Luke Scott is easily forgotten on this team that is burgeoning with youth and prospective talent. He is a classic case in the study of what might be, a player who is so streaky with his bat that he can be the savior for the team for a month and then be worthy of riding the pine for another month. He doesn’t have games where he goes 3 for 4 with a double sprinkled into his slumps here and there- he is either knocking the stuffing out of the ball or sucking wind. Though you have read the numbers a thousand times, Scott hit .305 with 18 home runs in the first half of the season, and .208 with 7 home runs in the second. That is not streaky. That’s bipolar.
In the offseason Scott and hitting coach Terry Crowley argued that this swing (or lack thereof) was a result of frustration and pressing too hard to get a hit when things weren’t going right. They insisted that Luke was working on it and would be better this season. I hope so, but mental makeup doesn’t change overnight.
Now, many people have been clamoring (or had been clamoring up until Garrett Atkins was signed) for Luke Scott to move to first base, but I never quite understood it for two key reasons. One, I had to disagree with the argument that Scott’s bat was one that the O’s had to keep in the lineup. Look, if I am going to have someone start on my team, I want to know what kind of production I am going to get. A team cannot afford one of their starters, especially at a run-producing spot like first base, to go cold when the team needs them most. At any moment Luke Scott can turn from a .330 power hitter to a .220 singles guy. I want consistency if I am going to hitch a position like that to him.
Secondly, Luke Scott is not a first baseman. Not only has he not played there for any appreciable amount of time, he does not have the prototypical height (6’0”) of a first baseman nor the consistent power expected of a first baseman. Moreover, Luke Scott is a perfectly average fielder- and no that is not some sort of backhanded compliment. The difference between Scott and Reimold in the field is minimal, so it isn’t as though he has to be moved because he is deficient in the field. That is what you do to an Adam Dunn or a Magglio Ordonez (though he hasn’t moved just yet), but Scott has neither the size, the bat, or the defensive struggles to merit the move.
So, you ask, where does that leave him? Certainly in an odd position for the O’s. Let him take the DH spot, where the team can more easily sub him in or out when he goes cold at the plate. On a team filled with youth in the outfield, Scott will be 32 this season and in no position to get much better. If he needs a day off there are plenty of other players who will need at-bats this season. While this isn’t the most productive way of using him, I don’t see that this team has a lot to lose given the logjam in the outfield. Moreover, his low value might make him very appealing as a trade candidate later on in the season. Let’s say he gets off to a hot start and produces the way he did in the first half of last season. The Orioles could get a great return on investment by sending him to a team like the Mariners, who, depending on who you believe expressed some interest in him in the offseason. Most likely he stays with the team and departs in the offseason, having contributed to a number of thrilling wins and frustrating losses.
However, if Luke can keep his swing and improve the mental part of his game, he could make life very difficult in the front office, where he will suddenly become a commodity worth holding on to. Scott has made it clear that he doesn’t want to be a full-time DH in the long term, and I don’t blame him. He might be the only true power bat in the lineup right now. Whether he can keep that going for an entire season will determine a lot more for him than how many at-bats he gets in 2010- it could enable him to cash in for 2011, likely with another team.