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Washington Nationals: Will Rick Ankiel Claim Outfield Spot Over Roger Bernadina?

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VIERA FL - FEBRUARY 25:  Roger Bernadina #2 of the Washington Nationals poses for a portrait during Spring Training Photo Day at Space Coast Stadium on February 25 2011 in Viera Florida.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
VIERA FL - FEBRUARY 25: Roger Bernadina #2 of the Washington Nationals poses for a portrait during Spring Training Photo Day at Space Coast Stadium on February 25 2011 in Viera Florida. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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As they've said all winter, and as D.C. GM Mike Rizzo said again this week in an MLB Network Radio interview, the Nationals believe they can replace what Josh Willingham provided them in left field over the last two seasons with, "...the guys that we [have] in-house either in a platoon system," or with, "a young player taking over full-time," who can match Hammer's offensive output and improve the team defensively. The platoon, it was originally assumed, would consist of Roger Bernadina and Michael Morse, a weak-hitting, defensively strong left-handed bat and a below average outfielder with power from the right side of the plate, respectively. But Washington added Rick Ankiel, invited Laynce Nix to Spring Training and signed Matt Stairs, adding the veterans into the mix in center, left and off the bench and making Bernadina and Morse's spots on the roster less of a sure thing.

Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore wrote this morning in a Nationals Journal post, entitled, "Is Roger Bernadina a lock to make the Nationals?", that, "as the Nationals spring takes shape, it seems possible - if not likely - that Bernadina will begin the year in Class AAA Syracuse," since he and Ankiel possess similar skill sets and the veteran outfielder signed a major league deal while Bernadina, who failed to claim the spot as his own last season, has options remaining.

"'We saw him last year a lot," the Nats' Skipper told WTOP's Craig Heist (@cheist) on Twitter referring to Bernadina, the 26-year-old outfielder who hit .246 with a .307 OBP, .384 SLG, .288 BABIP, 18 doubles and 11 HR's in 134 games and 461 plate appearances during his first full season in the majors after signing as an amateur free agent with Montreal in 2001, "but we are still searching to see what we got," Riggleman said. "'Roger has got superstar potential," NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman quotes Riggleman saying in an article entitled, "Room for Bernadina and Ankiel?", but so far in his career, Bernadina's played, "... like an average major-league ballplayer." 

Ankiel, 31, put together a .232/.321/.389 line (.319 BABIP) in 74 games and 240 plate appearances between the Royals and Braves last season. In his first press conference of the year, new Nats' right fielder Jayson Werth praised the additions of Ankiel and Stairs, telling reporters as recounted by the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore in a Nationals Journal post entitled, "Jayson Werth meets the press", that though the move met with little fanfare when it was announced, "I think signing Rick Ankiel was a big signing in the offseason, one that really wasn't talked about as much as I thought it should have been." If Ankiel does see considerable time, it could be in center in place of Nyjer Morgan or in left where Bernadina was once expected to play?

Bill James is projecting a .244/.307/.428 line with 17 doubles and 14 HR's for Ankiel, but he's got a 25 HR season on his resume. Bernadina's projected to put up a .273/.341/.418 line with nine doubles and five HR's, but that's in just 78 games. Can he to put that line up over a full season and come back with 18 doubles and 11 HR's again? And what about Nix? Laynce Nix, playing predominantly in left with the Reds last season, put together a .291/.350/.455 line in 97 games and 182 plate appearances. As for Morse?

Morse's future with the team was momentarily called in to question this afternoon when SI.com's Jon Heyman wrote on Twitter (@SI_JonHeyman) that the, "Phillies have asked nationals about OF Michael Morse, a righty hitter with power", but a little while later he came back with another tweeted report which said the Nats were, "disinclined to trade Morse to Phillies (or anywhere)," since they, "see potential, esp w/ work rick eckstein's done w/ him." With Ankiel or Bernadina both left-handed bats, Morse will likely have a role with the Nationals as the right-handed half of a platoon with either outfielder, but as just about every beat writer following the Nats seemed to be saying this morning, Bernadina's role in the future is definitely one that will be decided not only by his own performance this Spring, but also by what Ankiel is able to accomplish.