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Posted at 9:50 AM ET, 02/25/2011

Is Roger Bernadina a lock to make the Nationals?

By Adam Kilgore

roger bunt.jpg

The Nationals gave Roger Bernadina 461 plate appearances last year with the hope he would claim the left field position as his own. He flashed, at times, the powerful swing and athleticism that made the Nationals believe he had, in Manager Jim Riggleman's words, "superstar potential."

Bernadina, though, did not seize his opportunity. At times, he appeared ready to take off. At the end of the year, he had a .246 batting average, a .307 on-base percentage and a .384 slugging percentage. He hit 11 home runs and stole 16 bases, but he felt tired toward the end of the season.

The prevailing wisdom this winter had Bernadina as a contender with Michael Morse and Rick Ankiel for the left field starting spot at most, a prominent bench or platoon role at least. But as the Nationals spring takes shape, it seems possible - if not likely - that Bernadina will begin the year in Class AAA Syracuse.

The Nationals this offseason signed Ankiel, a speedy, left-handed outfielder whose skill set resembles Bernadina's. Ankiel hits for more power and has less speed, but they're mostly redundant players. "There's some similarities there," Riggleman said.

Keeping Ankiel and Bernadina would seemingly be taking up two roster spots with the same player. Matt Stairs, with his experience and pinch-hitting prowess, brings an element neither player possesses, and he couldn't have a spot if both Ankiel and Bernadina make the team.

And here's where Bernadina really gets into trouble: Ankiel signed a major league deal, meaning his salary is guaranteed. Bernadina has an option remaining, meaning the Nationals can send him to the minors without any risk of losing him.

Bernadina still has plenty of potential. Riggleman called him "our most physical specimen" and said he reminded him of Vince Coleman, the prolific base stealer from the 1980s Cardinals. The Nationals hoped he could tap into his full ability last year. He never really did, and this year, he could have to prove himself back in the minors before getting another chance.

One more morning note: The Nationals switched up their spring rotation. Jason Marquis will now pitch the fifth spring training game, and Jordan Zimmermann will start the fourth. Marquis been slated to pitch the fourth game.

By Adam Kilgore  | February 25, 2011; 9:50 AM ET
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Next: Long toss: Stairs or Bernadina?


Someone needs to remind the Nats that Roger's lifetime batting average in the minor leagues is .265.

Why anyone thinks he has "superstar potential" is beyond me. He's never shown any evidence of it in the minors. Why would he suddenly become a superstar in the majors at the age of 26?

Posted by: swanni | February 25, 2011 10:13 AM | Report abuse

I understand Matt Stairs' value as a pinch hitter and asset in the clubhouse, but are the Nats really thinking about keeping him on the 25 man roster and not Bernadina? Why keep a guy who can do one thing, for another who can do a lot of things. Stairs sounds more valuable at this point as a special hitting assistant, while Bernadina is a major league ballplayer.

Posted by: rnkorby | February 25, 2011 10:14 AM | Report abuse

The simple answer is YES!

Keep in mind, this is all about being a contender in 2013. Is Matt Stairs going to help with that?

Posted by: hapster | February 25, 2011 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Due to a slow start, Bernadina's lifetime minor league batting average is mediocre, but he has done much better at the higher levels. His AA batting average is .292 and his AAA average is .321. I'd like to see the Nats give him a shot at center field. His 11 home runs last year looks a lot more promising than Nyjer's goose egg.

Michael Morse should be the player with the best shot at being the everyday left fielder. As regards Ankiel, I hope he works out but his stats from the last two years are less than impressive.

Posted by: gibson0 | February 25, 2011 10:37 AM | Report abuse

The only reason I can see for keeping Stairs and sending Bernie down in because of the options. If this does happen, then the Nats better hope that Stairs and/or Ankiel has a decent first couple of months of the season. This way, they'd be prime trade bait to a contending club that needs that one extra bat to get them to the playoffs. Then, the Nats can get a prospect for Stairs and/or Ankiel and then call Bernadina up from SYR for the remainder of the season.

Posted by: erocks33 | February 25, 2011 10:37 AM | Report abuse

With Bernie's skill set, you would think his value would be as a centerfielder. The Nats obviously don't think of him as a centerfielder, though. As a corner outfielder, at best, he is just marking time.

