Nats In Depth: The Outfield
By Dennis King Capitol Dugout Site Writer
Date: Mar 22, 2005
In the fourth part of a five-part series, Capitol Dugout's longime Expos observer take a look at the outfielders and gives you his take on what they’ve done and what they might do in this coming season.
The Kentucky native has been a breath of fresh air for this franchise. For an organization bereft of both power and patience it’s been a treat to watch a kid who possesses both. His versatility’s unmatched and features a deft glove playing first base as well as a strong and deadly accurate arm from either of the outfield positions. This trend even translates to the plate were the former Florida Gator is actually a little better of a hitter versus left-handers than right-handers. From the offensive side the Nationals seem wary of letting him lead-off but when you look at his numbers from last season it’s clear that’s where he belongs. A .259 average doesn’t seem that noteworthy but his OBP was a very impressive .382. Flashes of power tease all fans into believing he might one day hit 40 homers and last season’s career high of 32 dingers suggests it’s upwards and onwards for the 27 year old. Strikeouts have been a problem in the past but the good overwhelms the bad. As a quirky fact note that Wilkerson loves to hit the Phillies so watch for that this upcoming season and hopefully many.
The question with Guillen’s no longer on the field as it was in the five-year span from ’98-03 when a once promising start in Pittsburgh seemed suddenly oddly awash in mediocrity. Then Reds GM Jim Bowden gave him another chance in ’03 and Guillen posted his best numbers to date with a 1.014 OPS earned in 315 at-bats before being dealt down the stretch to the contending Oakland A’s. The rest of the American League West caught his act that summer and the Angels were impressed enough to offer him a two year pact. Everything appeared well on the western front as Jose was hitting close to .300 and slugging close to .500, .294 and .497 respectively to be exact, but behind closed doors there was some heat between him and Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia. It finally blew over in the heat of a pennant race when Guillen reacted angrily to being pulled for a pinch runner and a good initial season in Anaheim was hereby tainted. The Angels were so frustrated with the talented outfielder that they choose to play without him in the playoffs. Bowden says he’d trust Guillen with his children but right now it’s the relationship with the crusty Frank Robinson that will determine whether this experiment becomes a success. The San Cristobal native is durable and thus looks to be a near lock to hit .300 and 30 homers and his plate patience isn’t much of a virtue but nor is it a handicap. His arm is sometimes erratic but like the old right fielder for this organization, Vladimir Guerrero, reputation alone can sometimes quell any potential uprisings on the bases
Terrmel Sledge/Endy Chavez
If you follow or are about to follow this team you’ll know why I lumped these guys together. It has to do with the lone regular spot left in the outfield and just who’ll win that battle. One of the biggest mysteries to emerge from training camp in Viera is why the first guy doesn’t get more respect and why the latter is heralded in the face of otherwise overwhelming statistical data to support the opposite. Terrmel recently turned 28 so he isn’t fresh faced in baseball terms but he has hit at all levels and the last time I looked the Nationals were a team that could use offense. And given it was his first season potential exists of improving upon his rookie numbers of .336 and .462 OBP and SLG respectively. If we factor he started the season in a 1/34 funk you’ll find his numbers at .296 and .494. OPS is a combined measurement of OBP plus SLG and Terrmel’s applicable numbers shine with runners on base, .923, and especially with runners in scoring position, 1.023. Andruw Jones won’t be looking over his shoulder anytime soon in fear that Sledge grab his Gold Glove but Terrmel is still a serviceable left fielder. But blocking the North Carolina native from an everyday position is the juggernaut that goes by the name of Endy Chavez. Frank Robinson likes to live in the past and in a time when he was the fourth most prolific homerun hitter in baseball and when you could afford to have a centerfielder who couldn’t hit. Chavez arrived in Montreal in ’02 and made an immediate impact but it’s been all downhill since. It’s easy to see why some teams would give him a shot given he’s always hit for high average in the lower minors and he could once take a walk as well. A couple of seasons hitting over .330 could blind a lot of teams and especially those who’ve never held plate discipline at a high standard. But he’s long become an unabashed hacker. So flash forward to ’05 when Frank and Bowden and everyone else see what they want to see in Chavez as evidenced by recent comments from Frank which peg the diminutive fly-chaser as making progress even though he’d taken just two walks in 25 plate appearances. It isn’t as much that they want him to play everyday but they’re determined to let the team sink while they try and fitting a slashing peg into the on-base hole of leadoff hitter. For those that want to think positive, Endy has never been much of a spring hitter so there’s no reason for alarm. For those that want to think realistically he’s never been much of a regular season hitter either. He does show great speed in the outfield but he isn’t Gary Pettis though he does hit like him. The problems he creates for the 25 man roster are legion. Sledge won’t get a fair shake because they can’t see Chavez for what he is and Wilkerson has been an outstanding leadoff hitter but they’ll push him back down the order because of what Endy’s speed might be able to do up top. Of course no one’s stolen first base yet so until they make that legal we’ll all suffer.
Don’t tell Jim Bowden this but the last time there was legitimate reason to be excited about this guy was back in ’00 when he showed power, .487 SLG, and patience, .374 OBP, as a 22 year old playing Double A in the Mets system. In those days Escobar was the crown jewel of the New York organization but the years that followed have been wrought with injury and also disappointment on the rare occasions Escobar could play on a consistent basis. It all doesn’t have to be gloom and doom, though, because Alex is still just 26 years old and could help this club by staying just healthy enough in spring training to flash a little of his old potential. That plus the fact he can play centerfield might be enough to convince Washington to keep him as a defensive replacement and thus jettison Chavez. The Nationals don’t have waivers on the right-handed hitter so that gives him the inside track for one of the bench spots.
Speaking of Davis doesn’t Bowden seem like Raiders boss Al Davis with the way he’s so fond of malcontents and reclamation projects? In this just preview alone we’ve covered the sometimes sullen Jose Guillen, gone through the history of the perpetually pained Escobar and now we’re to a guy who befuddled the Pirates for the best part of seven years. If you bought last year’s Baseball Prospectus you’d find them listing Davis as a potential dark-horse candidate for rookie of the year. A quick Google search has ESPN giving him a chance to be an impact player. And it’s little wonder given how well the former seventh overall pick did for the majority of his minor league career. To wit, at the ages of 23 and 24 and playing in double and triple A respectively, Davis posted back to back OPS marks of .877 and .896. So what happened on the way to Cooperstown? Well that’s being sarcastic but here’s a hint as to why Davis’s potential is still unfulfilled. Earlier this spring I was reading a story regarding his spring success and the depth of his current focus. It turns out the attribution was given to the presence of his mother who flew in from Los Angeles to make sure his head was on straight. Here’s the guy who could be the biggest surprise of camp given his pedigree. Again he’s out of options so the onus is on the Nationals to keep him or deal him away for another asset. But it’s all up to him or maybe him and his mother.