Could Nolan Reimold Change the Role of Big League Leadoff Hitters?
It was a subtle but potentially important moment in baseball.
During the first play on Opening Day at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore’s leadoff hitter Nolan Reimold—a 6'4", 205-lb power hitting outfielder—hit a routine ground ball right at Minnesota Twins shortstop Jamey Carroll.
Carroll fielded the ball cleanly, pumped once and then realized two things. First, he should have studied Baltimore's scouting report more thoroughly. Second, Reimold gets down the line pretty quickly for a big guy.
The filled to capacity crowd on that sunny, 55 degree day at the ballpark let go a big OOOHHH, as Reimold nearly beat Carroll’s emergency fastball to first base.
A little more than a week later, Reimold smacked a two-run bomb in the top of the ninth inning to lift the Orioles over Toronto. Yesterday, Reimold hit another home run as part of three hits to lead the O’s to another victory. While obviously still early, this 28-year-old is hitting .323 with 10 hits, two home runs and four RBIs.
Reimold also has three doubles and a stolen base to go with a respectable .935 OPS.
Call it April tinkering by an innovative manager Buck Schowalter. After all, with Brian Roberts out, the Orioles do not have too many options at the leadoff spot. The Orioles do have Xavier Avery waiting in the wings. But despite having a solid spring training, Avery is not quite ready yet.
This sets up the question: What if Reimold transcends expectations? What if this big, strong athletic ballplayer explodes the mold of what is expected of a typical leadoff hitter?
Say Reimold finishes the 2012 campaign with 25 home runs and 80-plus RBIs. Would Reimold’s performance prove enough to rip the door open for a change in philosophy throughout baseball that began just a few years ago by Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler?
Could the days of slap and speed at the top of the lineup be uprooted by a combination of speed and power?
One ballplayer that comes to mind who could one day answer this question is Bubba Starling. This 2011 first-round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals is 6'4", 180 lbs and growing specimen. This 19-year-old outfielder has all the tools. He has blazing speed and outstanding power to all fields to accompany a rocket for an arm.
How scary would it be to be as an opposing hurler to face this guy right out the gate one opening day down the road?
Mike Trout is another, more immediate name that comes to mind. While not as imposing as Starling, Trout is nonetheless a 6'2", 200-lb package of speed, power and skill. Get Trout and Bourjos at the top two spots of the Angels lineup and opponents will have planning nightmares keeping them off the base paths—especially when they know Albert Pujols looms behind them licking his chops.
Back to Reimold: Will his having a successful season as the Orioles leadoff hitter lead other major league managers to tinker to put a strapping speedster atop their respective batting orders? Or will traditionalists stick to their guns with similar players to Ichiro Suzuki and Derek Jeter?
Like many things in sports, nothing is certain. But this provides more proof that America’s oldest and most resilient sport continues to evolve beyond our expectations.
James Morisette is the Founder and President of the Basebook Social Network. He can be reached at http://www.basebook.mobi
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