Yesterday, Washington Nationals’ manager Jim Riggleman announced that Willy Taveras would serve as the right-handed portion of the team’s right field platoon, citing Taveras’ defensive prowess as the deciding factor in earning the role opposite left-handed hitter Willie Harris. Mike Morse will likely fill the role of a versatile utility player and see time on the corners in both the outfield and infield.
The real surprise in all of this came during Thursday’s game against the Mets. As the ninth inning began, Cristian Guzman was playing right field. Guzman, who has never played in the outfield, was compared to Willie Harris, who formerly played infield to exclusion. According to Riggleman, Guzman will first play the position in late game situations when one team has a secure lead, thus allowing him to become acclimated without risking wins and losses in the process.
In other news, the Nationals optioned right-handed pitcher Luis Atilano to Syracuse. Atilano, 24, posted a 6.14 ERA in 7.1 innings pitched this spring. The former first round pick of the Atlanta Braves went 9-8 with a 4.01 ERA in 22 starts last year between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse.
Believe it or not, this is no April Fools’ prank. I actually think this is a savvy move by the Nationals. With the extremely tenuous situation in right field and the limited ceiling of this year’s squad, it cannot hurt to try Guzman in right. Moreover, Guzman’s bat is too good for this team to waste. While the team has a relative wealth of middle infielders including Ian Desmond, Adam Kennedy, Alberto Gonzalez, and Guzman, its right field prospects are comparatively sparse and limited. Harris can be a functional everyday player; however, he would be better served as a utility player and spot starter. In addition, though Taveras posted a UZR of 8.3 in 102 games for Cincinnati last year, he hit only .240/.275/.285 in 437 plate appearances. Although the Guzman experiment will certainly take its lumps, it projects to be a low risk, high reward situation. If Guzman can play a serviceable right field, the benefits of his bat outweigh the limitations of his outfield defense.