Orioles Spring Training Questions: Who Leads Off?
The symbolic end to another windy, cold Baltimore winter comes to an end this week with those four magic words, “Pitchers and Catchers report.” The Ravens did their best to warm the hearts of Baltimore’s sports fans but the champs won’t start their title defense until August. In the meantime we’ll cross our fingers and hope the Orioles can build on their 2012 success. Here is the first of five stories I’ll be watching over the next six weeks as the Birds work out on the sun soaked fields of Sarasota.
Last year's surprising leadoff hitter sure seems like the obvious answer here. Nick Markakis excelled after Buck Showalter moved him to the leadoff spot. Showalter had been searching for a reliable leadoff since coming to Baltimore and Markakis looked like a natural in the top spot. Markakis may not be a traditional leadoff hitter (lots of speed, little pop) but he’s the best hitter on the team, works counts, has gap power, and the speed to go first to third. I’m fine with Markakis getting the most at bats on the team.
Nate McLouth filled in admirably atop the order after Markakis went down with a broken thumb in early September. McLouth’s late season and post season success made him a minor cult hero in Baltimore. He’ll get a chance to play regularly in left field and could get the call to leadoff if Showalter wants Markakis’ extra base power in the middle of the order.
The wild card here is Nolan Reimold. The outfielder should just have the phrase “oft-injured” stitched to the back of his jersey. Reimold began the 2012 season as the O’s leadoff hitter and got off to a fast start before succumbing to a neck injury in mid-April. He’ll need to prove his health again this spring. If Reimold can stay healthy his bat could make Orioles fans forgive Duquette for his failure to bring in a power bat during the offseason. Reimold gives Showalter an intriguing option in the leadoff competition but his power is probably best suited behind Chris Davis in the six hole.