I am unabashedly one of the few, the proud, the Nolan Reimold supporters. As the Baltimore Orioles prepare for the 2016 season and the starting lineup for Opening Day begins to take shape, there is very little sentiment in favor of seeing the 32-year-old Reimold on the field when the Orioles take on the Twins on April 4. Might there still be a chance, however, that the former top prospect, whose career has been stalled by numerous injures can sneak into the starting nine?
So far this offseason and through the early stages of spring training, Baltimore’s front office has done everything in their power to avoid counting on Reimold to be more than a platoon bat in 2016. Hyun Soo Kim was signed out of Korea for two years and $7 million. A deal was almost reached with Dexter Fowler, who would have filled almost every single remaining need for the Orioles — speed, on-base skills, above-average defense. Fowler ultimately shot down the Orioles, but earlier this week, Pedro Alvarez was signed to a one-year deal. With Alvarez in the fold, Mark Trumbo, originally slotted to DH, will slide out to right field.
All of those offseason moves should have pushed Nolan Reimold into fourth-outfielder territory, but have they?
Hyun Soo Kim’s first season in the United States has not gotten off to a rip-roaring start. He’s taken the collar through his first 21 at-bats this spring. Eventually a hit will fall in and Kim will get the huge monkey off his back. This is just an old-fashioned baseball slump, not indicative of his ability to handle major-league pitching. So far, Kim has showed a discerning eye at the plate, and has been putting the ball in play. Despite appearing out of shape earlier in the offseason, Kim has above-average athleticism in left field. The KBO veteran has lived up to his billing; the hits just haven’t fallen in yet.
Trumbo is the biggest question mark in the field for the Orioles. He is below-average defensively at best. Pushing him out into right field is a risky move, but having Adam Jones in center should help mask some of Trumbo’s defensive short-comings. Expect Trumbo to get plenty of starts at DH as well. Pedro Alvarez is a career .203 hitter against left-handed pitching, and has hit only 17 of his 131 career home runs against southpaws. Alvarez has also struck out in nearly 36 percent of his plate appearances against lefties. With plenty of options available on the bench, there is very little reason to see Alvarez bat against same-side pitching in 2016.
The knock on Reimold has always been his ability to stay healthy. There has never been any reason to question his ability to deliver professional, quality at-bats. Prior to the 2015 season, he had not played more than 100 total games (counting minor-league action) since 2011. Reimold showed the injury issues may have become a thing of the past last year, appearing in 115 total games. The Orioles would not commit to Reimold after a hot spring training in which he batted .340 with a .928 OPS. His preseason is not off to such a prolific start this year, but it remains early in the exhibition schedule.
The current Orioles front office has shown a willingness to continue giving Reimold chances to play in the big leagues, but has not been quick to ask too much of him. He is a holdover from a previous regime, drafted way back in 2005. Current GM Dan Duquette has his own way of doing things, and that includes attempting to unearth diamonds in the rough like Trumbo, Alvarez, Alejandro De Aza, and Travis Snider. Duquette has hit it big with the likes of Steve Pearce and Nate McLouth(for a time, at least), but his bargain-basement signings did not pan out last season. Both Trumbo and Alvarez have their flaws, but they fit with the Duquette approach of finding hidden gems below market value. Unfortunately, building a roster that way can lead you on a season-long search for corner-outfield production.
It would come as a huge surprise if Reimold is able to wrangle the left field starting job away from Kim on a full-time basis. Kim would have to struggle severely for that to play out. Given his current slump, there is a distinct possibility that his game does not translate from across the Pacific. For the time being, there is no reason to panic as Kim gets comfortable with his new surroundings. Trumbo and Alvarez may end up becoming more of a platoon at DH. That will depend on how well Trumbo is able to handle right field and right-handed pitching. If he struggles mightily in either area, Buck Showalter may have to get creative — something he has never had a problem doing.
Expect the Orioles to have a very fluid situation in both left and right field. Getting 140 games apiece from Kim and Trumbo in the outfield is pushing it. Both may wind up as part of a platoon. That’s where Nolan Reimold comes into play. Look for the veteran outfielder to appear in 80-100 games (more if Kim’s struggles prove more serious), deliver a .270/.350/.400 line, and play hard every time he takes the field. All of this hinges on health, but Reimold took a positive step last season. If all goes well, 2016 could be the year that the former top prospect is able to fully re-establish himself as a valuable asset to a big-league team.