Manager Buck Showalter talks often about players sometimes finding themselves in their late 20s and Lough, who was acquired in a trade with Kansas City in December, turned 28 on Jan. 20.
Lough has paid his dues and maybe this is his time. He’s played 677 games with 2,593 at-bats in the minors. He’s played 401 games at the Triple-A level since 2010. By contrast, Manny Machado played 219 minor league games - none at Triple-A - with 820 at bats.
Lough’s pursuit of the Orioles’ starting left field job begins later this month in Sarasota.
Lough’s path to the majors came through Division II Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa. He played both football and baseball in three seasons in college before the Royals selected him in the 11th round of the 2007 draft.
Lough hit .409 and .404 in his last two seasons in college and, as a wideout on the football team, had 16 catches for 223 yards as junior.
During a FanFest interview Saturday, Lough mentioned that, by playing both sports, it limited the time he could devote specifically to baseball and maybe that slowed some of his development
“It was kind of like, just pick up the bat and go at it,” Lough said. “I didn’t have a ton of time to work at it. But being in the minors and having time to work at things, has definitely improved me as a player. Still feel I can grow so much more as player.”
It wasn’t until his sixth season in the minors, in 2012, when he made the majors for the first time with a September call-up. Then last season, in 96 games with the Royals, he had a slash line of .286/.311/.413 with 17 doubles, four triples, five homers and 33 RBIs. Lough finished eighth in the American League Rookie of the Year vote.
Orioles hitting coach Jim Presley is a Lough fan. He said he took note of the intensity Lough played with last season when he was with Kansas City.
“I really like the way he plays,” Presley said. “He plays hard. He’s running everything out. He knows how to bunt and is a good defender. He is high energy and I like that about him.”
Lough was asked Saturday about Presley talking him up.
“That makes me feel good,” Lough said. “They always say, ‘You are not just trying out for your team, but for other teams, too.’ I am one of those type of players that is a hard-working player, day in and day out. I’ll always run hard. I’m not afraid to try and make a play in the outfield for our pitcher. I’m excited for this opportunity.”
Lough made 31 of his 37 Triple-A starts last season batting leadoff and made 19 starts with the Royals atop their order. Has there been any talk of him batting first for the Orioles?
“Think there has been some talk, although Buck hasn’t mentioned it or anything,” Lough said. “If that is the role they want me to fill, I feel like I can fill it. I know my on-base percentage wasn’t where I wanted it to be last year, but it’s a new year and I feel comfortable enough where that could jump up 30 or 40 points for sure.”
Lough wants to steal more bases in 2014. He stole just 10 of 17 last season between the minors and majors. He did steal 26 of 30 in 2012 at Triple-A.
“Last year, I didn’t steal a lot of bases in the big leagues. Maybe it was a comfort level thing. But I’m hoping to change that. I know what kind of speed I have and what kind of weapon it can be. I’m trying to utilize that more this year and steal more bases,” Lough said.
After seven seasons in one organization, Lough has had ample time now to let his trade to the O’s sink in. He said he had heard he might be traded. Now, he’s ready to show his new teammates and fans what he can do as he tries to win the starting left field job in Florida.
“I’m excited to be here and a part of this organization,” he said.