Today, our 2020 Prospect Opportunities series moves on to the Orioles. This is a team that lost 108 games last year, so you better believe there are opportunities galore. And wouldn’t you know it, their entire starting roster is actually listed below! Let’s dive in.
After an off-season of adjustments and a refocusing of turning his career around, Chris Davis gave us a glimmer of hope during the shortened spring training. But obviously, the sample size was tiny and competition weak, so odds are stronger that he’s done and loses his job.
Enter Ryan Mountcastle, who many expected to be recalled at some point last year. Mountcastle is still trying to find a position, and he could end up at first, in left field, or fill in at DH. He finally showed good home run power during his first taste of Triple-A action last season, but he swings and misses often (even though it hasn’t led to a high strikeout rate) and he rarely walks. The pairing of high SwStk% and low walk rate makes me think he swings at everything and his plate discipline actually reminds me of Adam Jones, which is a reasonable comp for his upside. If your league is OBP instead of AVG, his value takes a sizeable hit.
At Risk: Hanser Alberto
Replacement: Ramón Urías
Somehow, Hanser Alberto turned in a surprisingly productive season despite walking just 2.9% of the time. That’s because he swings at everything and makes contact often. So he rarely walks and rarely strikes out. It’s a weird and risky skill set, and it comes with little power. Perhaps he does it again and/or his defense keeps him in the lineup. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
The Orioles picked up Ramón Urías from the Cardinals in February after a reasonable Triple-A performance. His walk rate jumped into double digits for the first time, while he has kept his strikeout rate below 20% his entire minor league and Mexican league career. He has some home run power too, posting low-to-mid teen HR/FB rates, and might even steal a handful of bases. This is as interesting a darkhorse sleeper as it gets.
At Risk: Jose Iglesias
Replacement: No one
Jose Iglesias is like a slightly less extreme version of Alberto, rarely walking, but also striking out infrequently. His HR/FB rate surged last year, though his ISO finished almost identically to the previous season. He has posted two straight seasons with a wOBA barely above .300, but his defense remains good.
Luckily for Iglesias, the Orioles farm system is barren of quality shortstop prospects anywhere near the Majors.
I was so proud of myself for drafting Rio Ruiz in the reserve round of AL Tout Wars last year, as he ended up earning the Orioles starting third base job. But it didn’t even matter because he stunk anyway. The Orioles need more offense from the corner than this.
Up until he reached Triple-A, Rylan Bannon had posted double digit walk rates. That fell to just 3.3%, but over a tiny sample in his first Triple-A stint, but he kept his strikeout rate well below 20%, and SwStk% in single digits as well. He has shown excellent power at times, but typically not of the home run variety. Perhaps all those doubles will eventually turn into dingers. There’s nothing thrilling here, but given the incumbent, it’s worth keeping his name in mind.
Anthony Santander came out of nowhere last year to play himself into a starting job, post a .321 wOBA, and knock 20 homers in just about two-thirds the plate appearances of a full season. But he rarely walks and posted a weak .297 OBP. Austin Hays was one of the team’s top prospects in previous years, but injury has slowed him down. He should be given every opportunity, and I’m optimistic about his chances of helping a fantasy team, but there’s no guarantees. He also rarely walks (do the Orioles not believe getting on base is important?!). DJ Stewart is a favorite sleeper of mine, as he possesses both power and speed, but he’s yet another with limited MLB experience who could lose his playing time if he slumps for a couple of weeks.
Yusniel Díaz has dealt with injuries and still hasn’t made an appearance at Triple-A. But he’s willing to take a walk, has typically kept his strikeout rate around 20% or below, hit fly balls, and has generally posted low teen HR/FB rates. This is not an exciting skill set by any means. But given the unproven youngsters ahead of him on the depth chart currently, he could eventually get a shot in the Orioles outfield merry-go-round.
Ryan McKenna also hasn’t sniffed Triple-A, has swung and missed, and struck out a bit more often than Díaz, but has also walked a bit more often. However, the power just isn’t there, as he has homered less than nine times per 600 plate appearances in the minors. What he does bring to fantasy players is speed. He stole 25 bases last season after taking a break in 2018 (only nine steals, not sure why). Perhaps most importantly is that he’s a center fielder, who plays it well, which means his defense could earn him a promotion more quickly.
At Risk: Renato Nunez
Replacement: Any of the above
Teams aren’t typically satisfied getting a .323 wOBA from their DH, right? Renato Nunez managed to hit 31 homers last year and also strike out at a reasonable clip, but somehow post a wOBA barely above the league average.
Seriously, if you check our Depth Chart, literally every SP listed is projected for an ERA over 5.00. That’s crazy!
Dean Kremer has posted solid strikeout rates in the minors and a double digit SwStk% at every stop he’s ever made. Though his walk rates haven’t been impressive, his Command grades out at 55/60, suggesting better rates in the future. Zac Lowther has posted strikeout rates above 26% throughout his minor league career, but his walk rate jumped above 10% during his first tour at Double-A last season. Bet on the strikeouts and hope his control returns. Keegan Akin is another with mid-20% strikeout rates and double digit SwStk%, but has suffered through control issues. His walk rates have been double digits at every stop since his 2016 debut. Still, I’d rather bet on the strikeouts and hope the control is sharpened than the prospect with good control, hoping the strikeouts are enough not to get hit around.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.