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Bold fantasy baseball predictions for 2019 — Acuna makes history, Bauer wins Cy Young

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Ceilings and floors. Upside and downside. Best- and worst-case scenarios. However you choose to term them, players’ most and least optimistic outcomes are integral parts of their annual fantasy baseball outlooks.

They are also, unfortunately, among the more misunderstood such ingredients, with many fantasy managers often mistaking upside for “most probable outcome” or worst-case scenarios for “I won’t draft this player under any circumstances whatsoever.”

They also represent my greatest issue with rankings and cheat sheets. Those resources aim to identify the player’s most likely outcome but don’t explain how wide his range of outcomes is. Imagine that Player X has the potential to finish 100-plus spots better than his ranking number, while Player Y is one of the game’s best bets to finish at or around his projected spot. Without considering the upside, you could wind up with a team comprised entirely of “Player Y’s” and have practically none of the player profit potential you’d need to win your league.

Chances must be taken, such as your decision about whether Michael Brantley, as one example, is worth the historical injury risk. He’s currently my No. 114-ranked player and is going 108th overall on average in ESPN live drafts, but he has registered finishes of fourth overall, 41st, 1,137th, 246th and 40th on our Player Rater in the past five seasons. Brantley has an outstanding chance at another top-50 overall fantasy season if he can stay on the field regularly, but his five injured-list trips the past three seasons combined saddle him with plenty of downside.

This column is designed to help identify the Brantleys — or the Josh Donaldsons, Bryce Harpers or Alex Reyeses — of the fantasy baseball world, the players who have the highest statistical ceilings and/or lowest statistical floors, and don’t worry, I’ll have predictions for those latter three below. These are my annual bold predictions, providing an added element to my rankings.

Use them however you wish: Jot them down as notes on your cheat sheet, helping you make tough decisions between similarly ranked players, use them as a way to balance your roster with reliable and risk/reward players, rather than having too many of one or the other, or simply print them out so you can call me out on all of my blown calls at season’s end (or on April 15, as has often happened). Hey, it’s all good.

I’ve bunched these alphabetically by the player’s team (or the team itself), then alphabetically by player within said team.

I’ve got to start with a bang, don’t I?

Ronald Acuna Jr., at age 21, will become the youngest player in baseball history to hit at least 35 home runs with at least 20 stolen bases. Currently, the youngest to do it was Alex Rodriguez, who was 22 years, 247 days old at the onset of the 1998 season.

Josh Donaldson will hit 30 home runs on his way to running away with the National League’s Comeback Player of the Year award.

The Atlanta Braves will still miss the playoffs by at least 10 games.

Archie Bradley will finish the season a top-10 fantasy closer.

Robbie Ray will rebound to set a career high with 240 strikeouts.

Christian Walker will lead the Arizona Diamondbacks in home runs.

Jonathan Villar will lead the major leagues in stolen bases.

Rafael Devers will hit 30-plus homers and finish higher on the Player Rater than both Miguel Andujar and Matt Chapman.

The Boston Red Sox‘s closer on the final day of the 2019 regular season? That’d be Darwinzon Hernandez, who will save at least 15 games for them.

If not for the presence of Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez would be the Boston Red Sox’s highest-finishing pitcher on the Player Rater. Oh well, there’s no shame in being the runner-up.

Carl Edwards Jr. will lead the Chicago Cubs in saves. I keep going to the well on this one — what can I say? I don’t think this particular team-leading total will be pretty, but Edwards will emerge from the committee.

Jose Quintana will rebound with numbers that improve on his 2015-17 three-year averages of a 3.55 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 22 quality starts.

Though he won’t debut in the majors before May 15, Eloy Jimenez will be the Chicago White Sox‘s greatest-earning fantasy player from the date of his major league debut forward.

Jesse Winker will outscore Yasiel Puig in fantasy points, using our standard scoring settings.

David Hernandez will register 30 holds, and among pitchers who fall short of double-digit saves, he’ll be one of the five highest-finishing relief pitchers on our Player Rater.

Trevor Bauer will win the American League’s Cy Young Award.

Despite missing the first six days of the regular season, Francisco Lindor will rebound to earn American League MVP honors.

All five Cleveland Indians starting pitchers will finish among the Player Rater’s top 30 at the position and their closer will finish in the top 10 among relief pitchers, with all six ranking among the 30 best among all pitchers. Outside of Lindor’s performance, the Indians’ pitching dominance will be the primary reason they easily win the AL Central again.

