We’ve looked at the starting pitching and the infield, so it makes sense to look at the Nationals outfield for the upcoming season.
Austin Kearns is the guy who probably has a daily job pretty much solidified. Besides being an excellent defensive right fielder, he has hit pretty well the last few seasons. He definitely was hurt by playing in RFK, and it is expected that his power will see improvement in the upcoming season. Despite a non-stellar AVG, he has a career OBP of .359 and his number in that category put him second on the team last season for hitters with more than 102 ABs. Assuming the new park helps him out a bit, he’s probably going to hit closer to his 2006 total of 24 HRs – that year he was on pace to hit over 30 before he got traded to that Nats, but Cinci’s stadium is small enough that 30 may be a stretch for him. Either way, some hits and some HRs will be added on, and he could end up being one of the best overall RFs in the NL.
Lastings Milledge is the presumed, at least the listed, starting CF, and that is likely to hold up. With the glut of young OFers this team has, there will be some shuffling around, but Blastings will probably get the majority of time here. What to look for with him? Well he is a real troublemaker – that is to say he’s loud, he has braided hair, and makes rap albums (kids today) – so he’s a troublemaker if you’re 80. In terms of what matters, baseball, he’s got a real quick swing and he’s really fast. If he can get on base enough, he may be a top of the lineup kind of guy. He hit over .300 in the minors (.380 OBP), and at 22 years old last season he already was able to have splits of .272/.341/.446. That puts him at like top 5 on the Nats in getting on base, without any improvement. He also has some power, and is young enough that more power is expected to develop, whether he becomes a middle-of-the-lineup kind of hitter is yet to be seen. But he should be good enough with the bat to keep himself in the lineup, and as Manny learns to trust him, he may be hitting second or even leading off by the end of the year.
Wily Mo Pena is, like Milledge, extremely promising. His numbers after coming over to the Nats were amazing, a full season of .293/.352/.504 would be incredible to have from any player. Unfortunately, he probably can’t do that against everyone. Despite his DC awakening, he still hasn’t been able to hit righties. Last season he went .203/.269/.390 against them, as opposed to his .330/.395/.518 against lefties. He also doesn’t walk nearly enough and strikes out alot. He can mash the ball, and will most likely start against every lefty the Nats face. Watch out Johan! Other than those games, he will probably play on and off until he can show he can hit the righties.
Elijah Dukes is the yet another young promising OF on this team, and he will probably get a decent chance to play. He is an extremely talented player. Forget his numbers with Tampa Bay last season, he spent the minor leagues getting on base and hitting with good power. He is fast, he hit with more power every season, and he may end up being an real star. Unfortunately, he is a complete head case. He has had so much trouble with the law it’s a joke. He can be a surly, media-hating, angry player and still be an all-star. But he’s got to stay out of legal trouble, or he’ll never get on track. If he can get his head screwed on straight, he could be a great player. That’s a big if, though, so I’ll believe it when I see it.
Ryan Langerhans is still on this team, and may find some role coming off the bench. He still is an excellent fielder and may serve as a late-game defensive replacement. Last season’s batting average was a joke, fortunately he never really lost his ability to take a walk. That give some hope that he still has a decent approach to the plate and could recover somewhat this season. He still isn’t going to hit .300, but if he can hit closer to .260 with some power, which he has (some power), then he may serve a positive role as a bench player.
Rob Mackowiak is a new addition to this team, and is a welcome one. He adds some stability as somebody that could play the super-sub role, and may find himself in the lineup more than people realize. He doesn’t have a whole lot of power, but it’s not completely absent, and he’s a lefty. He hits righty pitchers better, and will probably find himself in a bunch of games thanks to that. Kearns, Milledge, Pena and Dukes are all righties, and if Mackowiak doesn’t start, he may find himself pinch hitting alot as the first LH hitter off the bench, a role that Langerhans probably dreams about.
Willie Harris is another offseason addition that should really help boost the team’s bench. He’s in that Mackowiak mold of being a super-sub, although he’ll likely start very much fewer games. He plays infield and outfield although has played much more outfield the last few seasons. His biggest asset is his speed, and should be the #1 pinch runner option this season.
Kory Casto had a chance to play on this team, but the offseason has really moved the priorities of this team around. Now, he will probably get proper seasoning in the minors that he desperately needs. He hit .130 with the Nats in’07 and slugged .167, so he definitely needs some work. He’s not that bad, and while he may not be a star in the making, he could still end up being a quality major leaguer. Unless he hits so well in the spring that the team is afraid to send him down and affect his confidence, expect him to be in Columbus when the season starts so he can get as many ABs as possible this season.
Justin Maxwell probably won’t see too much time in the lineup either. He will most likely end up in the minors trying to improve his batting average. He’s still young enough that he could develop into a Mike Cameron-type player: high numbers of HRs, Ks, and SBs, although getting to Cameron’s level is probably a reach. He should be in Columbus or even lower in 2008, as he hasn’t even been to AA yet.
Garret Guzman is a minor leaguer currently on the 40 man roster, but it remains to be seen if he will get on the roster. He was a rule 5 pickup from Minnesota, so they have to keep him on the roster all year if they want him. But the Twins didn’t protect him even though they knew they were losing Hunter and Rondell White, so they didn’t see much in him. Last year he hit .312/.359/.453 in AA, which is impressive, but at 24 years old wasn’t earth shattering. He’s also a lefty and may need to show what he can do this spring in order to make the team. But if he does make the team, expect him to stay there so they can hold on to him.
Rogearvin Bernadina is a long-time Expos/Nats minor leaguer entering his seventh season with the organization. He’s from the Netherlands Antilles, hence the first name you can’t pronounce, so he does have an excuse for slow development. He had some early bad habits, waiting for pitches in a certain spot, not swinging at other good strikes, burying him in bad counts. These have been worked on more recently and hopefully corrected, but his power still hasn’t developed. But he’s a speedy OF and is very athletic and very very fast. He probably isn’t going to find his way into the starting lineup any time soon, but he had 40 SBs last season and is another lefty, so he may find a role for himself in some aspect.
So there you have it. Kearns, Milledge and Pena will most likely start every game against lefties. Pena will probably sit against righties quite a bit. Milledge also hasn’t shown awesome lefty/righty splits, but that may be more due to his age than anything else. Kearns doesn’t look great against righties either. I’d assume the most common substitutions will be Mackowiak starting in place of Pena, also Dukes, assuming he can stay out of trouble, in for Pena and Milledge. Kearns will probably only sit occasionally if someone like Langerhans or another lefty shows he can hit.