With Opening Day just hours away, it’s time to put my stamp on some predictions for the 2021 season. Here are my answers to some of our readers’ most common questions, and you can feel free to call me out at the end of September on all the ones I get wrong.
After nearly two months of regularly doling out advice, I want to wish all of you good luck with your teams this year. I’ll be here to help at every turn. Now, onto the predictions.
The top fantasy starter will be Jacob deGrom
Sorry, I’m not starting this one off with a bang. But I’ll make this a little more interesting by projecting that deGrom will be miles ahead of the No. 2 starter. It’s all coming together for the right-hander, who was already amazing before adding even more velocity last year and retaining those gains in Spring Training. He is also backed by the best Mets lineup in years and an improved bullpen. deGrom’s final numbers could be staggering.
The top fantasy closer will be Liam Hendriks
OK, so now I’m 0-for-2 in opportunities to make your eyes pop out of your head. But I’ll make this a little spicier by saying that Hendriks will blow the reliever competition out of the water. The right-hander is going to finish the season with 45 saves, while all of his competitors will fall short of the 40-save mark. Those who draft Hendriks can basically count him as 1.5 good closers.
The biggest pitching bust will be Brad Hand
I was worried about Hand entering Spring Training, having noted that the Nats new closer had lost 1 mph on his fastball in each of the past two seasons. And the southpaw did nothing this month to relieve my worries, as he was among the least effective pitchers in the Grapefruit League. Washington’s bullpen could be a complete disaster, as setup men Tanner Rainey and Daniel Hudson have also had disappointing springs.
The home run leader will be Teoscar Hernandez
OK, now I’m getting bold! One of last season’s breakout players, Hernandez produced 16 homers in just 50 games. The Blue Jays have had plenty of success with late-blooming power hitters in the past decade, and the club’s bats will get a boost by playing most of their home games in Dunedin. Hernandez could hit anywhere from 25 to 50 homers this season, but I’m going on the high end of his range. If you want even more of a dark horse, I believe that Bobby Dalbec will be among the long-ball leaders.
The stolen-base leader will be Ronald Acuna Jr.
Acuna had a 40-40 season in his sights before a groin strain caused him to miss the final few games of 2019. The outfielder wound up falling three steals short, but this year he will become just the fifth player in Major League history to put together a 40-40 campaign. Now 23 years old, Acuna knows that his best chance to accomplish something this memorable with his legs is right now. I’ll look even further down the road and suggest that after Acuna goes 40-40 this year, he will cool his jets to some degree in future campaigns.
The league-winning waiver wire gem will be Tyler O’Neill
O’Neill is going to be this year’s version of Teoscar Hernandez — a post-hype outfielder with great tools who finally comes through. The 25-year-old has a regular spot in the thin Cardinals outfield group, and he is going to finish the year with 30 homers and a dozen swipes.
The mid-round pick moves into the early rounds of 2022 drafts will be Andres Gimenez
Arguably the key part of the return for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, Gimenez is going to flourish in Cleveland. The youngster has already pushed Amed Rosario out of the way for the starting shortstop job, and he will soon earn a spot near the top of the Indians lineup. The 22-year-old is at a prime age to add some power to his profile, and I’m going out on a limb to predict 15 homers, 30 swipes, and 90 runs scored.
The most dropped hitter by the end of April will be Kyle Lewis
Rostered in more than 85 percent of Yahoo! leagues, Lewis is going to go through more growing pains. The slugger was abysmal last September, (.550 OPS, 37 percent K-rate), and with the terrific outfield depth in fantasy baseball, many managers will ship Lewis to waivers when he is hitting .225 with two homers in late April.
The first closer to lose his job will be Anthony Bass
I mentioned in a recent article that I’m drafting Yimi Garcia near the end of many drafts. Bass could be a serviceable closer, but his lack of swing-and-miss skills leaves him vulnerable to BABIP luck. My guess is that Bass lasts less than a month before giving way to Garcia, who has superior skills. Beyond Bass, I expect Daniel Bard to lose the Rockies' closer role in April. But picking a Colorado closer to lose his job felt too easy.
BONUS: The American League postseason teams will be the Yankees, Twins, Astros, Blue Jays, and Angels. In the National League, the Braves, Brewers, Dodgers, Padres, and Mets. No fantasy relevance here — just wanted to get those picks on record.