A Closer Look: Baltimore Orioles

From the World Series runner up to second-worst record in baseball, let’s take a closer look at the rebuilding O’s.



Will Jonathan Villar be on the team to start the season?

The concern among the fantasy community is that Villar might be traded in the offseason to a team where a) he wouldn’t have a locked in full-time gig and b) they don’t run as much, thus robbing some of his fantasy value. The 29-year old switch-hitter has enjoyed a nice rebirth with the Orioles, posting a nice 107 wRC+ over 950 PA with a very fantasy-relevant 61 SBs.

With modest-to-poor defense, I don’t see a contender or even a fringe contender acquiring him to be their shortstop. He also plays 2B but struggles just as much there. Looking at our 2B WAR chart, the potential contenders are plentiful at the bottom with CLE, WAS, CIN, and BOS. Do they want to trade for one year of Villar or hit the free agent market for any number of guys who are as good as or better than him including Mike Moustakas, Jonathan Schoop, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Starlin Castro, or Brian Dozier? Howie Kendrick is there, too, but he seems destined for Tampa Bay given the rampant rumors.

I’m not sure any team will be particularly motivated to push hard for Villar. Or perhaps more importantly, will Baltimore get offered enough to move him now as opposed to at the deadline? He’s not blocking anyone and he’s not particularly expensive. While the time a team would have him is cut in half in July, I’m not sure the offers are drastically different, and they could feasibly improve as options dry up for clubs. I think he stays this winter.

Does any BAL starting pitcher get taken in a 10- or 12-team league?

Or better stated, are you drafting John Means or Dylan Bundy in those formats? Means had an impressive rookie campaign and was definitely 10- and 12-team viable, finishing 33rd on the Auction Calculator, but can he do it again? He put up a solid 3.60 ERA in 155 innings, but the next level indicators didn’t buy it at all: 4.41 FIP, 5.02 SIERA, and 5.48 xFIP. Just a 19% K rate and 1.3 HR/9 hold him back.

Limiting walks, keeping hitters off balance, and stifling lefties are his top skills. He doesn’t throw hard, doesn’t miss bats much beyond a league average clip, and his home run rate actually came with a better than league average HR/FB (10%) so I’m not sure you can project for anything under a 4.50 ERA and then repeating the 12 wins will be tough on Baltimore. Pass in both formats, but don’t completely ignore him (more on that later).

Bundy certainly misses bats at much better clip with a 13% swinging strike rate that fueled a 23% K rate and he’s always walked batters at or better than a league average rate, but home runs have always plagued regardless of the ball in play yielding a 1.7 HR/9 career mark. As with Means, the best you can do is put him at a 4.50 ERA and you might even have to go closer to his 4.79 ERA of 2019 so there’s no chance he’s going in a 10-teamer, but his strikeout upside miiight make him worth a reserve spot in a 12-team with enough spots (more than five).

Can Adley Rutschman contribute to a fantasy team in 2020?

The 2019 #1 overall pick split 155 PA across three levels (Rookie, Low-A, and A-ball) and hit .254/.351/.423 with 4 HR. He’s the 4th hitter and 6th overall prospect on The BOARD and has been tabbed with a 2020 ETA by Kiley and Eric. The switch-hitting stud backstop seems to already possess a foundation of skills that could’ve survived at the big-league level right out of the draft, though the O’s had no reason to test that theory.

I imagine he’ll start 2020 at High-A and work from there including a potential summer call-up. Historically, I’m aggressively against catching prospects on the fantasy landscape, though Rutschman seems like a viable exception. There’s a Buster Posey with switch-hitting capability vibe to him that has me thinking he can at least be a C2 right away. That said, I still wouldn’t draft him in any mixed league format because I’m not holding a prospect catcher for half of the year or more.

There have been 12 rookie catchers to put up a 100 wRC+ or better in the last five years, but only five were at a 110 wRC+ or better clip and only 3 of the 12 topped 90 games played. While I’m reluctant with most rookie backstops, I’ll be willing to open the FAAB pocketbook at least a little bit for Rutschman if I have a catching need when he’s called up. His plate skills should protect him from totally tanking.


Hunter Harvey

The one-time premium prospect has been ravaged by injuries throughout his pro career and has not only fallen out of the top 100 MLB prospects, but also the top 20 Orioles prospects. Hell, even this season was ended by injury (biceps soreness) so we’ll monitor his health over the offseason, but if he’s good to go, he could become their closer in 2020.

He shifted to the bullpen in Triple-A this year and put up a 31% K rate and 7% BB rate in 17 innings, though a 68% LOB rate left his ERA north of 4.00 (4.32) despite those skills and a 1.08 WHIP. Harvey’s Triple-A work earned him a mid-August call-up and though it was just 6.3 innings of work, we saw him average 98.4 mph on his heater with a capable curve and splitter leading to a 42% K rate (I mean, that’s 11 Ks in 26 batters faced, let’s not overstate things in such a short sample). He also walked four batters, good for a 15% mark, but that’s where the tiny sample comes into play against because he wasn’t overly wild.

