09 April, 2006

MLB debut - Nick Markakis

Nick Markakis is a rarity: a bona fide Oriole prospect.

Let's get the declared interest out of the way. For half a decade or more the Orioles were my team. It started when I inherited an Oriole based franchise in a Diamond Mind league. Moving to D.C. in '97, of course, meant the O's were just on the doorstep. I love Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It's my favourite MLB stadium even though the fans stink and the team owners stinks even more.

I guess the O's are still the AL team I follow more than any other though I've had a long time liking for the A's dating back to the Finley years; Rollie, Jackson, Bando, Campy and all.

That said, the O's suck. Sorry, the bLoWrilEss are teh suck! They are particularly teh suck in the drafting and Minor League instruction side of things. Blame it on whatever you want, but it'll come back to team owner Peter Angelos at some point. The 2004 draft was the nadir, as Angelos interfered with delection at the last moment when he ordered the club not pay a large bonus for a college pitcher out of the first round, then couldn't sign the guy they picked - Wade Townsend.

So, how do we explain Nick Markakis? Did they draft him because they thought (erroneously) that he was the Greek God of walks?

Markakis certainly knows the strike zone. His walk to strikeout ratio in 279 Minor League games is 133-194. Not quite Kevin Youkilis, but pretty good. Another look at the numbers shows he has developing power and he hits for average. His career line is 301/381/471. Based on the statistical evidence, Markakis projects as a .280/.300 hitter with gap power who might one day hit 20+ homers. Mind you that evidence includes with just 33 games at AA.

Hitting apart, Markakis used to be a two-way threat. He pitched in high school, junior college and for Team USA. Nowadays, he confined to the outfield. As a pitcher he's got a strong arm. Rounding out his abilities, Nick has speed though he's only ever likely to be an occasional base stealer.

There is a serious worry that the O's - desperate to cash in on a No.7 pick - have pushed Markakis too quickly. He could well have used a year or half a year to season at AAA and straightened out any kinks in his swing. But, he's earned his spot on the roster and the O's will blood him early and often.

Markakis entry into MLB was, in fact, quiet. He was defensive substitution in the 9th inning in the Opening Day 9-6 win. Rather than his usual position of left field, he played one inning at right field and had one put out.

(In the Orioles' next game on 5 April he made first start. Markakis went 1 for 3 with 3 walks and hit his first Major League homer in the 8th inning as Baltimore thumped Tampa Bay 16-6.)


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