Just two years after the fact, it seems hard to believe that Nick Markakis had to fight to earn a spot on the Orioles' 2006 Opening Day roster. But that was the case, as the then-22-year-old outfielder had only 33 games at AA Bowie under his belt and had no AAA experience either. The O's were hesitant to rush the sweet-swinging Georgia native to the bigs, as similar practices had stunted the development of several other prospects in the team's recent history. But Nick wouldn't be denied, reaching base in nine of his first 10 plate appearances in Spring Training. Overall, he batted .358 with a .965 OPS in Grapefruit League action. The Orioles rewarded him with a spot on the Opening Day roster and stuck with him as he struggled to adjust to the major leagues, hitting .182 in April. Nick gradually improved throughout the first half of the season and caught fire in the second half, finishing at .291 with 16 home runs. In 2007, he stepped forward as the leader of the O's offense, leading the team in batting average, doubles, home runs, and RBI and ranking in the top ten in the American League in several offensive categories. The team's current rebuilding effort involves Nick Markakis as the centerpiece.
That's one of the great things about Spring Training. You never know who's going to step up out of nowhere and surprise you. Last year Jeremy Guthrie was plucked from waivers and pitched strongly throughout March, eventually becoming a strong Rookie of the Year candidate with the potential to be one of the best starters in the league. Sometimes a veteran journeyman like Kevin Hickey will earn a trip "up North" with some unlikely success in the Grapefruit League. You never know until they play the games.