Baltimore Orioles: Too Many Birds To Count In Left Field
In all honesty, my head is still spinning as I think of how quickly Spring Training has come this year.
It seems like one minute, I was watching the Orioles end the year with another losing record,and the next I continued gazing on as Andy MacPhail worked his magic once again, and finally I am enjoying just sitting back and viewing the constant updates from MASN.com and The Baltimore Sun as the O's begin their exhibitions in Fort Lauderdale.
But enough about me, let's talk some Oriole baseball.
The one thing I have noticed as I tune in to the recent spring matchups is the number of "Baby Birds" fighting for spots on the Baltimore roster.
We have Scott Moore crushing the top off of the ball (as he did last season at this time) as he attempts to prove he could be the eventual successor to current Orioles' third baseman Melvin Mora.
The up-and-coming Brandon Snyder is currently trying to prove that he can perform at the big-league level after spending the majority of his young career in the minors.
Shortstop Justin Turner is showing that he could be the gem of the Ramon Hernandez deal.
Top prospect Matt Wieters is getting his opportunity to raise some eyebrows, though he hasn't shown much just yet (it seems as though opposing pitchers are afraid to throw to him).
Oh, and how could we forget the 37 pitchers vying for a roster spot. I'm not so sure that I can keep up with all of them for much longer.
There is one position on the field, though, that truly remains up for grabs. That spot is in the Orioles' left field.
Let's count everyone who is fighting for the job:
1) Felix Pie
2) Lou Montanez
3) Nolan Reimold
4) Justin Christian
5) Luke Scott
Five, yes five, players that will battle throughout the spring in order to win the job.
Let's look at them each individually to see their strengths and weaknesses:
Felix Pie—Pie is the youngest of the five and possibly the one with the most potential.
While in the Cubs' organization, Pie was named their top prospect by Baseball America in 2006 and 2007; however, there seemed to be no room in the Chicago outfield for the young stud, leaving the Cubs with no choice but to get rid of him.
They did so this past offseason, as they dealt him to Baltimore for starter Garrett Olson and a lower-level prospect.
This left the O's with a decision: What to do with him?
They have to give him the opportunity to start in left field come Opening Day, for his speed and defense is unquestioned. Add a 20-plus home run threat, and you have a potential superstar.
One weakness of Pie's is a low batting average, something that he has accomplished over his short stints in Chicago.
For all we know, a little more playing time may raise his poor contact, but for now, no one can say how he will perform in 2009.
Lou Montanez—Montanez was a late bloomer, to say the least.
Lou was the second overall pick by the Cubs as a shortstop in 2000. He would eventually make the transition to the outfield in 2005, a place that he now calls home.
After signing with the O's in 2007, he proved his first-round draft pick status as he won the Double-A Eastern League Triple Crown. The O's would then give him a shot at the big league club.
He would go on to shine in Baltimore, hitting for a .295 average, with three home runs, 14 RBI, and 18 runs scored in 38 games.
He now enters the 2009 season with a battle to be won. He is currently competing for a spot on the Orioles' bench, though getting there is no simple task.
He possesses great ability with the bat in his hands, as he hits for both power and for a high average.
His one weakness comes in the field.
I must admit, he has made some of the better efforts that I have ever seen from any youngster, as I can clearly remember him making diving attempts at fly-balls on a daily basis back at Camden Yards.
He does have a strong arm, yet he lacks the "pure speed" needed to play day-in and day-out in the Baltimore outfield.
Nolan Reimold—Reimold, a second round draft pick by the Orioles in 2005, has had his share of issues that have kept him in the minors for an extended period of time.
Before his 2008 campaign (his first season without injury issues), Reimold suffered from foot, back, and oblique injuries. These problems led to him having to spend more time at the minor league level, as he found himself playing at Double-A Bowie just last year.
Reimold has great potential, and he proved it by putting up solid numbers in 2008 (.284 average, 25 home runs, 84 RBI). Now, he fights for a spot on the big league roster.
He has surely helped his chances with a solid spring thus far, as he had a monster day against the St. Louis Cardinals, where he hit a two-run homer, a two-RBI single, and drew a walk.
One CBS Sports poster who went to the game had this to say about Reimold: "Nolan Reimold is a right-handed version of Nick Markakis, but with more power. The O's will need to find a place for this youngster real soon."
Reimold is stirring up much excitement in camp, yet don't expect him to make the pros come Opening Day.
He has all the offensive and defensive tools to be a stud for the Orioles someday, but for now it seems like he will find himself at Triple-A Norfolk to begin the year.
Justin Christian—Christian may be the most intriguing on the five.
After being non-tendered by the New York Yankees, the O’s decided to give the 28-year-old outfielder a shot.
Just some quick stats on him from last season: In 40 at-bats for the “Bronx Bombers” he hit for a .250 average and was seven for eight in stolen base attempts.
The average fan would say that Christian will start off at Triple-A Norfolk, but from the way he’s playing this spring, it looks like he has other plans.
According to MASN.com's Roch Kubatko, Christian is "hitting everything hard."
In an interview after the game against St. Louis, O's Manager Dave Trembley had this to say about Justin:
"I know what kind of person he is. His pedigree is very good. Great makeup," Trembley said. "He told me he was going to be my sleeper. I went to him the other day because Pie wasn't here and I said, 'Hey, if I extend you to play the whole game, would that be asking too much of you?' And he said no, he played in Mexico this winter. He told me the more at-bats I can get him, the better. And he can play second base as well. He was originally an infielder. But he's a very good defensive outfielder." (quote courtesy of MASN.com)
For now, it looks like he will begin the year at Triple-A; however, he is making a case to play on the pro squad. He might end up becoming the "sleeper" that he says he could be.
Luke Scott—Finally we reach Luke Scott, the veteran of the group.
Last season with the O's, Scott hit for a .257 average, with 23 home runs, 65 RBI, 67 runs scored, and two stolen bases. Scott was the primary left-fielder in Baltimore last year, yet he enters 2009 with a crew of youngsters on his tail.
Before the acquisition of Ty Wiggington, it seemed as though Luke would fit right in as the team's everyday designated hitter, but now plans have changed. Scott will most likely fall into a situational hitter's role, as he should get plenty of starts against right-handed pitchers.
So what about him in the outfield?
His defense is below average, and he didn't help his chances after mis-judging a fly ball in the O's spring opener against the New York Mets.
Like Montanez, he also lacks the "pure speed" needed to play the position, opening the door for Pie and Reimold.
Scott's bat should keep him in the lineup; however, look for a reduced amount of at-bats in 2009.
Come opening day, I can see Felix Pie and Luke Scott sharing time in left, with Reimold, Montanez, and Christian each sharing the outfield down at Triple-A.
I'm sure we will see glimpses of all five players from time-to-time, but for now, each still must fight to the death for that starting role.
Who knows, someone else may join the mix before it is all said and done.
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