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Nats position analysis: Outfield

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Nats position analysis: Outfield

As we transition into offseason mode, we'll start by breaking down the Nationals' roster by position (infield, outfield, catcher, rotation and bullpen) this week and examine where things stand at season's end and where things might stand moving forward. Today's position: Outfield...

OF JAYSON WERTH
Stats: 81 G, 344 PA, 5 HR, 31 RBI, .300 AVG, .387 OBP, .440 SLG
1 E, -12.6 UZR, 1.0 WAR
2012 salary: $13 million
Contract status: $16 million in 2013, $20 million in 2014, $21 million in 2015, $21 million in 2016, $21 million in 2017, free agent in 2018
Where he fits in: After a frustrating debut season and after missing three months this season with a broken wrist, Werth finally got to enjoy playing in D.C. (and D.C. finally got to enjoy watching Werth play). The biggest key to his success: Embracing the leadoff role and becoming a potent force atop the lineup. The question now is whether he'll be back in that role next year or whether the Nationals want to add a more traditional No. 1 hitter. Given his skill-set and the makeup of the rest of the projected lineup, it probably makes sense for Werth to stay right where he is in 2013.

OF BRYCE HARPER
Stats: 139 G, 597 PA, 22 HR, 59 RBI, .270 AVG, .340 OBP, .477 SLG
7 E, 9.9 UZR, 4.9 WAR
2012 salary: $1.75 million
Contract status: $2 million in 2013, $2.15 million in 2014, $2.25 million in 2015, arbitration-eligible in 2016, free agent in 2019
Where he fits in: Harper burst onto the scene only three weeks into the season with expectations sky-high. He might very well have exceeded them by season's end, finishing strong to produce the second-most homers, the second-most stolen bases, the third-highest OPS and the most total bases ever by a teenager in the big leagues. Now the scary part: Harper is likely to improve by leaps and bounds next season. History has almost universally shown major leaguers who debuted at 19 really take off at 20 (which, FYI, he turns today). There's no reason to believe Harper won't follow that longstanding trend.

OF MICHAEL MORSE
Stats: 102 G, 430 PA, 18 HR, 62 RBI, .291 AVG, .321 OBP, .470 SLG
1 E, -9.4 UZR, 0.3 WAR
2012 salary: $3.25 million
Contract status: $6.75 million in 2013, free agent in 2014
Where he fits in: Morse missed the season's first two months with a torn lat muscle that proved far more troublesome than anyone originally expected. It took awhile for him to rediscover his power stroke, and then once he did he was hampered again by nagging injuries to both hands. There's no denying Morse's offensive skills when he's healthy, but he'll have to prove he can stay on the field for all of 2013 in what will be a contract year at age 31. Because of his contract status, the Nationals may need to decide this winter whether to try to lock him up longer or perhaps even consider a trade. Morse's status may depend on what happens to Adam LaRoche. Either way, this one bears watching during the offseason.

OF ROGER BERNADINA
Stats: 129 G, 269 PA, 5 HR, 25 RBI, .291 AVG, .372 OBP, .405 SLG
0 E, 2.5 UZR, 1.9 WAR
2012 salary: $493,500
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2013, free agent in 2016
Where he fits in: After teasing everyone with his on-and-off potential for several years, Bernadina finally came into his own this season. Davey Johnson did a nice job establishing his role as a fourth outfielder and putting him in situations in which he could succeed. He'll be a due a raise in arbitration, but even at $1.5 million or $2 million, he's a valuable player on a contending club.

OF TYLER MOORE
Stats: 75 G, 171 PA, 10 HR, 29 RBI, .263 AVG, .327 OBP, .513 SLG
0 E, -3.2 UZR, 0.6 WAR
2012 salary: $480,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2016, free agent in 2019
Where he fits in: Moore made his big-league debut one day after Bryce Harper and over the course of the season proved his gargantuan minor-league numbers were no fluke. The kid from Mississippi can flat-out hit and even learned how to do it while coming off the bench cold as a pinch-hitter. Could Moore be ready for an everyday job? Possibly, though his defense in both left field and at first base leaves plenty to be desired. If he doesn't crack the lineup, he'll still provide a potent bat off the bench and is nice insurance to have in case one of the veterans goes down to injury.

