<
>
Insider

Tejada joins sleeper-laden Orioles lineup

Honestly, I didn't mind the Baltimore Orioles' signing of Miguel Tejada over the weekend ... mainly because that meant he wasn't heading to the St. Louis Cardinals. If fantasy sleeper David Freese is going to fail, fine with me, but at least give him that chance. In Baltimore, the Tejada signing doesn't block anyone noteworthy, since Josh Bell is at least a year away, Ty Wigginton is, well, Ty Wigginton and there's no talk of a Brooks Robinson comeback, although he probably has more fielding range than Tejada, even at age 72. I'm not even kidding.

Tejada's bat remains just fine, good enough to make him a legitimate sleeper for fantasy baseball draft day 2010. While everyone loudly proclaims Tejada is on the downside of his career, he did hit .313 with 46 doubles and 86 RBIs, and score 83 runs for the Houston Astros in 2009. Can't find much wrong with that.

We don't yet know which lineup spot Tejada will occupy -- in 2009, he hit mainly second, third and fifth -- but I feel pretty good about his ability to produce at a similar level for another year or more, even if he hits sixth or seventh. He just missed my list of the top 10 shortstops, mainly because Asdrubal Cabrera, Yunel Escobar and Alexei Ramirez possess upside and can run a bit more, but the veteran is close, and he's certainly draftable in mixed leagues. Adding third-base eligibility a few weeks into the season -- fellow newcomer Garrett Atkins is expected to slide over to first base -- only supplements his value. Sure, he'll be 36 soon, and Orioles pitchers will want to induce hitters to direct the baseball anywhere but third base, but that's not really our problem. He'll slide in your drafts, but I don't think he should.

I think Tejada joining this lineup makes sense, as it's laden with fantasy sleeper possibilities. Second baseman Brian Roberts is the only Orioles hitter I think fantasy owners will need to pay full value for, and that's a good thing. Consider what could end up being the team's Nos. 2 through 8 hitters:

2. Nick Markakis: The right fielder dropped 96 points in OPS from 2008 last season, which bothers sabermetricians, but his fantasy value was oddly similar. I think you can count on 20 home runs and 100 RBIs, the neighborhood of a .300 batting average and double-digit steals from him in 2010. A year ago, Markakis was ESPN Fantasy's No. 21 player on draft day. This year, he might miss the top 50, but he's the same player, and he's only 26. Now that's value.

3. Adam Jones: In the 2009 season's first half, Jones hit 12 home runs, knocked in 47 and hit .303. Don't look at his second half. Like Markakis, he's the same player he was; unlike Markakis, he struggled to maintain his play the entire season. Jones has 25-100-15 upside for this season, but I think too many owners will focus on his poor 2009 finish.

4. Garrett Atkins: It's my belief that his extreme home/road splits while playing for the Rockies weren't a fluke, but I'm not seeing Atkins getting drafted at all in most mixed leagues. He certainly has the capability to hit more than 20 home runs, and if batting cleanup, he could knock in a credible number of runs to make him ownable even in 10-team leagues.

5. Matt Wieters: Well, he's probably not all that undervalued since I've had to dip into the ninth or 10th round to get him in a few mock drafts, but he's a top-5 catcher to me. Easily.

6. Tejada: Just don't forget him.

7. Luke Scott: We ranked him No. 289 last season, and he delivered 25 home runs. He's not a great all-around player, but it's clear he possesses true power. Like Atkins, he should be drafted late.

8. Nolan Reimold: I might like this fellow best for sleeper purposes. Opportunity knocked for this 25-year-old prospect last season, and he smacked 15 home runs and stole eight bases in only 104 games. Those aren't monster numbers when you're scanning a list on draft day, but I think we'd all agree 25-90-15 upside is worth looking at. Reimold always hit for power in the minors and ran a bit, and the Orioles have discussed using him at first base in case Felix Pie emerges in left field. I wouldn't draft Reimold in the top 150, but I'd take him shortly after that to be my fourth or fifth outfielder.

Well, now we've discussed every Orioles starting hitter except the middle infield. Hey, Cesar Izturis has swiped 36 bases the past two seasons. OK, so I like this Orioles lineup as potential sleepers from 2 through 8 only. But not too shabby, eh?

Check out where these Orioles hitters went in our first mock draft of the season later this week. I'll follow up with my analysis on things I learned in the draft.

Note: I am now on Twitter at karabellespn, in addition to Facebook. And to think, when I first started in this business, we still used typewriters.