Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Spring preview: Baltimore Orioles

SARASOTA - Greetings from the new spring training home of the Baltimore Orioles! I was lucky enough to check out the O's first full-squad workout Tuesday at their new sunny locale, Sarasota's Ed Smith Stadium, which happens to be approximately 2 miles from my house. The laid-back atmosphere offered a good chance to get an up-close look at some of the new faces and promising young talent that will make up Baltimore's 2010 squad.

I'm hoping to visit several of the MLB squads that make Florida's west coast their home away from home, either for workouts or games, over the next month or so, and I'll bring you a quick fantasy synopsis for the upcoming season. So here we go, starting with the O's.

BREAKOUT PLAYER: Nick Markakis and Adam Jones are already pretty well-known among most fans (even though one older Orioles fan pointed out "Pacman Jones" on Monday). But it's Baltimore's third outfielder, 26-year-old Nolan Reimold, who made the biggest splash in the second half of 2009. He hit 15 homers - three fewer than Markakis, in nearly 300 fewer at-bats - and stole eight bases while hitting .279. I'm eager to see what he can do for a full season batting in the top half of a lineup that's better than you might think.

BUYER BEWARE: Brian Roberts' SB totals have dropped in each of the past two seasons, from 50 to 40 to 30, and although his offensive game is still good (16 homers in 2009, second-most of his career), the 32-year-old's decline in speed and a herniated disk in his lower back that's currently bothering him have me a tad concerned.

Catcher Matt Wieters didn't take fantasy by storm last year as predicted, but the kid's only 23 years old and is still likely to join Joe Mauer as the game's elite catchers. Be wary of overpaying (unless you're in a keeper league, where he's a must-have), but even a slight improvement on last year's numbers would make Wieters a top-5 fantasy catcher in 2010. ... Miguel Tejada (right), who hit 112 homers in four seasons with the O's from 2004-07, is back in a Baltimore uniform and ready to contribute after a solid bounce-back year with the Astros last season. He'll play third this year but retains SS eligibility. ... Garrett Atkins is slated to be Baltimore's starting first baseman, but must prove he can hit away from Coors Field and hold onto the job. ... Kevin Millwood, who pitched above his head for the first half of 2009 with the Rangers before fading, doesn't excite me much as the Orioles' new ace. But some of their other promising young starters, particularly lefty Brian Matusz and righty Chris Tillman, are very intriguing as late-round fliers. ... New closer Mike Gonzalez has a bunch of experience closing out games with the Pirates and Braves and could be a pleasant surprise with the job all to himself at the start of the season.

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