Taking a page out of the book of industry friends Pat DiCaprio and Mike Podhorzer, who used to engage in this exercise at the start of the season as far back as their Fantasy Baseball Generals days, today I’m going to make 10 bold predictions for the coming season.  These aren’t meant to be most-likely scenarios by any means.  These aren’t average expected performances.  We’ll define “bold” as Pat and Mike did, which is to say that I believe these things have at least a 20 percent chance of occurring.  Feel free to let me know what you think of these predictions and what bold predictions you’re making yourself for the 2012 season!

Clayton Kershaw maintains a BB/9 below 2.75
PECOTA has Kershaw pegged for a 3.4 BB/9 after he posted rates of 4.8, 3.6, and 2.1 from 2009-2011, but PECOTA fails to take into consideration the breaking-ball change Kershaw made last year that contributed heavily to his improvement.  In 2011, Kershaw shifted away from a tougher-to-control, big breaking curve and toward a tighter pitch that he can spot more easily in the zone.  A 2.1 BB/9 might be nearly impossible to repeat, but expect him to keep most of the gains.

Danny Duffy is a Top 25 AL-only starting pitcher this year
Duffy has front-line stuff and a spot in Kansas City’s rotation; the strikeouts and groundballs will be there, so it’s just a matter of his control.  Adding a cutter this spring should help that, and with even a 3.5 BB/9 he could find himself among the top 25 starters in the American League.

Tommy Hanson makes fewer than 10 starts
I’ve talked about my health concerns for Hanson before.  Needless to say, I avoided him everywhere this year given what he cost. I’ll go out on a limb and call an early-season injury for him given that he missed some time in Spring Training and is working with a new delivery.

Edwin Encarnacion goes 30/100
I love me some E5.  During the NFBC draft I did with Cory Schwartz last weekend, Cory joked that every year just has to be the year that E5 truly breaks out, and even when it doesn’t happen, you just can’t bring yourself to quit him.  So maybe this isn’t going out on too much of a limb, but 2012 is the year of Encarnacion.  Great park, great raw power, everyday job, and batting fifth in a great lineup.  He could even move up to cleanup if Adam Lind struggles and/or E5 does what E5 was always destined to do.

Justin Upton goes 40/25 and is a top five pick next year
Ridiculous raw power, excellent pedigree, completely healthy, still just 24.  Upton is primed to take that next step forward.  Such a performance may well push him above Kate for the title of “The Upton Men Most Frequently Fantasize About.”

Grant Balfour leads the AL in saves
Obviously this isn’t the most likely scenario, but people seem to be shortchanging Balfour way too much.  He’s the best reliever in that pen and has the role—two of the most important things for a closer.  As long as he isn’t traded, I see a healthy Balfour as a heavy favorite to hold off Fautino De Los Santos; if he does so, that puts him right in the mix for the saves lead while providing fantasy owners excellent ratios.

Javy Guerra notches 15 more saves than Kenley Jansen
I don’t see this as a bold prediction at all, but I’m sure most in the fantasy industry do.  Yes, Guerra is nowhere near the pitcher Jansen is, and a smarter manager wouldn’t hesitate to use Jansen instead of Guerra in the ninth, but just as in the U.S. legal system (or perhaps just on the playgrounds of U.S. elementary schools by sixth graders trying too hard to come up with a witty retort—I’m not a lawyer), possession is nine-tenths of the law.  A closer starting out with the job is a heavy favorite for the majority of the team’s saves.

Yu Darvish will be a Top 5 AL-only starting pitcher
He has a lot of competition for those five spots, but at 20 percent?  Yeah, I’ll take that bet.  His reportedly average control, the Ballpark in Arlington, and the adjustments he’ll need to make are concerns, but he has terrific work ethic, terrific stuff, and he gets groundballs.  He has a lot of upside.

Raul Ibanez hits 30 home runs in 2012
This one might be a bit of stretch unless Ibanez finds his way into everyday playing time, but I really like the way his bat plays in Yankee Stadium.  His pull power to right field should net him plenty of dingers when playing at home, even if he has lost a bit of raw power as he’s aged.  With Andruw Jones his primary competition at DH, it’s not inconceivable that good performance versus righties nets Ibanez starts against lefties as well.

Yoenis Cespedes spends a portion of the year at Triple-A
His contract will cut against this prediction, but there are legitimate concerns with Cespedes that could see him sent down to Triple-A for more seasoning.  This becomes an especially viable option given the outfield depth the A’s have in Seth Smith, Jonny Gomes, Collin Cowgill, Michael Taylor, and Chris Carter.  There will be a lot of adjustments to make now that Cespedes is living in a new country against vastly superior competition.  When I spoke with scouts this offseason, there seemed to be makeup questions, which may hamper his ability to make these adjustments.  He seems likely to strikeout a lot while making these adjustments, and Oakland’s Coliseum will hamper his power—his best tool.  Plus, some scouts didn’t feel he could be an everyday centerfield, giving one more thing he could be sent to the minors to work on (albeit for a team that’s unlikely to contend and could stand to see him work out his issues with the big league club).