Posted by: Jurgensen9 | February 25, 2011 10:44 AM | Report abuse

I don't have a problem with making high-potential guys earn their jobs.

It has been frustrating, though, to see so many of them fail to grab the opportunity when it was presented: Dukes, Maxwell, Bernadina. As I recall, Bernadina lacked plate discipline, and I'm not sure how those big guns will make a difference there.

What I find puzzling is the reluctance to play the guy who DID earn his way into the lineup: Morse.

Posted by: Meridian1 | February 25, 2011 10:47 AM | Report abuse

having Stairs around for ST is great. I've been pretty vocal that I think giving him a spot on the 25 man roster is a bad idea.
bernadina ain't guaranteed a spot (and shouldn't be) but I'm fully confident he will perform in ST and deserve a spot.
The point about Ankiel is valid, and it's why I questioned the Ankiel deal from day 1. He strikes out 27% of his at bats, he does show some power, and apparently was hurt last year, but even at his best he's very weak against left handed pitching. Maybe he's healthy now, stronger now, and can revert to his 2007 & 2008 form. We'll see.

Posted by: Sunderland | February 25, 2011 10:58 AM | Report abuse

It's not unusual for a team to carry a guy like Stairs, mainly for pinch hitting purposes. The real question is, why sign Ankiel, if you also want to give regular playing time to both Morse and Bernadina? A lot of times, we evaluate these situations based on the idea that somebody will fail and settle the issue. And that may be the case (although Ankiel, himself, is no guarantee).

But assume for a minute that all of them play well and deserve a shot on the roster and in the lineup. What then? Do you have the potential to make a trade? What would you really get for any of those guys? Is there another way to get them in the lineup? ([cough} centerfield {cough})

I think those last two options must have been part of Rizzo's thinking. I could see a deal including Bernadina (or Morse), a starting pitcher (probably Lannan), and/or a reliever (Clippard?) to get a better starting pitcher or a better option at CF or leadoff. Or they could dump Nyjer if he struggles in the spring, play Bernadina and Ankiel in CF, and hope for the best in the leadoff spot.

I still think a trade is real possibility...

Posted by: baltova1 | February 25, 2011 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Just to echo Swanni's Jurgensen9's posts: Bernadina is a useful MLB player, but his ceiling is an average CF (which is a very valuable thing). He's miscast as a starting corner OF -- I just can't see him ever hitting like a corner OF should. If Nyjer can't hold onto CF, Bernadina should be the first choice to replace him. If not, he's a nice 4th outfielder.

Posted by: NattyFan | February 25, 2011 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Hey Nats Fans! Ankiel and Stairs were solid additions! Bernadina and Morse have the whole Spring Training to prove they merit. There is uncertainty with them. Ankiel and Stairs are the known factors if Bernadina and Morse are still inconsistent. Time is running out for Bernadina/Morse and they need to crack a-- this Spring!

Go Nats!

Posted by: patsgrill4U | February 25, 2011 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Most baseball pundits refer to Ankiel as having a "zero" bat. Yes, he can field and as an ex-pitcher he has an arm. He could even be useful as a reliever. But he is definitely not a starting CF or LF in the major leagues ... far from it. Stairs? This isn't the AL. Stairs should go to Syracuse where he could ostensibly help Corey Brown (Bernadina perhaps? Harper perhaps?) hone their skills. Stairs signed a minor league contract.

If Riggleman wants offense and the Nats need it with the loss of Dunn and Willingham they would be best served starting Morse in left over all the other candidates.

Posted by: periculum | February 25, 2011 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Many good points made above. A healthy Rick Ankiel as trade bait does make some sense--let's see if he shows more power in ST than he did last year, when his and Bernie's slugging pcts were virtually identical (.389 and .384). As to speed, is Ankiel still "speedy"? He's now 31 and SB totals in recent years don't confirm this. Rog meanwhile swiped 16 bases in 18 attempts last year.

Posted by: CapPeterson1 | February 25, 2011 11:57 AM | Report abuse

I also like Peric's idea of sending Stairs to Syracuse. Make him a player/coach with the possibility of returning to the big club as a PH later in the year or, if that doesn't work out, embarking on a career as coach/manager.

