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Acquisition Spotlight: J.R. House

It wasn't even until it was mentioned here that I knew we'd picked up J.R. House, a former Pirates catching prospect whose career stalled after injury, which led him to try out his football luck, which led him to return to baseball after, well, not long trying football.

House is a legitimate athlete, though, and could still be a good player. If you're familiar with him, you know about his high school football exploits, but if you're not, House left Nitro High School in West Virginia as the all-time national leader in passing yards, with 14,457. He also once threw ten touchdowns in a game. (His yardage record has since been eclipsed by both Florida's Chris Leak and Wake Forest backup Ben Mauk. Mauk holds the record now, with over 17,000 yards.)

Coming out of high school, it wasn't immediately certain which sport he'd choose, but he chose baseball. Drafted by the Pirates in the fifth round of the 1999 amateur draft, and he was pretty much universally considered to be the heir apparent to Jason Kendall in Pittsburgh.

Instead, House got injured a lot. He missed a month in 2000 with mononucleosis, twice went on the DL in 2001 with bruised ribs, and then it really got bad. In 2002, he had three surgeries, treating an abdominal hernia, a torn muscle, and then Tommy John surgery. House missed almost all of the 2002 and 2003 seasons.

In the meantime, the Pirates had come up with a handful of other catching prospects that weren't getting hurt at an alarming rate, and House, once a golden boy, wound up without a job. He turned to football, enrolling at West Virginia and playing the 2005 season in a reserve role for the Big East champion Mountaineers.

House decided after one season that college football was not for him, and returned to baseball in 2006, signing with Houston. In 97 games at Double-A Corpus Christi, House hit .325/.376/.475, and tore up Triple-A Round Rock in a 31-game stint there. He played in four games for the Astros, going 0-for-9.

House's career minor league line is .328/.391/.528, which is nice, but it's pretty much all compiled in bits and pieces of broken seasons, so it's hard to get any serious read on whether or not House is still a guy who could legitimately be a factor at the major league level, or if he's simply a busted prospect.

Either way, though, it's a nice pickup by the O's, and yeah, he's a guy to root for. He has serious talent, the type of talent that, were he to have avoided all those injuries, would probably have made him at the least a regular with a major league team a few years ago. The kid's always been able to play as far as ability goes, but he's almost never been healthy, and he's 27 now with only two seasons of 100+ games played, and one of those came seven years ago.

I figure House likely has about a 25% shot of making the major league roster on Opening Day, and I think there are two big things that will factor into this. First, you have Paul Bako around. Leo Mazzone knows Bako, and Bako has a pretty good rep as a backup catcher. Second, I'd be almost completely certain the the team will want to see more from House than just a spring training's worth of action, and playing him at Norfolk could give them that chance.

There's also the chance that House could really catch fire and, with his injury history and Razor Ramon firmly entrenched as the top backstop, wind up a DH. If that happened, and House hit to what he was projected to do a few moons ago, that'd be OK with me.

I'm behind House. I hope he gets a decent look in the spring, and I hope we see him in Baltimore next year. Whether or not it will happen is a whole other story, because you have Ramon, Bako, and that on-the-surface pointless pickup of Adam Donachie in the Rule 5 draft.

And it stands for James Rodger.