Garrett Hampson will steal at least 30 bases while earning position qualification at second base, shortstop and outfield by the end of the season.

German Marquez will become the first pitcher in Colorado Rockies history to strike out 200-plus batters with a sub-4 ERA in consecutive seasons. Not bold enough? I agree. He’ll also become the Rockies’ first pitcher to earn a first-place Cy Young vote.

Daniel Murphy will lead the National League in batting average.

Miguel Cabrera will bat .300-plus and hit at least 20 home runs.

Joe Jimenez will lead the Detroit Tigers in saves.

Carlos Correa will rebound with at least a .280 batting average and 30 home runs.

Wade Miley will win 15 games.

Ryan Pressly will lead the majors in holds, post a sub-2 ERA and finish as the highest relief pitcher on the Player Rater who had fewer than five saves.

Jorge Soler will bat at least .260 with 25 home runs.

Kenley Jansen will set a new career high in saves, exceeding his 47 in 2016, en route to leading the majors in the category.

Joc Pederson will have at least 75 walks, a .350 on-base percentage and 30 home runs.

Keibert Ruiz will reach the majors before Aug. 1 and will have a greater impact in 2019 than Danny Jansen had in 2018.

Julio Urias will make more starts than Hyun-Jin Ryu and finish higher on the Player Rater than Rich Hill.

Justin Bour will hit 30-plus home runs.

Ty Buttrey will finish with more saves than Cody Allen.

Lewis Brinson will have a 25/15 season, but let’s not talk about how ugly his batting average will look in the process.

It’ll take him some time to fully nail down the role, but Adam Conley will be the Miami Marlins closer to roster, leading the team in saves and finishing among the top 20 pure relief pitchers on our Player Rater. Conley will essentially be to 2019 what Brad Hand was to 2017.

The Marlins will place more pitchers among the Player Rater’s top 75 fantasy starting pitchers than will the Braves.

Ryan Braun will rebound to hit 30 home runs.

Corey Knebel will rebound to again finish among the top five relief pitchers on the Player Rater — he finished third at the position in 2017.

Brandon Woodruff will lead the Milwaukee Brewers in strikeouts.

Willians Astudillo will lead all catcher-eligibles (minimum 250 plate appearances) in batting average while earning qualification at two infield positions in addition to his current catcher eligibility.

Byron Buxton will finally enjoy the 20-homer, 30-steal season that so many had predicted from him after he was made the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft.

Trevor May will lead the Minnesota Twins in saves with a total greater than 30.

Michael Conforto will hit at least 35 home runs.

Domingo German will enjoy a top-75 fantasy starting pitcher season.

Giancarlo Stanton will hit at least 50 home runs.

Luke Voit will hit 25 home runs, run away with the New York Yankees‘ first base job and finish among the top 15 at his position on the Player Rater.

Jesus Luzardo will give Vladimir Guerrero Jr. a legitimate run for American League Rookie of the Year honors, thanks to a top-60 starting pitcher finish on our Player Rater.

Bryce Harper will appear in at least 150 games for only the third time and hit at least 40 home runs for only the second time in his big league career.

Aaron Nola will win the National League’s Cy Young Award.

David Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez and Hector Neris will all finish among the top 30 fantasy relief pitchers on the Player Rater.

Jung Ho Kang will lead the Pittsburgh Pirates in home runs.

Jameson Taillon will strike out at least 225 hitters.

Paul DeJong will lead the St. Louis Cardinals in home runs.

Alex Reyes will finish the season the Cardinals’ closer, saving at least 10 games with a sub-3 ERA and at least 80 K’s in 60 innings.

Franmil Reyes will finish only one home run shy of the San Diego Padres‘ team lead.

Matt Strahm will be to 2019 what Marco Gonzales was to 2018.

Seeking to inject some offense into their wild-card-contending team, the Padres will promote Fernando Tatis Jr. on May 10, and he will promptly do enough despite the limited time to finish a close second for the National League’s Rookie of the Year award.

Steven Duggar will steal at least 25 bases while playing at least 140 games.

Domingo Santana will return to form as a top-40 fantasy outfielder.

Jose Alvarado will save at least 25 games and finish among the top 10 relief pitchers on the Player Rater.

Austin Meadows will break through in a big way, filling all five traditional Rotisserie categories on his way to a top-25 outfielder finish on the Player Rater.

Rougned Odor will rebound to close to his 2016 form, re-establishing himself as a top-five fantasy second baseman.

