The Orioles racked up 96 wins—good for second place in the AL—and a trip to the ALCS behind a solid offense, a strong core of starting pitchers and one of the better bullpens in baseball, allowing the third fewest runs in the American League. Their lineup is full of fantasy stars, with Adam Jones anchoring the team and current free agent Nelson Cruz leading the league in home runs. Add in Manny Machado’s tantalizing upside, Chris Davis’ bounce-back potential, and J.J. Hardy’s contributions from the offense-bereft shortstop position and there is a wealth of options to be had here. The O’s only managed to rank sixth in the AL in runs scored, but their offense is where people will look first for impact talent.
Pitching is a bit of a different story, as no one on their staff merits a high-round pick, though there is a lot of depth. Closer Zach Britton is the closest thing to an impact fantasy arm they have right now, but the rotation is a Kevin Gausman breakout or Dylan Bundy promotion away from an impact starter. Chris Tillman, Bud Norris, and Wei-Yin Chen provide solid numbers to go with bulk innings, but none profiles toward the top of any fantasy rotation. Let’s take a deeper dive into the Orioles fantasy prospects below.
A note for our readers. While informative, since we are still months away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, these previews are far from definitive or complete. Free agent signings, trades, and other offseason news will change the landscape for most if not all teams. For any moves that take place after a team preview is written, please look to our Transaction Analysis coverage for instant reactions, and then check back on the Team Previews for more detailed updates (including lineups, rotations, bullpens, etc.) as we get closer to Opening Day.
Another note for our readers. The characterizations below (for example, “stud”) are designed to be taken in context for each team. Not every team has a Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton, so the “stud” category represents the best player or players on each team, not necessarily in comparison to the league.
Adam Jones – OF
Much is made of Jones’ paltry walk percentage (2.8 percent) and how it plays into his pedestrian OBP, but that’s missing the forest for the trees. Jones routinely hits above .280 (more valuable than ever these days), and has 32, 33, and 29 home runs in the last three seasons, making him a potent fantasy player even if his stolen bases did drop to the single digits this year. Heading into his age-29 season, there’s a case to be made for Jones as soon as the second round in standard and dynasty leagues.
Zach Britton – RP
If you’ve been reading Bret Sayre, you know the qualities that Britton boasts. An extreme ground-ball pitcher (75 percent (!) last year), Britton misses bats, too, striking out just short of 22 percent in 2014. It was his first year as a closer and he didn’t start the year in the role, but he still amassed 37 saves, and was elite outside of the in setup/LOOGY duty as well. Closers are high-variance players, and as someone who relies on his defense a substantial amount, Britton might be more than most, but we saw Jim Johnson post elite save totals with Baltimore, and Britton is better than Johnson was in his later years.
Ubaldo Jimenez – SP
Fresh off a four-year, $52-million contract, Jimenez couldn’t even last a full season in the rotation. He still missed bats (21 percent strikeout rate) but issued free passes like he just opened his own club (14 percent walk rate). Jimenez’s strong second half in 2013 is looking more and more like a Mickey Callaway-influenced aberration, and while he won’t necessarily be as bad as he was in 2014, the payoff isn’t worth the risk.
What You See Is What You Get
Chris Tillman – SP
Wei-Yin Chen – SP
Bud Norris – SP
It may seem odd to group these three at first, given Tillman’s front-of-the-rotation persona compared to Chen and Norris’ third/fourth starter categorization. The reality, though, is that they’re fairly similar statistically, and that’s what they’re providing for your fantasy team. Neither qualifies for the front of the fantasy rotation, and at this point they’re relatively known quantities. Tillman often gets dinged for pitching above his FIP and tabbed as a regression candidate, but he’s done that for three years running now, so he’s either someone that FIP is missing on, or he’s going to hit that regression wall in a big way. Chen lacks the overall strikeout upside that Tillman offers, but also walks significantly fewer batters, so doesn’t have the same blow-up potential. Norris misses more bats than either, but doesn’t accrue enough innings and is hit too hard too often. The development of his changeup aided him greatly down the stretch last season, but we’ll see how the league reacts now that the book is out on the pitch.
J.J. Hardy – SS
Hardy’s power evaporated in 2014, dropping from 25 home runs to nine, and ending his run of three straight 20-plus home runs seasons. He did hit .260 or better for the second straight season, but didn’t stop him from producing a below-league-average offensive season. Fortunately for Hardy, the position he plays provides him some forgiveness on that front. It all comes down to power for Hardy, and given his history we should bet that it will return, and with it his fantasy value.
Alejandro De Aza – OF
The 17 home runs he hit in 2013 appear to be an outlier, but De Aza can provide value anyway. He’s stolen double-digit bases in every season he’s received more than 32 plate appearances, and while he won’t help you in batting average he won’t hurt you either. It’s worth noting that there’s a chance the Orioles non-tender him, which would likely result in a hit in value, since the O’s are a strong offensive team, that could help De Aza add value in runs as well.
Matt Wieters – C
Off to the best start of his career before succumbing to Tommy John surgery, Wieters should be just about ready to start the 2014, and this year will be a walk year for him, if you’re into that type of thing. It was tempting to put him in the section above this one, but if he can be the .300/.340/.500 guy he started as last year, he pushes himself into the upper tier of catchers. It’s worth noting that his average was buoyed by a .329 BABIP, that was 61 points above his career rate, so an average right around .250 is a lot more sustainable. His excellent defense makes him highly valuable in real life, but generally overrated in fantasy circles.
