TDG’S Triple Play: Baltimore Orioles!
The Triple Play is back for a sixth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Ryan Mountcastle, Age: 26, Position: 1B
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
Climb to the top of the Mountain (Baltimore WTC)
After being drafted back in 2015 in the first round (36th overall) Mountcastle climbed his way up the Orioles system and prospect lists, the making top-100 by 2020. His MLB debut was that same year. Mountcastle hit .333 in the 140 plate appearances in 2020, and even garnered some ROY votes (Kyle Lewis, already forgotten by most, won that year). His 2021 was even better, when in a full season of at-bats; while the average dropped to .255, he hit 33 homers and had 166 Runs + RBI.
Look out over the sea (Inner Harbor)
Going into the 2022 season we ranked him 10th at first base, and all signs pointed north. Well, it was just an average season, and the homer total dropped to 22 (this was partially due to Baltimore moving the walls back) and the .250 average wasn’t as overlooked as when he was hitting 30+ bombs.
Think about the places, perhaps, where a young man could be (hanging with the boys in Camden)
Before the 2023 season he dropped seven spots to the #17 first baseman in our 2023 pre-season rankings and Brian Shanks wrote this back then:
“2022 didn’t pan out as we saw his numbers across the board dip down to .250/.305/.423 and 22 home runs. I don’t want these numbers to completely scare me away but they do make me take a step back and re-evaluate. With that strikeout percentage hovering above 25 percent, he needs to keep those power numbers up, and honestly, that’s what makes him intriguing.”
In our annual risers and fallers piece, Brett Cook took note of the drop in the rankings, and saw an opportunity:
“One area that Mountcastle needs to improve on is his plate discipline. He strikes out too much , chases too much, and doesn’t have good walk numbers. If Mountcastle can clean up this part of his game then he can be back in the top ten first baseman conversation. I believe this because all of the other metrics for Ryan are off the chart. Don’t sleep on this guy in dynasty!”
It aint’ easy (living in the shadow of the Capitol)
2023 went better in the batting average department (.270) but worse in homers (career low 18). On the plus side, Mountcastle had the best K rate (22.8%), walk rate (7.9%) and OBP (.328) of his short career (full season). He also finished with a lot of red on his stat caste page (though I do not, at all, like the bar graph that replaced the circles); he was in the 79th percentile or better in the top-five hitter/power stats.
Mountcastle made two-IL stints this season; back in June he dealt with Vertigo and a few weeks ago a left shoulder (Left AC Joint inflammation if you want to get technical about it) injury; he returned on September 27th, in time to join the O’s for the playoffs. In a month, we may have seen a Mountcastle WS MVP (best case) or the O’s lose out this round and Mountcastle is traded (hopefully) in the off-season, to a non-contender preferably that will let him rack up stats. He is a target of mine this off-season, especially in batting average leagues as the price should be the lowest, even a draft pick in some. If you need some CI depth, take a look toward Mountcastle.
John Means, Age: 30, Position: Starting Pitcher
Analysis by: Chris Knock
Two years ago, John Means was wrapping up his best professional season as the ace of the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles. As is often the case with pitchers, Tommy John surgery then hampered his ascent into fantasy baseball relevance. But after returning to the mound for the last few weeks of this season, let’s remind ourselves of what he excelled with in ‘21 and what to look for as we approach the off-season.
Lean Means Pitching Machine
An 11th round draft pick by the O’s in 2014, Means pitched his way systematically up the development ladder. By the time he made his MLB debut in late 2018, he was known as a control artist allowing minimal free passes. Year over year, his walk rate was excellent, only once over 7%. His MiLB success also showed he wasn’t a large strike out arm either. Depending on the stop, he’d would break the 20%+ K-rate threshold though never consistently and rarely exceed the more exciting 25% mark.
Means broke into the Orioles’ rotation in 2019 and delivered almost exactly on what was expected. 27 starts, 155 innings pitched and a 3.60 ERA. He struck out over three times as many batters as he walked, with 121 K’s and 38 BB’s. A 13% K-BB% is far from dominating, and it contributed to a FIP of 4.41 that year. But he kept the ball in the park and limited hard contact so ultimately it was a great starting point for the young arm.
The 2020 sprint season was an improvement on those ‘19 numbers. A K-BB% of basically 20% was reached by increasing his K rate and decreasing his BB% to an elite 4%. The increase in K rate is attributable (in part at least) to Means’ increased curve usage. In ‘19 his slider was his third most used pitch, thrown 14% of the time and his curve was used sparingly at 6%. He doubled that curve usage in ‘20 while decreasing his slider to 10% of his pitches. It’s an effective pitch that earned whiffs almost 28% of the time while batters left with a wOBA of .165 after facing it.
