#22 - Nick Markakis (2006-Present)
Nick Markakis is the second present-day Oriole on our top 40 list, the first being Adam Jones at #29. The difference between Markakis and Jones is that while both are in what should be the prime of their careers, Nick Markakis spent 2013 being one of the most disappointing players in baseball while Adam Jones is at the top of his game and is the face of the franchise. Despite his poor 2013 season, I am hoping for a comeback and I'll attempt to make this write up as positive as the rest have been so far.
Let's start at the beginning, way back when Markakis was drafted. He was the 7th overall pick in the 2003 amateur draft. Many scouts saw him as a pitching prospect, but the Orioles wanted him to be an outfielder. He played in three minor-league seasons and after an impressive 2006 spring training, he earned a place on the Orioles. I was at his major-league debut, which was as a ninth-inning defensive replacement on Opening Day 2006. Prospects weren't nearly so exposed to the masses back then, but we had heard of Nick and he got a very nice ovation when they announced him.
Nick had a good rookie season, hitting .291/.351/.448 (OPS+ of 106, wOBA of .345). He was mostly a right fielder, but he also played in left field and center at times. He was just 22 years old and a delight to watch. That year he was worth 18 defensive run above average and had a UZR/150 of 6.2. He had a laser for an arm that made it easy to recognize why he had been scouted as a pitcher. He completed 8 outfield assists that year, a number that went up to 17 in 2007.
In 2008, Nick had his best year so far in his career, when he hit .306/.406/.491 with 20 home runs, 48 doubles, and 99 walks. It was the third straight season that Markakis had improved as a player, and the Orioles and their fans thought that they were seeing the next Orioles superstar in the making. The O's rewarded him with a six-year, $66.1 million contract that runs through the end of the 2014 season, with an option for 2015.
From 2009-2012, Markakis wasn't the player that we all expected he'd turn into, but he was a good player to have on the team. He was durable, playing nearly every game in 2009-2011, and he did something that many Orioles have had trouble doing in recent years: he got on base. He never topped .400 as he had in 2008, but he still was the team leader in that department. His home run power dropped, but he kept hitting doubles and was a very steady presence in the lineup.
In 2012, Markakis was better than in any year since 2008, but the injury bug finally bit him. He missed time in the middle of the year with a wrist injury, then his season was cut short when his thumb was broken when hit by a pitch. It was especially sad for Nick because the Orioles were finally going to the playoffs and he couldn't play.
We all remember 2013 so I won't dwell on it, but it's the reason that we all have a bad taste in our mouths when it comes to Nick. All we can do is hope that he will go back to the Nick we've known over the last few seasons. That Nick would be a very welcome sight indeed.
In some number of years, after Markakis has finished his Orioles career, we will be able to re-evaluate his performance and perhaps move him up on this list. Perhaps #22 is as high as he will ever be. While I hope that isn't the case and that Nick has many more years as an excellent Oriole, the fact is that we've already had the privilege of spending the last eight years watching one of the best players in Orioles history.