Mychal Givens is under control for another two years, but he’d actually make a good trade candidate in a light reliever market which could open the door on the closer’s role for 2020. A healthy Harvey is a rarity, but the 25-year old could still be a fantasy asset as a high-strikeout, low-ratio middle reliever even if he’s not getting 20 of Baltimore’s 25 saves.


John Means

I’m putting him as the faller because his 3.60 ERA will be tough to repeat as I mentioned earlier, but I don’t think he should be written off entirely. There are some things he could do to better situate himself and earn something closer to that shiny ERA he put up in 2019. Both his changeup and slider are strong offerings and allowed him to generate the lowest Hard-Hit rate in the league (min. 150 IP).

I think he needs to embrace the less-is-more mantra we’ve seen across the league with his fastball and start throwing more changeups, sliders, and even curveballs. He has four velocity levels and some great movement and I’m interested to see if he can alter his mix a bit to maximize those assets. I still don’t think he has another sub-4.00 ERA coming given his penchant for home runs, but it could be more of a 4.20-4.50 than 4.50-4.80 if he makes some of these improvements.


Trade Mychal Givens to CLE for prospects, either Tyler Freeman by himself or Jose Fermin and Hunter Gaddis

There aren’t a ton of trade options on this team right now. As covered earlier, I don’t think Villar’s market is big enough to make him worth trading and the skills of their 2nd-best hitter from 2019, Trey Mancini, just aren’t in high demand these days. Power-hitting cornermen with challenged defense don’t really draw the attention they used to, especially entering their age-28 season (though he is under control through 2022).

Anyway, I decided that Givens is their best bet to get some impact though I’ll also acknowledge that relievers are often better off dealt at the deadline when teams are more aware of what they need in the pen. I contacted Kiley and Eric regarding a potential return from Cleveland and they seemed to agree that he’d draw a 45-grade player or maybe two 40s. With that in mind, I landed on Freeman in a 1-for-1 and Fermin/Gaddis if it’s two 40s. Fermin was mentioned specifically by Eric as someone who could head to Baltimore in such a deal.

Eno Sarris and Derek Van Riper have been hot on Freeman throughout the season on their Rates & Barrels podcast, suggesting that his high-contact approach (9% K in 992 pro PA) is a strong foundation to build upon as he ascends the minor leagues. Fermin is a contact-heavy (9% K, 9% BB in 1011 pro PA) middle infielder who had a solid season as A-ball as a 20-year old.

Stocking up on young middle infielders is definitely the way to go for a rebuilding org so the O’s should get as many as they can in trades. Gaddis is a 6’6, 21-year old college righty who split time between Rookie (17.3 IP) and Low-A (15.7 IP), netting a 41% K rate, 5% BB rate, and 0.5 HR/9 across the 33 IP. You can never have too many live arms and middle infielders in any organization.


Ryan Mountcastle v. all the four corners (1B/3B/LF/RF) starters

The 23-year old lacks a true position, but his bat will get him on the field and it will happen in 2020. He was a candidate to get called up at some point in the summer thanks to a 117 wRC+ and 25 HR season at Triple-A, but the O’s decided against it. He will probably get the standard roster manipulation treatment and spend the first couple weeks of 2020 in Triple-A, but he should be up early in the season and bounce around the field, cutting into the time of Renato Núñez, Anthony Santander, and DJ Stewart.

As mentioned in his prospect write up, his arm likely keeps him from 3B or RF meaning it’ll primarily be 1B, LF, and DH. His AVG at the big league level could be challenged as he’s aggressive at the dish and doesn’t really take walks, but he should be a power source, especially in Camden Yards.


Hitter: Yusniel Díaz | Outfielder

Díaz came over in the Manny Machado deal, though his first year in the org didn’t go as planned as injuries limited him to just 85 games. When on the field, he posted a solid .265/.341/.464 line with 11 HR in 358 PA. Those expecting a power-speed talent in the majors should temper those expectations as he was 0-for-3 on the bases this year and has a horrid 42% success rate in 66 tries over his pro career. There is .270/30 HR potential, though, and perhaps the O’s have some plans to turn his raw speed into at least 7-10 SBs a year provided he can drastically improve his success rate.

Pitcher: Dean Kremer

Also part of the Machado deal, Kremer enjoyed a solid three-level season, spending the bulk of his time at Double-A where he posted a 2.98 ERA and 1.23 WHIP with a 25% K and 8% BB rate in 84.7 IP. The 24-year old righty has a strong fastball and curveball while his developing changeup will ultimately decide his fate within the rotation. He tacked on another excellent 19 IP of work at the Arizona Fall League (2.37 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 33% K, 6% BB), which is essentially a finishing school for prospects meaning he should be up early in 2020 with an opportunity to spend the bulk of the year with the Orioles. He could wind up as a nice AL-only add and perhaps even play himself into some mixed league viability if he continues to develop.

UP NEXT: Cincinnati Reds

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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2 years ago

Paul, you said John Means has a penchant for HRs. I’m seeing that he gave up 1.34 HRs/9. Isn’t that below league average for 2019? And given that he pitches in a HR friendly park, wouldn’t that make it even better (in real life)? Thanks

2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Sporer