BAL Orioles Infield: Depth Chart Discussions

The Orioles were a middling offense last year, ranking in the middle of the pack in runs scored and combined wOBA. But they did hit the second-most home runs in the league. That power streak extended to the infield, where the Orioles boast some elite power options at first base, catcher and shortstop.

Add a heralded, young third baseman into the mix, and Baltimore has one of the more intriguing crops of infielders in the American League.

When analyzing the depth chart, second base raises the most obvious question mark in regards to playing time. Brian Roberts should break camp as the everyday option at second, but fantasy owners can reasonably expect him to lose plate appearances throughout the year — whether that’s due to injury or ineffectiveness. He’s 35 years old and has only played in 115 games in the past three seasons. And when he has been in the lineup, the Brian Roberts circa 2005-2009 has been nowhere in sight. In those last 115 games over three seasons, he’s only hit .244/.308/.648 .340 with seven home runs. That’s simply not useable at second base.

Former Minnesota Twins second baseman Alexi Casilla signed a major-league deal with the Orioles in November and could see increased playing time if Roberts were to stumble, but he hasn’t been relevant in fantasy circles for his entire career. Although the 21 stolen bases in 2012 are certainly attractive, he has a career .250 batting average and absolutely no power. Not to mention it’s unlikely he would truly be the everyday guy at second were Roberts no longer an option.

If Baltimore needs a new starting second baseman, hat baton could be passed to 21-year-old Jonathan Schoop. He’s the third-ranked prospect in the Orioles’ system and should begin the season in Triple-A, but he has an intriguing fantasy profile at second base. Schoop hit 16 home runs in Double-A last year and possesses the raw power to potentially supply above-average home run production up the middle. The strikeout rate is rather high and ZiPS only projects him to hit .248/.304/.376 if he reaches the major leagues this year — so don’t be aggressive late on draft day — but keep him on your waiver-wire radar if Roberts begins to struggle (or gets injured) and he’s lighting up Triple-A with the bat.

At designated hitter, Wilson Betemit is currently projected to get the majority of the playing time, but outfielder Nolan Reimold could whittle away at his plate appearances if he proves healthy and Nate McLouth continues to see time in left field. Remember Reimold started the 2012 season on a tear with five home runs in 16 games before hitting the disabled list for the remainder of the year with a herniated disk in his neck. He could be an intriguing flier late in fantasy drafts.

Elsewhere around the diamond, the Orioles’ infield is mostly set in place for the upcoming season.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy failed to eclipse the .300 wOBA mark last season, posting a below-average .290 wOBA in 713 plate appearances, but he’s not at risk to lose plate appearances. He logged 22 home runs last season and is still a plus-defender at shortstop. He was a three-win player last season, despite the low batting average and sub-.300 on-base percentage. Fantasy owners could get nice value late in drafts with Hardy, though. He provides above-average power at the shortstop position and could see a rebound from his .238 batting average, as he did suffer from a .253 BABIP. Part of that is due to his high infield-fly rate, but ZiPS and Steamer both have his BABIP recovering a bit and his average getting back above .250. That absolutely has value in the later rounds.

Former super-prospect Manny Machado will be handed the reins at third base this season. At only 20 years old, he has huge value in keeper leagues, but his potential impact in 2013 is unclear. He struggled in his major-league debut, hitting only .262 with a .317 wOBA and 96 wRC+. The issues can be traced back to his aggressive approach. He only walked in 4.5% of his plate appearances and swung at 33.2% of his plate appearances. At the same time, Machado showed some power with seven home runs and a .183 ISO in 51 games. His patience could also improve, as he posted a 10.5% walk rate in Double-A prior to his promotion.

Whether he struggles with over-aggressiveness again or he begins to perform like the star the Orioles expect him to become, Manny Machado will be the everyday third baseman. Wilson Betemit and Ryan Flaherty could see a spot start from time-to-time, but the Orioles brought up Machado last season to be the third baseman of the future in Baltimore. They’re in it for the ups and the downs.

The Orioles also have a young impact player behind the plate. Matt Wieters saw 593 plate appearances last season and is a good bet to get near 600 PAs yet again in 2013. He’s developed into an above-average power option and is a top-ten catcher, despite the low-batting averages over the past three seasons. He only managed a .310 wOBA against right-handed pitching, which is the largest culprit for his sub-.250 average in two of the last three seasons. Only turning 27 this year, though, the Orioles will continue to trot him out almost everyday.

First base belongs to Chris Davis, who launched 33 home runs last season and posted a solid .352 wOBA in 562 plate appearances for the Orioles. His .270 batting average was bolstered by a high .335 BABIP, but the Orioles seem committed to him at first base. Even if he sees some regression, Davis should still get his plate appearances, and he should continue to be a great source for power.

EARLY DEPTH CHART

Catcher: Matt Wieters / Taylor Teagarden
First Base: Chris Davis / Wilson Betemit
Second Base: Brian Roberts / Alexi Casilla / Ryan Flaherty / Jonathan Schoop
Shortstop: J.J. Hardy / Ryan Flaherty
Third Base: Manny Machado / Wilson Betemit / Ryan Flaherty
Designated Hitter: Wilson Betemit / Nolan Reimold




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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).

8 Responses to “BAL Orioles Infield: Depth Chart Discussions”

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  1. Jacob says:

    I don’t know… I’ll take a 648 Slugging Percentage at Second Base.

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    • byron says:

      No kidding, it’s not 2005 anymore: .648 slugging might not be exciting, but it’s just fine for a middle infielder in today’s weaker offensive environment.

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    • J.P. Breen says:

      Yeah, well … it probably would’ve helped if I would have put his slugging percentage (.340) instead of his OPS for the third portion of the slash line. Thanks for pointing out the error. It’s updated with the correct information.

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  2. Danilo says:

    I wouldn’t call hitting .262 struggling for a 20-year-old. It was actually pretty in-line with what he was doing in the minors anyway.

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    • james says:

      you are correct, trout destroyed expectations. I recently traded victorino for machado in a dynasty league and am super excited about it. How often do 20 year olds even make it to the bigs let alone hit about league average while showing plus power.

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  3. Cody says:

    Is Machado the “the third baseman of the future” or the third baseman until Hardy leaves?

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    • Josh M says:

      Hardy is only 30 and a great fielder with decent power, worse case scenario he is still in the picture for another 3-4 years, in which case Machado would still be only 23-24 but I think its hard to imagine him switching to shortstop after playing third for the first 3 or 4 years of his career. The Orioles are fairly committed to Hardy.

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  4. Matos says:

    Based on his minor league numbers and scouting report, I’d expect Machado to boost his OBP and possibly batting average this year, but probably not his raw power too much. A .270/.340/.450 with 20 homeruns pretty reasonable.

    Hardy’s under contract through 2014 and as long as his offense doesn’t regress further, his defense and leadership is good enough to keep him in the everyday lineup.

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