Baltimore Orioles – Hitters Preview
Despite the bitter cold and snow on the ground in many baseball cities, it is less than a month until pitchers and catchers report, so let’s preview the fantasy prospects of the Orioles’ hitters. Before getting into details, note that some positions are still either completely undecided (DH), or undecided exactly how much playing time the potential players will play (2B, LF)-- the Orioles’ offseason moves may not be complete. Buck Showalter likes to keep an open mind and be flexible, so nothing is set in stone, including the leadoff hitter. Buck likes to alternate left-right in the lineup as much as possible, and last year he used different lineups for LHP and RHP; he could very likely take the same approach this year. Listed below are my projected lineups, followed by an analysis of each relevant hitter, his 2013 stats, my 2014 stat projections and notable splits.
Projected Lineup vs. Righties
1. Nick Markakis – RF
2. Manny Machado – 3B
3. Chris Davis – 1B
4. Adam Jones – CF
5. Matt Wieters – C
6. J.J. Hardy – SS
7. Ryan Flaherty – 2B
8. Henry Urrutia – DH
9. David Lough – LF
Projected Lineup vs. Lefties
1. Nick Markakis
2. Manny Machado
3. Chris Davis
4. Adam Jones
5. Matt Wieters
6. J.J. Hardy
7. David Lough
9. Ryan Flaherty
With these lineups, it is worth noting a couple things. Lough/Reimold could bat leadoff instead of Markakis, which would likely increase Markakis’s value, depending on whether they put him in the middle or near the bottom of the order. The bottom third of the lineup is not set, although it likely matters little for fantasy purposes. Finally, Wieters could be dropped lower (with Markakis possibly hitting fifth), which would further diminish Wieters’s value. Keep an eye on these developments as the offseason progresses.
Coming Off Down Years – Will They Bounce Back?
Nick Markakis (age 30) – Nick Markakis posted only 34 extra-base hits last year, well below his previous low (43). His .685 OPS was well below his career mark of .801 and previous low of .756. There is a lot of debate by the Orioles fan base about what happened to Markakis’s power. One faction thinks he was playing through injuries last year and that it will return, while another thinks it is permanently lost. My personal opinion is that while injuries probably did play a role, they are not all of the story. He chokes up on the bat so far now that it is difficult for him to utilize his full power potential. Also disturbing was his diminished walk total last year. Two things predict a better year: (1) he is fully healthy again, and (2) this is a contract year. These projections are based on him batting leadoff, but it is equally possible that Lough/Reimold could platoon at leadoff, and if Markakis hits lower in the order, look for his value to increase.
2013 Stats: .271/.329/.356, 10/89/59, 1SB, 24 doubles
2014 Projections: .285/.342/.414, 12/102/53, 4 SB, 33 doubles
Splits To Note – Hits righties better than lefties; hits slightly better at home and slightly better in the second half
Matt Wieters (age 27) – Wieters has been in decline the past two years, despite being 26 and 27 for the majority of those seasons. While some hypothesize that the decline is due to him being a large catcher who catches more innings than other backstops, his numbers have actually been best in September. The switch-hitter has a long, slow swing from the left side, and often rolls the ball over. He is so much better hitting right-handed that many fans want him to give up on switch-hitting (OPS over .250 higher last year right-handed), although there is no indication that this will happen. Matt has enormous power to all fields when he connects, so the potential is always there, and despite all the criticism he receives, his career OPS is .739 at a very physically demanding defensive position. I am predicting that this year will be better than last, but not as good as fans are hoping.
2013 Stats: .235/.287/.417, 22/59/79, 2 SB, 29 doubles
2014 Projections: .249/.325/.438, 24/58/73, 0 SB, 27 doubles
Splits to Note – Hits lefties much, much better than righties; hits better at home; Mr. September
First Full-Time Chances
Ryan Flaherty (age 27) – Going into Spring Training, Flaherty is the favorite to win the 2B job. If Manny Machado is not healthy, it is possible that Flaherty starts the season at 2B. While Buck and DD like platoons, many are predicting that if Flaherty wins the starting 2B job, Alexi Casilla will be the utility infielder and there will be no platoon with Jemile Weeks. While it most likely would not be a full platoon, Casilla could eat into some of Flaherty’s playing time at 2B. If Weeks wins the job, then Flaherty is likely to be the utility infielder. In the end, I think Flaherty starts against RHP and sees some but not all of the starts against LHP. Because in the past he has almost exclusively faced RHP, the sample size is too small to predict how he will do in an everyday role. He improved drastically throughout last season, has power, and as we have seen in the case of Chris Davis, being told you will play every day can do a lot for a player’s confidence. He will also be 27 to start the year. I am predicting Flaherty will show some pop this year and improve, although power and plus defense will be most of what he provides (which is fine, just not so much for fantasy owners).
