Dennis 'Cutty' Wise: The game done changed...
Slim Charles: Game's the same, just got more fierce.
- The Wire
Nothing comes easy in Baltimore. Not even in baseball, where the Orioles have to deal not only with the fact that they haven't been good in over a decade, but that they have to play in a division with four of the best teams in the American League. Even if things did start to work out for the O's, how are they going to compete with four of the best run teams in MLB?
They need to find a way to get out of the hood and into the high life.
It's hard to believe that when they won the World Series in 1984, Cal Ripkin Jr was only 23. They must have believed in their heart of hearts that it was only the start of something special. However, since losing back-to-back ALCS matchups in '96 and '97, the O's best finish was third place in 2004. Since the Rays turned things around, the O's have finished in last place for four straight years and haven't won 70 games since 2006.
As more and more pitching prospects begin to flame out, where do they go from here? What do they do? What can they do? How many fantasy-worthy players do they actually have? Let's take a look.
Best Hitter - Matt Wieters
I ain't no suit-wearin' businessman like you... you know I'm just a gangsta I suppose... -Avon Barksdale
Wieters is trying to be the gangsta, trying to be the man in Baltimore. They need a leader and at one point Wieters was considered to be the best prospect in baseball after hitting .355/.454/.600 in his minor league debut, while looking like he could be a top defensive catcher as well.
Is he finally living up to those expectations?
In 2009 and 2010, Wieters posted below league-average offensive numbers and only hit 20 HR in 226 major league games while striking out almost 20% of the time. Most of his value came behind-the-plate but he couldn't tap into those special skills he showed as a hitter when he was in the minors.
Last year he finally started to show at least one skill, hitting 22 HR in 139 games. He reduced strikeouts to 15.2%, posted an ISO of .188 (from .128) and on a .276 BABIP, something he can probably expect to be below his norm.
Overall, Wieters hit .262/.328/.450 with 72 R and 68 RBI, and combined with his superior defensive statistics, that gave him a 5 WAR season. He posted basically the same advanced numbers offensively as Adam Jones, and Jones posted a 2.9 WAR season.
Wieters had his ups and downs last season, but over his last 38 games he really started to hit the ball hard: .279/.368/.610, 12 HR, 9 2B, 29 RBI, 26 R in 155 PAs. I won't put it past him to be the best offensive catcher in fantasy, but of course he still has to go out there and prove it for 140 games. I'm not giving up on him.
Best Pitcher - Zach Britton
Det. James 'Jimmy' McNulty: If Snotboogie always stole the money, why'd you let him play?
Witness: You got to, this America, man.
The O's don't really have a choice. They have to put out five pitchers, whether they can play or not.
The funny thing is that two years ago, this same group of names would have been considered the future of Baltimore. Whenever, as a Mariners fan, I start to get really excited about our trio of starting pitchers I just remember that at one point: Matusz, Britton, Tillman sounded like it was going to be unstoppable. Even in the AL East.
Brian Matusz: The #5 overall prospect in 2010.
Zach Britton: The #28 overall prospect in 2011.
Chris Tillman: The #22 overall prospect in 2009.
The Orioles didn't give Matusz much time in the minors before calling him up and though he had some success early in his career, he was historically bad last year: 49.2 innings, 38 K/24 BB, 10.69 ERA on 81 hits allowed and 18 HR. He gave up eighteen home runs in less than 50 innings. The year before that he gave up 19 HR in 175.2 innings. Baltimore will hope he can stay healthy and learn how to pitch again, probably starting in AAA.
Tillman has been given three major league trials and has yet to figure it out. He posted a K/9 in the minors of over 10 in 2009, but in 36 majors league starts he has posted a K/9 of 5.8 and an ERA of 5.58.
Which leaves us with the winner by default, the only young starter that still has hope and promise left. Britton was not as highly touted as the other two, but has consistently put up good numbers. He made 28 starts for the O's last year, posting a 4.61 ERA and a 97/62 K/BB ratio in 154.1 innings with 162 hits allowed. He faced 666 batters, which probably doesn't mean anything, but that might not be a good sign. He led O's pitchers in WAR with 2.5 and had a FIP of 4.00, xFIP of 4.12. Decent for a major league debut.
He had an ERA of 2.93 before June, so that doesn't bode well for how he pitched in the final four months, but who else am I gonna pick? Jason Hammel? Bruce Chen? Okay fine, I'll choose Bruce Chen.
Potential Breakout: Britton
I wrote so much about him before, why not just stick with that? I guess Chris Davis could always pull a Carlos Pena.
Potential Disappointment: Mark Reynolds, JJ Hardy, Brian Roberts, Adam Jones
I mean, pick one?
The hitters of Baltimore all seem to possess a skill. Just one. Maybe two. These are two-tool players. Mark Reynolds hit 37 home runs last year. That's a lot! But is he a good hitter? I can't call a .221 hitter a good hitter.
JJ Hardy hit 30 HR from the SS position! But he hit six home runs in 2010! In 101 games he hit six home runs. In 2009 he hit 11. Yes, he's shown this power before and Minnesota just wasn't the place for him, but I'm not going to assume 30 home runs from JJ Hardy. I'll assume 15 and consider the rest to be cream.
Who knows how Roberts will bounce back. And Adam Jones had his best overall season offensively, but his progression has gone much slower than I thought it would. Will he hit 30 HR this year? Will he hit 20? I honestly have a hard time predicting Adam Jones and that's why I usually stay away from him.
Maybe they won't disappoint, but that depends a lot on your expectation levels. Mine are low.
Prospect Watch: Per BA
The top two guys are the ones that O's fans should be really excited about. Whether he's at SS or 3B, Machado looks like he'll be a fantasy stud. Bundy could be a quick riser through the system and a potential ace.
However, after that the system gets a bit more dicey. Neither Schoop or Bridwell will see the majors this year. Hoes could start the year in AAA, making him just one step away from the bigs, but he's not exactly a premium offensive prospect. He hit .285/.354/.390 with 9 HR and 20 SB in 136 games last year over two levels.
Nick Delmonico hasn't played in the minors yet. (Fun Fact: There are five Delmonico's on Baseball-Ref, none of them reached the majors, but three of them were in the Orioles system.)
Flaherty is a rule 5 pick that might contribute this year, but shouldn't be expected to play a big role in your fantasy league. Avery might possibly steal a few bases in Baltimore this year. Dan Klein could be a long-term "closer watch" and the 23 year old struck out 37 and walked only 6 in 32.1 minor league innings last year with a 1.11 ERA.
The O's system is very top heavy and you can be excited about those top two, but they are non-factors in 2012.