Ken Giles will save at least 40 games and finish as a top-10 relief pitcher on the Player Rater.

It’s the question everyone wants answered: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will make his major league debut on Monday, May 6.

Victor Robles will win the National League’s Rookie of the Year award behind a 15-homer, 30-steal campaign.

Trevor Rosenthal will save more games than Sean Doolittle.

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Pujols jumps Ruth for 5th place with 1,993 RBIs

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols surpassed Babe Ruth for fifth place in baseball history with his 1,993rd career RBI.

Pujols passed the Babe in the ninth inning on Saturday night with a solo homer to center field off Anthony Swarzak, though the Angels lost to the Seattle Mariners 6-5.

Earlier, Pujols had tied Ruth’s mark in the third inning when he drove home Andrelton Simmons with a double off Seattle’s Yusei Kikuchi.

The Angel Stadium crowd gave a standing ovation to Pujols, who acknowledged the cheers on second base with a wave of his helmet.

Pujols only passed Ruth according to baseball’s official starting point for the mark. RBIs weren’t an official statistic until 1920 — Ruth’s first year with the Yankees, though his career began in 1914 with the Boston Red Sox.

Pujols is also closing in on Lou Gehrig (1,994) and Barry Bonds (1,996) on the career RBIs chart. Hank Aaron (2,297) and Alex Rodriguez (2,086) lead the list.

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Michael Chavis’ mad scramble to reach The Show

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As he packed for a quick three-game road trip to Syracuse, New York, on Thursday, Michael Chavis stared at his bag, then his locker, and again at his bag.

He’d packed too much stuff. He didn’t need all those gloves, bats and knickknacks, he thought. Just three T-shirts and a pair of jeans. After all, the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox were scheduled for only three games out of town, just a quick weekend getaway. He figured he’d be back in Pawtucket on Monday.

But a phone call, a turbulent flight, a hectic trip into an airport clothing store and a quick ride to the ballpark later, Chavis found himself standing in front of a locker at Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. So he was very much not in Syracuse, let alone Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He was more than 1,300 miles away and not even knowing the day of the week off the top of his head.

“I should’ve brought all that stuff,” Chavis said with a chuckle. “I need that now.”

Everything started a little over 24 hours earlier, when Chavis woke up at 10:45 a.m. on Friday in Syracuse to three missed calls from PawSox manager Billy McMillon, who told him he’d been called up to the big leagues. As he began to gather his stuff, Chavis FaceTimed his mom, Dorothy, who immediately began crying. She’d taken up a second job at night to help pay for Chavis’ travel baseball as he was growing up.

“I knew she was going to be the first person to call ’cause she’s done so much for me,” Chavis said. “I honestly think the headlines should be more about everything she’s done for me until this point more than anything I’ve done.”

Then came phone call after phone call after phone call, from friends to family. As the news broke, text messages began piling up, nearly 600 by the end of the night.

“You don’t even remember everything you said,” Chavis said. “The next person, you’re repeating everything.”

Chavis quickly packed his stuff at the hotel and the ballpark before jolting to the Syracuse airport to catch his 1 p.m. flight to Detroit, where he’d connect through to join the Red Sox in Florida. The plane, a small jet, hit turbulence on the short hourlong flight.

“They couldn’t even do drinks or snack service ’cause everyone was falling,” Chavis said. “I felt like I was in ‘Snakes on a Plane’ going to my debut.”

When he landed at the Detroit airport with 45 minutes to spare before his next flight, Chavis realized he didn’t want to walk into his first big league call-up wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants. “I need something to look nice,” he told himself. Frazzled and hungry, he hustled into a clothing store, not even checking what store he was entering, and immediately sought help from the retail employees. He had 10 minutes to find a button-up shirt, jeans and shoes that fit him.

“What’s going on?” one employee asked.

“I’m going to the big leagues, dude,” Chavis responded. “I don’t know what’s happening.”

The store’s employees shuffled him into the storage room, the closest thing they had to a changing room, so he could try on the impromptu business-casual uniform. Chavis pulled out his phone and turned on the front-facing camera to make sure everything fit and rushed off to his flight.

Texts kept pouring in as Chavis anxiously awaited landing in Florida. His brother, Fuzzy (real name: Christian), was driving down from Alabama along with five other close friends and family. Meanwhile, Red Sox officials kept texting, asking where he was as the game was about to begin.

“I’m literally in the air right now,” Chavis thought to himself. “I don’t know what you want me to do. I need to fly.”