IN THE MINORS
Corey Brown put up some big-time numbers at Class AAA Syracuse (.285-21-75 in 126 games) and earned some limited playing time in the big leagues, but the soon-to-be 27-year-old appears caught in a numbers game and stuck down the depth chart. The speedy Eury Perez put himself on the map, hitting .314 while stealing 51 bases at three levels of the system. He'll probably return to Syracuse to open 2013 but could force his way back onto the big-league roster if he keeps it up. After a strong 2011 at Class A Potomac, Destin Hood struggled at Class AA Harrisburg with a paltry .644 OPS. Highly touted center field prospect Brian Goodwin was fantastic at low-Class A Hagerstown and earned the right to bypass Potomac altogether. He's currently in the Arizona Fall League and could crack the Nationals' roster by Sept. 2013 or Opening Day 2014. Several club executives were touting Michael Taylor one year ago, but he cooled off at Potomac and still appears to be a long-term project.

OFFSEASON NEED?
If they want to keep things as-is, the Nationals could very well return in 2013 with the exact same outfield alignment they had this year: Morse in left, Harper in center, Werth in right, with Bernadina and Moore on the bench. It's not necessarily the best defensive alignment, though, and it's possible the club would prefer to acquire a true center fielder and move Harper to one of the corner positions (which would force Morse either to first base or off the roster altogether). In the end, the Nationals seem to believe one of their center field prospects -- headlined by Goodwin -- will be ready to take over in 2014, and thus there's no urgency to spend money and devote multiple years to a premier free agent like Michael Bourn or B.J. Upton.

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Stock Watch: Harper, Zimmerman looking like themselves again

Stock Watch: Harper, Zimmerman looking like themselves again

Each week this season, we’ll take the temperature of the Nationals roster to see which player's stock is rising or falling.  

Record: 3-4

Team slash: .283/.359/.454

Team ERA: 5.79

Runs per game: 6.6 

 

STOCK UP 

Ryan Zimmerman, 1B: .375 AVG, HR, 1.014 OPS

Zimmerman announced his return from the disabled list with authority last weekend in Atlanta, hammering the first pitch he saw into left field for a solo home run. The blast was just the beginning; he’s 6-for-16 since he’s been back, getting solid contact even when he doesn’t get a hit. We’re talking about a very small sample size, of course, but a resurgent Zimmerman would mean wonders for the bottom of the Nats lineup.

Bryce Harper, RF: .357 AVG, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 1.026 OPS

Like Zimmerman, Harper’s going to have to be consistent for a little while longer before fans feel like he’s truly back to his old self. Still, the past week and a half have been a welcome sight for an offense that needs him to look like the reigning NL MVP. He’s posted multi-hit efforts in five out of his last 10 games, notching five extra-base hits over that span. For comparison, that’s the same amount of extra-base hits he had throughout the month of July.

Numbers aside, Harper has simply looked relaxed at the plate lately; he’s no longer chasing pitches out of the strike zone, instead reclaiming his patient approach. Even if he may not be able to completely salvage his season, a strong finish would be a huge boost for the Nats.    

STOCK DOWN 

Stephen Strasburg, SP: 1.2 IP, 9 ER, 15-day disabled list

Even if it’s a precautionary measure, there still has to be slight concern that Strasburg is headed to the disabled list with right elbow soreness. The 28-year-old right hander said Monday that his arm recovery between starts had been getting increasingly difficult, but the discomfort never affected him during his performances. Who knows if there was truly a correlation between the elbow issues and his recent 0-3 skid, but the Nats are hoping that time off will do him some good. With the postseason less than six weeks away, will Strasburg be fully rested and ready to go in October? 

