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Nats in Depth--The Infield
By Dennis King Capitol Dugout Contributing Writer
Date: Mar 15, 2005
Today we’ll take a look at the infield. The next installment will profile the outfield and the last will chronicle the catchers and the long-shots who’ll look to grab a spot on the bench.
Things we know about Nick Johnson: he’s the blood uncle of former Phils manager Larry Bowa, he has tremendous promise and if you ever worked for an insurance company you wouldn’t go near him with a ten foot pole. Originally Yankee property, the California native posted a magnificent 1.043 OPS at AA Norwich in ’99 at the age of 21, OPS being the combined measurement of both on-base percentage and slugging percentage. The next spring he hurt his wrist and missed the entire ’00 season and it took until the ’02 season before he became a regular at Yankee Stadium. Johnson’s New York career was pockmarked by injuries but ultimately glossed over by remarkable OBP figures .402 and .422 respectively. The ’04 season provided a new start but he hurt his back early in spring training and he didn’t make his Expos debut until May. The month of June proved to be his most productive as he posted a .868 OPS but that was the exception and not the rule as his numbers would finish up with just a .251 batting average but still a decent .358 OBP. The biggest weapon in his arsenal is how he finds a way to get on base even when his average is less than stellar. A typical doubles hitter who projects to eventually hit 30 home runs, the 26 year old is also a very smooth fielder. Wil Cordero is slated to spell Nick when the Nats face a tough lefty but Johnson’s career OPS is actually higher against southpaws. Throughout his career he’s been most effective in the number two with a .396 OBP and hopefully these are things Frank and Bowden realize.
Originally signed as a third baseman, Vidro first warranted attention when he hit .323 as a 23 year old at AAA. Just one year off being a regular his ’00 his ’00 season was remarkable and culminated with a 919 OPS. His production has fallen off but he’s still an asset and in ’02-’03 his numbers were quite similar when he played in 152 and 144 games posting respective OBP’s of .868 and .867. Injuries resurfaced last season and the Puerto Rican native’s numbers were the lowest since his rookie campaign. Assuming health you’re getting a guy who’s a great hitter with runners on, is lethal with the bases loaded and will battle the toughest pitchers and still grind out a hit. The term professional hitter comes to mind with his ability to produce from both sides of the plate. That’s the plus side but I tend to deal with logic and let’s remember he’s still recovering from patella tendonitis. At this age and given his injury his best days are likely behind him. On the fielding side I’m less of a fan than those who occupy the Nationals front office but he does shows good positioning and has a strong arm.
Offensively the best thing we can say about Guzman is he’s turning just 27 in late March so maybe he hasn’t peaked yet. But a look at his numbers suggests he might have reached the apex of his talent during the ’01 season when he posted an .813 OPS. That was a .100 improvement over his previous high and in the three years since he hasn’t breached the less than lofty .700 mark. Washington didn’t give him financial security for his offensive prowess but early spring returns have Washington planting him high in the batting order. Imagine how damning it would be to waste extra plate appearances on this guy? Wait here’s more bad news: he’s lot better on turf than on grass and he’s a switch hitter who’s much better versus from the right side of the plate. So if it’s 1987 and the Twins are playing the Cards and John Tudor’s pitching all seven games than boy, howdy let’s bat Guzman lead off. Otherwise let’s bury him in the eighth spot and hope that he fields his position like Ozzie Smith. And if you don’t know who John Tudor is than I don’t want to be your friend. Guzman’s still a very good defensive shortstop and as long as he doesn’t hit high in the order I will try and refrain from consistently belittling him and also Jim Bowden for his contract.
Any day someone reminds you of Dante Bichette is a good day, wouldn’t you agree? Vinny was born on the fourth of July and somewhere there’s an Oliver Stone “on the downside of his career” joke to be made but I’m above it. Castilla surprisingly did well on the road with a slugging percentage of .493 and we all know the numbers that Coors Field can produce so I’d rather focus on what he’s done away from his home park. Tony Bastista was the last Nationals third baseman so this isn’t like Rick Schu having to replace Mike Schmidt and even if the Nationals wind up with the ’03 Atlanta Braves version of the Mexico native they will have their money’s worth. This acquisition isn’t easy to criticize from this end because there were no other options at the hot corner and at the very least the third base should be a position where the fielding is quite steady and dependable
The Puerto Rican native has come a long way from the days when the slick fielding shortstop won the Silver Slugger in ’94. But it’s been basically downhill since as he’s bounced around and even found himself in trouble with the law before his resurgence began in ’00 with the Pirates. That season he slugged .506 and posted an .842 OPS and found his way back to Montreal in ’02 and posted a comparable .811 OPS . The Marlins signed him for last season but his tenure in South Florida was injury plagued. All his former Expos teammates praise him as a clubhouse leader and his main attributes are his pinch hitting and ability to crush left handed pitching
The Illinois native will make this team because he can hit a little, play the field a little and makes very little noise no matter how you use him. First surfacing as an emergency player in ’02, the Expos paired Chavez and Carroll at the top of the order and won 13 of their last 18 games. I believe Bill James is still trying to figure it out. A right handed hitter who actually hits right-handers at a better clip, Carroll will be the guy to spell Vidro or Guzman when one of the middle infielders get a day off.
This kid plays third base and the Nationals don’t really have another prospect at that position unless you count Shawn Norris and that’s a guy who hasn’t played above double A. Making matters complicated is Blanco’s Rule 5 status so unless he’s on the 25 man roster his rights go back to the Reds. The battle for the last infield spot most likely pits him against Carlos Baerga.
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