When outfielder Nate McLouth joined the Orioles from Triple-A last August, he was just another one of executive vice president Dan Duquette's attempted reclamation projects.

His new teammates knew who he was, though. Heck, one even dabbled as McLouth a few years back.

"I don't think I ever told Nate this, but I used to play video baseball games and I always had him as my center fielder," said Orioles first baseman Chris Davis. "Because he's all the things I am not. He is fast; he's got a six-pack [sculpted abdomen]. And I always knew he was a really good player."

There's a lingering question as to whether McLouth is still a really good player — whether he can regain his past form for an entire season. The Orioles think he can and that he can provide more quiet leadership. That's why they made re-signing McLouth a top priority this offseason, even if he doesn't replicate his 2008 All Star season.

McLouth put up near video-game numbers that year with the Pittsburgh Pirates, winning a Gold Glove and hitting 26 homers with 23 stolen bases and a league-leading 46 doubles.

He signed an extension and expected to remain with the rebuilding Pirates for years, but they traded him to the Atlanta Braves in June 2009. He couldn't rebound from that transition and his career spiraled downward. Last year, he rejoined the Pirates, struggled in a reserve role and was released two months into the season.

The Orioles had no idea what he had left, but special assistant Lee Thomas recommended him and Orioles bench coach John Russell, who was McLouth's manager in Pittsburgh, praised the player's work ethic and athletic ability.

The Orioles signed him to a minor league deal in June, promoted him to the majors in August and by September McLouth became one of the club's most valuable players. He was thrust into the leadoff spot when right fielder Nick Markakis broke his thumb, and he seized the role — getting on base at a .342 clip and then batting .318 with a .348 on-base percentage against the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series.