Reynaldo Lopez, SP: 1-1, 4.66 ERA, 1.66 WHIP

While Lopez had two good outings recently, both of them were against the lowly Atlanta Braves. Against contenders like the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles? He’s 0-2 with a 10.32 ERA. Granted, he’s still in the infancy of his major-league career, and was only inserted in the rotation because Joe Ross is out with injury. That said, with Strasburg also gone now, it’s up to the back end to create some semblance of stability for the next few weeks. 

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NL East: Phillies among MLB teams to scout Tim Tebow

NL East: Phillies among MLB teams to scout Tim Tebow

Most of Major League Baseball's 30 teams will have a scout in attendance at Tim Tebow's showcase workout on Aug. 30 in Los Angeles, and that list includes the Philadelphia Phillies.

That's according to CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury, who notes the practice will not be open to the public. Tebow, of course, spent time with the Philadelphia Eagles as part of his brief, but noteworthy NFL career.

Tebow has not played a real baseball game since 2005, when he was in high school. Tebow made All-State as a junior in the state of Florida, but since then has been all football. And despite being a quarterback who threw lefty, it sounds like he wants to be an outfielder in his return to baseball. 

Several minor league teams have already offered Tebow a roster spot, including the Waldorf, Md.-based Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. But it sounds like Tebow wants to show off his stuff in front of some MLB teams first.

[RELATED: Nats' defense making uncharacteristic mistakes]

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Nats' defense making uncharacteristic mistakes in recent games

Nats' defense making uncharacteristic mistakes in recent games

Despite having a 37-year-old left fielder, a second baseman with a troubled history in the field and, at times, a host of players learning new positions on the fly, the Nationals have not just been better than expected on defense this season, they have ranked among the top clubs in the majors. 

They are third in fielding percentage, sixth in efficiency rating and 10th in double plays. The Nats have committed the third-fewest errors this season and generally a team not known for beating themselves.

Lately, that has not been the case. In Tuesday night's 8-1 loss to the Orioles, the Nats saw Daniel Murphy - the second baseman referenced above - boot a groundball in the third inning that led to two runs.

That blunder wasn't the reason the Nats lost the game. It was, though, a continuation of a trend for the Nationals that has emerged during their road trip.

In their loss on Monday night, Bryce Harper bobbled a ball in right field that helped lead to a run. In Sunday's loss, the Nats committed five errors, their most in a game since July 15, 2011. In their win on Saturday, Wilmer Difo had an error that led to a run. And on Friday, the Nats had two errors lead to a pair of runs in the eighth inning alone. 

That's a lot of mistakes in a span of just six games, but manager Dusty Baker isn't ready to worry quite yet.

"It's a matter of timing," Baker said. "You get timing in hitting, timing in defense. Things go in streaks. You score a lot of runs in streaks and don't make errors for a long period of time. Then you make quite a few errors in a short period of time."

Murphy was more succinct in his assessment of the Nats' recent defensive woes.

“I’d say we’re not catching it, probably the easiest way to describe it," he said.

Murphy did, however, explain his own mistake on Tuesday night and how he believes it affected young starter Reynaldo Lopez, who made it only 2 2/3 innings, in part due to two unearned runs on the error.

"If I make that play right there, he gets a chance to go another inning, maybe settle into the ballgame. Unfortunately, I didn’t give him that chance tonight," Murphy said. "A six-run lead compared to a four-run lead is completely different, especially in this ballpark. Unfortunate he didn’t get a chance to go back out there and find his rhythm."

The Nats defensive skid has coincided with a tough time for their pitching staff. Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross are on the disabled list, leaving rookies to fill the void. And their bullpen has been beaten up by injuries, rain delays and a heavy workload. 

The last thing the Nats need right now is for their play in the field to exacerbate the problems in their pitching staff. Baker, again, is not concerned.

"Hopefully this is the end of it and we've gotten it out of our system," he said.

[RELATED: Nats fall on wrong side of three challenges by Orioles]

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