Finally, the season is almost upon us. This will be our last Tuesday without baseball until October. Teams will rise and fall. Players will break-out and bust. This article gives us a chance to talk about the players we want to plant our flags for. The players we truly believe will take the next step into stardom. We have brought nearly all of the founding members of the site and compiled a list of our personal favorites. Without further ado, our 2018 Flag Plants:

 

Zack Godley

I have written about Godley here, there, and everywhere. I have shouted his name from the top of mountains and now, I’m ready to plant my flag on top of those wonderful mountaintops. If you are living under a rock and haven’t heard by now, the Diamondbacks installed a humidor in time for the 2018 season. While this may not affect an extreme groundball pitcher like Godley, it still will impact some of those balls that batters manage to lift. Godley gave up 9 of his 15 HR at Chase Field last season, and I expect that number to come down this season.

In 2017, Godley upped his curveball usage to a career-high 35.6% and the world was not ready. He threw it 862 times last season, and hitters took it for extra bases on 13 of those occasions. He had a remarkable 21.27 swinging-strike rate against his curveball and had a K-rate of 46.4 when using the pitch. The curveball really was a huge contributor to the meteoric rise of the Diamondback right-hander. He finished the season as a sub 3.5 ERA pitcher, and worth 3.5 wins. He mixes a ground-ball rate of 55.3 (9th highest), and a K/9 of 9.58, a rare combination in this modern game.

I fully expect Godley to produce another sub 3.5 ERA season this year and will help lead one of the most underrated rotations in the league to the playoffs.

 

Robbie Ray

Oh, you thought I was done with the Diamondbacks. You were wrong. I am fully in on Robbie Ray heading into the 2018 season. Just for reference, his 12.11 K/9 last season was the 4th highest we have seen from a starter with 100+ innings in a season since 2010. I actually read Ray’s 2.89 ERA, and a 32.8 K-rate in 28 starts about every few weeks just to remind myself just how ludicrous his season was.

Like Godley, Ray began throwing his curveball more in 2017. It went from 5.3% usage in 2016, way up to 21.9% (I’m sensing a pattern between these Diamondback starters). His curveball was successful when thrown, and held hitters to a low .079 ISO against the pitch. His 47.27 whiff-swing rate on the Curveball was the 4th highest among starting pitcher. All-in-all Ray’s curveball was a welcome addition to his profile because of just how nasty it was. The other positive with Ray throwing more Curves was the shelving of his brutal sinker. He threw his Sinker just 96 times last season, after throwing it 614 times the season before. In 2016 hitters tee’d up on the pitch to the tune of a .382/.437/.581 slash and with a 46.5% GB-rate, the pitch was hardly doing its job.

I’m trying to paint the picture for you that the changes Robbie Ray made to his pitching profiles are real and I believe in him. The problem with Ray has always been his home run problem. His HR/9 rate of 1.28 is not ideal, but 13 of them came at home and with the addition of the humidor we can hope that these numbers come down. I’m not expecting Ray to produce another sub-3 ERA season, but I do have hope that we see him continue to see him in the low 3s. You combine that with a K-rate that goes toe-to-toe with the likes of the big 4 starters in fantasy and you have a stud. If you look high up on those mountaintops, where my Zack Godley flag is planted proudly you’ll see Robbie Ray’s right next to it.

-Austin Perodeau (@roto_perodeau)

 

Jordan Montgomery

If you’ve ever heard me talk or read anything I’ve written, you probably would’ve expected me to write about Greg Bird. Well, that was the plan until he hurt his foot again and a big part of me died inside.

Instead, I’m writing about the man I’ve unfairly nicknamed “Andy Pettitte Lite”. This nickname isn’t due to the expectations I have of Montgomery, it’s due to how similar these two pitchers are. Here’s a side by side of both of their deliveries:

 

 

They’re both big lefties with over the top deliveries. Here’s another similarity:

Monty pitch types: 4-seam, curveball, sinker, changeup, slider.
Pettitte pitch types: 4-seam, curveball, sinker, changeup, cutter.
Five pitch types each, four of them the same.

Should I keep going with similarities? Might as well:

Pettitte 1995 Rookie Season: 12-9, 4.17 ERA, 31/26 G/GS, 175 IP, 114 K’s, 4.01 FIP, 2.9 bWAR
Monty 2017 Rookie Season: 9-7, 3.88 ERA, 29 G/GS, 155.1 IP, 144 K’s, 4.07 FIP, 2.9 bWAR

Last but certainly not least, Monty wears 47, Pettitte has his number 46 retired by the Yankees.

Is Montgomery the second coming of Andy Pettitte? No probably not, and it’s never smart to project someone to have a HOF career like #46 did. The Yankees haven’t developed a great pitcher since…. well Pettitte. Severino just finished an amazing season, but it’s still too early to call him a great pitcher.