2013 Stats (246 AB): .224/.293/.390, 10/28/27, 2 SB, 11 doubles
2014 Projections: .255/.315/.415, 18/54/60 , 3 SB, 20 doubles
Splits to Note – Hits righties better than lefties and not play full-time against lefties
David Lough – Lough is apparently great defensively, which will unfortunately do little for his fantasy baseball value. While he has some speed, he has not been much of a base-stealer. In the minors over 2,901 plate appearances, he slashed .297/.349/.459. His splits are not exaggerated, which could lead to him playing every day, although it’s probably just as likely that he sits versus some lefties (more so due to the others hitting lefties well than him hitting them poorly). The Orioles’ hitting coach said Lough could bat leadoff, although Nick Markakis is also a candidate.
2013 Stats (315 AB): .286/.311/.413, 5/35/33, 5 SB, 17 doubles
2014 Projections: .275/.306/.400, 8/50/40, 11 SB, 25 doubles
Splits to Note – May not play full-time vs. LHP, but no exaggerated splits.
The Consistent Producers
Adam Jones (age 28) – Jones has been remarkably steady over the last three years. The following are his narrow ranges during that period for some stats: OPS: .785-.839; SB 12-16; BB 25-34; HR 25-33. I expect the lineup to be similar to last year (similar RBI and R), and I expect Jones to produce much like he has in the past.
2013 Stats: .285/.318/.493, 33/100/108, 14 SB, 35 doubles
2014 Projections: .283/.320/.483, 31/96/104, 10 SB, 33 doubles.
Splits To Note – Hits righties much better than lefties; hits much better during day games; usually starts the year strong; hits slightly better at home.
J.J. Hardy (age 31) – J.J. has had a couple of down years in his career, and he has battled a few injuries, but he for the most part has been very consistent at the plate along with his Gold Glove defense. After three years in which he lost time to injuries, he has been remarkably healthy the last two. While there is the chance of injury, he is also in a contract year, and I predict steady production.
2013 Stats: .263/.306/.433, 25/66/76, 2 SB, 27 doubles
2014 Projections: .270/.313/.436, 25/65/80, 1SB, 28 doubles
Splits to Note – Hits lefties better than righties; better in the second half
Coming Off Career Years
Chris Davis (age 28) – What most people overlook in Chris Davis’s “career year” is how good he was the year before. In 139 games in 2012, he managed .270/.326/.501 with 33 HR. Last year he went .286/.370/.634. Thus, while he showed great improvement, he was coming off a very solid 2012, and he was absolutely dominant in the minor leagues. He cooled off a bit after the All-Star break, posting a slash line much more closely resembling his 2012 line. I think that’s a realistic expectation, maybe slightly higher.
2013 Stats: .286/.370/.634, 53/103/138, 4 SB, 42 doubles
2014 Projections: .278/.354/.588, 43/105/117, 5 SB, 40 doubles
Splits to Note – Hits righties much better than lefties; hits better at home
Manny Machado (age 21) – Manny Machado suffered a devastating knee injury to end last year, but fortunately all signs indicate he should be a full-go for spring training. It’s always impossible to predict when someone will be back full strength, but due to Manny’s youth, fans are hopeful (although with knee injuries it appears that it often takes longer to get full strength back after one starts playing again). Manny was third in the majors last year in defensive WAR, despite playing a new position. J.J. Hardy has one year left on his contract, and there is a debate as to whether he will be re-signed or whether Manny will be moved to his natural position of shortstop. It is impossible to predict, but my guess is that Manny remains at third base for at least one or two more years. If Jonathan Schoop develops, he could move to third and Manny could move over to short. For fantasy purposes, Manny is a large unknown at the plate. He played very few minor league games and has just over one full season in the majors. Manny started scorching hot, but then cooled off. My prediction is that he will be a phenomenal hitter in the long term, but that this year may involve some adjustments due to pitchers having more tape on him. Long term, his power will surface (doubles turn into home runs) and he will continue to grow.
