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Fantasy Baseball: Are These Orioles Being Drafted Appropriately?

Adley Rutshcman HR swing
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O’s fans,

The purpose of this article is to help you better leverage your knowledge of the Orioles’ 2023 team for fantasy baseball success. In the table below, I’ve jotted down eighteen players who reside in the top-500 FantasyPros ADP (that averages draft position across six major fantasy sites). The fantasy relevance of some of these players varies drastically across formats. For example, Jorge Mateo is practically undraftable in OBP/points formats, but could be a fantastic value in a rotisserie league if his glove affords him the requisite playing time to fully take advantage of the stolen base rule changes. While I’ve historically mostly played in a very competitive, shallow, head-to-head points league, I plan to be in approximately a dozen leagues this year across a range of formats (so far I’ve drafted six teams). Of specific interest to me this year are draft-and-hold/best ball-type leagues without in-season pickups. These types of leagues incentivize a deep existing knowledge of major league rosters and an understanding of playing time considerations.

I think this is in fact THE season for Orioles fans who play fantasy baseball. If you’re well versed in the top-15 of the Orioles farm system, have a strong understanding of the starting pitching and bullpen depth chart, and know how the ballpark is going to play (favorably for LHB, highly unfavorably for RHB), you’ll have a leg up in filling the back of your rosters in a variety of league formats.

So let’s jump in with Orioles players with ADPs within the top 500!

*Sell = overpriced, hold = properly priced, buy = potential value*

Cedric Mullins (48.8 ADP, SELL)

I definitely see the argument for Mullins as a high-floor, high-upside guy. However, I worry that a de-juiced ball caps his HR upside and his struggles against lefties might eat away at his playing time. He’s a fantastic real-life contributor, but for fantasy purposes, I prefer to grab whatever high-end starting pitcher falls (guys around his ADP include Shane Bieber, Julio Urias & Zack Wheeler). That being said, he could definitely prove me wrong and go 20-40 while scoring more runs due to the Orioles’ improved lineup.

Adley Rutschman (65.8 ADP, HOLD)

Adley is going to be an MVP candidate this year: book it. But while I think he’s going to be a top-3 catcher in real life and a significant asset in points/OBP formats, I’m not overly motivated to pick him in rotisserie and best ball leagues. The 2023 catcher pool is as deep as it’s been in years and I’d worry that Rutschman’s supine plate discipline might result in deflated counting stats needed for rotisserie. Think 2022 Juan Soto. I’d prefer one of the budding Houston aces (Framber Valdez or Cristian Javier) in this range, though the price is fair and the upside is immense.

Gunnar Henderson (86.6, BUY):

At last, our first buy! Gunnar had me a bit on the fence here and has worried me some in spring training while racking up K’s. That being said, I think this is mostly a factor of him working deep into the count and taking pitches he doesn’t think he can do damage on– a worthy pursuit that panned out for Julio Rodriguez after a rough start last April. Third base is incredibly shallow after the top guys in 2023, and Gunnar represents a rare upside opportunity. Additionally, I think his speed is being undersold a bit (20-20 is in the cards), his playing time is pretty locked down due to his defensive value, and he’s shown the rare ability to make drastic improvements in a skill that’s historically been difficult for players to improve (plate discipline and swing decisions).

Felix Bautista (95.6 HOLD)

Bautista has clear best-closer-in-baseball upside, unparalleled in Eno Sarris’ stuff+ metrics, the look of a durable pitcher, and the demonstrated ability to make strides in command. So why not buy? I have concerns about the general fungibility of relievers and small specific concerns about Bautista. His slow start to the spring is likely just the Orioles being careful but is worth keeping an eye on. I was concerned that Bautista struggled so much with back-to-back outings at the end of last year. It was his first full year at the MLB level so we can’t hold this against him too much, but for fantasy purposes, some of his saves could leach away to Perez/Givens/Baker if he can’t consistently appear in back-to-back games.

Anthony Santander (118.2 BUY)

The superstar of team Venezuela has homered in back to back games to kick off WBC play. This comes as no surprise to O’s fans who watched Santander bloom from a fringy-looking Rule V pick into a plus middle-of-the-order bat over the past few years. I’m all in on Santander as a three category contributor (HR/RBI/R) with batting average upside for rotisserie and a valuable producer in H2H points leagues. Quality of contact stats back up his breakout and his buy-in to the Orioles philosophy of optimizing swing decisions/plate discipline bodes well for continued improvement. He’s likely to have multiple high-OBP players in front of him in the lineup (Gunnar, Adley and sometimes Vavra) and could be in for a huge 2023.

Ryan Mountcastle (160.2 HOLD)

Mountcastle is a tough player to evaluate for fantasy. While his baseball savant page and all the expected stats might portend a breakout, he still plays in the same home ballpark that saps right-handed power. This creates a context in which Mountcastle will likely continue to under-perform his batted-ball metrics. However, I do think that Mountcastle likely worked on his opposite field approach in the offseason and is as talented of a power bat as you’ll find. Still, I’m hesitant to invest as significantly as in Santander, who demonstrated an ability to improve his plate discipline and swing decisions that Mountcastle didn’t.

Grayson Rodriguez (186.6 BUY)

I’ve endeared myself to some of the more prominent fantasy baseball writers by pestering them on social media for referring to Grayson Rodriguez as being on an anemic innings limit in 2023. From my understanding, the Orioles aren’t as likely to limit his innings in 2023 as they are to limit his pitches per outing. I’d think that he’ll start around 75 in April and work up to around 90 by the end of May. I wouldn’t expect him to consistently throw more than 90 pitches in an outing throughout the summer. So, knowing Rodriguez’s history of pitch-efficiency and propensity to pound the zone (with Walltimore gleaming behind him), I think he’s a fantastic buy for 2023. Just be careful in a H2H points league in late season playoff matchups; I’d expect him to get skipped some in September, when you’ll need him most.

Jorge Mateo (262.4 HOLD)

I already touched on Mateo so I’ll keep it brief here. Many Orioles fans on social media seem to be fading Mateo for real-life purposes based on our deluge of minor league middle infield talent and Mateo’s poor plate discipline/swing decisions. While I understand this, I don’t want to underrate Mateo’s defensive impact; he really is a transcendental defender who benefits from the rule changes: the shift restrictions will require rangier middle infielders, the larger bases will help with bang-bang steal plays, and the limited pitcher pickoffs will enable proficient base stealers. I wouldn’t overinvest as I do expect him to lose some playing time compared to last year. That being said, he’s being faded pretty substantially and could still provide immense value in a rotisserie league.

Austin Hays (270 SELL)

Here’s the first player about whom I don’t have a whole lot of positive things to say. I do expect him to lose playing time as the year goes on, against RH pitchers when Hyde wants both Vavra and Stowers in the lineup, on days where Adley DHs, pushing Santander to the outfield, and later in the year when guys like Colton Cowser and maybe Heston Kjerstad are knocking down the door. Hays doesn’t fit any of the Orioles developmental priorities and I think is likely to be playing elsewhere as early as midseason.

We’ll evaluate the rest of the list in part 2!

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