Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Usually, a player failing to produce after returning to the team with which he had some of his most successful seasons is a good sign the player is done being a productive major league player.
There are countless examples -- Jason Giambi with the Oakland Athletics and Ivan Rodriguez with the Texas Rangers in 2009, Ken Griffey Jr. with the Seattle Mariners in 2009-10, Miguel Tejada with the Baltimore Orioles in 2010 and Carlos Pena with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012.
Nate McLouth looked done in 2012.
After hitting .210 in 509 at-bats over his previous two seasons in Atlanta, McLouth signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he batted .268 with 74 doubles, 48 homers, 166 RBI, 52 steals and 202 runs over 334 games from 2007 to mid-2009.
He hit just .140 over 34 games in his second go-round with Pittsburgh and was designated for assignment on May 25. That assignment might as well have been "pack your bags and go home" because he drew no interest on waivers and was released outright.
But the Baltimore Orioles, needing a spare outfielder, signed him to a minor league contract on June 5 and called him up on Aug. 4.
Since then, he has played 80 games and taken 339 plate appearances with the Orioles and is batting .287 (85-for-296) with 19 doubles, 10 homers, 28 RBI, 58 runs, 37 walks and 20 steals.
That doesn't even include the 2012 postseason, when McLouth was Baltimore's best all-around producer, putting up a .308 average, a double, a homer, five RBI, three runs and three steals in six games.
He's hitting .333 with three homers, 10 RBI, 23 runs, a 9/15 K/BB and eight steals this season, and looks like a different hitter at the plate.
Even during his best years, McLouth had a fly ball rate around 45 percent, but that came with a HR/FB from 7.5 to 11.4 percent, which meant many of his batted balls were becoming outs. That explains why his career BABIP is a below-average .280.
However, he has been more of a line-drive hitter recently, putting up line- drive rates over 20 percent in each of the last two seasons after posting one 17.1 percent or lower in four of five seasons from 2007-11.
McLouth also owns a career 17.1 percent strikeout rate, which hasn't helped his batting average. But this year he is striking out in just 8.7 percent of his plate appearances and hitting 21.8 percent line drives, which has led to a .347 BABIP and a .333 batting average.
If he can keep pounding line drives at a rate that is slightly above the league average (20 percent) while keeping his strikeouts down, seeing a career-high batting average out of him wouldn't be surprising.
Even if he reverts to his old ways, the outfielder has a prime spot as the leadoff man in a high-scoring offense and still offers a nice blend of power and speed.
Fantasy owners can expect McLouth to hit 13 homers, score 100 runs and steal 30 bases in 500 at-bats, and even if he regresses to a .265-.270 batting average, he'll still be a valuable fantasy commodity.
That's something that didn't appear possible as recently as last August.