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Nationals' outfield update: Nats sign outfielder Tony Gwynn, Jr. to minor league deal

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The Washington Nationals announced tonight that they signed 32-year-old outfielder Tony Gwynn, Jr. to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. Where does Gwynn, Jr. fit in to the Nats' crowded outfield situation this Spring?

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Asked how they would deal with potentially having Jayson Werth miss time at the start of the season after offseason shoulder surgery to repair the AC joint in his right shoulder, Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette last month that he felt the Nats had options available who could fill in until Werth was able to return, though he was expected to be ready for Opening Day.

"We do have some options. Obviously, none of them are Jayson Werth out there, but like we've seen on other teams and with ourselves last year, guys have to step up..." - Mike Rizzo on Nats' outfield options on MLB Network Radio

"We feel that we have a situation in left field that we can put a platoon system of Nate McLouth and Tyler Moore or an everyday situation of Michael Taylor in left field that really can strengthen our defense with Michael in there and with Nate in there and a right-handed bat in Tyler Moore," Rizzo said.

"So we do have some options. Obviously, none of them are Jayson Werth out there, but like we've seen on other teams and with ourselves last year, guys have to step up and play better."

Matt Williams updated reporters on Werth's progress on Sunday night after the team's workout in Viera, Florida, when he was asked for his thoughts on who might fill in for Werth in left, where the 35-year-old, 12-year veteran is set to move as soon as he's healthy, with Bryce Harper taking over in right this season and Denard Span back in center.

"We don't know at this point who's going to be filling in when or where, and what Jayson's prognosis is for the next month will be determined as we get through it," he said.

"So, we're just going to go through that. Jayson will continue to work, he's doing all of the drills he can possibly do, and then he's transitioning back over here for his rehab activity. So in the next couple of weeks we could potentially see him start to pick up a bat and get going. We'll, at some point during Spring, get him some at bats, and evaluate him and get a true sense from him where he thinks he's at. Hopefully he's ready to go for Opening Day.

"T-Mo, when he gets consistent at bats, does really well. If he's not a starter necessarily at the big-league level, he doesn't have that rhythm and timing." -Matt Williams on Nats' outfielder Tyler Moore

"If not, it shouldn't be much longer after that and then beyond that, the guys that will get Spring Training at bats in his absence are all the guys that we're going to take a look at. Nate will get at bats out there. Tyler Moore. We've got two other first basemen [Clint] Robinson and Kila Ka'aihue, who have played out there. Mike Carp has played out there. There will be a lot of guys that will get a chance to get in left field and get some at bats too and we'll make those evaluations."

McLouth, of course, is recovering from surgery to repair the tear of the labrum in his right shoulder which ended the first year of the 33-year-old outfielder's 2-year/$10.75M deal with the Nationals after just 79 games and 162 plate appearance over which he was worth -0.6 fWAR, with a .173/.280/.237 line, six doubles and a home run.

As Williams explained on Sunday, McLouth is officially still rehabbing.

"The only thing that he's held back with is he's still in the rehab process," Williams said.

"So that will be ongoing through Spring. And we have to monitor the amount of throwing he does, and make sure that he doesn't get sore. Once he gets sore, then we have to shut him down for a few days, so we don't want to get there. So we monitor him. We limit his throwing a little bit right now. We limit his swings. We don't allow, right now, him to go out and just pound baseballs, because he's going to make it sore. We want to progress him through the rehab process and at the same time get him ready to play.

"It's volume. He's able to do everything. It's just the amount of volume, again, you get a surgery and then you have to go through the healing process, and then the initial rehab process and then the baseball process, so he's kind of in the early stages of that baseball process."

Michael Taylor is in Spring Training with the Nationals again this year after making his MLB debut in a breakthrough 2014 campaign.

Could he really take over in left field until Werth's 100%? Williams was asked what the difference was between the Taylor he saw last Spring and the 23-year-old outfielder he sees today?

"The biggest thing that I see with Michael is that he's starting to recognize at the plate better. That comes with time and with at bats..." -Matt Williams on Nats' outfielder Michael Taylor

"I think there was a big transition from Spring Training last year to September," Williams said. "He had great success in the minor leagues, of course, we all know that.

"The biggest thing that I see with Michael is that he's starting to recognize at the plate better. That comes with time and with at bats, and he's just able to recognize strikes and pitches that are not strikes, which allows him to get into better counts, which allows him to have more success. That's part of their process when you're a young player, but there was a big difference between Spring Training and September, I think that's the biggest thing for me."

Wherever he starts the 2015 campaign, the big choice with players in the position Taylor finds himself in this Spring, after putting up a .304/.390/.526 line with 20 doubles and 23 HRs in 110 games and 493 plate appearances in the minors last season (441 PAs at Double-A and 52 at Triple-A before he was called up the majors), is whether to bring them up and keep them on the bench or let them get regular at bats in the minors?

"You don't have to look any further than Tyler Moore," Williams said on Monday afternoon.

"T-Mo, when he gets consistent at bats, does really well. If he's not a starter necessarily at the big-league level, he doesn't have that rhythm and timing. It's the age-old decision that must be made regarding guys that are just on the cusp of being big league-ready and everyday players and a question of depth on your team too. Saw that with Steven Souza. So it's a question of depth on your team, it's a question of how much playing time they're really going to go get and are they better served staying in the minor leagues and getting their at bats until that opportunity arises. But Mike's close, he's really close."

Moore, 28, is out of options, further complicating his situation. In three seasons and 449 careeer plate apprances in the majors, the 2008 16th Round pick has a combined .239/.295/.418 line with 20 doubles and 18 HRs.

The Nationals added another outfielder to the mix on Monday night when they announced a minor league deal with veteran outfielder Tony Gwynn, Jr.:

Gwynn, 32, played 80 games for the Philadelphia Phillies last season, putting up a .152/.264/.190 line in 127 plate appearances. He told MLB.com's Bill Ladson that the Nationals, "...presented the best opportunity to be in the big leagues," and were a team that was expected to contend and anyone would want to play for right now.