The Curious Case of Nolan Reimold

Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

Will 2013 be Reimold's breakout year?

In 2009, Nolan Reimold broke onto the Orioles' major-league club in a big way. At age 26, Reimold put up a solid 116 OPS+ in over 400 plate appearances. We all believed that the Orioles' outfield would be locked up for years, with Reimold patrolling left to complement Adam Jones and Nick Markakis. The organization went so far as to release a three-piece bobblehead set featuring the trio in 2010. There was just one problem - Reimold wasn't even on the big-league club when his bobblehead was given out to complete the set.

At the end of that breakout 2009 season, with the Orioles' season long since lost, Reimold had surgery to repair an Achilles' tendon. In 2010, Reimold was probably rushed back from that injury a little too quickly, and combined with some off-field drama, his season was essentially lost. He put up a 67 OPS+ in just over 100 plate appearances, and finished out the season back in Triple-A Norfolk. "This has been the worst six months of my life," Reimold said, and fans were left wondering whether Reimold would end up as another flash-in-the-pan prospect who never quite panned out.

The Orioles started 2011 with both Luke Scott and Felix Pie available to play left field, seeming ready to force Reimold to earn his plate appearances. He only spent one short stint back at Triple-A, but he only made his way into 87 big-league games. He put up a 111 OPS+ in just over 300 plate appearances, for 0.7 WAR - not entirely struggling, but not exactly lighting the world on fire, either.

Cue 2012. Reimold was The Plan in left field, with Scott and Pie gone, and Endy Chavez as the Orioles' only insurance policy (don't even lie and say that you knew Nate McLouth was part of the plan). Reimold came out swinging, OPSing .960 in 16 games. However, he started missing games with neck and back spasms, issues that would eventually land him on the DL for the remainder of the season, with rehab attempts failing and Nolan eventually requiring surgery to fuse two vertebrae in his back.

The Orioles are entering 2013 with a more cautious approach. Nate McLouth has been re-signed, and provides a clear defensive and baserunning edge over Nolan. Reimold is going to need to prove that he can stay healthy and productive, and will probably need to earn at-bats as a DH, with spot starts in left, or even some work at first base (where he has taken reps before). The health is really obstacle number one, though. It's clear that Reimold can be a productive major leaguer if he can keep himself in the lineup, and it's not at all clear that McLouth's renaissance from 2012 will carry over to 2013. Reimold will have a chance to become The Guy for the Orioles again.

Health is a tricky thing to forecast. Some players are clear injury risks in any given year (Roberts), and other injuries are clear flukes (Markakis). Reimold might be somewhere in between. His two major injuries to date have been totally unrelated, but neither was the result of a fluke on-field occurrence either. Nolan has said that he doesn't consider himself "injury-prone," but fans (and the Orioles front office) will need some convincing this year.

If I had to break out my crystal ball, I'd farecast 2013 as the year we finally get a season-long contribution from Nolan. I have to think it's likely that he needs to fight for at-bats to start the year, and that he makes at least one short DL trip. But I'll go on record as hopeful that Nolan gives the Orioles 450 plate appearances and clocks 25 home runs by the time it's all said and done. Even if that happens, it doesn't foretell that Reimold will have a long, productive career - he'll turn 30 this year, and this would be his first full big-league season. But it could go a long way toward replacing some of Mark Reynolds' lost production in the lineup right now, and I'd certainly take that.

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