Manny Machado – 3B
Let’s be real, Machado belongs in the stud category on talent. What drops him to here isn’t his ears, but rather, his health. He’s had two major knee injuries in the last two years, and even when healthy has gone through some extreme rough spots. He tends to balance those with hot streaks (.920-plus OPS in July/August), which can carry your team in fantasy as well. Feel free to ignore his “worrisome” home/road splits from 2014, as they were non-existent in 2013 over a much larger sample. Many believe Machado is primed for a leap forward offensively, and I count myself among them, but even if he can sustain his 2014 pace over the whole season, it will be considered a success and should push him towards the upper tier of third baseman overall.
Chris Davis – 1B/DH
No one expected Davis to match his 53-home run season from a year ago, but by the same token, no one expected a sub-.200 batting average either. Davis’ disappointed year frustrated many, but he still provided plenty of power, which enabled him to be within shouting distance of league-average on offense despite the horrid batting average. He continues to walk at a double-digit clip, and swing-and-miss with the best of them. I examined Davis in detail back in July, and anticipated a rebound. I’ll play the broken record and say I still expect that rebound to come.
Kevin Gausman – SP
I’ve gone on record as saying that Gausman is the most talented pitcher in Baltimore’s rotation, though I’d concede that doesn’t mean the best pitcher. 2015 could see those two titles merge though, as he should find himself in the rotation all year, rather than shuttled back and forth to Norfolk just because he has options remaining. That doesn’t make him an elite fantasy option though, as he doesn’t miss enough bats just yet. If he can tighten his slider to give him another strikeout option to go with his split-change, he could make a substantial leap. Until then, consider him a rising SP3.
Miguel Gonzalez – SP
It seems there’s a point in every season that Gonzalez is on the verge of being removed from the rotation either due to his own ineptitude or due to a better option waiting in the wings. That might still be the case next year, as Dylan Bundy will be another year healthier. Still, while Gonzalez may fall short in the stuff department, a little known fact is that those big balls Sam Cassell holds when he celebrates? They belong to Gonzalez. He posted a career best 3.23 ERA in 2014, which only earns him the title of “nightmare dressed as a day dream”, as he doesn’t miss many bats, and allows far too many home runs to sustain such surface stats. He’s not worth owning outside of leagues where every starter needs to be owned.
Jonathan Schoop – 2B
There’s a strong case for Schoop belonging in the “Dud” category, and there’s a good chance that case would be made by most any on the BP staff, nee planet, other than me. I’ve long been a staunch believer in Schoop despite underwhelming numbers thanks in part to his power potential, and that remains the case despite a bumpy 2014. Schoop won out over Adam Jones in the season-long contest of who could walk less often, which would be fine if he had pretty much any of Jones’ other skills. Just 23 years old heading into 2015, it’s too soon to bury a player who has been aggressively pushed up the chain, and who hit 16 home runs despite what was clearly an atrocious approach at the plate. He’s got the ability to hit 20 home runs between his raw power and his home park, and while he’ll never hit for average, something around .240 is attainable, and significantly more palatable when paired with his pop.
Steve Pearce – 1B/OF/DH
Pearce put together a monster season, and likely won some leagues for owners, given that he was a FA pickup who put together 21 home runs to go with a .293 average, and even swiped five bags! Still, despite the excellent production and injuries to those in front of him in Baltimore, Pearce only played in 102 games, and while he’s certainly carved himself a place in the lineup against lefties, a healthy Orioles lineup might not have room for him regularly. This, and pending regression limits his overall value, though he’ll still be a useful piece as a platoon guy in a hitter-friendly environment.
Prospects for 2015
Dylan Bundy – SP
Bundy is in a weird spot, having dominated three minor-league levels after being drafted in 2012, resulting in a major-league call-up, only to undergo Tommy John surgery and miss most of the next two seasons. He did total 41 1/3 innings in his return to the mound last year, and while he wasn’t back to his previous velocities, he worked well enough to regain his elite prospect status. It’s unlikely Bundy breaks camp with the Orioles, as he could benefit from additional time in the upper minors, but he’s likely to be turned to at some point throughout the season as either a spot starter or during a shot-in-the-arm type shuffling of the rotation. He’s still not throwing what may be his best pitch in his cutter, but the word is that he’ll be able to do so at the major league level. This gives him multiple plus to plus-plus offerings, which paired with an aggressive demeanor on the mound should allow him to experience success in short order. I wouldn’t anticipate him doing more than Gausman did this last season, so adjust your expectations accordingly.
Christian Walker – 1B/DH
Walker received a September call-up following a dominant year in which he transformed himself from a pure hitter to one with some pop. It’s not clear that the power he showed in 2014 is sustainable, but if the Orioles don’t bring back Nelson Cruz or Nick Markakis (or both) there could be some room for Walker to play behind a guy like Steve Pearce. Walker wasn’t outrageously successful following his promotion to Triple-A, so he could benefit from some more time there, but he will be 24 to start the 2015 season, so the Orioles won’t have a problem pushing him if they have a need. He can hit for some average, though expecting something north of .280 is aggressive for the rookie, and his power is something of an open question considering his 26 home runs in 2014 doubled his 2012-13 total.