Analyzing Baltimore Orioles Hitters For 2020
There is no doubting that the Baltimore Orioles are rebuilding. It will be a long process, and it’s still in the early stages, even as we enter the second year of the Mark Elias-led front office. The big developments for the Orioles in 2019 were on the minor league side of things, as the main priority wasn’t necessarily the big league club. Some of that young talent will be infused into the main squad in 2020.
The Orioles offense ranked 22nd in runs scored in 2019, and while that doesn’t look encouraging, it doesn’t mean there aren’t relevant hitters on this squad. An optimist would note the team was in the top half of the league in runs scored from August 1 to the end of the season, and in September the O’s outscored playoff clubs such as the Tampa Bay Rays and Atlanta Braves. The team enjoyed some breakout offensive seasons that it hopes will continue into 2020, and Baltimore hopes for more breakthroughs from some of its key young talent as it starts to pipe into the major leagues.
Overall, the 2020 Orioles offense will probably rank closer to that No. 22 offense from 2019, but there is a lot of potential here if things break right.
(Last Updated: December 3, 2019)
- ADDITIONS: To Be Updated
- SUBTRACTIONS: 2B/SS Jonathan Villar Pending Free Agents: DH/1B/OF Mark Trumbo. Release/non-tender candidates: 1B Chris Davis, C Jesus Sucre
Chance Sisco (Catcher | Batting: 8)
2019: 29 R, 8 HR, 20 RBI, 0 SB, .210/.333/.395 | Position Rank: 49 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 500+
It’s hard to believe Chance Sisco is only 24 years old. It feels like he’s been around for much longer. After being discussed as the catcher of the future for the Orioles, Sisco looks like he is now just a place-holder for the new catcher of the future, Adley Rutschman. It’s kind of a bummer, as Sisco showed some of that potential in 2019. Only playing in 59 games, he produced a 96 wRC+, a tremendous increase from his 58 wRC+ mark from 2018. The big gap in average and on-base percentage comes from an 11.1% walk rate, which was 10-highest among catchers with a minimum of 150 plate appearances in 2019, and is intriguing in leagues that count OBP. But it is ultimately hard to be encouraged by Sisco because of his career 33.2% strikeout rate, which could make him unplayable except for the deepest of leagues. There are also playing-time concerns, as he could be platooned with the right-handed Pedro Severino, and he will likely be hitting in the bottom half of the lineup. There are some things to like about Sisco, but until he shows signs of improvement in his areas of weakness, Sisco probably has little fantasy value in 2020.
Strengths: BB, OBP
Weaknesses: AVG, K, SB, PA/AB, RBI
Sisco pulls off a breakout similar to his teammates Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander, finally living up to his former top-prospect status and becoming a middle-of-the-order contributor while getting the majority of the playing time.
The Orioles call up Rutschman early, pushing Sisco to the bench—or back to the minor leagues.
2020 Projection: 37 R, 10 HR, 40 RBI, 1 SB, .233/.335/.370
Pedro Severino (Catcher | Batting: 7)
2019: 37 R, 13 HR, 44 RBI, 3 SB, .249/.321/.420 | Position Rank: 18 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 500+
If the Orioles platoon their catchers, Severino would be the right-handed option to start the year. After being mostly a reserve or third-string option for the Washington Nationals for most of his career, Severino finally got extended playing time with the Orioles. He performed well in just 96 games with a 94 wRC+ and was the 18th-best catcher overall, per ESPN. Between Sisco and Severino, Severino is probably the better option for average and power, but Sisco will probably give you a better OBP, and now I’m frustrated that I can’t combine the two catchers into one, as that would be quite the player. Severino’s .420 slugging percentage shouldn’t be overlooked, as that mark ranked 15th-best among catchers with at least 300 plate appearances in 2019. If the Orioles were in win-now mode, I’d guess they’d play Severino most of the time, but since they should want to see more of what the younger Sisco can be before making a decision on him, a split of playing time is more likely here. That impacts both of their fantasy values, as they both could be average options at catcher, but the playing time issues probably only make them both worth a stream, depending on matchups.
