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Predict the future -- Lou Montanez

During our discussion about Orioles pitching prospect Jake Arrieta, almost everyone agreed that he should work on his command before progressing too far in the Orioles' minor league system.

The general consensus among those who participated in the debate was that he should start the season with the Double-A Bowie Baysox. Some people thought it would be better if the 22-year-old right-hander spent the entire season in Bowie, while others believed it would be good if he finished the season with the Triple-A Norfolk Tides.

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A few readers mentioned that Arrieta should be promoted to the major leagues in September if he puts up good numbers in the minors. We'll have to keep a close eye on Arrieta's progress in 2008 because it will be an important year for his development as a prospect in the organization.

Next, I'd like to talk about a player who emerged as a legitimate power hitter with his breakout season as a member of the Baysox in 2008. Lou Montanez won the Triple Crown in the Eastern League after hitting .335 with 26 home runs and 97 RBIs in 116 games for Bowie last season. The 27-year-old outfielder batted .295 with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 38 games for the Orioles after he was promoted in August.

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With those numbers, Montanez deserves to have an opportunity to play every day in the major leagues. Prior to last year, however, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound outfielder never had more than 14 home runs or 62 RBIs in a single season.

Typically, I would like to see a player consistently perform at a high level for more than one season before giving him an opportunity in the major leagues. Still, Montanez didn't do anything to harm his chances in the couple months that he was in the major leagues at the end of the 2008 season. He proved that he was able to hit major league pitching, and he seemed to improve his defense with more experience.

Why does it seem like there won't be any room for Montanez with the big league club to start the 2009 season? Well, unfortunately for him, the Orioles have solid outfielders at all three positions. It would be nice to see Montanez coming off the bench as a late-inning pinch-hitter, but I'd rather see him playing every day in Norfolk than riding the pine in Baltimore.

The best-case scenario, in my opinion, is for Montanez to hit around .500 in spring training and force his way into the major leagues. But he should be the starting left fielder for the Tides if the Orioles aren't going to use him regularly.

As much as I'd like to see Montanez playing at Camden Yards in April, I think he'll be in Triple-A for most of the season. Look for him to hit around .300 with 25-30 home runs and 90-100 RBIs with the Tides in 2009. Unfortunately, I don't expect Montanez to spend much time in the majors – unless one of the outfielders suffers an injury and Montanez is needed as a full-time starter. I'm sure Orioles fans don't want Nick Markakis, Adam Jones or Luke Scott to get hurt, so it's probably safe to assume Montanez won't be a regular in the Orioles' starting lineup this season.

What do you think the Orioles should do with Montanez this season? Should he split time with Scott in left field? Would it be a good idea to use Aubrey Huff as the starting first baseman and have Montanez serve as the full-time designated hitter?

I think Montanez earned the respect of a lot of Orioles fans with his performance last season, so I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Let me know if you agree with my predictions, or if you're more optimistic about his future.

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Check out previous installments of "Predict the future" by clicking on the links below:

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