When the shortened 60-game schedule was released, so too were projections of how the season would conclude, with predicted wins and losses made for all teams. Needless to say, it was good for some teams, but for the Baltimore Orioles, it was as bad as it could get. With the league’s worst projected win total by season’s end, the lowly Orioles remain the team that all others look forward to playing. Almost like passing Go, they are considered by many of their opponents to be free money.
That being said, upon a closer look, the question arises as to whether or not they are as easy an opponent as they’re generalized to be. After all, they play in a hitter’s haven, they have marginal talent at certain spots and their best players have multi-eligibility status, giving them a nudge in value. Could they be as bad as advertised?
Playing their games at Camden Yards, The Orioles’ home games are privy to having a nice short fence in right field, but a short fence in left-center field, resulting in a ton of home runs and extra-base hits in and around those areas. It’s a rather spread outset of data, and I strongly encourage you to visit RotoFanatic’s “Park Factors” section for detailed batter tendencies from the past three seasons in order to see how helpful the park is for hitters. What you should know in a general sense though is this:
With that in mind, let’s look now at their projected starting lineup for Opening Day and see if any of the names stand out….in a positive light.
Orioles 60-Man Player Pool
Since the roster was originally released, the Orioles have also added top prospects Adley Rutschman, Ryan Mountcastle and other players as well. One final note of importance is the designation of Trey Mancini to the 60-day Injured List, which opens up the door of opportunity for all Orioles to step up and show up.
As such, looking at this list, the talent here looks…well, not the greatest. You won’t see many of these players near the top of any drafts right now, though dynasty drafts will see Rutschman near the top. That said, there is some light at the end of the tunnel here. Deeper into drafts, there is some Baltimore value that should be addressed and noted, as these Orioles could help you fill out your fantasy roster.
Austin Hays, OF
2019 stats: .309/.373/.574, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 12 R, 2 SB
2020 Steamer projected stats: .259/.300/.459, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 23 R, 3 SB
Austin Hays has been a top prospect within the Orioles’ organization for quite a while. He had some exposure to Major League at-bats in 2017, but failed miserably, recording more strikeouts than hits plus walks over 63 plate appearances. Inconsistent success, plus multiple injuries, caused a two-year break in the minors before returning to the big league club for Hays, and he made the most of it last September.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) September 24, 2019
Hays was one of the hottest players in baseball to end the season, leaving room for hope and optimism to carry over into 2020. One thing that was very promising for him was that, against every pitch other than the sinker, he hit over .400 on other pitches faced in 2019. Sure, it was a small sample size, but it was still a significant start. His strikeout rate of 17.3% and his walk rate of 9.3% were both better than their respective league averages. Looking a bit deeper, he became more disciplined at the plate in 2019 as well:
Hays attacked pitches in the zone, making solid contact, but was lucky chasing pitches outside of the strike zone. He’ll need to improve at staying away from pitches outside of the zone in 2020 as he’ll be facing elite pitching talent from both the AL and NL East. Finally, while running on the base paths, Hays has shown the ability to record double-digit steals in the minors. Over his years in both the minors and the Majors, he does have 26 stolen bases but has also been caught stealing 19 times. Picking and choosing the right times to run is key for his fantasy success.
Next up in my #2020PlayerBreakdowns Series is:
Austin Hays, OF
24 years old
Drafted: 2016, Round 3; Pick 14
Let’s get started…
— Matt Williams (@MattWi77iams) January 30, 2020
All that being said, the opportunity is there for the taking. Hays is a fast runner who can steal some bases, he can spread the ball all over the field, and he should be able to use the hitter-friendly Camden Yards to his advantage. And while he will be facing some elite pitching this season, he does look ready to level himself up and produce over his current ADP.
Brandon Hyde on Austin Hays: “He has picked up where he left off in September.” #Orioles
— Joe Trezza (@JoeTrezz) July 17, 2020
Hays is definitely someone to be drafted in most leagues and should be on rosters given the opportunity for playing time this season. Keep him on your bench and see if last season was a fluke. If I were a betting man, I’d say that the former top-tier prospect is about ready to show the world that he has arrived and is primed and ready to take the next step forward.
Renato Nunez, 1B/3B
2019 stats: .244/.311/.460, 31 HR, 90 RBI, 72 R, 1 SB
2020 Steamer projected stats: .247/.311/..459, 10 HR, 29 RBI, 25 R, 1 SB
Looking at Renato Nunez’s stats from 2019, one could say that he had a breakout year and should be garnering more attention in drafts for 2020. While he was fairly consistent all season, he did slow down quite a bit by September, which could have been fatigue setting in.
Though he didn’t start at third base last season, Nunez does own dual eligibility as he appeared in enough games for the Orioles at both corner positions. That seems ready to change for 2020 as he could be starting at both spots.
