...Continuing under the conventional wisdom that has Austin Kearns starting in right field for the Washington Nationals when the '08 version of the team first takes the field of play on Sunday, March 30th against the Atlanta Braves, with Lastings Milledge and Wily Mo Pena in center and left, respectively, around the outfield, the twenty-seven year old former Cincinnati Reds' first round pick of 1998, Austin Kearns, even at his relatively young age, will be considered the veteran presence in the Nationals' outfield.
Kearns, the former Reds' prospect, who was drafted by then-Reds and current-Nationals GM Jim Bowden, out of Lafayette High School in his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky as an 18-year old, turned down a scholarship offer from the University of Florida to sign with Cincinnati, where he spent four seasons in the Minor Leagues before earning a call to the Reds' roster in April of 2002.
At the time of his debut, Kearns was considered the top prospect in the Reds' organization, according to Baseball America, who awarded Kearns that distinction in 2001 and 2002 after Kearns had hit .268 with 6 HR's and 36 RBI's in 59 games with Double-AA Chattanooga in 2001, and again hit .268 with 5 HR's and 13 RBI's in 12 games with the Chattanooga Lookouts in '02 before a brief stop at Triple-AAA Louisville, where he went 3 for 4 in one game with 2 doubles and 2 RBI's, before earning his call up to the big league Reds...
Austin Kearns hit .315 in his first season with the Reds, and knocked 13 HR's out of the park, to go with 24 doubles, 3 triples, 56 RBI's and 6 steals over 107 games. The next few years with the Reds were not as kind to Austin Kearns...
2003 - 83 games, 11 doubles, 15 HR's, 56 RBI's, .264 AVG
2004 - 64 games, 10 doubles, 9 HR's, 32 RBI's, .230 AVG
2005 - 112 games, 26 doubles, 18 HR's, 67 RBI's, .240 AVG
...and Kearns was hitting .250 with 12 doubles, 8 HR's and 36 RBI's in 2006 when GM Jim Bowden again came calling. Kearns' had grown frustrated with the situation in Cincy, which saw him battling for playing time with, alternately, Wily Mo Pena and Ryan Freel, and Kearns expressed his frustration in an article by mlb.com writer Anthony Castrovince entitled, "Notes: Bench time frustrates Kearns", which quoted Mr. Kearns saying:
"When you're used to being an everyday player, and you
go back and forth, it's tough...I've been making some
adjustments, and I've hit the ball hard a few times. When
you feel like you might be turning a corner, you think
you're going to be in there."
The Reds solved the logjam in their outfield when they dealt Kearns to DC on July 13, 2006 along with Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner for pitchers Gary Majewski, Bill Bray, and Daryl Thompson, and infielders Royce Clayton and Brendan Harris. In his first 63 games in DC, Kearns hit .274 with 16 HR's and 50 RBI's to end the '06 season at .264, 24, and 86. (All career-highs).
Kearns didn't quite match those numbers in 2007. After hitting .283 with 2 HR's and 7 RBI's in April, Kearns production increased to 3 HR's and 15 RBI's in May while his AVG dipped to just .225 for the month. In June, Kearns hit .255 with 0 HR's and 4 RBI's, followed by a .250 July, in which AK connected for 2 HR's and 15 RBI's, before turning his season around in August by hitting .306 for the month with 5 HR's and 14 RBI's and finishing strong in September with a .270 AVG, 4 HR's and 19 RBI's over the final month of the season...
(ed. note- I'll wait while you add that up...)
Kearns finished the '07 season at a respectable .266 with 16 HR's and 74 RBI's on the year, including 7 hits, 2 HR's and 8 RBI's in the last two series of the season against the Mets and Phillies, who were in the midst of settling the first-place-race in the NL East.
In mlb.com's Bill Ladson's interview with Nationals Manager Manny Acta entitled, "Q&A with Manny Acta", Mr. Acta is quoted about Austin Kearns' '07 season saying:
"I think Kearns had a rough first half, but I think he made
the adjustment in the second half and that's what we were
Kearns, who will turn twenty-eigth in May of '08, will again be sharing the outfield with Wily Mo Pena, who will turn twenty-six next September and Lastings Milledge, who will be turning twenty-three just six days into the season, and has only played in 115 Major League games heading into what should be his first full campaign, leaving Kearns by far the most experienced member of the (expected) starting outfield...
Can Austin Kearns turn it up to around .285, 30, 90? At twenty-eight, can the former 1st Round pick put it all together in his seventh Major League season? Years 28-32 are usually the peak years for professional athletes, where the body, mind and experience all catch up with one another...Will this year be Austin Kearns' best yet? From right to left-center it might be the best defensive outfield the Nationals have featured...and Wily Mo Pena sure can hit!!...
*Austin Kearns Links*
Austin Kearns' career stats at baseball-reference.com:
Austin Kearns' career stats at thebaseballcube.com:
Baseball America's JJ Cooper's assessment of the Cincinnati Reds' prospects entitled, "Top Ten Prospects: Cincinnati Reds" at baseballamerica.com(Kearns is in the right margin):
mlb.com's Anthony Castrovince's article entitled, "Notes: Bench time frustrates Kearns" at cincinnati.reds.mlb.com:
Austin Kearns' split stats at yahoosports.com:
mlb.com's Bill Ladson's article, "Q&A with Manny Acta" at washington.nationals.mlb.com: