Name this potential Hall of Famer. In 107 games in Class A, he drove in 97 runs. In AA, he led the league in homers. In AAA, he hit .300. In the majors, his success was just as dramatic. As a rookie, 17 homers and 50 RBI in half a season. In his next 639 at-bats, 42 homers and 131 RBI.

Eric Davis? Mark McGwire?

Okay, more hints. He plays for the Orioles. He's not Eddie Murray or Cal Ripken. This is his 10th season as a pro ballplayer.

Yes, Larry Sheets is better than you think he is. Unfortunately, he's also better than he thinks he is. He's that rare man whose humility has kept him from seeing his own talent. That explains how Sheets could sign his first Orioles contract in 1978, yet not become a fixture in the team's lineup until this month.

"The key word to the whole year is confidence," said Sheets, who has eight home runs in his last 11 games and has 24 homers, 71 RBI and .322 batting average in what amounts to half a season -- just 301 at-bats.

Sheets might as well say that confidence, and the comfort that eventually comes with it, is the key to his whole career.

If only Sheets had confidence a decade ago. The confidence not to quit baseball three times in the minors, once missing a season and a half. The confidence not to go into slumps after a few poor games. The confidence not to be intimidated by his defensive limits as an outfielder. The confidence to be a squeaky wheel when the Orioles lost him in the shuffle, largely ignoring his stats, using him in bizarre positions like third base and catcher and, always, benching him against left-handers.

"Every player's confidence level is different. You have to be relaxed to play this game. If you don't feel like you're in a comfortable environment, like you're at home, you'll be tense," said Orioles Manager Cal Ripken Sr., whose own sons have had confidence above all other qualities. "Some guys take longer. Larry was that way. But he knows he belongs here now."

At 27, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Sheets is in danger of becoming a fearsome slugger. Of his last six home runs, five have been off left-handers. In fact, he's hit .310 for the season against southpaws, with seven homers in 71 at-bats. That, plus feeling comfortable in the outfield, might prove to be the last piece of the Sheets-as-Star puzzle. It's certain that his first 983 big league at-bats have been comparable to Tony Perez, Lee May and their ilk: 60 homers and 183 RBI.

Sheets' slugging average tells the whole tale -- it's .611. That's neck-and-neck with George Bell and Jack Clark and on the wheels of the big league leaders, McGwire and Davis. Once Sheets gets enough at-bats to qualify, he could end up the 1987 AL slugging champ.

Yet Sheets still seems so modest and understated, so unsluggerly, that you wonder about his future more than his numbers would warrant. "All I've wanted is the chance to play regularly so I could sink or swim," he said. "I don't want to feel like I've got it made now. I realize there's a long way to go. I want to finish this season off."

You might think Sheets would be demanding recognition and symbols of respect. No way. Ask him if thinks the day will come when he'll be thought of as the third murderer in the same row with Ripken and Murray and he practically dives under the bench.

"I'm not after that. I'm after what I can do. It's not one of my goals to try to be better than Eddie or Cal."

Perhaps that's why manager Ripken still bats Sheets seventh or eighth in the lineup far more often than he writes his name down fifth or sixth. Sure, Sheets has the team's best average with men in scoring position (.333) and the second-best ratio of RBI to at-bats in the majors. But Sheets just doesn't think of himself as a heart-of-the-order type of fellow yet.

He even thinks he ought to be benched against some left-handers. "There are certain guys -- like Frank Tanana, Rick Langford, John Candelaria -- who live by getting out left-handed batters. That's where they shut down their rallies . . . You don't have to go to bat 650 times a year (like Ripken and Murray). To me, 500 at-bats seems like a good season."

In retrospect, Sheets' slow ascendancy may not be a misfortune. Rather, given his gentle nature, it may be both a blessing and a necessity. This is a man who, on Tuesday, hit a homer off Scott Bailes in his first at-bat, then got knocked down by Bailes in his next at-bat; Sheets got up, homered over the center field fence, never looked at Bailes as he rounded the bases head down, then almost fell down the dugout steps when the fans summoned him for a curtain call. "I retaliated in my own way," he said.

Unfortunately, perhaps, confidence and arrogance often are linked. We must take our virtues with our vices. If Sheets lacks swagger, and always will, who's to blame him? "I try not to stir up the water. It's not my personality. My wife wishes I were more that way . . .

"It's true, my feelings were hurt when the people from Rochester got top priority at the end of last season. But this spring we went for good defense {in the outfield}; I could understand that. Cal told me, 'Wait your opportunity.' He didn't lie. It's worked out for all of us. It's great to see T-Bone {John Shelby} doing so well {after being traded to the Dodgers}."

Let's see if we've got this straight. Sheets doesn't mind hitting eighth or being benched against lefties. When his job was given away to Shelby this spring, he wasn't resentful and is tickled that Shelby's found a new home.

Perhaps Sheets' last major hurdle to a long and formidable career is how he copes with his next confidence-deflating slump. Last year at exactly this time (Aug. 14), Sheets was hitting .303 with 16 home runs and 55 RBI in 78 games and was headed for untouchable status. Then he went cold, batting .202 with only two homers the rest of the way. "I was so concerned about playing the outfield {adequately} that I forgot about hitting." A great year became good and come March, he had no starting job. Now, he thinks things have changed.

"Before, when I wasn't playing every day, an oh-for-30 streak for me was three weeks. Now, it's one week," said Sheets. "For instance, I went oh for 22 last month. It didn't even take a week. It doesn't make you as crazy. You don't change stances or lose confidence as quickly."

Sheets broke that slump with a game-winning home run off a Charlie Hough knuckleball. Since then, he's been on some seldom-visited planet with 15 RBI in 39 at-bats. In the last week, he's had two home runs in a game three times.

That's enough to give anybody confidence. Even Larry Sheets.