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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Baltimore Orioles

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Another year, another projected last-place finish for the Orioles.

It's as predictable as a Mark Reynolds strikeout. This year will make it five straight, barring the miraculous, and with yet another change in regime this offseason, the organization doesn't have much to show for its period of futility.

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The future wasn't always so bleak. As recently as last spring, the Orioles appeared to have the pieces in place for the next step forward. But their foundation was supposed to be their young starting rotation, and of Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman and Zach Britton, the only one whose season didn't end in disaster was Britton.

Granted, young pitchers usually need time to adjust to the majors, but Matusz, Arrieta and Tillman were supposed to have gotten that time already. Their lack of progress at this stage of their development makes them anything but certainties for the Orioles going forward.

Thus, new GM Dan Duquette's primary mission this offseason was to collect as many fallback options as possible, and on that front, he left no stone unturned, signing left-handers Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada of the Japanese League. Between them, journeyman Jason Hammel and the options already in place, the Orioles should be able to find a suitable starting five even if it's not the one that they originally had in mind.

The starting lineup is a little more stable, though its nucleus -- a group that includes Reynolds, J.J. Hardy, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters -- lacks star potential. Brian Roberts is a lost cause given his concussion woes, and the Orioles are grasping at straws with retreads like Chris Davis, Wilson Betemit and Nolan Reimold.

In the bullpen, Jim Johnson, Kevin Gregg and Matt Lindstrom will compete for ninth-inning duties, but on a team destined to finish last, it won't make much of a difference to Fantasy owners. And unfortunately, if Matusz, Arrieta and Tillman remain stuck in neutral, it'll be par for the course in Baltimore until the next wave of talent arrives.

Breakout ... Matt Wieters, C

Coming off a 22-homer 2011, Wieters is already a Fantasy mainstay. But he still hasn't lived up to the potential that made him the No. 1 overall prospect entering 2009. Fortunately, if the way he finished last season is any indication, his next step is on the horizon. The 25-year-old hit .281 with 12 homers and a .927 OPS over his final 167 at-bats -- numbers that, over a full season, would have made him arguably the top catcher in Fantasy. And if his improved walk rate during that stretch is any indication, Wieters is beginning to figure it out against major-league pitching. It's taken a while -- as is often the case for catchers, given their responsibilities on defense -- but it's happening at a young enough age that Fantasy owners can assume the best is yet to come. Given the risks for high-end catchers like Joe Mauer and Buster Posey this year, perhaps you're better off waiting an extra couple rounds and selecting Wieters.

Bust ... Adam Jones, OF

Funny how a subtle boost in homers, from 19 to 25, can change Fantasy owners' perception of a player. Jones' "power breakthrough" had more to do with at-bats than anything else -- his slugging percentage was only nine points higher than his previous career high -- and yet the same people who previously rated him among the mediocre middle are drafting him alongside established five-category threats Shane Victorino and Shin-Soo Choo this year. Jones is no five-category threat. Granted, another step forward power-wise, which is at least possible for the 26-year-old, would help compensate for his shortcomings, but who's to say one will actually happen? Again, his percentages suggest he hasn't made any real progress over the last three seasons and as a player who strikes out 100 more times than he walks, he's always at risk for a collapse in batting average. As a third or fourth outfielder he's fine, but as a No. 2, Jones is better left for someone else.

Sleeper ... Brian Matusz, SP

Believe it or not, Matusz went 6-0 with a 1.57 ERA and a strikeout per inning over his final eight starts in 2010, which makes his dismal 2011 even harder to reconcile. But hey, Roy Halladay had a 10.64 ERA in 2000, and he turned out fine. So before you go overboard and suggest Matusz is a lost cause, think back to how the 2011 season began for him. He went down before it even started with an intercostal strain and when he returned, his velocity was the lowest it's ever been. He spent the rest of the season trying to regain his stuff, basically going through spring training while every other player was in midseason form, and by the time his velocity returned, it was September. This year, instead of falling behind, Matusz has committed himself to getting ahead by working out with Brady Anderson in the offseason. The 24-year-old may not win a rotation spot out of spring training, but given his talent, he'll be back soon enough.

