By Tommy Rancel //
The Baltimore Orioles’ signing of Garrett Atkins this off-season was as non-descript of a move as you can get. Yet at the time of the signing, the move struck me as odd. Even before the season started, Baltimore was seen as a fourth- or fifth-place team in baseball’s best division. Therefore, handing nearly $5 million to a below-average corner infielder on the wrong side of 30 didn’t make much sense.
Less than a month into the season, the deal looks as bad (if not worse) than it did in December. The 2010 season is very young, but Atkins has a paltry OPS of .564 so far. We warn against small sample size selections, but this looks more like a continuation of a larger decline than statistical noise. Atkins hit his OPS peak in 2006 (.965), but has seen his OPS decline in each season since:
As alarming, if not more, than the OPS decline is the power decline that has accompanied it. Using Isolated Power (ISO), which measures raw power by taking slugging percentage and subtracting batting average, we can see Atkins has been on a sharp decline in power since ’06.
Atkins put up a stellar .228 ISO in 2006, but just a .116 ISO in 2009. To date, he is struggling to crack .100 in 2010.
Despite the season being less than a month old, it is pretty clear the Orioles are not going to be contending this year. With that in mind, some younger players in the organization could see significant playing time as the team looks for additional members to add to a strong core of talented players that includes Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Brian Matusz and others.
One of those players who stands to get a chance to prove himself is Rhyne Hughes. Acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Gregg Zaun last summer, Hughes has seen an increase in playing time due to Atkins’ – and the team’s – struggles. Called up just last week, Hughes already has three starts in place of Atkins.
Here are a few things to remember on Hughes: He is not a top prospect. At his age, 26, he’s not much of a prospect at all, and has always been a bit older for his league. More than likely, he won’t be a star at this level, but he wasn’t in the minor leagues either. With that said, despite the lack of hype and fanfare, he has been a fairly solid producer.
In more than 2,200 minor league plate appearances (PA), Hughes has a career slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .279/.349/.457. More recently, he has toiled in Triple-A for Tampa Bay and Baltimore. In 368 PAs at the level, he hit .309/.367/.534, including 15 games this season with a 1.088 OPS.
Hughes is a bit of a hacker (strikeout rate over 30% last year) and doesn’t walk much (less than 10% walk rate in minors), but you’re going to find flaws in most 26-year-old minor leaguers. Meanwhile, the 2010 Baltimore Orioles are in a perfect position to find out if Hughes can have success at this level.
If you drafted Atkins, or picked him up off waivers in a really deep mixed league or AL-only league, drop him if you haven’t already done so. In his place (again, assuming you’re in a deep league) consider Hughes. He should be readily available in most formats and is likely to be given a chance at decent playing time.
If you have an empty spot in an AL-only because a player has recently hit the DL (Nelson Cruz?), give Hughes a flier for a few weeks and see what happens. There isn’t a lot to watch for with the Orioles, but Rhyne Hughes could inject a little excitement to an otherwise ugly season.
For more on Rhyne Hughes and other unlikely sleepers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits