With the possible exception of a surprising Spring Training from Marlon Byrd, it appears that the battle for the third outfield position, taking for granted Alfonso Soriano’s acquiescence, will come down to two players…Brandon Watson and Ryan Church. What Soriano’s stance so far prevents us from doing is determining which position, left or center, Watson and Church will be filling.
Jose Vidro seems to be returning to form, arriving at camp healthy now that his pain-free knee allows it. If Vidro is able to remain in the lineup, Soriano will either be in the outfield or on another team. As long as Soriano remains on the Nationals roster, Church and Watson will decide who appears in the outfield on opening day over the next 4 weeks.
Ryan Church made his Major League debut in a Montreal Expos jersey in 2004. Church appeared in 30 games that season. In 63 at bats, Church had 11 hits, 1 HR, and 6 RBI’s, but struck out 16 times and ended the season with a .175 AVG.
In 25 games beneath the red cap, with white cursive “W” of the Nationals, Brandon Watson had 40 at bats in 2005, getting 7 hits, 1 HR, and 6 RBI’s, striking out 8 times, and ending the season with a
.175 batting average.
Church spent the entire 2005 season with the Nationals, appearing in 102 games, and registering 77 hits in 268 at bats, 15 doubles, 9 HR’s and 42 RBI. Church struck out 70 times, walked 24 times, and ended the season with an impressive .287 AVG, seeing time in left and center.
Watson played 88 games with the Nationals AAA affiliate in New Orleans, and earned a late season call-up by ringing up 132 hits in 372 AB’s, including 1 HR, 25 doubles, 25 RBI’s and 31 stolen bases, while batting .355 on the season.
To my eyes the choice will be determined by the position that needs filling. Soriano has been working out in center according to MLB.com’s Spring Training reports, which would seem to benefit Church who is more of a power hitter, and would fill the hole left in left by Brad Wilkerson’s departure. Watson has the advantage of being a better fit in the leadoff spot that the Nationals are desperate to fill, but his speed seems more suited to covering center field and he lacks the power Church posseses.
The only other factor may be familiarity. Church spent the entire season with the Nationals, where questions of his toughness surfaced, and were repeated this summer. Watson, while showing flashes of potentional when called up to Washington, didn’t make much of an impact and seemed to fly below the radar.
Opening day is Tuesday, April 3rd in Shea Stadium against the Hated Mets. I will be in attendance, it remains to be seen who will be playing in the Nationals outfield, but we should know by the first pitch…well I guess they will announce it earlier, but you know what I mean.