2012 Baltimore Orioles Fantasy Outlook
Projected Lineup Pos. Projected Rotation
1 Brian Roberts 2B 1 Zach Britton LH
2 J.J. Hardy SS 2 Jason Hammel RH
3 Nick Markakis RF 3 Wei-Yin Chen LH
4 Adam Jones CF 4 Jake Arrieta RH
5 Matt Wieters C 5 Tsuyoshi Wada LH
6 Mark Reynolds 3B Alt Tommy Hunter RH
7 Wilson Betemit DH
Bullpen Breakdown
8 Chris Davis 1B CL Jim Johnson RH
9 Nolan Reimold LF SU Matt Lindstrom RH
Top bench options RP Kevin Gregg RH
R Endy Chavez OF RP Troy Patton LH
R Robert Andino IF RP Pedro Strop RH
Rookies/Prospects Age Pos. 2011 high Destination
1 Manny Machado 19 SS Class A Class A
A knee injury prevented Machado's first full professional season from being all it could be, but as far as shortstop prospects go, he's still as good as it gets offensively.
2 Dylan Bundy 19 SP DNP -- signed late Class A
As the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft, Bundy has the upside to compete with Machado for the top spot on this list. The future ace could be several years away, though.
3 Wei-Yin Chen 26 SP DNP -- in Japan Majors
Equipped with low-90s stuff, Chen had great numbers in Japan and could still improve at age 26. He's no Yu Darvish, though, which makes him a gamble better left for AL-only leagues.
4 Jonathan Schoop 20 2B Class A Double-A
Schoop doesn't have quite as much upside as Machado, but he's a solid hitter with decent pop who could give the Orioles an All-Star double-play combination down the road.
5 Tsuyoshi Wada 31 SP DNP -- in Japan Majors
Wada had better numbers than Chen in Japan, but his stuff tops out in the high 80s, which could prove disastrous in the AL East. At age 31, he's a now-or-never pick in AL-only leagues.
Best of the rest: Ryan Adams, 2B; Jerome Hoes, OF; Ryan Flaherty, 2B; Xavier Avery, OF; Daniel Klein, RP; Matt Antonelli, 2B; Matt Angle, OF; Oliver Drake, SP; Trent Mummey, OF; Joe Mahoney, 1B; and Wynn Pelzer, SP.

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Player News
Mets' Jacob deGrom working on perfecting his curveball
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:42 am ET) Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom is working on perfecting his curveball this spring, according to the New York Post

"This spring is so different," deGrom said. "I can really come in here and work on things. Last year when I was over on the big league side, I didn’t throw my curveball one time because I was trying to make the team and prove I could get outs in spring training."

After experiencing some success in the majors, deGrom said he is more willing to work on stuff this time around. While he actually started using his curve more late last season, it seems like deGrom is going to work on perfecting the pitch during camp. 

"It’s a great pitch whether it be strike one or a strikeout pitch," deGrom said. "Talking to Gee, Wheeler and all those guys and see how they throw theirs and taking little bits of information from them and trying it in bullpens. Sometimes I throw it at 78 (mph) and that’s a big difference from the slider. It gets the hitter off balance."

deGrom, 26, posted a 2.69 ERA over 140 1/3 innings last season.


Rockies' Charlie Blackmon hoping for more consistency
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1:15 am ET) Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon is hoping for more consistency in 2015, according to the Denver Post

Blackmon had a breakout season in 2014, but admits it's hard to be on every single game. "Last year, I swung the bat really well at certain times," he said. "But you go through a lot of ups and downs over 162 games, and that was a learning experience. I think that's going to help me this year."

Blackmon said his strong start made him a target for other teams, and that may have contributed to a slight slump during the season. Blackmon added that he's hoping to hit the ball to all fields this season.

Manager Walt Weiss is hoping Blackmon can deliver more of the same. "I don't know if he necessarily has to have an encore. I'm thinking more of the same," Weiss said. "I think Charlie would say that he wants to be more consistent."

The 28-year-old Blackmon hit .288/.335/.440 over 593 at-bats last year. 


Twins' Gibson feels 'a little more comfortable' with curveball
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:29 am ET) Twins pitcher Kyle Gibson surrendered one run on two hits and one walk in two innings while striking out two in his spring debut Thursday, using the outing to work on his curveball, the Associated Press reports.

"I felt really good," Gibson said. "I'm working on some stuff, and some stuff worked out that I was working on. I threw more curveballs than normal. That's what spring training's for. It's just fun to be able to work on a particular pitch. I feel a little more comfortable."

Gibson, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011, completed his first full major-league deal in 2014, going 13-12 with a 4.47 ERA and 107:57 K:BB ratio in 179 1/3 innings.


Blue Jays' Barton hoping his glove wins him a spot
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:28 am ET) Blue Jays first baseman Daric Barton is hoping his glove can win him a spot on the 25-man roster, according to the Toronto Sun.

