Nolan Reimold capitalized on September playing time for Orioles

Nolan Reimold returned to the Baltimore Orioles organization for the 2015 season with no guarantees. There was no guarantee the now 32-year-old outfielder would even make the Opening Day roster, let alone receive regular playing time. After an injury-riddled five seasons in Baltimore, Reimold was waived in 2014 after a brief, 17-game stint in the Orioles minor league system. He bounced around to Toronto and Arizona, totaling just 29 games during a fully healthy season. Coming off two major neck surgeries at the age of 30, Reimold never got much of a shot with the Blue Jays or Diamondbacks. By the time the 2015 season was set to open, Reimold was just looking for an opportunity to make a Major League roster. His path led him back to the Orioles despite the fact that the Orioles already had a crowded outfield.

“Baltimore was the only place I had played until last year,” Reimold said. “For me, coming back to Baltimore was the best thing. I had success there in the past, and I felt it was the place where I would get an opportunity to prove myself, whether it happened immediately or not. They showed faith in me, bringing me back. Baltimore was just a place where I felt comfortable and didn’t want to be anywhere else. I didn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Heading back to Baltimore, Reimold was aware of the fact that the Orioles had a crowded outfield situation. Alejandro De Aza, Steve Pearce, Travis Snider, and Delmon Young all seemingly had their roster spots assured. It would prove difficult for Reimold to claim a roster spot given the glut of corner outfielders on the roster. Despite hitting .340/.439/.489 and proving himself fully healthy in 24 Spring Training games, Reimold still found himself on the receiving end of a business decision. He was ticketed for Triple-A Norfolk, not the big leagues.

“I know how the game works, and the politics of how the game works,” the outfielder explained when questioned whether he initially regretted his decision to return to the Orioles, “Even last year when I got picked up by the Blue Jays and Diamondbacks, I look back on it now and think to myself, ‘I would have rather just passed through waivers and gotten my at-bats.’ I knew that I needed to establish myself again and prove that I could stay on the field. Obviously when the demotion happened, I wanted to be on the big league team right away. I knew there was a possibility I could end up in Norfolk, and that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for me.”

The demotion did not shake Reimold’s confidence. He went down to Triple-A and picked up where he had left off in Spring Training. In 54 games with the Tides, Reimold showed that years of injuries had not dulled his power, athleticism, and overall ability to be a professional hitter. He posted a solid line of .274/.363/.371 in 54 minor league games this year. As the season progressed, it became clear that the Orioles were still in search of an everyday answer in left field. Reimold got his shot to return to the big leagues.

Reimold returned to the Orioles in June, but once there, faced another challenge — reacquainting himself with Major League pitching. While Reimold battled injuries in 2012 and 2013, he played in only 56 Major League games. His injuries were not such that he could even get playing time in the minor leagues. Prior to the 2015 season, Reimold had received only 407 total plate appearances at any level of professional baseball. Only 287 of those plate appearances came at the big league level. Reimold returned to the Orioles, but he was still in need of regular plate appearances to hone his swing against the highest level of pitcher. Unfortunately, the Orioles outfield picture remained muddled. Reimold received a grand total of 108 plate appearances and started only 25 games in his first three months back in Baltimore.

After nearly three full years removed from facing Major League pitching on a consistent basis, Reimold’s offensive production lagged. He batted just .227 before the calendar turned to September. In September, however, as the Orioles began fading to the fringes of postseason contention, Reimold was finally given his chance to play on a nearly every day basis. The former second round pick delivered in a big way. In 22 September games, Reimold slashed .274/.391/.466 and hit four home runs, including a grand slam. He spent some time in the leadoff spot, and also scored 15 runs while drawing 12 walks, showing once again that he is the type of professional hitter who can be counted on to set the table to the heart of the order.

“It was a process for me after missing so much time the past few years. I needed to get a lot of at-bats to get back to being able to hit Major League pitching on a consistent basis. When it comes to hitting, you’ve got to have a feel for it. When you spend so much time away from the game like I have, it takes some time to get it back.”

As Reimold began hitting the ball consistently in September, his confidence grew.

“Baseball is a funny game, how mental it is,” Reimold said. “You’ve got to trick yourself into feeling like you’re 2-for-2 with a home run when you go up for your third at-bat. Obviously that’s really hard to do, but success definitely helps you feel more confident at the plate.”

In September, Buck Showalter also used Reimold frequently in the leadoff spot, a move that allowed Manny Machado to move lower in the order and into a more run-producing spot. Reimold had been used as the leadoff man in 2012 before his season-ending neck injury. In 21 games batting first, Reimold batted .260, but more importantly, posted a .372 OBP. For what it’s worth, Machado posted a .359 OBP on the season. Chris Davis led the Orioles with a .361 OBP. Had Reimold collected enough plate appearances to qualify, he would have been third on the team in OBP.

“It doesn’t really matter to me where they put me in the lineup,” Reimold said when discussing his performance in the leadoff spot. “I do like hitting leadoff. I’m definitely not the little guy who doesn’t strike out and steals a lot of bases.”

The 2015 season ended under a cloud of great uncertainty. No one knows if Davis, Wei-Yin Chen, Matt Wieters, or Darren O’Day will be back. Reimold is also included on the list of players whose contract is up, but he is still under team control. After a strong finish to the 2015 season, it is clear that Reimold is still the player the Orioles thought they were getting when they drafted him in the second round all the way back in 2005. He is an athletic outfielder with good power, and even better on-base skills. In a lineup where many players struggle to draw a walk, Reimold’s return to Baltimore could pay huge dividends if the Orioles include him in their 2016 plans.

“Looking back on the season, I feel like, for me, it was definitely a success. I worked my way back through Norfolk up to Baltimore. Finishing strong was really important for me. I’m happy I was able to finish strong. I’m happy with the way the year went, but I still think there are ways that I could have been a better player.”

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