Fantasy Baseball: Orioles' J.J. Hardy, Tommy Hunter are breakout candidates in 2014

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j.j. hardy

Orioles’ J.J. Hardy will look to continue his power-hitting ways for fantasy owners in 2014 (Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports)

Today I continue my tour across baseball, where I have been highlighting my fantasy baseball “sleeper” picks in both hitting and pitching.  After a stop in Atlanta on Tuesday, I journey up the coast to Maryland, focusing my attention on the Baltimore Orioles.  Mmmm… crab cakes.

After reaching the Division Series in 2012, the Orioles missed out on the playoffs last year.  If Buck Showalter‘s squad wants to get back into the postseason, they’ll need big contributions from J.J. Hardy and Tommy Hunter — two players who are primed for breakout years in 2014:

J.J. Hardy, SS (current ADP: #159):

Due to the lack of power supplied by most middle infielders, the shortstop position is one of the more highly sought out in fantasy baseball drafts.

I’ve been racking my brain on this one, but I can’t find a single reason why J.J. Hardy is currently being taken in the 13th round of 12-team leagues.

What are people smoking out there?  It’s completely astonishing.

Last year, Hardy led all American League shortstops with 25 HR and that number tied him for the major league lead with the Colorado Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki.

Hardy also led all AL shortstops in RBI (76) and his .433 SLG% was second behind only Jed Lowrie of the Oakland Athletics.  He doesn’t walk a ton – with 38 free passes in 2013 – but he also doesn’t strike out much either.  With just 76 K, he produced an excellent BB/K ratio of 0.52, which ranked him 7th among all MLB shortstops.

He’s a defensive whiz, as well.  Sure, defense doesn’t matter much in fantasy baseball unless you’re in a crazy league that counts that as a stat, but because he is so adept with the glove, it makes him indispensable for the Orioles.

The two-time Gold Glove Award winner (’12, ’13) proved his worth on the field, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter responded by playing him in 317 of a possible 324 games the past two seasons.

Having guaranteed at bats, and hitting in a potent Baltimore lineup that features Adam Jones and 2013 home run king Chris Davis, makes Hardy one of the more valuable shortstops in fantasy baseball.

His current ADP of 159 has him being selected after fellow shortstops Everth Cabrera (117) and Starlin Castro (109).  E-Cab has limited value outside of stolen bases and is coming off a 50-game PED suspension, while Castro had yet another disappointing season in 2013, putting up a triple-slash line of .245/.277/.347 with just nine swipes.

If you’re looking for a guy who’s going to bat .320 and steal 25 bases, J.J. Hardy isn’t your man, but with three-year averages of 28 HR and 75 RBI, he’s as good of a power hitter as you’ll find for his position.

2014 Projections: .269/.314/.445, 26 HR, 82 RBI, 75 R, 3 SB

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