The reason I’m high on Monty isn’t just his similarities to Pettitte, albeit those are enough to get a man hyped just by themselves. Monty had said recently that he really didn’t throw his changeup in 2017 because he didn’t have a feel for it. The changeup is probably his best pitch, and after the success, he had in 2017 without his best pitch, it’s only exciting to see what he can do in 2018.

Now you may say, “but Fangraphs says he threw the changeup almost 20% of the time!” While Fangraphs does say this, Monty had said himself that he didn’t throw it often, so who do you trust? I’m gonna pick the guy who is actually throwing the ball.

Monty will never be a pitcher who has a 2.50 ERA in 210 innings with 210+ K’s. It’s just not who he is. Whenever he takes the mound, I know we’re getting 5-7 innings of 3-4 run ball. Sound like someone else I’ve mentioned multiple times?

Look for Montgomery to start pulling back his below-average sinker and start replacing it with his new and improved changeup. If that happens and it works out the way we want it to, we may just have to change his full name to Jordan “Andy Pettitte Lite” Montgomery.

-Cory Harbatkin (@Corysofly99)

 

Colin Moran

If you aren’t on the Colin Moran hype train yet you better jump on. In Moran’s minor league career there have been two major criticisms of him: his defense (I’ve got nothing to defend this) and his power. Well, guess who bought into analytics and changed up his swing to hit 18 dongs and reach a .543 slugging percentage in Triple-A? Moran has always had a plus hit tool, but he got blocked by Bregman in the Astros organization (his facial fracture also didn’t help) so he’s never had a chance to shine.

Now, the Pirates have him written in as their everyday third baseman so there’s no question that he’s going to have playing time. The only question is what he’s going to do with it. After watching him play in spring training and the small big league taste he got last season, I’m all in on his swing change.

Realistically, I can see him hitting 25 homers with a .280 average and average defense. It might be a bit of homerism, but I feel like Moran could match the WAR that left with Cole almost by himself. Look out for the former top prospect. He won’t be former for long.

 

Nick Senzel

Is there anyone left to dare question our Senzel overlord? Senzel’s hit tool is out of this world and now they’re moving him to shortstop to give him an even smoother path to the big leagues this year. Senzel is going to be up fast and when he gets to the big leagues oh boy is it going to be a show.

There isn’t much for me to say about Senzel that people haven’t already heard before, but that shouldn’t take away from what he’s done in the minor leagues and what he will do in the majors. Senzel’s hit tool is what people talk about, but he has enough upside to be a five-tool player when it’s all said and done.

So, at the end of the day, Senzel’s potential made me pick him as my flag plant. But his position change to shortstop means that we’re going to see him show that potential a lot sooner in the majors. Look out MLB. Senzel is on his way.

-Michael Ferro

 

Ozzie Albies

I’ve gushed about Albies to anyone who will listen this offseason. There is some Braves fan biased baked in there of course, but the talent that Albies has is very legitimate. At just 20 years old in 2017, Albies had a 112 wRC+ in just 244 PAs. In the past 30 (!!) years the list of players to match that (>110 wRC+, >240 PA, 20 or younger) is pretty short but with some highly recognizable names:

Rafael Devers
Carlos Correa
Bryce Harper (twice)
Mike Trout
Jason Heyward
Giancarlo Stanton
Alex Rodriguez
Ken Griffey Jr.

That’s it. That’s the whole list of players who have accomplished that feat in the past 30 years. Nearly every name on that list is either a Hall of Famer or a currently elite player at the major league level. This season, Albies should easily reach 600 PAs for a Braves team that is right on the cusp of competing. He’ll be locked into the 2nd spot in a sneakily dangerous lineup, right between Ender Inciarte and future 2018 NL MVP Freddie Freeman (and Ronald Acuna in mid-April). If the rest of the lineup behind him impresses, Albies could see 80+ runs this season to go along with 15ish homers and 35+ steals. It’s bold but realistic to say that by the end of 2018 he could be the second best 2B in baseball.

 

Ronald Acuna Jr.

If it wasn’t already obvious, I’m a Braves fan. I don’t try to hide it and I can be fairly obnoxious about it at times. This isn’t one of those times though. It’s difficult to justify planting my flag for a player who has yet to see a single major league at-bat outside of the absolutely ridiculous Spring Training he just had, but scouts throughout the industry are lining up to gush about this kid and for good reason. Acuna has a mix of tools that are rarely seen in the majors, and when scouts and other professionals toss around the term “five-tool player” it’s guys like Acuna to which they’re referring.

