I am a big Nolan Reimold fan. There is a lot to like about him as a player. He has demonstrated above average power, good plate discipline, and surprising speed during his career prior to the 2012 season. A player can enjoy a lengthy career with those three average or slightly above average tools. The claim that Reimold is injury prone has never held water with me. Before his 2012 neck injury he was on the field far more than he was off of it. That injury-prone myth seems to have picked up steam because he also spent significant time in the minors in 2010 and 2011, which decreased his major league at bats and added to the perception that he was rarely playing.
Despite all of that, I am now at the stage where I think the Orioles need to seriously consider moving on from Nolan.
His statistics speak for themselves this season, but even more disconcerting is that he looks entirely lost at the plate. I think that phrase gets thrown around a bit haphazardly by baseball fans, but in my opinion it applies here. His swing mechanics look out of whack (his front side is drifting forward on his swing resulting in a swatting-like downward swing) and he is not making much solid contact against any pitches. It does not mean he is a lost cause – I still sort of expect him to be a productive major league player for a few seasons in some role – but I am not sure how much longer the O’s (as a contender) can put up with a 29 year-old DH who is struggling mightily at the plate. The leash is even shorter when you consider the team has other options.
Danny Valencia is one. Steve Pearce – who looks like he could be off the disabled list in a few weeks (EDIT: reports today are that one wrist is not healing and more tests are being run, so maybe a few weeks is a tad optimistic) – is another. Pearce is a nice safety net because he has the same skill set as Reimold (mediocre defensive outfielder, right-handed hitter, pop, decent plate discipline) and is likely to at least match Reimold’s current low-level production. Valencia – while bringing slightly different skills to the table – is also a nice backup given his minor league options.
However, I think if the Orioles do decide to part ways with Reimold – either by trade or passing him through waivers – it is L.J. Hoes who I would like to see get the first crack as his replacement.
I’ve always had a special interest in Hoes since we graduated from the same high school (St. Johns College HS in Washington, DC) but I also like the type of player he is. L.J.’s greatest skill is his plate discipline and batting approach. Hoes has a .365 on base percentage over his minor league career. He has walked in 10.5% of his plate appearances while striking out just 14.5% of the time. L.J. currently carries a .404 OBP (to go along with his .305 batting average) and has walked 48 times in 369 plate appearances. What makes the walk numbers from this season even more impressive is that he has only struck out 49 times. A near 1:1 K:BB ratio for a 23 year old in AAA is impressive, especially when his prior minor league numbers indicate that it this season’s walk-rate is not necessarily a fluke.
The knock against Hoes is his lack of power. Through Tuesday’s games, he is carrying a .98 ISO. One would expect the power to drop even more when transitioning to the majors. Not every hitter can be all things, however. If a player has another skill to make up for their deficiency in another area, then they still have a shot at being a valuable major league player. I do believe L.J.’s ability to reach base could be that difference-making skill for him.
Players who draw walks in the minors – call it a good plate approach, good discipline, or what ever you like – have any easier time transitioning that skill to the majors than power or the ability to hit for average. There is much more of a risk or concern that a power hitting minor leaguer will struggle in the majors, especially if he already strikes out a lot. Players who can demonstrate the ability to draw a walk – especially if they do not strike out a ton – usually carry that skill over fairly well when making the big jump from AAA to Major League Baseball.
For that reason alone, I am interested in the idea of an L.J. Hoes call up. His ceiling might be relatively low, but there is a solid chance he could post a .340+ OBP for the O’s right away which would be a nice addition. That would put him 2nd or 3rd amongst Orioles players this season. If he is moderately platooned (splits at bats against RHP with Flaherty/Dickerson), I really do not believe such an on base percentage is out of the question – not for a guy who has made consistent contact, hit for a decent average, and walked at a high-rate throughout a solid minor league career.
So there is my pitch for an L.J. Hoes for Nolan Reimold swap. I am not one to rush on player personnel decisions – especially when you are risking the loss of a player – but all the signs point to it being time. Buck has sat Nolan recently against LHP (the most recent example being Monday night) and if Reimold is not going to start those games, then the team should search for a better option. I think Hoes might be that and if nothing else, it might be worth a shot.