Strengths: HR, SLG
Weaknesses: PA/AB, BB, OBP
Severino mashes out the gate in 2020, making his bat too hot to keep out of the lineup, and he becomes the main catching option all season in Baltimore.
Severino continues to get the shorter end of the platoon at catcher, maybe making some starts at designated hitter, but fails to open eyes and the Orioles place him on waivers or trade him for cash when they call up Rutschman.
2020 Projection: 33 R, 10 HR, 32 RBI, 1 SB, .240/.320/.410
Trey Mancini (1B/OF | Batting: 2)
2019: 106 R, 35 HR, 97 RBI, 1 SB, .291/.364/.535 | Position Rank: 7 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 127
One of my favorite hitters in baseball, Mancini responded to his down 2018 season with quite the breakout, with a 132 wRC+, and emerging not just as the best player on the Orioles, but also as one of the better hitters in all of baseball. There are encouraging signs all around, and I have no concern that his 2019 season was a fluke. Posting a career-low strikeout rate and a career-high walk rate is a good thing, and he cut his ground-ball rate by 10 percentage points, falling to another career-low of 45.9%. Those are all things you want hitters to do; he also increased his hard-contact rate. Maybe the only Oriole who will be drafted highly, Mancini carries a profile that plays in every type of league. The talent is clearly there with him, but what’s missing is a solid supporting cast. You’d like him a lot more if he were on almost any other team, as he may not score or drive in as many runs as he might elsewhere, but Mancini is the only hitter for the Orioles you can draft and keep in your lineup every day without worry, as he should be at the top of the lineup most days.
Strengths: AVG, OBP, BB, HR, SLG, PA/AB
Weaknesses: R, RBI
Mancini breaks out even more, going from a wRC+ in the 120 or 130 range into one in the 140 to 150 range, and rakes every day in the 2 spot and emerges as one of the best hitters in baseball.
Mancini’s 2019 was the high point of his career, and he reverts back to his 2017 or 2018 form, which while still useful, would be disappointing for fantasy owners who may have drafted him highly over some other hitters who may be break out themselves in 2020.
2020 Projection: 110 R, 30 HR, 107 RBI, 2 SB, .285/.350/.545
Richie Martin (SS | Batting: 9)
2019: 29 R, 6 HR, 23 RBI, 10 SB, .208/.260/.322 | Position Rank: 320 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 500+
Richie Martin will have another opportunity to make an impact for the Orioles in 2020 due to the Orioles trading Jonathan Villar to Miami Marlins. Martin will be going into his second season in the Majors after being a Rule V Draft Pick in 2019. He struggled in his first taste of the Majors, putting up just a 50 wRC+ and negative one WAR in 120 games. He struggled with plate discipline in 2019, only walking 4.9% of the time while striking out 26.9% of the time with a chase rate of 35%, which is well above average. His batted ball profile consisted of over 50% groundballs and not a lot of hard contact. He was “supposed” to struggle in 2019 though, as he was a Rule V draft pick and therefore, not ready for the big leagues, but now he must make the necessary adjustments if he wants to stay there. With the Rule V status being removed from Martin this season, the Orioles are free to send him up and down as they please, so while he has a starting spot for now, it is likely that he will go to the minors if he struggles. As it stands now, I would expect Martin to continue to struggle in 2020, although with some improvement. I don’t think he will have much if any, fantasy value in 2020 unless someone is absolutely desperate for stolen bases, but that stolen base potential won’t do an owner any good if he struggles to get on base.
Weaknesses: AVG, OBP, HR, RBI
Martin ups his game in nearly every single way and hits enough to be about average at the position and becomes the everyday shortstop for the Orioles.
Martin loses his starting spot early in the season and spends the season toiling in AAA and only receives a call-up in September or if an injury occurs.
