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The Fantasy Top 5 for 2014: Baltimore Orioles

The next piece in our series ranking the Top 5 players from all MLB franchises looks at the Baltimore O's and their two first round draft picks in 2014.

Greg Fiume

1. Chris Davis - The clear cut number one choice, Chris Davis put up one of the most unexpected fantasy seasons in 2013 and was one of the all time greatest value picks in fantasy drafts. His performance begs the question of whether it can be repeated, and I believe it can. The two variables driving Davis’ increased production were his power and walk rate. The raw power had never been in question and while his spike in FB% is a little fluky, I don’t expect a severe drop in power output. 40 HRs is entirely in reach and a reasonable projection for 2014.

The walk rate also appears to be repeatable due to a change in Davis’ approach at the plate. There will always be a ton of swing and miss in his game, but Chris Davis decided to swing at far fewer pitches in 2013 resulting in an OBP jump to .370 from .326. Davis swung at considerably fewer pitches both inside and outside the strike zone and decreased his overall Swing% from 54.9% to 51.1%.This newfound patience bodes well for Davis maintaining his 10.7% walk rate of 2013 and in turn, support another solid year in AVG and R’s to go with the big HR and RBI numbers his power will produce.

The power faded towards the end of the year, and a simple look at 1st half/2nd half splits might lead you to believe that Davis’ season was a fluke, but I don’t buy it. His approach remained consistent, drawing double digit walks in the month of August and September, but his HR/FB% in September dropped below his career average and had a lot to do with his power outage.

Expected ADP Range: 7-12. Davis should slot in at the tail end of most first rounds and he went 9th in our Experts Early Mock Draft

Worth It?: Elite power is a rarity and Davis ran circles around the competition last year. Even with some regression,

he’s an excellent option to build a team around. If he falls to the second round, don’t hesitate to grab him.

Keeper Value: Entering his age 28 season, Davis has a ton of keeper league value. The power numbers should be around for another 4-5 years and if this new approach keeps up he should be a perennial first round pick.

2. Adam Jones - A worthy challenger to Chris Davis for the top spot in the Baltimore organization’s fantasy ranking, Adam Jones is another likely first round pick. Substituting some of Davis’ power for a little extra speed, Jones is a multi-dimensional pick that allows a manager to remain flexible during the draft. A 30-10 contender in 2014, Jones has been extremely consistent in the last 3 years and is one of the safer bets in the second tier of potential first round picks.

What puts Jones behind Davis is the lack of ceiling in the SB department and the subpar OBP. Chris Davis paces the field in HR’s and while Jones cannot keep up in that category, his SB numbers don’t make up for their difference in power. 20 SBs are just about out of the question, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the 14 steals of last year drops to closer to 10 in 2014. This isn’t to dump on Jones or say he isn’t valuable, but when comparing two players I’ll side with the one who is arguably the best in the league at a given category - that’s Davis with home runs. Jones was still Top 10 in R, HR, and RBI with a useful 14 steals and .285 average to boot.

Expected ADP Range: 10-15. Adam Jones recently went ahead of Chris Davis in our Experts early mock draft, a pick I don’t agree with but also don’t have a huge problem with. As the off-season progresses, I think we will see a shift in owner’s comfort level with taking Ryan Braun earlier, with belief in a healthy season from Hanley Ramirez, and recognition of just how good Chris Davis was this past season; putting all of these players ahead of Jones and pushing him to the back end of first rounds.

Worth It?: Barely. As I mentioned before, Jones is one of the safer top picks of the draft because he plays every day and contributes in every category. His value takes a hit in OBP leagues where he probably falls into the second round, but in standard 5x5 he’s a force to be reckoned with. His power may have peaked in 2013, so he could be a little overvalued in this year’s drafts. I’d feel a lot better taking him towards the end of the second round, but he won’t be around at that price. My only issue is the lack of upside, since 30 HR’s isn’t guaranteed, 20 SB’s are out of the question, and his refusal to draw walks limits the upside of his other counting stats.

Keeper Value: Similar to Davis, Jones will be entering his age 28 season and holds even more value in a keeper league. His across-the-board production should maintain for the next 3-4 years and Adam Jones has the build to support solid power numbers into his late 30’s. The steals might slowly decrease, but if he can bump his OBP back up to previous .330+ levels, his value will remain constant.

3. Manny Machado - One of the bright young stars in the game, Manny Machado will one day be a first round draft pick in every fantasy draft. Unfortunately, everyone and their mother is aware of his potential and the price to pay for Machado is increased as a result. 2013 was a briliant campaign for Machado as he hit 14 HRs, stole 6 bases, and hit .283 while competing half the season at only 20 years old. There is a ton to build on here and as the body fills out there is 30+ HR power in Machado’s bat as many of his 51 doubles will eventually jump the fence. While Machado’s season is a smashing success when compared to his age, fantasy baseball cares little for context and players are compared in a vaccuum, which is why Machado is going to be way overvalued in 2014 drafts.

There were plenty of red flags raised in 2013, the biggest of which is the freak knee injury that Machado suffered at the end of the year. The surgery went well, but a timetable of 6 months has been put in place putting Machado back on the field some time at the end of April, which means missed games for fantasy owners. Machado has the makeup and work ethic to come back even stronger from this injury, but a missed month is difficult to overcome and it would be unreasonable to expect Machado to come back and rake from day 1.