Weighs and Means Committee
Means entered the 2021 season as the defacto ace and didn’t disappoint. His K% still didn’t reach the ideal 25% rate that I look for, but he once again was elite in limiting walks. An 18.3 K-BB% works when limited to soft contact, which again Means did well. While they didn’t elicit man whiffs in total, he was able to mix his change up with the fastball and developing curve nicely all season long. The highlight of that 2019 of course, was the near perfect game in early May. Means was his best self that day and flashed some real K-artist skills. He used all four pitches to face 27 batters total, ending with 35% CSW rate and 12 strikeouts in all. The change up was especially devastating getting 14 whiffs in total. It was a masterful outing and really solidified Means as the ace of the club.
Two games into the ‘22 season, while visiting Milwaukee, Means was pulled early with what was termed ‘elbow soreness’. A few days later he was placed on the 10-day IL with a strained elbow. Then he was moved to the 60-day with the same injury. And, surprise surprise, before it was even May the news hit that Means had Tommy John surgery. And so fantasy owners and Orioles fans needed to insert the Pablo Escobar-Waiting meme into their lives.
As many reading this are aware, Means returned in September this year and pitched rather well considering the recovery process from TJS. He made 4 regular season starts, pitching 23+ innings and even through a gem of a start in his third game back. Control is typically one of the last things to return for arms when rehabbing back, and Means was his usual self. His 4.5% walk rate would elicit ‘small sample size’ considerations if it was any other pitcher. Means’ strike out rate of 11.4% was significantly down, even compared with his own standards. Though he did start to get more strikeouts, punching out 8 total in his final 13.2 IP.
One Standard Deviation Above?
I’m excited to see how he fares in the playoffs and to open next season. In the immediate future, I want to see how well his curve is performing. Is he getting whiffs with it and pairing it with his change up? If so, that is the key to his ‘21 success and I’m all aboard. If I don’t see that this October, I’m okay waiting to make a decision on him until early next season. Means will likely never be a league leader in strikeouts. If anything, he’s shown the ability to eat some innings, limit hard contact and strike out a 20% of the batters he faces. I’d look to pay his market price then, as those players are typically underappreciated by fantasy owners filling out rosters. But without that curveball, don’t appreciate strikeout rates too far above average.
Jud Fabian, Age: 23, Position: OF, Level: Double-A
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
The 100-Win Orioles team of 2023 graduated so many top prospects (and with the top one of them all, Jackson Holliday, coming as early as next season) one would think the cupboard would be bare. Alas, for their AL East rivals especially, that is not the case.
If you’ve been reading Triple Play for a while, you may note that I look at the deepest prospects (and I will tell you it’s purely selfish. I play in some deep leagues, and getting any jump on prospects is key to success. So, know that while I write this for you, it’s really for me. Win-win-win!). I also gravitate toward the batting-Righty, throwing-Lefty guys (Rickey Henderson was the best at it; I am among the worst at it), so Fabian was an easy choice.
Jud Fabian’s Court
Judson Edward Fabian was drafted by the Red Sox in the 2nd round of the 2021 Draft. They couldn’t come to terms so Fabian went back to Florida. The Orioles took him the next season in the 2nd round again (that’s a stinger for the Red Sox) after he finished his college career with a big-time 56 homers albeit a .246/.384/.541 slash line. Fabian stood out to me in FYPD drafts, and I took him on all the teams I could. Usually in the 4th or 5th rounds of the draft. Even in one league when I ran out of picks, a buddy (new to Dynasty) asked who to take in the 5th round; being a decent friend, I told him Fabian. The juice was worth the squeeze, as it were.
Fabian’s power has always been his calling card, along with a lot of Ks. Betting on power coming is one way to look at those power-deprived prospects with the hit tool; I like those power guys (OPS Leaguers UNITE!) and hope they can cut their K rates as they age. Doesn’t always work out, but when it does, boom goes the dynamite!
That brings us to Fabian’s 2023 Stats. 24 Homers, 31 steals, 145 Runs + RBI in 430 At-bats, a .349 OBP. Those are the good; the .223 average and only .789 are the not so good. That is between High-A (64 games) and Double-A (56 games); the Double-A numbers were uglier; a slash of .177/.314/.399 will not do. So, there is still work for Jud, and he should start 2024 back at Double-A. Would it shock me if he was there all season? Nope, and the Orioles don’t need him yet, so no reason to rush.
Jud in the Middle
If the Orioles would’ve been a write-up any other time this year, Fabian would’ve been my guy. Don’t just take it from me, Ryan Epperson told y’all back in July:
“Mark my words, Fabian will be a top 50 prospect by next year, because of course the Orioles are able to draft exceptional hitters (seriously, what the fudge!) This is most likely your last chance to get him at a discount. BUY! BUY! BUY!”
We hope you listened. Fabian will most likely never hit for a high average, but those in OBP leagues should definitely be targeting Fabian. His rostership is up to 17% on Fantrax, so he may not be available in all leagues, but worth a check. If he costs just a 2nd rounder next year, I’d take that deal in a second.