2020 Projection: 40 R, 10 HR, 35 RBI, 12 SB, .230/.280/.350
Renato Nunez (1B/3B/DH | Batting: 4)
2019: 72 R, 31 HR, 90 RBI, 1 SB, .244/.311/.460 | Position Rank: 25 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 236
In terms of waiver-wire success stories, Renato Nunez has been one of the best of recent memory. After being claimed by Baltimore from the Texas Rangers, Nunez has been an above-average hitter and earned everyday playing time. That should continue in 2020, but for fantasy purposes, Nunez may just be remembered as a pleasant first-half surprise from 2019. He managed 20 home runs and a .495 slugging percentage in the first half of 2019 and then struggled down the stretch to just 11 homers and a .417 slugging in the second half. Thirty-one homers certainly looks nice—only Mancini hit more for the Orioles—but other than some streaky power, I’m not sure what else Nunez brings to the table that would make him worth drafting outside the deepest leagues or AL-only leagues. It’s unlikely he puts up another 30+ homer season, and his second-half splits are more representative of who he is as a hitter. But he has shown he can be a streaky hitter, and if he goes on another power surge for a few weeks, he may be worth a speculative add. He should get plenty of opportunities too—at least to begin 2020—in the middle of the Orioles lineup, and could be a driving force for run production in what could be one of the weaker lineups in the American League.
Strengths: PA/AB, R, HR, RBI
Weaknesses: AVG, OBP, SB
Nunez shows off even more pop as MLB sticks with the juiced ball for 2020, and he goes off for 40 homers, while also finding hard-to-teach plate-discipline skills, adding more than just power to his fantasy value.
Nunez hits more like the .250/.319/.417 hitter he was in the second half of 2019, gets overtaken in the Orioles’ pecking order by younger hitters, and finds himself back on the waiver wire, hoping for another chance elsewhere.
2020 Projection: 60 R, 25 HR, 60 RBI, 1 SB, .235/.312/.446
Hanser Alberto (SS/2B | Batting: 1)
2019: 62 R, 12 HR, 51 RBI, 4 SB, .305/.329/.422 | Position Rank: 28 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 353
Speaking of waiver-wire success stories, the Orioles had another one in 2019 with Hanser Alberto. After playing a lot of waiver-wire tag last offseason, going from the Rangers to the Yankees to the Orioles to the Giants to back to the Orioles, Alberto got himself in probably the best situation possible, getting steady playing time for most of 2019 for the Orioles. Another pleasant surprise for the team, Alberto hit for a .305 average despite never hitting for higher than .222 in the bigs prior. I’m hesitant to say he’ll replicate that success in 2020 for myriad reasons. For one, if you wanted to know what the first-percentile hitter looked like in terms of exit velocity and hard-hit rate in 2019, then look no further than Alberto. He makes a lot of contact—but not great contact—and those hitters usually see their performances fluctuate. While it is possible he hits over .300 again, I won’t be the one to predict it. Even if he does come close to the .300 mark, there still isn’t much in terms of ceiling, with his 2019 season probably being his best outcome. Not a lot of walks, and not a lot of pop, which is usually not a great combination. The shortstop eligibility is nice, and like with a lot of other Orioles hitters, he should get a lot of opportunities and playing time. Still, his fantasy value should be limited to only the deepest leagues or AL-only leagues.
Strengths: PA/AB, AVG
Weaknesses: OBP, HR, SB
Alberto maintains an unlikely stat line in 2020, hits over .300 again, taps into a little bit more power, and holds off the Orioles’ younger talent to stay as their shortstop all season, while becoming a better fantasy asset in more than just niche leagues.
Alberto’s weak contact doesn’t find as many holes as it did a year ago, and gets surpassed on the Orioles depth chart, being relegated to the bench or back into the waiver-wire merry-go-round.
