…ending with the outfield

Rounding out our analysis of individual players this week, let’s take a look at the players expected to roam the mighty plains of RFK’s outfield this season…

Austin Kearns

As the definite lock to start, he is an above average hitter, he hits with power and although his batting average isn’t pretty, he gets on base. Starting with power, looks may be deceiving. Last season, the former future superstar (7th overall pick in 1998) hit only 24 HRs (not GREAT for a corner outfielder) despite playing in Cincinnati, a hitters park, for much of the year. But his slugging put him 9th in the league for RF with 250 or more PAs. This is pretty impressive for a 26 year old in a power position, especially considering Kearns tanked for the Nats. After moving to Washington, Kearns did not play well, but as the Washington Post pointed out on Monday, he was blindsided by the trade, had to move away from Cincinnati (not far from his parents home in KY) with a pregnant wife without so much as a word of warning. So giving him a break on that, his prospects are impressive. He is a .265 lifetime hitter but has been hurt for much of his career. His OBP is high and his ability to draw walks has improved over time. Bill James Handbook predicts him at .267/.366/.482 next season, which would put him soundly as one of the top hitters on the team and as an above average RF, and he is still only turning 27 this season. Additionally, in terms of fielding, Kearns is better than average, which is something the Nationals could definitely use more of. With his combination of patience and power, Kearns is the most likely player in the Nats OF to have something of a break out season this year.

Nook Logan

The definition of light-hitting, Logan is pencilled-in as the starting CF for the Nats. How long this lasts depends a lot on how he matures as a hitter. While he is fast and will steal some bases, he has never been much of a hitter. Even in the low minors, he never really approached a .300 average in any extended stay. His best hitting came last season, with the Nats, when he hit .300 over the course of 27 games. This is nice but too small of a sample to be really encouraging. It was the only time he had a positive VORP in his major league career. Logan doesn’t walk, which is a detriment because he can’t steal if he doesn’t get on base. And he needs to steal and be a distraction on the bases because he has NO power. He doesn’t even hit many doubles. He’s a slap hitter and it would be more than wishful thinking to believe he will develop more power. Bill James predicts him to struggle a bit .250/.312/.319, numbers that are horrendous for a starting SS, let alone a CF. So with Logan, you’re stuck with a light hitting outfielder that doesn’t get on base much unless he learns to walk more. If Logan can somehow hit .300, he’ll look like a bit like Juan Pierre. That’s not necessarily the best thing for the Nats chances to win games, but somebody signed Pierre for a 5 year/ $45 million deal, so at least Logan could get paid in the future. Just hope the Nats aren’t the ones to cut the check. What Logan does have going for him is speed, which is important to cover the vast expanses of RFK. Not to take anything away, he IS a good fielder. But putting a fast fielder who can’t hit in CF is not as constructive as putting an average speed guy who can, which leads right into…

Ryan Church

Apparently the Nationals are not a fan of him, and he has been a part of trade rumors since July that continue to today. Despite being only an average fielder, he can hit, but he is behind Logan in the starting CF depth chart. If he sticks around he could end up playing in LF, and the Nats would be smart to play him. Last season he hit .276/.366/.526 in just under half a year. He walks and hits for some power. Over the last 2 seasons, he has had 464 ABs and has 19 HRs, which isn’t bad. A full season with 19 HRs would have put him in a tie for 10th place among all MLB CFs in 2006. His power puts Logan to shame, and while he’s not a great defensive CF, he will make up for it with much better hitting. His 2006 VORP of 18.5 placed him at #15 overall for CF, and this is with playing half a season. In a full season it could be expected to see him easily among the top 10 in the position, and ranked 3-5 in the NL behind Beltran, Jones, and possibly Cameron and Edmonds. Regardless of where he plays, Washington should have him in the lineup. If the Nats are so intent on trading him they should let him show his hitting ability for a few months, so they could at least get some value for him.

Wonder Twins

Alex Escobar and Chris Snelling are listed together because they may spend lots of time together with the team doctors, both players have spent more time hurt than healthy. They are both getting a little old to be potential guys (although Snelling is a few years younger) which is what they used to be considered. A healthy Snelling would be a valuable addition to the team. He hit over .300 in the minors every season (except last year), and has some power. His power isn’t special but it exists in some form, and could hit 15-20 HRs if he stays healthy. His big issue is hitting lefties. So far in the majors he has Escobar slidingbeen less appealing than Nook Logan on crutches against southpaws, and must improve that if he’s going to be more than a platoon player. Escobar could be the other half of a platoon, although his splits show that if he is hitting well, might as well give him the chance to bat against everyone. He hit well in just over 30 games with Washington last season, and he does have a little pop, albeit less than Snelling. He is very appealing as a 4th option in the OF, and with Kearns the only one guaranteed to play, could see some significant time. Both Snelling and Escobar could surprise a few people if they manage to stay healthy and play out a full season.

And what remains in the vastness of the RFK grass…

A slew of options are there in the OF, but nothing to get too worked up about. Kory Casto is the most likely guy to be seen next, as a 3B he has looked to good to give up on, so he is moving to the OF. He has raked the ball in the minors – in AA last season he hit .272/.379/.468 with 20 HRs. He probably needs a little more seasoning in AAA before being called up, but he could be the future of LF for this team, and may be up sooner if the other options don’t pan out. Frank Diaz is another prospect who hit very well in A ball in 05 but wasn’t impressive in AA last year. He’s only 23 so he has some time to pick up his game, but he probably won’t be in the majors for a little bit unless he does something remarkable this spring. One more name you may hear alot of is Chris Marrero. He is the #2 prospect in the organization according to Baseball America, and he is supposed to hit. But he’s only 18 so he’s not going to be around for a few more years. He also was drafted as a 3B, and the Nats played him in the OF last season but he did not impress, so the Nats moved him to the place a fielder can do the least damage, 1B (take note, fans of Travis Lee). It’s assumed he can hit anywhere, they just need to find a spot in the field where he’s comfortable.

So there you have it, players preview in 3 weeks, with 4 posts. The visibility of what these players have done will hopefully shed some light for readers on what is really expected of them. Not to pick on Logan, but since he’s fast people may expect him to bat leadoff. But he has shown he doesn’t get on base nearly enough to do that, and unless he proves otherwise someone else needs to take that role. Kearns is another example – hitting 16 of his 24 HRs last season with Cinci, many may think he doesn’t have power and just took advantage of a hitter’s park. But his overall numbers show otherwise. Thanks for reading, until next week…

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One thought on “…ending with the outfield

  1. Here me now…Kory Castro may not be the next big thing but he will provide the Nats Offense this year with some unexpected results. Kid could be a Jeff Conine type player for years to come.

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