Deep Sleeper: OF D.J. Stewart
Stewart was quickly shipped to the Baltimore Orioles’ minor league camp in early March last spring, which removed him from being a viable starting option in their major league outfield. His bat flashed in mid-April (8-for-23 with three HRs and five RBI) and in May (32-for-70 with five HRs and 28 RBI) at AAA, but a right ankle injury and concussion cost him development time in June and August. Stewart played well in 2017 at AA (.278 with 21 HRs, 79 RBI, and 20 SBs) with strength in his approach (walk rate – 12.0 and K rate – 16.1).
Over five seasons in the minors, he hit .255 with 64 HRs, 264 RBI, and 66 SBs over 1,788 at-bats while struggling to find his way with Baltimore in 2018 and 2019 (.241 over 166 at-bats with seven HRs, 25 RBI, and three SBs). Last year Stewart showed an above the league average approach (K rate – 18.3 and walk rate – 9.9) with the Orioles. A possible flier with a 20/20 skill set.
At the end of March, Stewart still wasn’t ready for the start of the baseball season. The extra couple of months of rest and rehab put him in the mix to compete for a starting job in the shortened 2020 season. Baltimore doesn’t have a player with a true leadoff skill set, heading into this year. Stewart would only draw attention if he earned playing time at the top of the order out of the gate.
Breakout: OF Austin Hays
Hays sure looked major league-ready after blasting his way to majors in 2017 after dominating at High A (.328 with 16 HRs and 41 RBI over 262 at-bats) and AA (.330 with 16 HRs and 54 RBI over 261 at-bats). In 2018, Hays struggled over the first two months at AA (.224 with six HRs, 18 RBI, and five SBs over 174 at-bats) before landing on the IL with an ankle injury that ended up needing surgery in September.
His season started in 2019 with a left thumb injury, which led to almost seven weeks on the injured list at AAA. He also missed some time in June with a hamstring issue. Hays underachieved over his 240 at-bats at AAA (.254 with ten HRs, 27 RBI, and six SBs over 240 at-bats) before finding his stride in September with the Orioles (.309 with four HRs and 13 RBI over 63 at-bats).
In his limited at-bats in the majors last year, his K rate (17.3) and walk rate (9.3) graded in a favorable area compared to his minor league career (18.8 and 4.7). Hays looked destined to make the major league roster out of spring training with visions of a great 2017 season in the minors in the back mirror (.329 with 32 HRs, 95 RBI, and five SBs over 523 at-bats). With 500 at-bats, I expect a neutral batting average with a 20/70/10 skill set out of the gate.
Sleeper: 1B Ryan Mountcastle
Despite success at AAA in 2019 (.312 with 25 HRs and 83 RBI over 520 at-bats), Baltimore didn’t call up Mountcastle. He saw time at 1B, 3B, and OF after coming through the system as a shortstop. He has a free-swing mentality (K rate – 23.5 and walk rate – 4.3).
Over five seasons in the minors, Mountcastle hit .295 with 70 HRs, 274 RBI, and 27 SBs over 2,078 at-bats). His lack of glove pushes him to first base with a minimal chance of earning a starting elsewhere in the infield. He has a solid foundation in power and batting average with a chance to hit the ground running in 2020. Start the bidding at .280 with a middle of an order opportunity—a viable 30-plus HR threat in the near future.
Over spring training this year, Mountcastle didn't gain any fantasy momentum. The Orioles sent him back to AAA on March 19th, which may have been just booking keeping due to the baseball shutdown. The expanded rosters in 2020 should help his playing time window, and Baltimore should give him every chance to develop in the majors.
Future Star: SP Grayson Rodriguez
The future ace of the Orioles lies in the left arm of Rodriguez. After completing his high school career, Baltimore selected him in the first round of the 2018 MLB June Amateur Draft. In his first year at A Ball, Rodriguez went 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA and 129 Ks over 94.0 innings. His walk rate (3.4) still needs work. His fastball sits in the mid-90s while offering a slider/curveball combination as his secondary pitches. Rodriguez continues to develop his changeup, which will be critical to his success in the majors. This season he was expected to start the year at AA with a chance to make a push to AAA. Baltimore isn’t close to becoming a contender, so they won’t push him to the majors unless his arm makes a considerable step forward in his command.
Regression: SP John Means
Means is the type of arm that I tend to avoid every season in fantasy baseball. Coming in 2019, he did show growth in his game over 20 games at AAA (3.48 ERA over 111.1 innings with 19 walks and 89 Ks), but his black mark was his .277 BAA.
In each season in the minors, Means allowed more hits than innings pitched while offering a low walk rate (2.0) and a soft-tossing K rate (7.1).
A jump to the AL East vs. the Red Sox and Yankees suggested disaster at times in his starts. Means repeated his command in the majors, but he was tougher to hit (.234 BBA). He changed his approach vs. batters, which led to his pitching more up in the strike zone (50.0 percent fly-ball rate) while controlling the damage in his HR/FB rate (9.9). Means did have a high HR/9 rate (1.3).
His growth was tied to the development of his changeup, which he threw as his second-best pitch. He offers a low-90s fastball (91.8) while adding in a slider and curveball. His arm played well vs. lefties (.184 with two HRs over 141 at-bats). Means came into the majors with RH batters hitting .275 or better in each minor league year, but he held them to a .249 average in the majors.
His ERA (3.60) and WHIP (1.135) will draw attraction from fantasy owners in 2020, but I sense regression. Means is only an innings eater for me. Home runs allowed will be the key stat to get on or off his ride this season.
READ MORE: 2020 Baltimore Orioles Team Preview