Even going back to spring training, it was easy to see things weren't going to be easy for the Baltimore Orioles this season. Let's face it, the young pitchers just aren't ready to rock, the team's offense still lacks depth (and good health), and there's no tougher division for a team like this to succeed. One of the things I found a bit odd was how much fantasy baseball owners loved this team's outfield. Personally, I thought Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Nolan Reimold were a bit overrated by fantasy owners in spring drafts. It's early, of course, but so far things aren't looking so good.
The right fielder (Markakis) does nothing but take walks. The center fielder (Jones) doesn't take enough walks. And the occasional left fielder (Reimold) isn't healthy enough to do much more than limp around.
Markakis was the first one to be taken in most fantasy drafts, though I bypassed him in all my leagues. I value batting average as much as anyone, and Markakis did reach 100 RBIs in 2009 for the second season in three years, but that's about all there is. He's not really a base stealer, and the power is a bit too modest for someone being regarded as a top-20 outfielder. Markakis hit 23 home runs and stole 18 bases in 2007. Since then he has averaged 19 home runs and eight steals. This season, in 50 at-bats, he has yet to homer or steal a base. He's getting on base (11 walks already, one per team loss), which is great in real life if others can knock you in, but when the slugging percentage nearly matches the on-base percentage, that's not a good thing. The Orioles had only one player reach 20 home runs in 2009, and that was Luke Scott. Markakis, 26, has become Bobby Abreu without the speed, but people still view him as possessing major upside. I think he possesses a 20-90 season, at best.
Jones is the player many fantasy owners coveted, thinking he was about to put together a full season like his first two months of 2009. Jones was terrific in earning an All-Star berth, hitting .344 with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs through May. After that, however, he hit eight home runs and batted .237. That was over three months! He didn't play in September because of an ankle injury, but Jones had already proved his quick start couldn't be sustained. ESPN Fantasy projected 24 home runs and 12 stolen bases; it seemed legit, and Jones is talented enough to reach those figures. Of course, he has been leading off lately, not put in a position to drive in runs. Jones was the No. 19 outfielder in ESPN average live drafts, the same seventh round as Markakis. I'd be surprised if Jones hits more than 20 home runs, and he's not a base stealer, either.
Then there's Reimold, who is probably close to another DL stint as he limps around recovering from September Achilles' tendon surgery. He's not healthy, and it shows in how he approaches at-bats. A season ago, he was a surprise rookie source of power and speed. I think even the Orioles were surprised. Reimold became a top-150 fantasy pick for this season, ahead of such players as Franklin Gutierrez, Vernon Wells and Ryan Ludwick. But those expectations seem awfully high, especially now that Reimold is hitting .162.
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When Felix Pie -- hitting .400 in 20 at-bats -- tore a back muscle and was lost to the team for three months, the Orioles called up perennial prospect Lou Montanez. I'm not going to predict big things for Montanez, but manager Dave Trembley has said he'll play left field quite a bit. Montanez hit 26 homers, knocked in 97 runs and batted .335 for Double-A Bowie in 2008. I agree, might as well let him play, though if he's the left fielder, it means poor Luke Scott -- always overlooked -- will have to share designated hitter at-bats with Reimold, or push aside Garrett Atkins at first base. Scott could hold his own at first base.
When a fantasy owner overdrafts a commodity, and that player struggles, it's rarely smart to try to trade that player for whatever you can get. Markakis and Jones should be useful this season, though I fall on the pessimistic side of their attaining the numbers we projected for them. Reimold seems unownable at this point in 10-team standard mixed leagues.
It might be a long season for the Orioles, who are averaging a win per week, and for fantasy owners expecting big years from their players. And no, you can't blame this all on the loss of Brian Roberts.