It’s often said in baseball circles that having strength up the middle -- from behind the plate to the middle of the infield to center field -- is critical to a team’s chances. So Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com asked 15 scouts and front office execs to rate “the top up-the-middle contingents in baseball today.”

Those insiders were asked to evaluate the starting catcher, second baseman, shortstop and center fielder for each of the 30 teams based on both their work in the field and at the plate. The Orioles’ quartet of Matt Wieters, Brian Roberts, J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones came in third behind the Phillies and the Yankees.

Wieters received praise for his work with the young pitching staff and his development defensively from Crasnick, who said that his “pitch-calling, blocking skills and throwing are all first rate.”

Crasnick also said “the Orioles have another significant building block in Jones, whose five-tool package stands him in rare company.” But there are concerns that Jones won’t be able to put all those tools to use. "He has so much freaking ability,'' a scout told Crasnick. “I just don't know how much instinct he has at the plate.''

Not much was said about Roberts and Hardy other than a mention about their durability issues.

It merits mention that Crasnick questioned the truism about strength up the middle being vital to success. He pointed out that it worked for the 2003 Marlins, but that “there's no handy-dandy historical guide on the subject.”

[Hat tip to Baltimore Sports Report]