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December 11, 2013

Fantasy Team Preview

Baltimore Orioles

by Paul Sporer

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An 85-win follow-up to their 93-win playoff surprise was quite respectable for the Orioles, especially as many pundits had them falling off entirely. They stayed aggressive with small, but useful in-season, moves though the Red Sox and Rays proved too difficult. They have already made some similar moves this offseason to shore up their weak spots, and they still have the flexibility to make some larger-impact moves this winter to ensure another quality effort in 2014.

As is they remain a bountiful fantasy team, particularly on offense with star power and strong names at scarce positions. The pitching should deliver some solid value in the rotation while everyone waits to see who ends up replacing Jim Johnson as the team’s closer.

Projected Lineup

  1. RF Nick Markakis
  2. DH Ryan Flaherty
  3. 1B Chris Davis
  4. CF Adam Jones
  5. C Matt Wieters
  6. SS J.J. Hardy
  7. 3B Danny Valencia
  8. LF Nolan Reimold
  9. 2B Jemile Weeks

This a power-focused lineup that becomes really short on speed with the departure of Nate McLouth (Washington), though Weeks can change that if he turns things around and sticks. They have a bona fide first round pick in Davis and a fringe first-rounder with Jones depending on league size. Jones has held or added to his home run total every year in the majors while maintaining his .280-something average with mid-teens speed. He now has back-to-back 100-run seasons and he notched his first 100-RBI season in 2013, too. While some are uncomfortable with his lack of plate patience—and understandably so, to a degree—he has a six-year track record that says he doesn’t need walks to be successful.

Projected Bench

This could be a solid bench laced with former top-10 organizational prospects, but of course they are on a bench because they have failed to live up to their original hype—t least to this point. Pearce has been the best of the bunch netting some real playing time in five of the last six seasons and putting up a 100 OPS+ in his 326 PA over the last two. He’s the best bet to make a fantasy dent and it would come in AL-only leagues if at all.

Projected Rotation

This could be an underrated group from the fantasy aspect, at least the non-Norris components. I’m over him as a viable fantasy option as he simply hasn’t found a way to effectively handle lefties. Tillman appears to have arrived parlaying his strong partial season of 2012 into a big 2013 that included a 3.42 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 94 2/3 innings after the break.

Chen and Gonzalez are pretty much the same guy except their handedness: worthwhile AL-only arms with their ceilings capped by their home run tendencies. They both have passable strikeout potential, but nothing special. There is some upside if they can get their command in check, but otherwise WYSIWYG.

Gausman could be the game-changer. The uber-prospect zipped through the high minors, skipping Triple-A in the process, and reached the majors by late-May. After proving he wasn’t ready, he was demoted to Triple-A where he got back on track. He finished the season in a bullpen role with the O’s and managed a 23/4 K/BB ratio in 14 1/3 innings of work. His flaws fit his preseason prospect profile:

Still finding command over the slider; can overthrow; likes to challenge hitters up; more stuff than pitchability at present.

The experience in both the upper minors and major leagues should no doubt be useful when ironing out these issues. At 23, he is still going to have some inconsistencies, but there is a lot of upside here for both 2014 and beyond.

Projected Bullpen

Webb was a sneaky-strong signing after being non-tendered, but he doesn’t fill the closer’s hole left by Johnson. In fact, none of the legitimate candidates on the team do—not by themselves, at least. They all carry a major flaw that would seem to keep them from closing: a severe platoon split. Hunter and O’Day struggle against lefties while Matusz is a lefty-killer, but he’s my darkhorse candidate. Righties have a .647 OPS against him out of the pen the last two seasons, which is hardly egregious. Hunter is currently slotted in there by most outlets, but he adds homer issues to his lefty troubles making him a less-than-ideal. The truth is that this team is ripe for a closer-by-committee, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting to see it.

Notable Injuries

He deserved his own section. There is talk of him being ready by Opening Day which of course would be wonderful for the Orioles and the fantasy game alike, but even still I would act cautiously with him in re-draft leagues. We’ve seen aggressive timetables too often to keep getting suckered. It’s easy to be optimistic now and then start incrementally pushing it back as we get closer to the season. Bet on five months of him at the high end for 2014. He is still a great dynasty bet, but tread carefully in redrafts.

Position Battles

The Field vs. The Closer Role
This is the only major battle to be waged in spring training given their current roster and it was covered in the bullpen section. If you’re dabbling here, you should either have a frontliner like Craig Kimbrel or two middle-tier options.

Player to Target: J.J. Hardy
He’s been a bankable 25/75 as an Oriole with his best year (30/80) actually coming in his last injury-shortened one back in 2011 when he was limited to just 129 games. He can be a batting average drag as evidenced by his .238, but he has bookended it with marks of .269 and .263 which are both plenty useful especially at the down offensive position. Cost of acquisition is almost always lower than it should be, too.

Player to Avoid: Matt Wieters
He’s been similar to Hardy over the last three years with a somewhat steady 22/77 output (the RBIs have ranged from 68-83), but the batting average is tumbling because he simply isn’t a switch-hitter. Switch-hitter implies you can hit from both sides, but Wieters keeps getting worse from the left side after a strong debut. Since 2010, he hasn’t topped a .744 OPS, twice dipping below .700 altogether, and his batting average has dropped yearly from .265 to last year’s .214. Is it really a platoon advantage if you hit like that? Additionally, catcher has grown deeper lately, so while his output is still useful, it doesn’t stand out.

Deep Sleeper: Jonathan Schoop
Weeks is hardly a lock meaning the O’s could once again be looking for a way to plug to 2B gap that has been left open by a hobble Brian Roberts and his replacements for several years. Schoop has just 70 games at Triple-A through his age-21 season and he hasn’t been special in either of his high minors stops (though he has been perfectly fine when you consider how young he was at each level), but some more Triple-A seasoning while Weeks gets his shot might be all Schoop needs to prove he’s ready should Weeks falter.

His defense would earn him a decent look in this scenario, but he’d have to prove he was ready to be anything at the dish. He doesn’t have a carrying fantasy tool like huge power or blazing speed, but if he got the shot he could do a bit of everything, filling the tough middle-infield slot in AL-only and maybe even some super-deep mixed league rosters.

Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Paul's other articles. You can contact Paul by clicking here

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