With two weeks remaining before opening day, the Nationals remain undecided about who will emerge from the competition between Rick Ankiel, Roger Bernadina and incumbent Nyjer Morgan and win the center field job. The position is “pretty wide open,” Manager Jim Riggleman said, and could end in with any of several conclusions.
The only certainty, it seems, is that Ankiel will begin the season on the major league team either as the start or a backup. Ankiel signed a one-year major league contract this winter worth $1.5 million plus incentives, while both Bernadina and Morgan have a minor league option remaining.
The outcome by the end spring will carry significant weight, but it won’t necessarily end the Nationals’ evaluation of their options in center field. The Nationals could also play Jayson Werth or utility player Jerry Hairston in center field against left-handed starting pitchers, since Ankiel, Bernadina and Morgan all bat left-handed.
“Opening day is huge,” Riggleman said. “But 10 days later, it could change.”
The competition remains open because none of the three players has overwhelmed team decision-makers, as Michael Morse did in left field. Morgan is 7 for 33 (.212) with three walks and five steals against being caught stealing twice, one of which came on a botched suicide-squeeze bunt. Ankiel has gone 7 for 34 with impressive power, blasting three home runs and two doubles. Bernadina has tailed off a bit after a fast start, having gone 10 for 37 (.270) with a homer, a triple and two steals.
Ankiel provides the most power of the three, Morgan the most experience in center and Bernadina the most upside. While Morgan got off to a slow start this spring, the Nationals have been pleased with Morgan’s demeanor and work ethic, and they feel he has made strides recently. Every morning, Morgan works with outfield and baserunning coach Bo Porter.