While fantasy owners sit down on draft day with the primary goal of building the best team possible, the inherent bias in most of us leads to trying to work as many of our favorite team’s players into the mix that we can. I mean sure, Gleyber Torres is an elite fantasy player, but what fun (or shred of morality) accompanies rooting for a Yankee? The things we do to hit a lick.
One small problem that Orioles fans have encountered in recent years is that valuable fantasy players have been scarce due to the team being, uh, bad. The Major League team was on the back burner, and there was little value to be found. Prior to his absence last season, Trey Mancini was ostensibly the only consistent fantasy producer. Thankfully, the Orioles have begun to transition out of the “rock bottom” phase of the rebuild, and the 2021 iteration of the team should feature several players who will become valuable pieces that any fantasy owner would love to have. This advice applies to both single-season and keeper leagues, and I will be viewing their fantasy value through the context of the traditional five stats for hitters (AVG, R, HR, RBI, SB) and pitchers (W, ERA, K, WHIP, SV). Mancini will not be discussed, as frankly I’m just happy to see him back on a baseball field and I don’t care how he does this year as long as he stays healthy, but I certainly believe he will be a useful fantasy player.
Anthony Santander, OF
Always known for his offense, Britain’s favorite Oriole broke out in a big way last summer before falling victim to an oblique injury that cost him the final month of the season. Santander’s 11 HR, 32 RBI, and 24 runs in 37 games made him a borderline top-25 outfielder last year, a surefire starter on any team. He’s a non-factor on the basepaths, but his batting average should remain high enough to justify starting him and may end up being an asset, if like me you believe his .248 BABIP suggests there is room for improvement in that category.
Santander should slot in as a solid #3/#4 OF with potential to be more, and may even warrant a keeper slot depending on your league format.
Ryan Mountcastle, OF/1B
Mountcastle was one of the first rays of hope to emerge from the desolate cavern that is the Orioles rebuild and was a reliable fantasy player from the jump. While I do believe that will continue in 2021, there is a chance for regression in some areas. Mountcastle made good contact; he was in the 65th percentile of major leaguers in HardHit%, but his .398 BABIP will almost assuredly decline. Players who consistently hit the ball hard can sustain higher BABIP (DJ LeMahieu being an example), but very seldom do players end up with BABIP numbers that high – only two players, Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson, have done so from 2016-19 – but that isn’t to say Mountcastle’s production will plummet. I think .280 with 20-25 homers is a realistic expectation for him, and he’s a player that keeper league owners may want to look towards, though I wouldn’t count on his 1B eligibility making it through this season.
John Means, SP
I made my debut on Eutaw Street Report espousing John Means and will continue to do so this spring. Means is probably the only O’s starting pitcher that will be on the radar on draft day, and could show himself to be a solid #4/#5 fantasy starter. Granted, wins will be few and far between for starters on a team whose ceiling is 65-70 wins and that will limit his value, but Means should be able to contribute in other categories. Assuming that his K/9 falls somewhere in the range of 2019 and his truncated 2020 season, he would be an average to above average source of strikeouts, and his outright unwillingness to walk people will keep his WHIP close to 1.00.
I strongly recommend Means as a late-round pick who could very easily perform at #3 fantasy SP levels.
Rylan Bannon, 2B
You’re probably rubbing your eyes to make sure you read that right, but this is more of a mid-season transaction for which to keep an eye out. Some of the most important fantasy transactions, regardless of sport, are the waiver wire pickups.
Did one of your top picks not meet expectations? Is your squad battling injuries? Did you forget you were in the league for a few months? The waiver wire is your oasis, and I think Bannon could possibly become a sneaky good waiver wire pickup later this year.
Now, most of this is predicated on the Orioles finding suitors for one of Yolmer Sanchez or Freddy Galvis at the deadline, as there may not be a clear path to enough playing time to merit fantasy usage. However, I am absolutely enamored by Bannon’s profile as a hitter and if it translates to the majors, would make for a useful fantasy player. He’s displayed power in the minors despite his smaller frame, a trait not shared by many second basemen. While not an above average runner, his ability to get on-base should lead to enough stealing opportunities to contribute meaningfully in that category, and the ability to play second and third makes him a flexible late-season option if he gets the call-up.
Adley Rutschman, C
I had to do it! I’ve been waiting for two years to be able to discuss Rutschman within the context of actually being on the team, and how he would produce, and now is the time. Like Bannon, Rutschman is one for the summer in single-season leagues, but he should be viewed as one of the top keeper league assets you can have. It’s clear that a 2021 debut will happen provided he remains healthy, and the feedback we’ve gotten from Mike Elias and co. is that his bat could’ve been playing in the majors already. With catcher being the thinnest fantasy position, I would snatch Rutschman up the day he gets to Baltimore if I were a single-season owner and expect instant contributions in all offensive categories except for steals. In the meantime, Pedro Severino actually isn’t a terrible option!