2020 Projection: 40 R, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 3 SB, .275/.320/.395
Anthony Santander (OF | Batting: 3)
2019: 46 R, 20 HR, 59 RBI, 1 SB, .261/.297/.476 | Position Rank: 98 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 305
It was nice to see Santander, a former Rule 5 draft pick, play well for a stretch in 2019. While that overall line doesn’t look too good, it was muted by a bad September in which he put up just a .211 wOBA and struck out nearly 30% of the time. For all the good Santander achieved in 2019 to resurrect his career, I wouldn’t expect him to produce much more than he did in 2019. Even if we forget about his dreadful September, Santander’s expected stats severely trailed his actual ones. Take his .327 xwOBA figure from June to August compared to his .349 actual one as an example. Maybe him having a bad month like September should have been expected at some point. He has shown really good power output, though, with 20 homers in just 93 games and a respectable .216 ISO mark, which helped his wRC+ push to a roughly league-average 97, even despite that dreadful September. I can see him being more of a league-average hitter in 2020, and he’s slotted in to get a lot of at-bats for the Orioles. He should have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs. Plate discipline will make or break or him, however, as he hasn’t shown strong skills there in the majors yet, and his career OBP in the minors is just .335, but if he were to add more of that to his game, he’d be a pretty well-rounded hitter. Still, as it stands, with a lot of good outfielders these days, Santander is not a player I would draft in shallow leagues, but in deeper leagues he could offer a cheap supply of power. Just keep in mind he’s got limited upside because of that lack of plate discipline.
Strengths: PA/AB, HR, RBI
Weaknesses: OBP, SB
Santander continues to make improvements, going from a league-average hitter with power upside but little else to a driving force in the Orioles lineup, most likely by making improvements in his plate discipline, and becomes a fantasy-relevant player for more than just a few weeks.
Santander’s concerning expected stats from 2019 continue into 2020, except he isn’t outpacing them like he was in 2019, which drives down his actual stat line and would make him probably worse than the average outfielder. That limits his fantasy value to the waiver wire or short-term injury replacement.
2020 Projection: 68 R, 20 HR, 55 RBI, 2 SB, .254/.306/.455
Austin Hays (OF | Batting: 5)
2019: 12 R, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 2 SB, .309/.373/.574 | Position Rank: 174 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 469
I must admit, one of the player types that intrigues me the most is the post-hype prospect. By post-hype, I mean the player who was at one time or another a Top 100 or intriguing prospect, but for whatever reason, he fell off the landscape for a while and then resurfaced a few years later. Austin Hays is maybe the definition of this type of player, and after having received a lot of hype in 2016 and 2017—ranked as high as the 21st-best prospect by Baseball America going into 2018—Hays’ stock dropped to an all-time low that season after injuries and underperformance. He had a brief stint with the Orioles in 2019 after having an OK season in the minors, but what he did in that small sample of games in 2019 was really encouraging. Hays put up an outstanding .309/.373/.574 line in just 75 games, and while there are indicators that it likely won’t stick, he only struck out 17.3% of the time during that stretch, which is closer to his minor league norms, and he walked 9.3% of the time, which was the best rate of his entire professional career. While you don’t necessarily want to make too many leaps about a player who only received 75 plate appearances in 2019, that stretch should have helped his confidence going into 2020, and gives the Orioles more of a reason to stick with him, as he should be in the starting lineup on Opening Day. If he regresses to where his expected stats sat in 2019—somewhere along the lines of a .289 xBA, a .451 xSLG, and a .352 xwOBA in 2019—that would still be a very productive player for an entire season, and Hays would probably be one of the breakout players of the year with a line like that. For the moment, Hays is a wait-and-see type of player. The foundation is there for sure, but going into fantasy drafts, I wouldn’t make it a priority to draft him, save for maybe a speculative pick in the last round, when he should still be available in nearly all of the 12-teamers. If he picks up where left off in 2019, though, he won’t be around on the waiver wire for long.
Strengths: PA/AB, R, HR, RBI
Weaknesses: OBP, SB
Hays’ brief 2019 cameo is a good representation of who he will be, and he finally lives up to his top-prospect status with a breakout 2020 that sees him becoming one of the better hitters in the league.
Hays has an up-and-down 2020 season, where he shows flashes of that hitter he was down the stretch in 2019, but can’t quite put it together, with that inconsistency being what keeps him from being fantasy relevant for a long period.
