10 Nats to Note
Tuesday, February 15, 2005; Page H02
There is no more important body part in camp than Vidro's right knee, in which tendinitis was bothersome in spring training last year. It hampered him all year and finally required a trip to the disabled list in late August and season-ending surgery in September. His rehabilitation lasted all winter, and he arrived at spring training on Feb. 1 -- nearly three weeks early -- to work. Doctors believe he'll be ready by Opening Day, and it's essential that he is. Healthy, Vidro is one of the best offensive second basemen in the game. For the Nationals to have offensive success, he had better be healthy.
This will be Guillen's seventh team in a nine-year major league career, and there will be considerable scrutiny surrounding his demeanor, on and off the field. Guillen had a well-publicized on-field meltdown last season that got him suspended by the Anaheim Angels and cost him a chance to appear in the playoffs. But Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden, who helped Guillen resurrect his career in Cincinnati, feels that Guillen is ready to consistently post the kind of numbers he did last year. To do that, he must stay in the good graces of Manager Frank Robinson. To this point, he has taken all the right steps, including enrolling in anger management classes. Will it last the season?
There are two well-known facts about Armas. One, he is the son of the former major league slugger of the same name (251 homers in 14 major league seasons). Two, he, along with new New York Yankee Carl Pavano, were traded by Boston to Montreal for some guy named Pedro Martinez. Now, Washington fans will get to see if Armas will ever reach what was, at one point, considered to be enormous potential. After surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder in May 2003, he was never fully healthy last year. Now, he appears to be. But will he be able to win even 12 games, the most he has won at any level? The Nationals desperately need it.
Two questions will dog Wilkerson throughout spring training: Where will he play? Where will he hit? Largely because of Expos injuries, Wilkerson played first base and all three outfield positions last year -- and hit leadoff. That's not ideal for a 27-year-old with some power and potential; he led the team or tied for the team lead in runs, hits, homers, walks and on-base percentage. But of the 57 players who hit at least 25 homers last season, only Wilkerson drove in fewer than 70 runs. Thus, the Nationals hope to stabilize him in left and move him down in the order, where he could become a run-producer.
In some ways, if everyone's healthy, Chavez could hold the key to the entire lineup. In the Nationals' dreams, Chavez becomes a capable leadoff hitter who can steal some bases (he had 32 last year) and deftly patrol center field. In reality, his on-base percentage as a leadoff hitter last year was an abysmal .291. A repeat of that kind of performance could cost him his starting job, one which Terrmel Sledge and J.J. Davis would love to pounce on. The trickle down? Wilkerson might have to slide to center field and would almost certainly have to lead off, something no one in the organization believes is the best long-term solution.
He will turn 23 during spring training. He has been a professional ballplayer for less than two years. Yet he will almost certainly be the first closer in Nationals history. Cordero took over the role last June, and for a rookie performed admirably. But for that to continue, Cordero must have better control -- he walked 43 batters in just 82 2/3 innings. The hope within the organization is that natural maturation will allow him to trust his stuff and be more aggressive with hitters.
His glove is unquestioned, and he has the ability to make more jaws drop at RFK than any other Washington player. The Nationals love the fact that he played on a winner in Minnesota. But Washington's four-year, $16.8 million contract to sign the free agent shortstop raised eyebrows around baseball for one reason: Guzman's bat. The Nationals would like him to hit second, but with a career on-base percentage of .303 -- he has averaged fewer than 28 walks and more than 81 strikeouts per season -- he could slip to eighth. That, again, would mess up the chemistry Robinson and Bowden envision for the lineup -- potentially moving Chavez to the second spot and Wilkerson back to leadoff.
Penciled in as the fifth starter. But pencils have erasers for a reason. Robinson is considering moving Day to the bullpen, which would add depth there. The Nationals like his stuff -- his won-loss record (5-10) last season was the result of the lowest run support (2.47) of any major league starter -- but worry about his durability. In nine years of pro ball, he has thrown more than 136 innings only once. Day said he has added strength and weight to help his endurance, but if either Jon Rauch or John Patterson pitches well in spring training, expect Day to shore up the pen.
If the Nationals are going to flirt with .500, this is one of the scrap heap moves that will have to pan out. Davis was the eighth player taken in the 1997 draft, but still hasn't had more than 35 at-bats in a major league season. Bowden gambled by acquiring him in a trade with Pittsburgh, basically on the change-of-scenery-might-do-him-some-good theory. Davis hit .313 with 10 homers in just 131 at-bats in winter ball in Mexico. Organizational reports say he began to hit breaking balls the opposite way, possibly a sign that he's maturing. But others in baseball believe he hasn't stuck in the majors for a reason -- he can't play.
He's not ready. He's not ready. He's not ready. That's what Nationals officials keep telling themselves about Hinckley, who was the franchise's minor league pitcher of the year in 2004 (11-4, 2.77 ERA) when he split time between Class A Brevard County and Class AA Harrisburg. His raw stuff, which includes a 93-mph fastball and a biting curve, is excellent. And he holds a future spot in the Nationals' rotation. The organization is trying to make sure it takes a methodical approach to developing the few young prospects it has. But charting Hinckley's progress this spring will be a fun way to glimpse into the future.