After landing, Chavis called an Uber, which dropped him off three blocks from the stadium. With his backpack, suitcase and a bag full of personal items on him, Chavis walked toward the stadium. His phone buzzed — a text from Fuzzy.

“Hey, where are you?” the text read. “I’m sitting at the gate waiting for you.”

“You beat me here,” Chavis said.

Chavis arrived in the Red Sox clubhouse in the fifth inning. And before he had a moment to appreciate his arrival in a big league clubhouse for the first time, Boston coach Ramon Vazquez told him that the team might need him to pinch hit in two batters.

“That’s impossible,” Chavis said.

Rookies, he’d heard, always get messed with during their first stint in the big leagues. There he stood, in jeans and a shirt. He hadn’t stretched. He didn’t know what pitcher the Red Sox were facing. He hadn’t seen a single scouting report. But Vazquez wasn’t joking.

“I didn’t even get to tell him congratulations,” Vazquez said.

Panic set in.

“Where are my cleats? Do I need a cup? Where are my batting gloves?” Chavis asked himself. “Where are my bats?”

As Chavis quickly warmed up in the batting cage, catcher Christian Vazquez knocked a two-run homer into center field, giving the Red Sox a 4-1 lead, negating any need for him to pinch hit, giving him a night to rest.

On his second day in the big leagues, Chavis went through his normal routine, trying to stay in the moment and not overthink things just because he’s now in the big leagues. For the past few years, Chavis had slowly started to see the other high school players from the 2014 draft make their major league debuts. But now that he’s made it here, Chavis is trying to keep things as normal as possible, which is much easier said than done.

“Holy crap,” Chavis said before Saturday’s game. “Now I’m in the big leagues. That sounds weird right now.”

When Rays outfielder Tommy Pham hit a solo homer off reliever Matt Barnes to tie the game 5-5 in the eighth inning, Chavis knew he would be hitting in the ninth. And he knew that in Rays star reliever Jose Alvarado, he had a big challenge ahead of him.

“Facing Alvarado in the [Gulf Coast League], he was a starter and he absolutely just destroyed us whenever he faced us,” Chavis said. “I was just joking with [Fuzzy] before today’s game and all, if I get my first AB late in the game today, let’s just not have it be Alvarado.”

With outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. on first base and the score tied 5-5 with one out, the count on Chavis tallied to 1-2, and Alvarado called timeout. Chavis, feeling his knees literally shaking, took a moment to gather himself before driving a 99 mph slider from Alvarado straight over the head of center fielder Kevin Kiermaier. His first big league hit — a double — set up the go-ahead RBI sacrifice fly from Andrew Benintendi for a 6-5 Red Sox victory and put Boston in position to sweep the series with a win on Sunday.

That’s why Chavis, the No. 5 prospect in the Red Sox farm system according to ESPN’s Keith Law, is up in the big leagues in the first place — his bat. In 12 games and 40 at-bats this season in Triple-A, Chavis had four homers and was hitting .250/.354/.600. Manager Alex Cora said Chavis will make his first major league start on Sunday in the series finale. Ultimately, Boston will look to its top prospect to fill multiple positions, including first, second and third base.

“There’s no lack of confidence,” Cora said.

Chavis said he’ll be giving the ball from his first major league hit to his mom, as a thank-you for the sacrifices she made for him. And as the night of his first game ticked away, the rookie infielder stood in the Tropicana Field visitors’ clubhouse, trying to absorb everything that had just happened.

“I can’t tell you how many times at my house, in the backyard we had a garden, how many times I envisioned this exact scenario, pinch hitting for the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning off a closer who’s nasty and getting a hit,” Chavis said. “I tossed up rocks, pretending I was in this moment. When I was on deck, I looked around, and I was like, wow.”

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Pujols ties Ruth for 5th all time with 1,992 RBIs

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols has tied Babe Ruth for fifth place in baseball history with his 1,992nd career RBI.

Pujols drove home Andrelton Simmons with a double off Seattle’s Yusei Kikuchi in the third inning Saturday night.

The Angel Stadium crowd gave a standing ovation to Pujols, who acknowledged the cheers on second base with a wave of his helmet.

Pujols only tied Ruth according to baseball’s official starting point for the mark. RBIs weren’t an official statistic until 1920, and Ruth’s career began in 1914 with the Boston Red Sox.

Pujols is also closing in on Lou Gehrig (1,995) and Barry Bonds (1,996) on the career RBIs chart. Hank Aaron (2,297) and Alex Rodriguez (2,086) lead the list.

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