96 MPH fastball can weave a path of destruction, demonstrated by his three-strikeout performance against the Braves last week. There’s also the feel-good weight loss story that normally works wonders for pitchers. And, of course, perhaps most importantly, there’s the fact that Shane Greene has a serious problem with dishing out unnecessary free passes. The Tigers’ closer finished with a 12% walk rate last season, the 13th highest among all relievers. Jimenez’s command isn’t exactly stellar, either, but with only Alex Wilson and Daniel Stumpf as competition, his performance this spring will go a long way to seeing him earn a potential role as the setup man in the near future.
Wade Davis Finishes with an ERA Over 4.00
At 32-years old we have to expect some regression, but I don’t think fantasy owners are prepared for just how tough 2018 might turn out to be for Davis. His current Fantrax ADP puts him 11th ahead of guys like Brad Hand and Sean Doolittle, but this stretches beyond just the Coors Field effect. There’s the forearm issues, the slight decrease in velocity on most of his pitches, the ‘all of the sudden’ home run balls that were once a rarity on Davis’ resume, and of course, walks. Davis’ BB/9 has slowly crept up to 4.3 over the last few seasons, in large part due to a dramatic 14% drop in fastball usage from 2014-2017. He relies a lot more on his ‘get out of jail’ cutter, and as we’ve seen so far this Spring, that approach can be very effective one day, and very problematic the next. Coors has allowed 108 homers to right handed hitters over the last three years, while Davis allowed five to righties last season, the most during his time as a reliever. The kind of inconsistent performances we’ve seen so far in March will likely reoccur as the regular season rolls along.
Felipe Rivero Finishes as a Top-Five Closer
You could make the case that Rivero already belongs in the top-five discussion, but as you’ll see in Eric Cross’ reliever rankings, he’s still sitting on the fringe at No. 6. You could also make the case that’s a fair call considering the Pirates’ average middle-relief options, but there’s no looking past Rivero’s seventh-best 1.67 ERA and the fact he added even more velocity onto his slider last season. Couple that with a fastball that averages around 98 MPH, and you have a player who can really confuse hitters. Rivero mixes that heat with some nasty breaking stuff, including a slider that allowed just a .033 AVG against last season. Whether it’s in rankings or ADP, Rivero seems to continually fall just short of Roberto Osuna, but things could turn around in favor of the Pirates’ ninth-inning stud this season. If you haven’t drafted yet, take full advantage of Rivero’s cheap tag while you can. His upside is amazing.
Mark Melancon is the Steal of Your Draft
- I’ve been beating this drum for a while. Don’t forget that Melancon held a 1.35 ERA with 47 saves in 2016.
Alex Colome Gets Traded Midseason and It Stings Bad
- R-E-B-U-I-L-D-I-N-G, that’s what the Rays mean to me. Who else do they have to trade when they go full-tank mode?
You Wish You Kept Alex Reyes
- We still won’t see him until around May, but Reyes figures to slot into the Cardinals’ bullpen at some point. Keeper league owners that dropped him a long, long time ago, it’s not too late to re-invest.