Machado also follows Adam Jones with a poor walk rate and below-average OBP (.314) which severely limits his run potential and could result in some prolonged streaks. Machado also raised a red flag with his lack of stolen bases. I was expecting at least double digit steals in the early seasons before his body really filled out, but only 6 steals in 156 games leaves a lot to be desired. This puts Machado in a spot where the power isn’t going to fully develop next year, and he won’t be running to help make up for some of the value, so we’re left with a player who doesn’t do anything extraordinarily well.

Expected ADP: 50-55 (Round 5). There is a ton of question marks and it’s almost silly to even try to project where Machado will fall. This projection is based on the assumption he misses at most two-three weeks of the season with the possibility of a return around Opening Day. This number falls drastically if he comes back end of April or early May.

Worth It?: Not even close. In an alternate universe where Machado’s knee injury never occurred, he might be the single most overvalued player heading into 2014 drafts, but even with the injury there is little chance you get Machado at a reasonable price. Anything prior to the 7th round will require Machado to have a breakout season just to break even in price.

Keeper Value: Off the charts valuable. This off-season, while still overrated, will be the cheapest Machado’s price will ever be for the next decade. The power is coming and his walk rates will likely come back up to the above-average levels he showed in the minor leagues and Machado has future first rounder written all over him.

4. J.J. Hardy - After Machado, the list falls off a cliff where we then find 31 year old J.J. Hardy. Signed for one more year in Baltimore, he should again hold down the SS position in 2014 before giving away to the aforementioned Machado. For years now, Hardy has always been one of the best late round power options coming from a position that is a wasteland for power hitters. Hardy’s value has remained suppressed because his AVG is a liability in the .250-.260 range and his order in the lineup gives little opportunity to accumulate counting stats. He’s a pure power play, ideal for managers who went with speed and pitching early in the draft.

20 HRs are a near lock for Hardy, but he’s also a fluky BABIP season away from 30 bombs and a .270 AVG, something he did in only 129 games back in 2011. While it’s not upside you should be speculating in, it is something that gives him an edge over Matt Wieters who is a similar power-only guy from an offensively inept position.Hardy doesn’t walk much, and as a result takes a value hit in OBP leagues, but he also doesn’t strike out a lot which helps in points leagues. Hardy is a solid SS option who has his known flaws, but excels in a category that can be difficult to find in the mid-to-later stages of a draft.

Expected ADP: 120-130 (Round 10 or 11). Hardy had an ADP of 238 at the end of drafting season last year, but that was coming off a year where he had a .238 AVG and was seen as a disappointment from a 30 HR campaign in 2011. 2013 boosted his fantasy value as a respectable average returned, and the HR totals again ranked in the Top 4 for the position.

Worth It?: If you have to. Hardy is likely to return positive value, but if you’re looking for a SS this late in the draft,

something likely didn’t go according to plan in the early stages. Either you’re desperate for power or are too risk averse to take a flier on some of the interesting SS options available at the end of drafts. I wouldn’t plan on drafting Hardy, but he’s a nice emergency option if you find yourself deviating from your initial plan.

Keeper Value: Minimal. This is almost guaranteed to be Hardy’s final season in Baltimore with Machado ready to take over the reigns. Hardy is 31 years old and will most certainly find a new home, but with the up and coming names in the SS landscape, Hardy will be waiver wire fodder in the matter of a year or two.

5. Chris Tillman - After some initial struggles during his first 4 major league seasons, Chris Tillman broke out in a big way in 2013. 16 Ws, 179 Ks, and a 3.71 ERA lead Tillman to an All-Star appearance and a reputation as the ace of the Baltimore rotation. Fueled by an increased confidence in his changeup, Tillman was able to get ahead of hitters and avoid the troubling walk rates that plagued his early career struggles. Home runs were still a bugaboo for Tillman and he had the 3rd highest Home run rate for qualified starters. It’s a troubling trend to have the 12th highest FB% and the 3rd highest HR/FB% in the major leagues, especially when the HR/FB rate isn’t abnormally higher than previous levels (SSS caveat aside).

Tillman appears to have been quite lucky last season, fueled by a .269 BABIP and 80.5% LOB%. His 4.42 FIP tells a little better story of Tillman’s overall effectiveness, but his success shouldn’t be entirely dismissed due to these peripherals. His strikeout rate took a huge step forward, jumping up to 7.81 K/9 and his walk rate remained below 3.0 for another consecutive season. As I mentioned before, Tillman has been getting ahead of hitters far more often thanks to an increased 57.3% first-strike percentage and this aggressiveness should help sustain the increased strikeout numbers. Double digit wins are very likely next year as is the near 8.0 K/9, but some regression in ERA and Ws are probable.

Expected ADP: 200-225 (Round 19 or 20). Rightfully so, not many appear to be buying into Tillman’s success and as of this writing we are in Round 18 of an early experts mock draft and Tillman is still on the board. He quietly reached these numbers so maybe managers haven’t taken notice yet and his value will start to creep up as we approach draft season.

Worth It?: Not for me. I’ve been a fan of Tillman’s for the past few years, always expecting the breakout season we saw in 2013, but now that I’ve seen it I’m not much of a believer. At Tillman’s projected price, which is trending upwards, I would rather take a flier on a high strikeout guy like Jeff Samardzija or a guy in an easier division and more favorable ballpark like Jarrod Parker.

Keeper Value: Respectable. Only 25 years old and already sitting atop the Baltimore rotation, Tillman could be apart of a formidable pitching staff with Bundy and Gausman joining him next season. Tillman will always be worth a roster spot, but the home runs will always leave him vulnerable to the blow up starts. His value is unrealistically high at the moment and could be an attractive trade chip in keeper leagues.

Honorable Mentions - Nick Markakis, Jim Johnson, Wei-Yin Chen

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