The Nationals will start the season with 24-year-old rookie Brandon Watson in centerfield. Watson batted .355 with a .400 on-base percentage, .419 slugging percentage, and .819 OPS. So he's a fine choice, right? I guess, the only problem is that they had a better choice already starting in center.
Ryan Church went .287/.353/.466/.819 in 102 games last year before succumbing to injury. He had a park-adjusted OPS that was 20% better than the league average. That was the second best figure among Nat starters after Nick Johnson.
Yes, Church is 27, three years older than Watson. However, Watson was making his second attempt at Triple-A in 2005 (he went .293/.332/.348/.680 in 2004). He started last season in Double-A and was rather lackluster there (.247/.290/.253/.543). He also has almost a thousand more minor-league at-bats than Church (2436 to 1558) even though their ages make it seem that Watson ascended more quickly. Bowden also praises Watson's speed. Church did steal just 3 bases last year. Watson stole 31 bases in Triple-A but was caught 13 times, barely over the break-even point. In all levels, he stole 38 bases and was caught 29 times in 2005. For his professional career he has stolen 130 bases and been caught 71 times, which is worse than the magic 67% success rate.
Watson does have the advantage over Church defensively. Church is more of a corner guy and the Nats appear to be covered in left and right with the converted Alfonso Sorisano and Jose Guillen. Given Soriano's defense, the Nats will need all the defense they can get in center, but if Bowden hadn't acquired two starting second basemanbut I digress.
It all reminds me of the story of how the Mets in the early Nineties devolved into chaos (and that sucking sound that Davod Letterman oft referred to) by trying to resolve their center field situation and in the process poisoned just about every other position. At least these Mets have one over those Mets: the have a new stadium deal all set. The Mets though they may contend this year will have to do it in that tin can in Flushing. And they have an aging boy genius calling the shots.