MLB’s regular season begins later this month, which means that fantasy players are just a few weeks away from drafting their teams for the summer ahead. As Orioles fans, putting together a make-believe roster may provide our only opportunity at winning in 2020.
While certainly not required, sprinkling your fantasy roster with a few players from your favorite real team can make the season a touch more enjoyable. It allows you to double-dip. If that player does well, you can celebrate as both a fan and a manager. Of course, the Orioles’ lack of substantial star power makes this difficult for those of us sporting the orange and black.
But that does not mean that the O’s are completely lacking in viable players worthy of consideration for your fantasy rosters.
The cream of the crop
These players could likely get a spot on most fantasy teams. They may not be the stars on said team, but they are productive and represent the best that the Orioles have to offer.
This one is obvious. While Mancini may not really be an outfielder, his ability to play away from first base adds to his fantasy value. He is ranked 106th on ESPN’s board of top fantasy players, by far the highest of any Oriole. But he is also a regression candidate. Can he replicate the 35 home runs, 38 doubles and 97 RBI he had a season ago? Some of that will depend on his supporting cast.
For now, Givens is the top arm in the Orioles bullpen. That status will likely allow him to earn nearly every rare save opportunity that may arise. Even on a team as bad as the Orioles that has value. As does Givens’s ability to strike out 12.29 batters per nine innings, like he did in 2019. However, Givens is also the player currently on the Orioles roster that has the best chance of being traded before the season is over. He probably wouldn’t be a closer on a competitive team, and a deal could limit his fantasy production.
Be aware that, to start the season, Nunez only qualifies as a first baseman and DH in ESPN leagues, while he qualifies as both a first baseman and third baseman in Yahoo! leagues. His 31 home runs and 90 RBI look at bit better at the hot corner than they do across the diamond. Either way, he is a late-draft option to help boost your home run and RBI numbers.
There are questions about these players. They don’t have enough of a track record yet to determine if their talent translates to fantasy value, but they could fit on the right team.
Depending on the size of the league in which you play, Hays may not even be drafted. The rookie has limited big league experience, is three years removed from that productive minor league season of 2017 and has a lengthy injury history. Not to mention, he will be transitioning to a full-time center field role for the first time in his professional career. But Hays is also extremely toolsy and could emerge as a Rookie of the Year candidate with a little luck, racking up numbers in a bunch of categories.
Should Givens struggle or be traded, Harvey is his natural internal replacement. The mullet-sporting reliever wowed onlookers with a triple-digit fastball that he used to strike out 11 batters in his 6.1 innings of big league action last year. The Orioles have gone all-in on making Harvey a reliever full-time, and the 25-year-old seems to be on board. But the team is likely to be cautious with the former first-round pick. He has had some bad luck with his health, and the Orioles aren’t going to trot him out to the mound every other day. For that reason, he could be a better option in a dynasty/keeper league.
His bat is big league ready, but it’s a matter of when the Orioles wish to start his big league clock and where he is going to play in the field. Mountcastle spent all of 2019 in Triple-A Norfolk, where he slashed .312/.344/.527 with 25 home runs, 35 doubles and 83 RBI in 127 games. The Orioles want him to walk more, and seem set on making him an outfielder for the time being. Those requirements could have him back in Norfolk for at least the season’s first month. Once he does make it to Baltimore, though, he will be playing everyday and should hit oodles of home runs in cozy Camden Yards.
In deep leagues it is common to have a weak position or two on your roster. That’s where these players come in to fill the gaps and, hopefully, prevent your team from falling too far behind.
If, for some reason, you are dead set on picking up an Orioles starting pitcher, Means is the one to get. But his high-contact approach isn’t too appealing from a fantasy perspective. Not to mention his 5.48 xFIP and .256 BABIP indicate that he could be due for some sophomore struggles.
Alberto finished third on the Orioles with 160 hits last season. The departure of Jonathan Villar could see him jump up another spot on that list in 2020. And it’s nice that he qualifies at multiple positions. But he doesn’t fill up the stat sheet much and will likely only be useful in deep leagues or in the event of an injury.
The former Rule 5 pick is likely going to be starting alongside Hays and Mancini in the Orioles outfield for most of the upcoming season. And at 25 years old Santander should be able to improve on the 20 home runs he hit in 93 games a year ago. But he could also be the first one to lose playing time once Mountcastle is called up.
Take a flier
Buyer beware. These players have had significant recent struggles. But there remains a chance that they put together a productive season.
Modest as they may have been, Sisco took steps forward in 2019. His walk rate improved by 4%. His strikeout rate dropped by more than 5%. And his triple slash line jumped across the board. Sisco remains a poor defensive catcher, but that doesn’t matter much in fantasy apart from impacting his playing time. He worked with a hitting instructor this offseason, and has focused on improving his power. He has more upside than his fellow backstop Pedro Severino, but will remain behind him in the pecking order unless his offense improves significantly this summer.
Make no mistake here. You should not draft Davis. He should be a free agent in every single fantasy league in existence to begin the season. But that does not mean he is completely irrelevant. The former home run champ is putting together a nice spring training that should see him make the Orioles opening day roster. If that is the case, expect to see him split time between first base and DH, where he could potentially walk enough and hit enough home runs to pass as a fill-in should an injury arise. But again, he is only a realistic option in the deepest of leagues, and even then it’s a stretch until he proves otherwise.
Someone has to start games for the Orioles behind Means. All indications from spring training are that Cobb is healthy, and ready to take on a full workload. Remember that the righty was quite effective in the second-half of the 2018 season, when he posted a 2.56 ERA. However, he doesn’t rack up a ton of strikeouts, won’t get many wins on this Orioles team and takes frequent trips to the IL. If your fantasy team is any good, Cobb might only be worth picking up for a spot start here or there.
Planning for the future
Keeper leagues have to look beyond the upcoming season and find value where others may miss it.
The Orioles really like Kremer. Manager Brandon Hyde has mentioned him by name several times as one of the most impressive players this spring, and he is clearly going to be part of the Orioles rotation in the not-so-distant future. But he has just 19.1 innings of Triple-A experience, and he is another player that the club won’t want to start the big league clock on just yet. He could be a useful waiver claim a few months from now.
The top pick in the 2019 draft is not going to play in the majors in 2020. However, that should not stop you from adding him to your dynasty league if you yourself are in a rebuild. Rutschman is one of the top prospects in baseball, and he could make it to the big leagues sometime in 2021 with a starting spot to come in the following season.