— Joe Trezza (@JoeTrezz) February 15, 2020
Overall, Nunez held his own at the plate and was a power hitter throughout the year, finishing tied for 24th in the American League in home runs hit. That said, hitting 31 home runs does account for something and can’t just be achieved out of pure luck. In fact, his peripherals show us that he hit around what he should have hit, based on his approach at the plate, the type of contact he made, and his expected stats.
Essentially, Renato Nunez looks to be a cheap source for power in 2020. As someone who elevates the ball, possesses an above-average launch angle, hits and pulls the ball hard and plays at home where the baseball carries well, there’s a good chance he continues last season’s pace and is again a power hitter.
Another hit for Renato Nunez. You can't stop him in these intrasquad games. You can only hope to contain him #orioles
— Roch Kubatko (@masnRoch) July 13, 2020
I don’t see much room for growth given Renato’s limitations and strikeout tendencies (plus he won’t face a ton of left-handed batters). That said, much like Hays above, there is value here for late in the draft power. If you went with speed early on, feel free to stash Nunez late and use him in the right situation.
DJ Stewart, OF
2019 stats: .238/.317/.381, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 15 R, 1 SB
2020 Steamer projected stats: .253/.335/.443, 5 HR, 14 RBI, 14 R, 2 SB
In an unfortunate turn of events in baseball, DJ Stewart suffered multiple injuries in 2019 and subsequently missed a lot of time. After hurting his ankle last June, he suffered a concussion midway through his first game back in the Orioles’ lineup. After the season was over, he had surgery to repair that injured ankle and was rehabbing at the time of the season’s shutdown in March. Now fully healed, Stewart looks determined and ready to make good on a shortened season.
Web gem alert🚨!
Check out DJ Stewart diving catch in LF in Rio Ruiz opposite field sac fly. Appears @GOOODJ8 is moving just fine post injury 👍 @WJZ @Orioles #SummerCamp2020 ⚾️ pic.twitter.com/NaV2rWz7VS
— Mark Viviano (@MarkWJZ) July 17, 2020
Before his initial call up in 2018, Stewart had always had good numbers and the peripherals to back them up. Primarily a pull hitter, he made good contact on the ball, had a very solid walk rate, and didn’t strike out a lot. Since his debut with the Orioles, he’s done the same, to a lesser extent, in his two small sampled seasons.
These sorts of numbers play well to his home stadium of Camden Yards, as it’s a shorter fence out in right field which helps for his pulling power potential. Now fully healthy, Stewart has said that this “extended off-season” has allowed for both his confidence and his ankle to get back to where they were when he was one of the organization’s top prospects. As he said:
The best version of me is the guy who earned his way to the big leagues last year. Last year, I showed I no longer need to be in Triple-A. My numbers proved that. I got off to a pretty hot start when I got called up, but the injuries back to back, I was never able to become myself and get my timing and routine down.
Now looking ready to roll, he will find himself with everyday at-bats in a lineup where depth won’t be an issue. He will face a lot of right-handed pitchers and will play a lot of games where his approach at the plate can be positively emphasized and used to his advantage. I expect him, with health and playing time on his side, to outperform his Steamer projections and to give fantasy owners everywhere a positive return. With Dwight Smith Jr. and Anthony Santander arriving late to camp, he’s someone to watch and pounce on in the waiver wire due to opportunity and the possibility that he gets off to a good start.
Anthony Santander, OF
2019 stats: .261/.299/..476, 20 HR, 59 RBI, 46 R, 1 SB
2020 Steamer projected stats: .262/.306/.456, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 25 R, 2 SB
Anthony Santander came into his own in 2019, exploding for 20 home runs in just over 400 plate appearances. In less than half a season, he hit more home runs with the Orioles in 2019 than he did in both the major and minor leagues from 2017-2019 combined. So, while he has been graded with high raw power (55/60), he hasn’t always shown that while developing in the Orioles’ farm system.
— Baltimore Orioles 😷 (@Orioles) August 27, 2019
Let’s get some negatives out of the way before anything else. First, Santander needs to learn how to not only take a pitch but also wait for it. While he possessed a below average whiff rate, his walk rate of 4.7% is something that needs to get better to help compensate for his 21.2% strikeout rate. While the strikeout rate is slightly below average, his walk rate is well below the league average. So his patience needs to be improved. That being said, he did well against most pitch-types he faced in 2019.
Looking at the chart, other than Santander’s struggles while handling a changeup, he did pretty well against some typically tough pitches, some of which require time and patience to understand. With a good exit velocity, he looks ready to build upon last season’s success. Some say he’s built like another up and coming player in baseball today too.
Unfortunately for him, he contracted COVID during the offseason, and, though he was asymptomatic, he did miss important time with the club. Now that he is back, he apparently could be ready for Opening Day, though a delay in his start is possible.