Posted by: CapPeterson1 | February 25, 2011 12:05 PM | Report abuse

>>Why anyone thinks he has "superstar potential" is beyond me. He's never shown any evidence of it in the minors. Why would he suddenly become a superstar in the majors at the age of 26?

Posted by: swanni

You're expecting Riggleman to say something intelligent? He's just happy to have a job, and every time someone asks him a question, it reflects that.

Posted by: Brue | February 25, 2011 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Stick Bernadina in LF, CF, or RF - everyday - and watch him blossom. My one criticism of Riggleman and the Nats at this point is every day is a different lineup. Sure you want to take a look at a bunch of different guys, but when a guy plays two games, then sits two games, then plays a game, then sits a game - it's tough for that guy to build confidence, get comfortable and come into his own. Personally, I think you start the year with Bernadina, Werth, and Morse in the OF and leave them there. But I guarantee you'll see a mixed bag every game with Ankiel and Morgan in the mix and you'll never know day-to-day what the lineup will be. Stairs is one-dimensional, I like him but keeping him over Bernadina makes no sense to me.

Posted by: AsstGM | February 25, 2011 12:15 PM | Report abuse

At this point, Ankiel should only be used against RHP. His numbers from last year vs RHP:

156 AB
.256 / .339 / .462 / .801
6 HR / 20 RBI
20 BB (11.3%) / 48 SO (30.8%)

Career vs RHP:
857 AB
.254 / .327 / .468 / .795
42 HR / 129 RBI
92 BB (9.6%) / 219 SO (25.6%)

His numbers versus LHP is very Nyjer-esque.
He does strike out quite a bit, but he does seem to have a decent batters eye. He is one of the handful I'm very interested in watching this Spring.

Posted by: erocks33 | February 25, 2011 12:19 PM | Report abuse

One of my biggest points of frustration w/ the Nats is what Mike Morse has to do to start on this team.

Average LF/RF with 500 PAs last year was 297/370/436 (BA, OBP, SLG).

Mike Morse was 289/352/519.

He deserves 500+ AB this season and I have no idea why he is not written in as the starting LF. No one else being considered has hit nearly as good he did last year.

Bernie is a little old for a prospect but has done well in AA/AAA. He deserves another shot this year. I say use his option and put him in center when the Morgan saga flames out in May. Agree w/ others that he is not a corner OF at this point.

Posted by: Avar | February 25, 2011 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Roger has speed, youth, and the biggest pair 'o biceps this side of LaRon Landry. He's got one year in, and he didn't hurt us last year, especially at $400k.

He's had 8 years of seasoning, so he's approaching his watershed moment.

Hitting can come and go, but speed never takes a day off. And now with Werth modeling how to work MLB pitchers, Roger now has his chance to increase his abilities in that area. The patience and skill at working pitchers never takes a day off either, even if you're not hitting.

He's EXACTLY the kind of guy who should make this team.

Posted by: OldDad | February 25, 2011 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Sound like the same Nats m.o. to me. They tell a kid he's thier next super stud. Then go out and sign some crusty old vet, who sould be playing in some old timers beer league instead. Giving the kid and the fans lip service as to why we need him. Before you know it the kid is shipped off to the minor where he looses all confidence in himself and is ruined for ever. There is nothing wrong with Berni, he should be starting in leftfielder. Have we not forgot about the rookie wall. Let us not forget, he is one year removed from that broken ankle which ended his season before it even started. Besides, 27 is the breakout age for baseball players. To me, he was one of only a few bright spots last year. I think he has earned his stripes.

Posted by: hansenjo | February 25, 2011 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps. this is the baseball equivalent of John Maddon's - "If you have two starting quarterbacks you have one too many". Stairs is a role player. Bernadina probably retains more value as a AAA player, than as a pinch hitter. And besides, these things usually work themselves out. For example, would St Louis take Marquis and Benradina for Pujols (kidding)? But there might be a trade combo of surplus for prospect before opening day.

Posted by: whatsaNATaU | February 25, 2011 1:09 PM | Report abuse

One thing I take issue with is the old saw that a player tends to play his best if he's assured of starting.

