Sunday, March 9, 2008

Battle for National Supremecy

It's always interesting to see how a player develops over the course of his career. How they take their raw potential and progressively get better. In 2001 there were two shortstops at similar points in their careers. Both were young, talented and showed promise to combine a little bit of power, a good amount of speed with solid defense and eventual veteran leadership. Their stats in 2001 were respectively; 80 runs, 14 triples, 10 homeruns 51 RBIs, 25 SBs, .302 BA vs. 97 runs, 12 triples, 14 homeruns, 54 RBIs, 46 SBs, .274 BA. The later is 2007 National League MVP Jimmy Rollins, the other is Washington's Cristian Guzman. Guzman, simply put, was one of those guys on the cusp of becoming great, but never put everything together. However, there is no argument that he is the starting shortstop on the Nationals' 2008 squad. While he is no longer comparable to Rollins, before his injury in 2007 Guzman was putting up very respectable numbers. With most of his various maladies behind him, 2008 looks to be a career defining year. I do not expect him to play over 140 games, but as long as the abysmal .219 BA of his 2005 campaign is long gone, he's as good as any other spot holder for prospect Esmailyn Gonzalez. News about Gonzalez is hard to come by but he played 33 games last year for the Gulf Coast Nationals and batted .245 with 11 RBIs. Not really the production of a future stud so you'll just have to trust the Nationals' scouts that this kid can be the real deal.

While there are only three outfield positions, a successful team can platoon two developing or mediocre players in order to create the statistical equivalent of an above average outfielder. It is critical that the Nationals and Manny Acta manage their young outfielders with as much care and thought that they would a pitching staff.
Based on experience and the promise of a better season Austin Kearns will temporarily retain his starting job in right field. However, he needs to produce better numbers quickly or he'll find himself on the bench or headed out of town. Many have said that his "gap hitting" style of swing will greatly benefit from the new park's dimensions, turning a portion of 2007's 35 doubles into homeruns, but a ballpark has never been responsible for 106 strikeouts or a .332 OBP. With talented up and coming Outfielders Elijah Dukes and Justin Maxwell waiting in the wings, anything other than increased power numbers from Kearns won't justify keeping them off the field.

I never understood why or how Lastings Milledge suddenly lost playing time to Endy Chavez or Marlon Anderson while he played for the Mets. Milledge has very good bat speed and has expressed a desire to steal more bases. I don't ever see him hitting over 35 homeruns as his general body makeup (6 foot, 200 lbs.) doesn't demand that kind of swing, but an emerging gold glove center fielder that can consistently hit 25 homeruns and swipe 35 stolen bases is welcome on any team in the bigs.

I have been wildly critical of Wily Mo Pena since the day he put on a Nationals jersey and feel no different about him now. He is definitely a big guy (6' 3'', 245) and I've read and heard from multiple sources that he is certainly capable of hitting 40 homeruns in any ball park, but he has yet to put those physical talents together with plate discipline. He will get a big opportunity to play full time for the first time in his career and as long as he can wake up his bat before every game the Nationals will be able to overlook his lack of range in left. He's been in the league six years for three different teams, if he's got any more talent left up his sleeve this would be the time to pull it out. There are a lot of questions surrounding this perennial underachiever that can only be answered when his critics are silenced.

It's never a bad thing to have a deep outfield bench as these players are needed throughout the season as hitting streaks and hot bats come and go. I was very impressed last year when I saw Maxwell play. This kid has incredible power and a pure swing. I would even go as far as to compare his potential to a young Albert Pujols and have no doubt that he is the future right fielder of the Washington Nationals for years to come. He needs a little bit more time to develop and get better, but by the time he is ready, Kearns will be well into his implosive and the change will be obvious.
Dukes is in the same situation and will be breathing down both Pena's and Milledge's necks the entire season. Displaying power/speed/great defense, his talent alone will give him the opportunity to prove to the organization he's ready. With five players that all have something to prove the Nationals will reap the rewards even if two of them fail.

- The Hokie

1 comment:

Willy said...

To be fair...Millege didn't lose playing time to Anderson or Chavez at all...Anderson was used exclusivley as a pinch hitter and only started 9 games in the outfield. Chavez played some games after comming back from injury but in fact was kept on the DL longer so they could keep lastings in the majors. Lastings still had 20 more starts then Endy.
In fact Lastings started almost every game in September and would have played in all of them had he not had an injury that kept him out. He replaced a struggling Sean Green and joined an outfield with Beltran and an on fire Moises Alou.
I think Milledge will develop into a 30-30 guy if he keeps his head on straight. His swing is deffinetly geared toward more then gap power and if you see this kids arms he is incredibly strong for his stature. He's been compared to Manny Ramirez in the past but I think he will be more like a Alfonso Soriano with a little less speed.