Jerry Crasnick of ESPN posted this article yesterday titled “Pointing out the up-the-middle strength” in which he ranked the Orioles as the number three team in all of baseball for this skill set. Crasnick “surveyed 15 scouts and front office people and asked them to rate the top up-the-middle contingents in baseball today.”

The thought process behind the piece was that “defense is vital…but four slick fielders wielding Nerf bats won’t take a team to the promised land, so we asked our respondents to consider offense as well as glove work.”  As to which positions meant the most in the rankings, “most baseball people rank catcher and/or shortstop at the top of the list.”

So who placed above the Orioles?  Well, the Phillies grabbed the number one spot with catcher Carlos Ruiz, second baseman Chase Utley (I guess they were ignoring injuries), shortstop Jimmy Rollins, and center fielder Shane Victorino.  The Yankees questionably grabbed the second tier with Russell Martin behind the dish, Robinson Cano at second base, Derek Jeter at shortstop, and Curtis Granderson in center field.  I only question this due to Jeter being extremely overrated at this stage in his career.

Then came the Orioles.  With Wieters, Roberts, Hardy, and Jones, Buck’s Birds finally placed high in the rankings of some sort.  When you include a healthy Brian Roberts and a huge improvement at SS with J.J. Hardy, one must realize how strong the team’s up-the-middle contributions can be.

Here is what was said about the group:

With 21 homers and a .393 slugging percentage in 829 at-bats, Wieters has yet to embrace that early “Joe Mauer with power” label. The Orioles look at his athleticism and 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame and keep waiting for him to hit the ball with more authority. But he’s made tremendous strides defensively, and his pitch-calling, blocking skills and throwing are all first rate. The Orioles place a lot of stock in Zach Britton and their other young starters, and they have faith that Wieters, at 24, is the catcher who can nurture them along.

The Orioles have another significant building block in Jones, whose five-tool package stands him in rare company. At 25, Jones can be overly daring in the field and show an occasional lack of focus on the bases, so the Orioles continue to wonder what heights he’ll reach when he puts it all together. Jones also needs to start showing more discipline against sliders off the outside corner. “He has so much freaking ability,” said a scout. “I just don’t know how much instinct he has at the plate.”

Roberts, at 33, still has the smarts, speed and all-around game to set the tone for the Orioles when he’s in the lineup. But every assessment of his game must include the caveat, “Health is a concern.” Hardy is no iron man himself. He played 115 games for Milwaukee two years ago and 101 games with Minnesota last season, and is now out six weeks with an oblique injury. Cesar Izturis, Baltimore’s backup shortstop, is around strictly for his glove.

No other AL East team made it into the top nine, though the Red Sox were listed as one of the eight teams “in contention” for a spot.