2020 Projection: 60 R, 23 HR, 68 RBI, 5 SB, .265/.343/465
DJ Stewart (OF | Batting: 6)
2019: 15 R, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 1 SB, .238/.317/.381 | Position Rank: 195 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: 455
DJ Stewart, a 2015 first-round pick by the Orioles, finally got an extended look from them in 2019 after crushing it in the minors. He slashed .291/.396/.548 in Triple-A last season, but unfortunately, that success didn’t translate to the majors right away, as Stewart posted just an 82 wRC+ in 44 games in 2019. The good news is that his low strikeout rate of 18.3% looks to have carried over from the minors, and he did a pretty decent job of getting on base, but the quality of contact doesn’t exactly inspire hope. He put the ball on the ground nearly 50% of the time, and it’s difficult to have sustained success with that type of profile. Combine that with an average hard-hit rate of just 34.7%, and it’s not difficult to see why Stewart didn’t have much success in 2019. Without significant improvements in either hard-hit rate or ground-ball rate, I struggle to see a way for Stewart to be a positive contributor in fantasy baseball for 2020.
Weaknesses: AVG, R, HR
Stewart makes the necessary adjustments, changes up his batted-ball mix and quality of contact, which would push him to everyday status as an Oriole, and maybe better than a league-average regular.
Stewart is more of the same as he was in 2019, and could find himself back in the minors for a long time.
2020 Projection: 55 R, 15 HR, 52 RBI, 10 SB, .235/.320/.385
Playing Time Battles
Catcher: Sisco vs. Severino. Being that neither catcher is likely to play enough to earn everyday playing time, I imagine the Orioles will platoon the two, with Sisco playing against mostly right-handed pitching, and Severino getting the shorter end of the platoon against lefties. I could see Sisco being prioritized if he does well in this role, because of his age and recent prospect status. But let’s be real: Both of these catchers are just place-holders until the debut of Rutschman.
Fourth Outfielder: Stevie Wilkerson vs. Dwight Smith Jr. While I think the Orioles’ starting outfield is mostly set with Santander, Hays, and Stewart, there should be a battle for the fourth outfielder spot, and only one can win it. I’d give the edge to Wilkerson, as he is the most versatile of the three and would give manager Brandon Hyde more flexibility. The switch-hitting Wilkerson would allow the Orioles to limit Stewart’s looks against lefties. I don’t think the team should be looking to limit Hays’ opportunities at the plate, but if Baltimore feels he isn’t ready for full-time duty, I could see the club keeping both Wilkerson and Smith, Jr, as Wilkerson would provide a right-handed-hitting option in centerfield, and Smith, Jr. would be another left-handed option for Hyde. It’s also not out of the realm that the O’s keep both for other reasons, as they may find it more valuable to give as many young players looks as possible over keeping someone like Chris Davis, who really shouldn’t be on a major league roster.
|Bench||OF||Dwight Smith Jr.||L|
|Bench||OF||Dwight Smith Jr.||L|
While it will likely still be a while before the Baltimore Orioles are competing for AL East supremacy, their lineup should be about giving playing time to the young guys. As it stands, the oldest player in the Orioles’ everyday starting lineup will be Villar, who is only 28 years old, and even he should be a prime trade candidate.
The Orioles lineup did not make much noise in 2019, as it was in the bottom half of the league in runs scored. However, I do like that the team is starting to filter in younger players. We’ve already seen one hitter blossom into a star-type player in Mancini, and now the Orioles will be putting more guys into a position to break out, hoping that some of the regulars in 2020 turn into solid, everyday players for the next great Orioles team.
As it stands, though, I don’t know how many Orioles will be drafted in fantasy leagues. Outside of Mancini, it’s possible that every other Orioles hitter goes undrafted in standard leagues. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the other members of the starting nine are going to be irrelevant, though, as we’ve seen hitters such as Santander, and Nunez become part of the conversation during the 2019 season, and I think it’s likely that a couple of Orioles will take a leap or two in performance in 2020 and make themselves relevant for fantasy baseball purposes in 2020, and the future.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)