Barton isn't much of a power hitter, but gets strong marks for his defense at first. Manager John Gibbons is well aware of Barton's skills. "One thing that put Daric on the map was that he was such a disciplined hitter and a great defender," Gibbons said. He added that the first baseman is involved in a large chunk of plays, so defense at the position is probably more important than people realize.

With that said, Barton may need a trade to make the opening day roster. As currently constructed, the Blue Jays may carry three catchers. If the team retains Dioner Navarro, Barton could find himself in the minors.

The 29-year-old Barton hit .158 over 57 at-bats last year.


Pirates' Pedro Alvarez feeling comfortable at first
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:21 am ET) Pirates infielder Pedro Alvarez is feeling comfortable at first base, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

After playing third the past couple of seasons, Alvarez will transition to first base full-time in 2015. The 28-year-old is still getting used to the position, but he seems comfortable with the change.

"It’s just a matter of getting used to seeing the field from that point of view, get the reps in so that the responsibilities that come with playing the position become second nature," he said. "That’s just with time and repetitions."

Alvarez hit .231/.312/.405 over 398 at-bats last season. 


Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman gets strong marks at first
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:17 am ET) Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman received strong reviews after playing his first game at first base this spring, according to MLB.com.

"He is still in the stages of having to think about it out there, because it's not natural yet," manager Matt Williams said. "He looked fine. He has fantastic hands." Zimmerman was tested during the start, and had to make two scoops in order to prevent possible throwing errors. 

He's been taking extra practice at the position this spring, and was fairly happy with how his first game turned out. "You can do so many drills, exercises and things like that until you have to go out there and play," Zimmerman said. "So it's nice to have a few chances. The more I play over there, the more comfortable I will get. I feel fine."

Zimmerman, 30, hit .280/.342/.449 over 214 at-bats last year. 


Orioles' Brian Matusz tosses scoreless inning in return
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:09 am ET) Orioles pitcher Brian Matusz tossed a scoreless inning in his return to the mound.

Matusz came into camp dealing with a shoulder issue, but said he was pretty close to 100 percent. He allowed one hit during his one inning of work, and struck out one batter. Matusz is expected to open the season in the team's bullpen. 

The 28-year-old posted a 3.48 ERA over 51 2/3 innings last year.


Red Sox's Rusney Castillo wouldn't alter plan if sent down
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12:06 am ET) Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo won't be upset if he winds up being sent down to the minors, according to the WEEI.

That's not a likely outcome, but with his recent oblique injury, there's a chance Castillo could fall behind the other outfielders on the roster. "To me it wouldn’t be anything that would alter my plan, or my attitude, or my perspective," he said. "If that’s what it’s got to be, that’s what it’s got to be. I’m just worrying playing and continuing to get reps and reps wherever they may come."

Castillo did note that he's feeling a lot better, and is expected to return in about a week. Castillo hit .333 over 36 at-bats in the majors last year. 


Red Sox's Jackie Bradley Jr. showing off new swing
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is showing off his new swing this spring, according to the Boston Herald

Bradley started working out at the team's facility in November, and started hitting in January. He worked with assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez for a good portion of the offseason. "Jackie was dedicated," Rodriguez said. "He listened, too. He was open to what we talked about."

Manager John Farrell has noticed the change in Bradley's approach. "In BP, to me, it seems like there’s more of a willingness to stay in the middle of the field and not look to lift a ball too much," Farrell said. "I think it’s more of his natural swing, which he was drafted with."

Bradley said his swing has been a "work in progress." While it doesn't appear Bradley has a starting role, his defense should make him a useful major-league asset.

The 24-year-old hit .198/.265/.266 over 384 at-bats last year. 

 


Molitor: Eduardo Escobar 'will be' important part of Twins in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(3/5/2015) Twins manager Paul Molitor marked infielder Eduardo Escobar as "an important part" of the team in 2014 and believes he will be the same this season, the Star Tribune reports.

"He was an important part of our team last year," Molitor said. "He will be this year, too."

Escobar delivered the best performance of his career in 2014, hitting .275/.315/.406 with six home runs and 37 RBI in 433 at-bats. However, he arrived at camp to learn he was in a competition for the shortstop role with last year's center fielder, Danny Santana. Breaking the news to Escobar was a delicate conversation for the manager.

"Obviously," Molitor said. "You’ve got a guy who came in and played every day for you last year, and then you’re thinking about doing something different. I’ve tried to explain it to him the best I could. His answers, at least for now, are, 'No problem. I understand.'"


 
 
 
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