2013 Stats: .283/.314/.432, 14/88/71, 6 SB, 51 doubles
2014 Projections: .262/.291/.413, 18/88/58, 3 SB, 37 doubles
Nolan Reimold (age 30) – Nolan has the best shot of any of the “fringe players” to have a real impact. He is listed as “fringe” only due to his injury history – he has simply been unable to stay healthy. Reimold has a career .766 OPS, but he has shown the ability to reach a much higher OPS when healthy. He likely will not play the field due to his injury history, which again leaves a question of playing time for the talented but oft injured outfielder. He has hit leadoff, in the middle of the order and at the bottom, but where he will hit this year will depend on his health-- most likely leadoff or near the end.
Career Stats (936 AB): .252/.327/.439, 41/125/126, 16 SB, 42 doubles
2014 Projections (if healthy): .275/.345/.458
Henry Urrutia (age 27) – Urrutia made an impressive showing in the minors last year despite a long baseball layoff and issues adapting to a new culture and diet. Over the offseason, he has apparently adjusted to the culture quite well, and has added about 15 pounds of pure muscle. Last year, he was knocked for only hitting slap singles to the opposite field. While he was never loaded with power, he is gigantic– truly an imposing specimen– at the right age to start to hit with power. While he does not walk, he has always hit for a high average, and he definitely has sleeper potential. The main issues are: (1) all signs indicate that the Orioles are not comfortable enough with his defense to play him in the outfield yet, and (2) as a result, it will be difficult to find playing time if the Orioles platoon at DH (as expected). Urrutia likely does not have enough power to be much of a keeper candidate, but he has a real shot to be an everyday player in 2015 if the Orioles do not re-sign Nick Markakis. He also could win the everyday DH job if he plays well enough, though that is unlikely.
2013 Stats (58 abs): .276/.276/.310, 0/5/2, 0 SB, 0 doubles
2014 Projections: .298/.312/.437
Delmon Young (age 28) / Steve Pearce (age 30) – Both hit left-handed pitching very well, and because the Orioles stress defense, neither is likely to see much time in the field. If either of them makes the team, they are worth spot starts in daily fantasy leagues, but nothing more.
Young (vs LHP 1,068 AB) .303/.341/.471, 35/99/150, 7 SB, 66 doubles
Pearce (vs LHP 315 AB) .266/.351/.455, 11/24/46, 2 SB, 24 doubles
Michael Almanzar (age 23) – The Orioles have made a habit of carrying a Rule 5 player all season (see Ryan Flaherty and T.J. McFarland over the last two years), which is an interesting strategy for a contending team,to say the least. Almanzar has less flexibility than the others, as scouts describe him as limited defensively (where he projects to 1B or DH, with the possibility of his current position of 3B). He has a chance to make the team and fill a platoon DH role against LHP (in his last two years in the minors, he had better splits vs. lefties, with an OPS over 120 points better), and possibly to fill in for Manny if he is not healthy to start the season. In any event, he is unlikely to have any current fantasy value. While the Orioles would most likely return him to the Red Sox or work out a trade for him, there is the potential that he could have some keeper value, but that seems like a long shot. He hit .300/.353/.458 in high-A ball at age 21, and then .268/.328/.432 as a 22-year-old in AA last season with 16 home runs. He is 6'3'" and 190 lbs. with a frame that could fill out.
2014 projections: Minors or very limited playing time
Based on my predictions, I would venture that the O's hitter who may be most undervalued this year is Nick Markakis. Ryan Flaherty may be a sneaky pick in deep leagues. Manny Machado may be overvalued, as he will have to make adjustments and recover from surgery. Nolan Reimold and Henry Urrutia could potentially have some value, but only in extremely deep leagues.
Stay tuned for the pitching preview, and be sure to follow me @rotonails on Twitter.