If we would have told you last spring that Nick Markakis, Nolan Reimold and Brian Roberts were going to combine for only 553 at-bats in 2012, then you probably would have assumed the Orioles were in for a lousy season.
Of course it's possible you would have predicted a lousy season for the Os under any circumstances, no matter how that trio performed. On paper, Baltimore looked ... well, lousy.
Yet the 2012 Orioles somehow managed to win 93 games, despite only scoring seven more runs than they allowed. Deep into September, the team actually had a negative run-differential. They finished with a record of 29-9 in one-run games, which is insane, and they were 74-0 when leading after seven innings.
[Baseball 2013 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]
The Os haven't made any splashy additions during the off-season — we're assuming you aren't dazzled by names like "Valencia" or "Jurrjens" — but they also haven't lost any essential pieces. (No disrespect intended, Joe Saunders. Slight disrespect for you, Mark Reynolds). And they'll presumably get a full year from 20-year-old Manny Machado. And the heart-of-the-order hitters — Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis — are just entering their prime years. And Baltimore has a pair of elite pitching prospects in the system, Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. And Markakis is returning, as are Reimold and Rob--
Well, OK, I'm not making promises about Brian Roberts.
Still, there's talent in this organization. Maybe not enough to reach 90 wins again, but certainly enough to help the fantasy community.
Q: Do they have any pitchers who can possibly help us?
A: The three starters to consider, depending on the size and shape of your league, are the first three guys listed over on the right as SP1, SP2 and SP3. Jason Hammel was mostly great in his 20 starts last year, though his season was interrupted by arthroscopic knee surgery in July. He finished with an ERA of 3.43 (3.46 xFIP), a WHIP of 1.24, and he delivered the highest strikeout rate of his seven-year career (8.62 K/9). One of the keys for Hammel last season was the introduction of a two-seam sinker, a pitch that led him to more ground-balls and Ks than he'd ever produced. I like Hammel's chances to maintain last year's gains, and he's going outside the top 250 picks in most drafts. Easy profit.
Former top prospect Chris Tillman had a terrific half-season in the bigs after a July call-up, and he brought increased velocity with him to Baltimore (average fastball 92.4 mph, up from 89.5). He ultimately made 15 starts for the Os, going 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 66 Ks in 86.0 innings. His ratios were propped up by a bit of good luck last season, however (.221 BABIP, 4.34 xFIP). This is a case where we should expect a backward step (or two), but Tillman still seems like an acceptable $1 flier in a deep-ish league.
Wei-Yin Chen had a solid debut season in Baltimore, striking out 154 batters over 192.0 frames, delivering ratios that beat the A.L. averages (4.02 ERA, 1.26 WHIP). Chen then capped his season with an ALDS win over Andy Pettitte. Think of him as a spot-starter for mixed league purposes in 2013.
And then there's Jim Johnson, the 2012 MLB saves leader. Johnson closed the door 51 times last season, ground-balling the league to death (2.93 GB/FB). He doesn't pile up Ks, but that's hardly a concern if he's saving 40-plus games. Johnson won't exactly be a bargain at the draft table this year (Yahoo! ADP 126.4, RP9), but he's earned some job security, pitching well in back-to-back seasons.
Q: What about Dylan Bundy? Any chance we'll see him this year?
A: Sure, a good chance. Bundy made a cameo appearance in Baltimore last September, and it sounds like the front office would welcome his help at some point in 2013. He put in time with three Os affiliates in his first pro season at age 19, and he rarely struggled. In 103.2 minor league innings, he struck out 119 batters, walked 28, and allowed just 24 earned runs (2.08 ERA). Bundy enters 2013 at or near the top of every list of pitching prospects.
The other name you'll want to know in Baltimore's system is Kevin Gausman, the fourth overall pick in the 2012 MLB draft. Both he and Bundy are likely to open the year at Double-A Bowie and finish with the big league club. If you're wondering about the 22-year-old Gausman's ceiling, here's a blurb from John Sickels:
LSU product has excellent fastball/changeup combination and strong makeup. Development of breaking ball is key but I'm optimistic about that. Like Bundy, he can be an ace.
The back-end of Baltimore's starting rotation may seem like a 10-car pile-up at the moment (see above, right), but there's clearly talent on the way.
Q: While we're talking young Os, what's the projection for Machado's sophomore season?
A: How would you feel about a 15/15 season, with a .260-ish average?
You probably wouldn't feel great about it, fantasy-wise, not at a deep position like third base. But that's where I'm at. Of course there's a wide range of possible outcomes for Machado. We're talking about a kid who reached the majors just one month after his 20th birthday, with zero Triple-A plate appearances on his resume and a .266/.352/.438 slash line at Double-A. Machado homered 11 times over 402 Eastern League at-bats last year, and he swiped 13 bags in 17 attempts. With the Os, he hit seven more homers and went 2-for-2 on the bases. He clearly offers the potential for double-digit power and speed totals, though he'll likely hit near the bottom of the order. I'll be moderately surprised if he cracks the top-15 at his position this year, so I'm not targeting him in mixers.
Q: I suppose we have to talk Reimold and Roberts here, don't we?
A: It's kind of a tradition, yeah.
Q: Alright, fine. Proceed...
A: Reimold was great for a month last year, hitting .313 with five homers in April, but his season ended early due to a herniated disk. He underwent surgery in late-June, and he finally faced live pitching this week. The expectation is that he won't have any restrictions this spring; he'll likely see time at DH and in left field. Here's his manager discussing the upcoming position battle(s), via MLB.com:
"I'm not going to use that 'P' word right now," Showalter said of a possible platoon between Reimold and [Nate] McLouth. "I kind of like the edge that Nolan's got right now. He's seen some things we've done. ... I do have a long memory of what Nolan was getting ready to do for us last year, and how he got hurt [diving into the stands for a ball].
"So he's going to get a very patient approach. He can be a big player for us this year, something that a lot of people have forgotten about. We haven't, but also I'm not going to be constantly telling Nolan that, because he thinks that all of us have forgotten about Nolan. ... You can see that look in his eye. He's friendly to me, but he's got that [edge]."
Health is clearly the worry with Reimold, but he's a no-risk pick this year, a forgotten man in drafts.
Roberts is allegedly healthy right now, so that's good news. I'll take March 11 in the injury pool. The 35-year-old hasn't given us a full season since 2009, and he's dealt with a medley of health issues over the past 12 months (concussion symptoms, hip, sports hernia). There's no obvious reason to be bullish here. Eventually, 21-year-old prospect Jonathan Schoop (pronounced "Scope") figures to take over at second for the Os. Schoop belted 14 home runs at Double-A last season, though he hit just .245/.324/.386.
Q: Any final thoughts, expert?
A: Here's one: I'll draft Chris Davis all day at his current Yahoo! ADP (185.5). Davis is entering his age-27 season, coming off an excellent campaign. He banged out 33 home runs for Baltimore last year, he drove in 85 runs, and he hit .270. Strikeouts are still part of the profile, but there's almost no way he can avoid 30 homers in a healthy season.
As long as you're not drafting with Brad Evans and the year isn't 2009, you should be able to acquire Davis at a price that leaves room for profit.