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Fantasy baseball 2013 team previews: Baltimore Orioles

Photo: Damian Strohmeyer/SI

Manny Machado's 2012 growing pains should dissipate as he launches into his first full season.

Fantasy baseball 2013 draft prep central: Rankings, position primers and much more

Unless you were talking to Buck Showalter, or perhaps Elaine Benes, very few people predicted the Orioles would make the ALDS last season. Heading into the 2012 season, the Orioles didn't have much reason for optimism. They retained much of the 2011 team, which went 69-93 and was outscored 860-708. Their two big prospects, Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy, were unlikely to make it to the majors. And they still played in the AL East. Did I say there wasn't much reason for optimism? Scratch that. There wasn't any reason for optimism.

Their neighbors to the south in Washington may have gotten more press, but the Orioles' season was way more unlikely, not only because of seeming roster deficiencies, but also because of how they flipped their record from 2011, going 93-69. They outscored their opponents by just seven runs, they won 16 straight extra-inning games and they went 29-9 in one-run games, good for a .763 win percentage and a major league record. After all that, they beat the Rangers in the AL Coin-Flip Game and took the Yankees to five games in the ALDS. Somewhere, we hope, Tony Tarasco was smiling.

Despite all that, you're still probably not going to find many who believe in the 2013 Orioles. The AL East remains one of the league's toughest divisions, and the Orioles didn't do much to upgrade an offense that was in the middle of the pack in runs scored and the bottom-third of the league in OBP. While that may not bode well for their chances to return to the postseason, there's enough fantasy goodness on this team to make it an intriguing one for owners.

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Projected roster

Lineup:

1. Nick Markakis, RF 2. J.J. Hardy, SS 3. Adam Jones, CF 4. Chris Davis, 1B 5. Matt Wieters, C 6. Nolan Reimold, DH 7. Manny Machado, 3B 8. Nate McLouth, LF 9. Brian Roberts, 2B

Starting rotation:

1. Wei-Yin Chen 2. Jason Hammel 3. Miguel Gonzalez 4. Chris Tillman 5. Zach Britton

Others: Dylan Bundy, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz

Bullpen: Jim Johnson (closer), Pedro Strop, Darren O'Day, Troy Patton, Luis Ayala

Key questions

? Is Manny Machado ready to turn Maryland into Mannyland? The Orioles surprised everyone when they promoted Machado straight from Double-A Bowie to the majors at the beginning of August after the 20-year-old hit .266/.352/.438 with 11 homers, 59 RBI and 13 steals through 109 games. He made a splash right away, going 2-for-4 with a triple in his first game and a pair of homers in his second, en route to hitting .262/.294/.445 with seven homers and 26 RBI. There's no doubt that he'll open the season as Baltimore's starting third baseman, but is there any chance he'll have the same title for fantasy owners this season? Probably not right away, but he could become one as the season progresses.

Machado appeared over-matched at times last season, something seen in nearly every major leaguer who can't legally buy a beer (unless they're named Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, of course). He had a strikeout rate of 18.8 percent and a walk rate of just 4.5 percent; he swung and missed 11.2 percent of the time and had a contact rate of just 76 percent. These numbers shouldn't trouble us regarding his long-term outlook, but right now, they should serve to temper this season's expectations.

On the plus side, Machado had a walk rate north of 10 percent at Bowie last year, his first time playing above High-A ball. Those normal growing pains are no reason for concern, and his minor league track record should give us confidence that he'll be a quick study. Those of you in a typical mixed league can't count on him as your starter out of the gates, but he should be drafted in all but the shallowest of leagues. He's a definite draft-and-stash option, and has the ability to transition into a starter this year.

? Is Dylan Bundy ready? Bundy was another guy who wasn't supposed to get to the majors last year, but he earned himself the briefest sip of the bigs during September. He enters this season as the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball, according to both Baseball America and MLB.com. In 23 combined starts at Low-A Delmarva, High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie last season, Bundy, then 19 years old, went 9-3 with a 2.08 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 119 strikeouts against 28 walks in 103.2 innings. You don't get tabbed as the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball for nothing.

Bundy will likely start the year at Bowie or Triple-A Norfolk, likely making it to the majors for a decent chunk of the season. However the Orioles won't feel any need to rush him into the game, and he'll also be on some sort of innings limit after he was capped at 125 innings last year. While he's not someone you'll want to stake your fantasy franchise on this season, he's someone who should be on the radar of every single fantasy owner because he has the ability to make an impact from day one. With the Orioles' rotation no sure thing after Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hammel, the O's may be looking for help from the minors sooner than they expect. If you're in a keeper league, bump Bundy way up your cheat sheet. He'll certainly start the 2014 season in the majors when he'll be the ripe old age of 21.

? Can Chris Davis do it again? Davis spent about half of the 2011 season toiling away for the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate and the other half playing 59 ho-hum games for the Rangers and Orioles; at this point, it's no surprise that he entered the 2012 season, like his team, with little fanfare. He forced everyone to pay attention early on and ended the year hitting .270/.326/.501 with 33 homers and 85 RBI. Now he has plenty of fanfare, as he'll start this year as the Orioles' cleanup hitter on Opening Day. But can fantasy owners trust him?

In my opinion, we can. First of all, the power is for real. He has a career .466 slugging percentage, and he's hit no fewer than 17 homers in a season when he's played at least 80 games. His career slugging percentage in the minors was .597, so he has always had a powerful stroke. Yes, he's going to strike out a ton, and he probably won't take very many walks, so he could be a drain on your rates. However, don't try and throw his .335 BABIP from last year at me -- Davis has always found a way to post unusually high BABIPs. In 2008, it was up at .351, then it fell to .324 in 2009 and .275 in an anomalous 2010 season, and in 2011, it shot back up to .366. Eventually, you have to concede that the guy might have a skill for something that is seemingly luck-based. Another 30-homer season is in the offing.

Sleeper

Jason Hammel: Quietly, Hammel was a very effective pitcher last year, posting a 3.43 ERA, 3.29 FIP and 8.62 strikeouts per nine innings. His .291 BABIP and 73.9 percent strand rate were essentially in line with league average. He had a 53.2 percent ground-ball rate, and induced nearly two grounders for every fly ball. All these stats are sustainable, and a great foundation for success, so get ready for another under-the-radar season.

Bust

Miguel Gonzalez: Gonzalez will probably receive more attention than his rotation mate Hammel thanks to his incredible journey to the majors, but it isn't warranted on merit. Gonzalez went 9-4 with a 3.25 ERA last year, but his FIP was 4.63 and he struck out just 6.58 batters per nine innings. His strand rate was 82.6 percent and his BABIP was .260, but those numbers scream, "I was lucky." Meanwhile, whereas Hammel had nearly a 2/1 ground ball/fly ball ratio, Gonzalez' was less than one. Stay away.

Breakout

Dylan Bundy: It's between him and Machado, but I think Bundy's only a matter of when, not if. So long as he gets enough starts to break out this season, he'll do it. With all the question marks behind Chen and Hammel in Baltimore's rotation, the O's won't be able to keep Bundy down at Norfolk for long.

AL-only guys to know

Chris Tillman: The 24-year-old went 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 86 innings last year. His FIP was up at 4.25 and he struck out a shade less than seven batters per nine innings, but he's young enough to bet on another level of progression. He should start the year in the rotation.

Nolan Reimold: Reimold played in just 16 games last year, but he hit .313 with five homers and 10 RBI in those games. He'll likely be the team's DH, and hopefully getting him out of the outfield will help keep him healthy.

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