Friday, June 6, 2008

Outfield of the future?

While the Orioles continue to hover around the .500 mark through early June, it's easy to see why the future appears to be bright. Through smarter draft picks, better talent evaluations, and the intelligent trading of Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard for a multitude of young talent, the bullpen has been much improved and the starters seem to be more consistent.

Because of these moves, potentially solid pitching prospects are littered throughout the farm system, particularly in Frederick, Bowie, and Norfolk. Also, the Orioles' hopeful catcher of the future at Frederick, Matt Wieters, continues to impress by hitting .324 with 12 HRs and 33 RBIs.

Obviously, the wealth of pitching prospects and the potential of Wieters are both reasons enough to give O's fans more hope than has been available to them over the last several seasons.

The one weakness of the farm system, even after the 2008 MLB Draft, is producing, trading for, or finding better infield prospects, especially middle infielders. And the biggest question mark may be: Who will be in the Orioles' infield two-to-three years down the road? The best infield prospect in the O's system other than Wieters is 3B Billy Rowell at Frederick, but he seems to be a few years off, not to mention that he can't seem to stay healthy.

The infield concerns will certainly need to be addressed, but the outfield doesn't appear to offer many questions. The 22-year-old Adam Jones (.256/.297/.372) will be the everyday centerfielder for many years to come, and 24-year-old Nick Markakis (.272/.380/.461) will be the everyday rightfielder. Markakis is the best hitter on the Orioles right now, but Jones, as expected, has struggled a bit. Still, he has shown the ability to gets hits in the clutch when the Orioles need them.

Offensively, both Jones and Markakis will improve year-in and year-out. And defensively, both players are outstanding outfielders already. They have both only committed one error apiece this season, and Markakis has an MLB-leading eight outfield assists. Jones only has one assist, but he also possesses an outstanding arm.

With the centerfield and rightfield positions locked down, the other outfield concern is who to play in left field. Jay Payton isn't the long-term answer, though Luke Scott, at 29, may become a DH or part-time player against right-handed pitching in a few years if he is still with the team -- sort of like a Jay Gibbons-type role without the steroid use, horrible defensive ability, and bird-like facial features.

The best answer appears to be Nolan Reimold (his middle name is Gallagher, which is funny), who is, for some reason, currently playing right field for the Bowie Baysox. Drafted by the Orioles in the second round in 2005, Reimold has plenty of talent, but he has not been able to stay healthy for a significant amount of time.

Reimold is only 24, and he is healthy right now and seems to be playing well. In 59 games, Reimold is batting .272 with 8 HRs and 26 RBIs.

If Reimold can stay healthy, the potential three-headed outfield monster of Markakis, Jones, and Reimold definitely would be one of the best and youngest in the majors.

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