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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Baltimore Orioles

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Orioles contended their little hearts out in 2013, hoping for a return trip to the postseason after reaching it for the first time in 15 years in 2012, but even with surprise MVP candidate Chris Davis giving them far more than anyone could have expected, they fell short, tying with the Yankees for third in the AL East.

Their roster is largely unchanged since then, which of course places a heavy burden on Davis to keep producing. Most Fantasy owners are buying into his 53-homer performance of a year ago, targeting him in the first round. He does have at least one partner in crime in Adam Jones, whose 2012 numbers don't compare but whose track record makes him equally deserving of early-round status. You may see him go in the first round of some drafts, though particularly in Head-to-Head points leagues, he's a better fit for the second round.

2014 Fantasy Outlooks
A.L. East N.L. East
Orioles Braves
Red Sox Marlins
Yankees Mets
Rays Phillies
Blue Jays Nationals
A.L. Central N.L. Central
White Sox Cubs
Indians Reds
Tigers Brewers
Royals Pirates
Twins Cardinals
A.L. West N.L. West
Astros Diamondbacks
Angels Rockies
Athletics Dodgers
Mariners Padres
Rangers Giants

Continued growth for Manny Machado would mean more to the Orioles than any offseason acquisition. The first step is coming back from knee surgery, which he's on track to do. We've been hearing the Alex Rodriguez comparisons since he went third overall in the 2010 draft, and it's not like he underachieved in his first full season, leading the AL with 51 doubles. But at age 21, he's still learning the strike zone and has yet to mature physically. A player of his pedigree could explode any given year, making his value on Draft Day a source of debate. Even among pessimists, he won't last beyond the top 10 third basemen.

The Orioles' top-heavy lineup bottoms out from there. By now, Fantasy owners know to expect middle-of-the-road production from former top prospect Matt Wieters. Soon to be 28 and already five years into his big-league career, the big breakthrough most likely isn't coming. J.J. Hardy will hit more home runs than the average shortstop but provide virtually nothing else. Nick Markakis, still only 30, has been in decline for about five years now and is on the verge of becoming mixed league irrelevant.

The starting rotation is the team's real weakness, though. Kevin Gausman offers ace potential and will get his chance this spring but hasn't exactly earned the benefit of the doubt yet, meaning the Orioles will most likely trot out the same collection of No. 4 starters. OK, so Chris Tillman may have emerged as something more last year, but even he's more of a late-rounder in standard mixed leagues.

Since Dan Duquette took over as general manager, the Orioles have earned a reputation for rescuing players off the scrap heap, and Jemile Weeks is this year's most likely candidate. He'll compete for playing time at second base, looking to hold off prospect Jonathan Schoop with longtime albatross Brian Roberts out of the picture.

Underappreciated ... Chris Tillman, starting pitcher

2014 projected lineup
Player Name Position
1. Nick Markakis RF
2. Manny Machado 3B
3. Chris Davis 1B
4. Adam Jones CF
5. Matt Wieters C
6. J.J. Hardy SS
7. Henry Urrutia DH
8. David Lough LF
9. Jemile Weeks 2B
Bench Nolan Reimold OF
Bench Delmon Young OF
Yes, Tillman ranked 19th among starting pitchers in Head-to-Head leagues last year and 26th in Rotisserie, but most Fantasy owners can sniff out a fluky win-loss record and compensate accordingly. He's not that much better than Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen, right? Who's to say he'll be the one to win 16 games in 2014 and not them? But his designation here has less to do with how he finished 2013 than how he progressed over the course of it. His success was easy to overlook in the first half, when he averaged 7.2 strikeouts and 3.3 walks per nine innings -- a middle-of-the-road ratio that suggested he hadn't actually transformed as a pitcher and was simply having better luck. But then, after the All-Star break, he averaged 8.6 strikeouts and 2.6 walks per nine -- a good ratio by anyone's standards. He also had a 1.07 WHIP that, over a full season, would have ranked ninth among all starting pitchers. A former top prospect, Tillman always had the potential for those kinds of numbers and may have finally met it at age 25.

Buyer beware ... Chris Davis, first base

In the interest of full disclosure, Davis was my "bust" pick for the Orioles last year, meaning before he emerged as an MVP candidate and probable first-round pick. So yeah, sorry about that. As expectations increase, though, so does the potential to disappoint, giving me a better chance of getting it right this year. Everything that concerned me about Davis prior to 2013 is still true today and actually came to light in the second half. Those who didn't own him probably didn't notice -- he was so far ahead by then that it hardly impacted his final numbers -- but after the All-Star break, he hit .245 with 16 homers and an .854 OPS. In other words, he was the same guy who hit .270 with 33 homers and an .827 OPS in 2012 -- a solid player, but nothing near elite. As someone who strikes out every third at-bat, he may be incapable of anything more and simply caught pitchers by surprise in the first half last year. At some point, the risk is worth the reward, but the first round isn't it.

Sleeper ... Tommy Hunter, relief pitcher

2014 rotation/bullpen
Player Name Throws
1. Chris Tillman RHP
2. Wei-Yin Chen LHP
3. Miguel Gonzalez RHP
4. Bud Norris RHP
5. Zach Britton LHP
ALT Kevin Gausman RHP
Bullpen Breakdown
1. Tommy Hunter RHP
2. Darren O'Day RHP
3. Ryan Webb RHP
4. Brian Matusz LHP
5. Steve Johnson RHP
Truthfully, any reliever in line for saves for the first time is a sleeper in Fantasy. When only 30 players are capable of contributing something everybody needs, all of them have value. But Hunter even more so because he's getting his chance in the same place Jim Johnson recorded 50-plus saves each of the last two seasons. And he might be even better equipped for the role. You wouldn't have thought so when he was a back-of-the-rotation starter for the Rangers a few years back, but he's found his niche in the bullpen with the Orioles, boasting a fastball that reaches triple digits. He's not any more of a bat-misser than Johnson -- or he hasn't proven to be yet, anyway -- but his control is so good that you can count on a low WHIP and ERA. Of course, he has to win the job first, so most of the "proven" closers still take precedence on Draft Day. But among the bottom-feeders, Hunter is one of those worth the extra dollar.

Prospects Report

What the Orioles lack at starting pitcher in the majors they're cooking up by the vat in the minors. Kevin Gausman is the big name now, but Dylan Bundy was actually ahead of him before losing all of 2013 to Tommy John surgery. By 2015, they'll likely have emerged as Nos. 1 and 2 in the big-league rotation, with Gausman the more likely of the two to contribute this season. ... Eduardo Rodriguez doesn't quite profile as an ace, but the Orioles consider him a long-term option for their starting rotation and could give him a taste of the majors at some point in 2014. ... Hunter Harvey, the 22nd overall pick in the 2013 draft, gives the Orioles another ace in the making, but at 19, he's at least a couple years behind the others. Now is the time to scoop him up in dynasty leagues. ... Jonathan Schoop is one of those prospects whose numbers have never quite lived up to the pedigree, but now that he's at the doorstep of the majors, he deserves AL-only consideration. He has decent pop for a middle infielder, if nothing else. ... Henry Urrutia is among the many candidates competing for time at left field and DH, but at age 27, he may be a finished product and has yet to show the power to hold down a full-time job in the majors. He has impressive bat-on-ball ability, though.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott at @CBSScottWhite .

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