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.
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
1. Wei-Yin Chen 2. Jason Hammel 3. Miguel Gonzalez 4. Chris Tillman 5. Zach Britton
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.
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.
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.
AL-only guys to know