One of the national publications asks local beat writers each winter to pick a potential “difference maker” for their respective teams. A guy who is new to the organization or coming off an injury or a down season.
Last winter, I chose Nolan Reimold and noted how he got off to a sizzling start in 2012, batting .313/.333/.627 with six doubles, five homers and 10 RBIs in 16 games before a herniated disc in his neck led to surgery and the end of his season.
The Orioles eventually turned to Nate McLouth, who did an outstanding job after being plucked from the scrap heap and working his way up from Triple-A Norfolk, but Reimold had a chance to figure prominently as part of a left field platoon and as the right-handed designated hitter. His power was needed after the Orioles declined to exercise the option on Mark Reynolds’ contract.
So much for that prediction.
Reimold never looked comfortable in camp last spring, and we found out later that the vertebrae didn’t fuse property, leading to a corrective surgery and another lost season.
Who has a chance to be the difference maker in 2014?
A healthy Reimold could be included on the list, but I’m going to toss out a few other names for consideration.
1. Zach Britton
The Orioles want to sign another starter. We’ve heard about it all winter. But they’re always limited by their refusal to make an offer beyond three years.
This would be the ideal time to buck the trend, but no one listens to me.
Britton is out of options and the Orioles are hoping that he takes the Chris Tillman route and blossoms. They keep preaching the need to grow the arms, to draft and develop them in order to contend in the cash-heavy American League East. Well, it’s time to start doing it. Otherwise, it’s just more talk.
Britton’s had some success in the majors. He’s got fresh eyes on him. He could make a huge difference for the Orioles this year.
2. Nick Markakis
I’m more concerned about the rotation than the lineup, but that offense could be lethal if Markakis rediscovers his power.
The reports on him this winter are glowing. He’s finally able to work out properly. Manager Buck Showalter mentioned it again during the mini-camp. And he’s got something to prove, whether he’d admit it or not, as he enters the final guaranteed year of his contract.
It’s possible that Markakis will be the leadoff hitter on opening day. He’s handled the role nicely in the past. Imagine if he becomes the player who topped 40 doubles in four consecutive seasons, with Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Adam Jones following him in the order.
3. Wei-Yin Chen
OK, back to the rotation.
Chen missed two months with a strained oblique. I’ve got him slotted as the No. 2 starter behind Tillman unless the Orioles sign a veteran innings-eater.
This team will be a heck of a lot better if Chen pitches like it.
He needs to give the Orioles a full season, and he needs to bust through that wall that flattens him after the sixth inning.
Go ahead and give me your list. The first person to include Luis Vizcaino will be ordered to run laps.