Tuesday, December 12, 2006
So-What Do We Actually Have? Part 2
As bad as Our Washington Nationals starting pitching may be--the everyday lineup is not awful--mediocre at best. But, once you get past those starters, the bench is very thin and relatively inexperienced.
Brian Schneider is a decent catcher, that for the first 4 months of 2006 was terrible. Another of the Nats World Baseball Classic participants, that never really had spring training--and suffered badly for it. Couldn't hit, anything, and his defense, especially when it came to throwing out would-be baserunners was way off. Then, around mid-August, his timing seemed to click, his confidence rose and he finished the season strong. In fact, Brian knocked in a career high 55 run, and hit his career average of .256. 33 more baserunners advanced on steals of Schneider, far more than any previous seasons. Signed to a 3 year, reasonable contract, Brian will be around, until Washington finds another quality backstop--because right now, we don't have another.
Of course, last week's Rule 5 draft provided the Nats with what many are considering the steal of the minor league picks. From The New York Mets, Jimbo took the unprotected Jesus Flores from New York's Single A team. Flores hits with some power, and is considered a fine young backstop. The fact that Washington must keep Flores on the Major League Roster all of 2007, whether he's ready or not--tells the dire situation this franchise is in, right now, to compete.
Which leaves last year's late callup--Brandon Harper wondering whether he will make the club in 2007. The 30 year old career minor leaguer, made his Major League debut last August 9th and was respectable with the bat, fairly competent behind the plate, although he failed to throw out a single base runner in nine attempts.
Schneider is obviously the starter, Flores makes the club, whether he stinks or not--early on. Harper may not have a future, depending on the rest of the bench makeup. So, once again, we, as fans, will have to find another Rick Short to cheer for this season.
Most everybody's favorite to watch play, Nick Johnson is penciled in as the starting First Basemen. But, as most everyone realizes, Nick is fighting back from a brutal broken leg accident last September at Shea Stadium. No one is really going to know his real playing condition until Spring Training. I would not be surprised to see him struggle out of the gate. And, that's too bad--as Nick is quite the team player, hustler-setting a good example for every other player on the team.
Which may give the 25 years old Larry Broadway his chance to make the Big Club. Broadway, also recovering from a separated shoulder--is a lefthanded swinger with power. Nats Manager, Manny Acta, has publicly praised him. This coming spring training may be his shot with Washington. If not, he may well become trade bait.
And, then Jose Vidro would become the 3rd choice to play first base. Vidro--on the downside of a decent career, is locked into 2 more additional seasons with Washington for $8 Million per--his range in the field was down noticeably last season. And, Bowden has been unable to trade Jose, for just about anything--Vidro's salary scaring many teams off.
Jose needs some place to play, as the better he does performe, the chances for moving him on to a contender will increase in 2007, thus returning something much more promising.
Its unlikely, Vidro will be the everyday second basemen, as the logjam of contracts fills the middle infield of this team. The much maligned Cristian Guzman will return from his injury aborted 2006 season. If healthy, The Guz will be the starting shortstop--no doubt (If he sucks early, I just can't imagine the near riotous noise level at RFK that will follow him). And, FLop, Felipe Lopez, will move over the second base (hopefully--lessening his very erratic fielding problems) and bat leadoff.
Ryan Zimmerman will be the 3rd Baseman. Nothing more do I have to say about this WONDERFUL YOUNG PLAYER!! Hopefully Ryan will play a long time, in Washington--and develop into a Hall of Fame Player. Z is very special.
Back up infielders include the very speedy Bernie Castro, Minor League signee, Jose Wilson and journeyman utility man, Jose Macias (who played last season in Japan). Castro provides decent defense, base runner agility--but he, along with the other 2 choices are not promising. It all brings to mind the weak bench of 2005. Which, for Our Nats, was terrible.
As long as Austin Kearns has recovered mentally from his accident with Nick Johnson--"Bluegrass" is the starting right fielder. Above average outfielder with a decent arm--as I always say-"Austin attended the Marlon Byrd School of Hitting" Austin has a brutal upper cut swing--that seems to get him in trouble more than not. Before he came to Washington in the big trade, I liked him. As I have watched him closely over the last half season of 2006--less so.
The rest of the outfield is hurting badly. For me, and alot of fans out there--Ryan Church should just be given the starting Left Fielder's job. Throw him out there, give him 500 At-Bats--See what the man can actually do. Instead of continually trashing him, to the media--especially to Ladson at nationals.com.
Kory Casto is a fine young talent--but, he doesn't need to be rushed. If Jimbo is serious about dumping Church--you might as well see him play well for them, and get something better back in return--like the starter Bowden is obviously asking for. Casto does not hit lefties well--the sign of a platoon player. Let him learn, before wasting him.
Alex Escobar should be the everyday centerfielder. A 5 tool player (although shaky at chasing hard hit flys) with the capability of being the most exciting talent on the team. Yet, just can't stay healthy. Has probably pulled his hamstring muscle, at one time, just getting out of bed. I love this guy--Escobar provided more excitement than any other player not named Soriano and Zimmerman in 2006. Yet, Alex only played 33 games.
If Escobar goes down again--Nook Logan will get his final chance to make a Big League Team as an everyday player. Tremendous Speed, fine outfielder instincts--just can't hit a lick from the left side. His speed will get him on base with a bunt here and there, but Logan can't expect to be successful doing that, each and every time he walks to the plate. Nook would be a very decent 4th outfielder.
And, if both of the above fail, or Church is traded--the career journey powerhitting Mike Restovich will provide the muscle off the bench. A right handed version of Daryle Ward. Restovich can pound the ball--yet not consistently. At one time, a rising star in the Twins Organization-never a starter. Now in his 5th organization is 4 seasons. Not a good sign.
If Manny Acta could send out his everyday starting lineup for all 162 games--Our Nationals might be competitive and score some runs. There is some power, speed and bat contact hitters. But, with injuries, slumps and just bad play--that's not going to happen. There are so many holes on the bench and uncertainty in the field--that the team Washington puts on the field on a daily basis in 2006--may just be, (and I hate saying this)--terrible.
OK--so I said. Maybe some luck will come our way--and hopeful signs of improvement will follow. Not expecting a miracle though.