We can also be pretty sure that it is not going to be Chris Davis, even though he batted leadoff in the intrasquad game the other day. I thought maybe Showalter was just messing with Crush, but I guess it was actually nothing more than an alphabetical order thing. And apparently it was the first time it had ever happened in Davis’ baseball life.
Frankly, I don’t think this leadoff batter issue is a difficult decision. As far back as my 2011 Orioles blogging I was advocating for Nick Markakis in this role. He has perhaps the best batting eye in all of MLB, works pitchers into deep counts, and has always had a fine on-base percentage and batting average (even considering his drop-off of 2013).
Over the past three seasons, Nick has accumulated more than a small sample size of statistics in the role. Over 88 games and 405 plate appearances, he has a slash line of .329/.375/.816 as the leadoff guy … not bad at all! Markakis looks very natural in the role, though it could be argued that he does not have the base-stealing speed most often associated with the #1 batter. I grant that this is true, but would argue that a player can have world-class track speed, but if he does not get on base, it is worthless.
Markakis enters this season – the final of this contract – with a lot to prove after his sub-standard campaign of 2013. The series of nagging issues and that C.C. Sabathia ball that ended Nick’s 2012 season are, in my view, the bulk of the reason for the drop-off of this past year. And the story is that Markakis is looking to be in beastly shape this spring and is full healthy. But even if he regains the power of the past, there is no need really for him to have to display it deeper into the lineup … the Orioles are loaded with power at every turn.
It also seems that the varied comments of Buck Showalter on the subject would lead the listener to believe that Markakis is the likely choice and frontrunner to be the first Oriole to come to the plate in the home opener.
There are only a couple of possible scenarios as to who else might step into that role; and to force their way into it by their level of play is certainly what they will have to do.
The next most likely candidate is new left fielder David Lough, who looked great in the leadoff position in Saturday’s home opener in Sarasota. He has the better speed to project as a more classic leadoff player, while also having at least some marginal power. Lough has a small sample size at leadoff, but it is decent … over 19 games atop Royals’ lineup last year he batted .271/.297/.626. And then there is the possible scenario of Lough platooning with Nolan Reimold – another player who had great success in leadoff situations in 2012 before his own series of injuries began.
An intriguing possibility is second baseman Jamile Weeks, who is a switch hitter with speed. And like everything else with the former A’s player, there is the person who was awesome in 2011, but then the guy who has struggled ever since. He actually has 707 plate appearances leading off in his career with an OBP of .320. And in 2011 as the A’s leadoff hitter in 85 games, he had a slash line of .299/.338/.744 … now THAT would be great to have!
Weeks has made a very strong first impression this past week. We just need that to be repeated for weeks and weeks. (See what I did there?) Honestly, I’m pulling for this guy at second base over Flaherty, who in turn can be the super utility person. Though Flaherty has the greater power and probably the better defensive skills, I do not see him ever becoming even an average infielder offensively (other than power). I’d like to be wrong on this judgment.
The Orioles spring training is off to a great start, and it appears at this moment that the decisions to be made about personnel are going to be very difficult between varied good choices. And that reality is a testament to many good things and choices that have happened over recent years.