In his time managing the Baltimore Orioles, Buck Showalter has taken a decidedly non-traditional approach to the leadoff spot. All the way back in 2012, Showalter turned to Nolan Reimold to manage the leadoff duties. At 6’4″ and 205 pounds, Reimold, who had 15 stolen bases in 227 career games to date prior to the opening of the 2012 season, was not a prototypical leadoff man. Showalter, however, does not subscribe to many of the widely held baseball norms. He wanted a patient, powerful presence atop his batting order, and that was exactly what Reimold could provide.
The 2012 season got off to an excellent start for Reimold — .313/.333/.627 with five home runs in 16 games. Then disaster struck in the form of a herniated disk in his neck. Reimold was done for the year. Reimold was back on the field immediately in 2013, but never looked like the same player. He batted just .195 with very little power in 40 games. Once again, his season was terminated, this time in mid-July, for another neck surgery.
By the time 2015 rolled around, due to injuries and sporadic playing time, Nolan Reimold had played just 85 Major League games since scoring the run to put the nail in the Boston Red Sox coffin on the final day of the 2011 season. What’s worse, he had also played just 29 minor league games. The 31-year-old Reimold had been able to latch back on with the Toronto Blue Jays and Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014, but was mostly nailed to the bench at a time when simply getting at-bats was more important than being on a Major League roster. In three full years, Reimold played just 114 baseball games all while still struggling to determine exactly how his swing would feel with a surgically fused spinal column.
Reimold was a man without a team again at the start of the 2015 season and returned to the Orioles once again. Spring Training saw him hit .340, but the Orioles chose to go with a combination of Steve Pearce, Travis Snider, and Alejandro De Aza in left field. Reimold was sent to Triple-A, but as it became painfully obvious that Nelson Cruz would not be replaced by a trio of middling retreads, Reimold was summoned to join the Orioles.
Unfortunately for Reimold, Showalter was still in full-on tinkering mode. The Orioles’ manager was not ready to commit to one player in left field, and that meant sporadic at-bats for Reimold. After essentially three years without facing Major League pitching, Reimold needed more than forty plate appearances a month. Remember, he had taken just 264 Major League at-bats since 2011. His average hovered in the low .220’s, as he struggled to regain his swing and timing. Reimold mostly looked lost at the plate, but is it fair to expect more from a hitter getting four at-bats a week after essentially missing three full seasons?
If there can be a silver lining to the fact that the Orioles now find themselves in a battle with the Red Sox to avoid the AL East cellar one year removed from the ALCS, it is that Showalter seems to have finally accepted Reimold as his everyday left fielder. At this point of the season, there’s no reason to be fiddling with the lineup. The Orioles need to find out whether or not Reimold is more than a bench player going forward.
Reimold has now started six consecutive games for the Orioles. Not surprisingly, given regular playing time, his bat has caught fire. Reimold is slashing .333/.481/.762 with eight runs scored, five walks, and three home runs. Granted, it’s a small sample size, but the Orioles have to like what they see from Reimold.
Reimold finally looks like the player the Orioles thought they were getting in 2012. Unlike many batters in the Orioles lineup, Reimold has excellent plate discipline. The “swing early and often” approach to hitting many Orioles employ in the batter’s box can turn the team into a bunch of easy outs when clutched in a slump. This was painfully obvious as the August collapse dragged into September. Reimold’s batting eye is one of the best on the Orioles roster, and despite slumping for most of the season, his OBP is still .350, 34 points better than Adam Jones.
There’s a lot to like about Nolan Reimold besides the obviously stirring comeback story. He’s been through a lot in his professional baseball career, and it has been a tough go working back into the lineup. Finally given the opportunity to receive consistent at-bats, Reimold is rewarding the Orioles for sticking with him in 2015. There were plenty of opportunities for the team to part ways with their former top prospect once and for all, but they always found a way to keep him around. Now, in September, it is finally paying off for both sides.
Over the final 20 games of what hopefully ends up being a fourth consecutive winning season, the Orioles must figure out whether or not Nolan Reimold fits into their 2016 plans. The Orioles had no real plan for left field entering the year, and it came back to bite them with some of the worst offensive production at the position in the league. Reimold has looked capable of being the answer in left next season. Now, before the season ends, he must show consistency. If he does that, there should be no question that he belongs on the Opening Day roster in 2016. It’s not a stretch, either, to suggest that Reimold should be the starting left fielder next year. The potential has always been there, and it’s taken a winding road, but Nolan Reimold has played his way into a solid future with the Baltimore Orioles.