I'm not talking about LH/RH platooning, or even that some guys run out of gas late in the season. It's more like some guys might play better if they start 2/3 the games, whether or not they're gassed.

Mike Morse might be that guy. We know he's a fine middle-of-the-order hitter against both RH and LH pitching. We know he's an adequate outfielder and probably an adequate 1B. We don't know what he'd do if he played all year.

Roger B has different characteristics. He definitely gassed the last 6 weeks of the season. He started slowly. He's shown he has his head in the game on the bases (as opposed to Nyjer). He's better in the corners, but one of them is already taken. Let's just say Roger has been worse in CF than in the corners.

Maybe some time in center could help, but that is an experiment.

Nyjer is hanging on by a thread, I think. He's going to be 31, and he's been screwing up on the bases, and vegging out in the field. I can't imagine that just his putting in more time will help by itself. He's got to get his act together, more than it's been. He'll get his chance to show that he has, but that's probably all.

Roger B and Morse hit different parks better, which makes some sense, and they both hit from the other side adequately.

Werth crushes our park, and doesn't seem to have more than just issues in others (Fla, Wrigley).

Werth, Roger, and Morse might make three full-time outfielders, but it's more likely they'll make two full-time corner outfielders.

What we need is a centerfielder to step up.

Ankiel might be adequate with two good corners helping out, and Nyjer will get his chance.

Now, for all the Riggleman-haters out there, can you see La Russa, Francona, Bochy, or Charlie Manuel managing this type of project?

Maybe Joe Maddon, possibly Gardenhire, but I don't see them wanting to go through this process, again.

Riggleman wants this job, because he's doing something he's done well, and done well for a long time. The only issue I see with him is in the future, when we're doing well and he'll have to ratchet it up a notch.

He'll certainly deserve an opportunity to manage the team that he helped build, and it makes sense for Rizzo to give it to him.

Posted by: OldDad | February 25, 2011 2:00 PM | Report abuse

I have a similar post on Morse versus Bernadina here:

Bottom line; Morse is the better hitter and Ankiel can replicate Bernadina's capabilities. As mentioned above perhaps Bernadina isn't the one in jeopardy but Morgan.

Posted by: tboss | February 25, 2011 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Bernadina should be in center instead of left. I can't understand why Nyger Morgan is being given the job in center when he had a chance to lock it down last year and never rose to the opportunity. Bernadina is nearly as fast, has a better arm and can hit with power. Nyger is a quality fielder, who seems to lose focus at times and makes crucial mistakes. His lack of any power at all, a low batting average and on base percentage negates his base stealing potential in my opinion. I'd take the solid fielder with a power potential(Bernadina) over the shaky fielder and base stealer(Morgan).

Posted by: JAMNEW | February 25, 2011 2:25 PM | Report abuse

I'm not even going to go down that road concerning Bernadina you would think this team has a wealth of talent,it's bad enough that we sign Stairs but then to suggest that Stairs may make this team over Bernadina is just out and out ridiculous sometimes this front office and manager makes me wonder.

Posted by: dargregmag | February 25, 2011 3:28 PM | Report abuse

All the updates are great. Keep them coming.

Posted by: cr8oncsu | February 25, 2011 4:14 PM | Report abuse

I donot think the question is "who will play left field?" It is who will play center field. Bernadina, Ankiel and Morgan are vying for center. Harper will be the left fielder if the Nats management has any smarts.

Posted by: pilotf105 | February 25, 2011 4:16 PM | Report abuse

I would say that the Shark has a pretty good chance to make the team. Rizzo loves defense and we know Bernie is good at that. Did you see the "Facts" listed about them?

Posted by: terrycalcium | February 25, 2011 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Hey Nats Fans! As noted above, Bernadina and Morse have to step up thier play this Spring for starting positions. The obvious appearance so far is that they are getting the opportunity. Rizzo knows more baseball than anyone on this page, and I don't think that is a reckless statement. Ankiel had a strong 2008 season, and Rizzo knows that can probably be duplicated. I think he believes that Bernadina and Morse can do the job; he has "stop-gap" insurance with the best available players at the time he pulled the Ankiel and Stairs moves! Let the now, unencumbered Rizzo work...Go Nats!

Posted by: patsgrill4U | February 27, 2011 12:17 PM | Report abuse

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