Heath Bintliff: Nolan Reimold and other delights

At this time last season, I was keeping vigil for Orioles outfielder Nolan Reimold. Reimold had been exiled to Triple-A Norfolk after a very good spring in Sarasota (.315/.448/.537) and, after a wretched 2010 campaign, finally looked healthy, fully recovered from offseason Achilles tendon surgery that cut his 2009 season short and ready to build upon the .831 OPS he put up during his rookie season. That was not to be.

During the 2011 offseason, O’s executive Andy MacPhail decided to shore up some holes in the lineup with veteran players. He brought in first baseman Derrek Lee and designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero. The Lee signing was risky, but at least he could play a good defensive first base and there was no viable first baseman in the organization. But with Guerrero clogging up the DH slot, the previous season’s DH, Luke Scott, was pushed to left field. With Adam Jones and Nick Markakis entrenched in center and right field, respectively, Reimold was left to battle for a roster spot with a player who was out of options and defensively more versatile in outfielder Felix Pie. Reimold started the season with the Tides.

For the month of April, Reimold toiled in Triple-A while a man who was making about $7.5 million more than him put up a .673 OPS. Only an injury to Luke Scott opened up a roster spot. In limited playing time, Reimold hit .247/.328/.453 with 13 home runs and the fourth-highest OPS on the club. And yes, he outhit both Guerrero and Lee, who made more than $15 million combined.

So why am I rehashing all of this now? To contrast the philosophy of roster construction from last season to this one. Last season, MacPhail seemed to have a win-now mentality, letting aging veterans on their last legs take at-bats from promising youngsters on a team that was unlikely to win even if everything broke right. This season, Reimold is leading off for the Orioles and hitting .353 with three homers and six extra-base hits. He is getting a shot to play regularly and show what he can contribute to the team.

Will he continue hitting like this? Probably not. Is he able to be a major league regular? Sadly, we still don’t know. If he had been given a real shot last season, we would have a better handle on that. I am a big Reimold fan, but his ceiling is still a big question mark, in part due to his limited playing time last season.

Thankfully, Reimold is getting his playing time. And Chris Davis, a 26-year old first baseman with tantalizing power but with a frustratingly high strikeout rate, is joining Reimold regularly in the lineup. So far, it has paid off with Davis hitting .387 with an OPS of 1.019. No one knows exactly how Davis or Reimold will pan out, but the Orioles have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain from throwing them into the deep end and see if they’ll sink or swim. The team has to mine for cheap, younger players anywhere they can find them if they ever hope to compete or win in the American League East again. And with Davis and Reimold, that is finally what they are doing.

Heath Bintliff blogs about the Orioles at Dempsey’s Army. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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