Hyde said Anthony Santander looks great in workouts. Just took live BP, hit line drives and homered. "I think he's got a real chance of breaking with the club if everything stays on course right now." #orioles
— Roch Kubatko (@masnRoch) July 17, 2020
As for my two cents, I think if he’s given the time to work through and develop the plate discipline needed for success, Santander can be a nice sneaky add for you once the season begins. He’s got the physical makeup to be a successful power hitter while not sacrificing batting average. If he produces his Steamer-projected numbers, he’s worth having on your team.
Hanser Alberto, 2B/3B
2019 stats: .305/.329/.422, 12 HR, 51 RBI, 62 R, 4 SB
2020 Steamer projections: .288/..316/.413, 4 HR, 21 RBI, 23 R, 2 SB
Let’s play a Player A vs Player B game. Here are the Statcast Peripherals of two players. The picture on the left belongs to Hanser Alberto, while another player’s peripherals are on the right.
Pretty similar rankings here with a lot of red in the same places and a lot of blue too. Any guesses as tho who is on the right? I’ll give you one clue: he’s is being drafted 250th overall. That’s right, it’s Luis Arraez, who is regarded by many as someone who can win a batting title this year. I’m not saying that Hanser Alberto will do the same, but I’m saying that there are some similarities.
* – thanks to Paul Mammino (@paulmammino) for help with the graphic
Even their success versus specific pitches was similar:
So who is Hanser Alberto? He is someone who had been a prospect – seemingly forever – before getting sporadic at-bats for the Rangers in 2015. Since then, he’s struggled to find a safe spot in a lineup, but cleared waivers en route to Baltimore. Getting frequent at-bats and starts, Alberto was able to spread the ball all around the field while making consistent contact. He knows how to put the bat on the ball and put it in play, all while rarely striking out. Sound familiar? It should, as Luis Arraez is being drafted as a source for batting average and runs in many leagues. I’m not saying that Alberto and Arraez are completely the same player (Arraez seems to have a quicker bat), but it’s plausible to expect some sort of similar outcome for a reduced rate.
— Baltimore Orioles 😷 (@Orioles) August 31, 2019
What’s in store for Alberto in 2020? He did bat .398 against left-handed pitchers in 2019, and he won’t face be facing a ton in this shortened season, so there is a chance for regression of sorts, as he hits .238 against right-handed pitchers. He also hits a lot of ground balls (48.1% of the time), so an improvement into more fly balls would be a welcomed bonus. That said, he did a lot of his damage on the road last season, and he gets to play exclusively in the American League East and the National League East. Given his really late ADP and how similar he looks to another player drafted much earlier than him, if Alberto is there as your last pick in the draft, or if you have a spot available, he’s worth a shot to see if he pans out and bats over .300 again in 2020.
John Means, SP
I covered John Means extensively here awhile back, but there are two pieces of polarizing news to add since then.
Brandon Hyde said John Means' fastball was sitting 93-94 mph in last night's intrasquad game, with a good changeup and two sharp breaking balls.
Means' heater averaged 91.7 mph last year, per Statcast.
— Joe Trezza (@JoeTrezz) July 10, 2020
John Means has been scratched from tomorrow's exhibition game due to what Brandon Hyde just called dead arm. Thomas Eshelman will start instead.
— Joe Trezza (@JoeTrezz) July 18, 2020
With a changeup and a slider keeping his opponents’ batting average around the Mendoza line, and now a potentially increased velocity in his fastball, Means gets a slight season-long upgrade in my books. The dead arm is something to monitor and isn’t ideal, but if he can start and succeed during his first start, then I wouldn’t worry too much. He’ll need to continue to keep batters guessing with his similarly well-released pitch types (as noted in the piece above), and wins will be hard to come by, but as a pitcher with talent, Means is getting up there in value and should be rostered.
This is an important battle in camp, as there is no clear distinction as to who the designated closer will be in 2020. Despite recording eleven saves last season, Givens did also blow seven saves as well, leading some to believe that his job security could be in question. Harvey, on the other hand, appeared in only seven games last season but did strike out at least one batter in every contest.
There was some speculation early on that Givens would have the job as the team’s closer, the role he held for the majority of last season. That being said, he was much more effective in the eighth inning last year than in the ninth, so perhaps he is being groomed to be a setup man. Then there were rumors of Harvey taking the job, and his ADP started to rise; however, the guessing game continued because some thought that he was being groomed to be a starter in the long term.
There are so many questions up in the air right now, that nobody knows who the closer is, not even the Orioles themselves. If I had to guess, I would pick Givens to start as the team’s closer. This would be done to increase his trade value and the Orioles can ship him out for assets and they can build around Harvey for the rest of 2020 and beyond.
I'd say he starts the season as the closer, and if he succeeds, he gets dealt for assets. If he fails, he goes back to the eighth where he was much better in 2019.
8th inning: 1.93 ERA
9th inning: 6.69 ERA
— Davey Lou (@sportz_nutt51) July 12, 2020
Nevertheless, the opportunities for saves won’t be happening as often as they do for other competitive teams, so tread lightly and don’t pay too much for the winner of this job.