Assuming that Acuna’s demotion was entirely for service time reasons and that he’ll see the major league roster on or around April 14th as rumored, he’ll slot right into the middle of the Braves lineup and should be good for at least 500 PAs in 2017 which should be more than enough to show why some scouts are claiming that he’s the best position prospect they’ve ever seen. For fantasy, you might be uncomfortable paying his current price which is right around the 100th overall pick for a guy who’s essentially unproven in the majors, but the payoff is potentially 30 home runs, 20-25 steals with a batting average that won’t hurt you in standard 5×5 leagues. To get production like that from anyone outside the first two rounds or so is exceedingly rare so I say take the risk. He’s done just about everything to suggest that he’ll have a successful major league career as he’s consistently impressed at every level of competition against much older and more mature opponents.

I’ll leave you with a bold prediction to cap off this epic gush fest: Ronald Acuna will receive at least 1 vote for NL MVP in 2018 and will be the unanimous NL Rookie of the Year. Additionally, he’ll have fantasy owners around the world cursing themselves for passing on a player who could be a top 10 overall pick as soon as next season. Don’t be one of those people, take the chance and ride Acuna to a fantasy championship this season.

– Jason (@ChopCityJason)

 

Jon Gray

Jon Gray has always been one of my guys, all the way back to the 2013 draft where his loud fastball-slider combo originally got me hooked. Weirdly enough the former Razorback might have found a way to tame Coors Field because in his 46 innings he posted a 3.13 ERA, held opposing batters to a .244/.296/.352 triple slash, and struck out 41 while walking 13 batters in Coors. We all know that Coors is a hard park to pitch and while it was a short sample size Gray showcased that with his explosive stuff he has displayed that he can tame the most notorious hitters park in all of the lands.

Gray has historically been too reliant on his fastball and slider, however towards the end of the season we saw the Rockies’ ace mix in a curveball that allows him to lean off his fastball a bit. Gray’s fastball only generated 56 whiffs in 2017, and he threw the pitch 1026 times this past season, the slider generated 87 whiffs in 503 total pitches. His curveball generated 32 whiffs while only being thrown 252 total times. The slider has been as sharp as advertised, the numbers and any gif you can find will back this up with a 16.7% swinging strike rate. The curveball was only thrown 13.78% of the time, generating a 12.1% swinging strike rate. If Jon Gray is reading this, mix that pitch in more because the fastball should be taken back from 56.1%. While we are talking about pitches when you mix in a 3rd offering that you trust, it will allow the former top-5 pick make his way through a lineup and take pressure off the fastball and slider we should see his 9.14 K/9 jump up because hitters will have to respect his good curve.

Gray has shown that he can tame Coors and that he has added a pitch to his repertoire. Now 2018 is the season where he jumps up and it looked as a potential Cy Young candidate. The strikeout stuff is there, he has a durable frame and great hair. This is the year we see Gray cross the 200 inning threshold strike out 230 batters, and post a 3.5 ERA while earning a few NL Cy Young votes. Keep an eye on Gray this year, in fantasy go out and trade for this guy he’s going to explode.

 

Chance Sisco

I believe he will be the only catcher in this exercise but I am planting my flag on Chance, insert give him a chance pun, Sisco. I try to avoid hot takes however with the state of the Orioles outfield I believe Chance Sisco will be a more productive player than fellow Orioles’ rookie Austin Hays in 2018. Chance Sisco is in a lineup filled with right-handed mashers, and what he provides the O’s is a leftie that gasp draws a walk, having posted a .333 OBP, in 2016, and .340 OBP, in 2017, in two stints at AAA and will hit for a good average.

Power is something that many people question with Chance Sisco because he hasn’t shown the ability mash just yet, however with the juiced ball and playing in a left-handed hitters paradise I believe he will be a 15-20 homer guy with enough plate appearances. How many plate appearances Chance Sisco is gonna rack up is another question people are trying to answer with the Orioles top catching prospect since Matt Wieters. I personally believe that Chance should get the majority of the time behind the dish because the other guy that will catch on their roster is Caleb Joseph. Sisco’s catching skills might be league average however what he provides with the stick, which is good bat-to-ball skills from the left-side and some untapped power in the bat makes him the more intriguing option for a team that fancies themselves a wild-card contender in 2018.

The O’s catcher of the future has the tools to be the catcher of the present, defensively he’s gonna be average to slightly above, but what he provides them with the bat could make them overlook the slightly above average catching skills. Because of his leftie bat, I believe Chance has the bat-to-ball skills to hit as the 2 hole hitter for Orioles to break up the right-handed power bats. I would not be surprised to see Sisco hit 18 home runs in Camden, hit for a .265 average with a .345 on-base percentage, and in the process steal some Rookie of the Year votes. All the guy needs is a Chance!

-Rhys (@RhyBWhite)

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