The Orioles Infield by Brett Talley February 24, 2014 The Baltimore infield gave us quite a few fantasy relevant options last year. They had a player finish inside the top 12 at every position other than second base, and Chris Davis emerged as a complete stud. Their four fantasy relevant guys will return to their positions, but there are some questions about whether they’ll be able to repeat their value from last year. Catcher Name PA HR SB R RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS Matt Wieters 565 19 2 58 75 0.25 0.315 0.408 0.735 The projection included is my own as are all the projections I’ll list for other players discussed below. Basically, I see Wieters’ BABIP rebounding and bringing his average and OBP back up with it while I see his power continuing to decline as it has done in each of the last two seasons. If I’m right, a fifteen point jump in batting average and three fewer home runs should amount to close to a wash. That means Wieters will likely be a top 12 but not top ten fantasy catcher once again. His ADP over at mockdraftcentral.com is eighth among catchers, and his average pick is about 170. Again, if my projection is close, that’s too high a price for that level of production. Wieters should be going outside the top 200 overall in one-catcher mixed leagues. First Base Name PA HR SB R RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS Chris Davis 650 40 3 95 112 0.274 0.355 0.542 0.897 This is the third time I’ve written about Davis this off season. I covered him in depth here, and I also wrote his Fangraphs+ blurb. The short version of everything I’ve written is that I expect some regression just because that’s what happens in the season following an unreal, career year. But I don’t expect massive regression, which is something you could envision given Davis’ significant struggles early in his career. Davis’ average home run and fly ball distance increased last year, and he made some improvements in plate discipline. That should help mitigate the regression. My guess is that most would consider this projection to be a very conservative one, especially in the power department. If that’s true and we look at this projection as something of a floor for Davis, that means he’s at worst a top 25 player. The line I have him projected for is slightly better than what Edwin Encarnacion did last year, and E5 finished 27th on ESPN’s player rater. Because power is such a rare commodity, I’d say Davis a top 20 player at worst. That makes him a mid-to-late second round pick in my book. You could even talk me into him being an early second round pick. But you most definitely couldn’t talk me into taking him in the top five, which is where he’s going over on MDC. Second Base There is no projection here because it’s unclear who is going to get the most work at this spot. Ryan Flaherty is listed atop the depth chart on Orioles.com, but prospect Jonathan Schoop and Jemile Weeks are in the mix as well. Things are further complicated by the fact that third base may be vacant to begin the season, and Flaherty is listed as the primary backup at that position. All three of these guys are projected for somewhere between 175 and 250 plate appearances at second base on our depth chart page. If one of them emerges with a secure hold on the job, I’m sure someone here will write them up in a waiver wire piece. But until then, there’s no fantasy use for a Baltimore second baseman. Shortstop Name PA HR SB R RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS J.J. Hardy 625 22 1 65 71 0.255 0.302 0.42 0.722 I’m fading Hardy’s power just a bit simply because he’s past 30 years old now. But his average home run and fly ball distance improved from 2012 to 2013, so there’s no red flag that Hardy’s about to lose his pop. He also added a percentage point to his swing percentage, and it was his Z-Swing% that went up not his O-Swing%. As a result, he pushed his strikeout rate down to an almost career low 11.3%. There’s not much upside, but there’s not a ton of downside either. He finished 2013 as the 10th most valuable shortstop, but he’s being drafted as the 17th shortstop on MDC, and just outside the top 250 overall. I’m hesitant to believe he’ll actually go that late in real drafts, but if he’s going anywhere near that late, he’ll be a nice value. Third Base Name PA HR SB R RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS Manny Machado 500 13 4 62 55 0.285 0.320 0.450 0.770 The big number is obviously the plate appearances. My projection is admittedly conservative, but it’s late February, and there still isn’t a return date set. With my number of 500 PA, I’m essentially guessing at a mid-to-late May return. I may be playing it too safe with that, but I would be really, really hesitant to enter the season relying on Machado, so I’m setting a PA number low enough so that I’m not tempted to do so. No matter how many games he plays, I’m expecting an uptick in the power production. Machado was second in the league in doubles, but he has a decent average batted ball distance that indicates he may be capable of more than 14 home runs per 700 plate appearances. I’m projecting him to finish with one fewer home run than he had last year despite 200 fewer PA. If he were to top 600 PA, I could see him getting his home run total into the high teens. Ultimately, Machado isn’t a huge fantasy producer. He’ll be above average in four of five categories but not elite in any of them. If you have benches that are bit deeper than normal, it’s fine to draft him, stash him, and roll with David Freese or something for a month or two. But if you’re working with small benches, I wouldn’t waste the roster spot.