Nicknamed “The Shark” for hunting down baseballs like a shark hunts down its prey, Roger Bernadina, has been what Washington Nationals fans can only describe as a mystery. The Curacao native, signed at age 17 as an undrafted free agent, has shown great potential in the minors but has underperformed in his almost 2 full years in the major leagues. The Nationals have not given up hope though, mainly because of his sometimes spectacular defense and above average speed.
Bernadina spent seven years in the minor leagues before being called up in 2008 after batting an amazing .323 in 73 games at Double-A Harrisburg and .351 in 47 games at Triple-A Columbus. He finished the season in the majors with a disappointing .211 batting average and ended up started the 2009 season in Triple-A Syracuse. When he was called up for the second time, luck was not on his side. After three games, he fractured his ankle ending any chance of playing any significant time during 2009. When he recovered from his injury, he played nearly a full season in the majors the next year. In 134 games, he batted .246 with a weak .307 on base percentage and only 16 stolen bases. Although his offense was uninspired, his defensive prowess was inspiring. Bernadina showed off his rare ability to make mind-blowing diving and leaping catches in pressure situations.
This mixed performance lead to a competition for two open outfielder positions in 2011’s spring training between Michael Morse, Rick Ankiel, and Roger Bernadina. Morse impressed, hitting 10 home runs in March and locked up his position in left to start the season while both Ankiel and Bernadina faltered. Ankiel was eventually granted the center field starting position because of his experience, but after a poor start to the regular season, Bernadina was given the chance to start once again. In 91 games before and after one minor league stint, he allowed only 1 error playing every outfield position while putting up an unacceptable .243/.301/.362 slash line. Those stats were similar to the previous, and disappointing, season.
Coming into this offseason the Nationals have made efforts to sign or trade for an everyday center fielder, but all their efforts have failed leaving another battle in spring training between newly signed Mike Cameron, re-signed Rick Ankiel, and The Shark. Luckily for the candidates, veteran Mike Cameron retired a little over a week ago, shrinking the Nationals’ major league depth in centerfield. Depending on how they play in spring training and whether or not Davey Johnson wants to bring Harper up without much development, the Nationals have three main options. Starting Bernadina in center, starting Ankiel in center, or starting Werth in center while Harper plays right.
This means that Bernadina may get the final chance to prove his worth as a major league player this spring. If he succeeds, he could potentially be traded to a place where he can play, otherwise he’ll be used by the Nationals as a utility player in future with Harper’s inevitable call up looming. He doesn’t, he may be released. Once Harper is called up, every outfield position will be locked up for the next couple of years, and The Shark definitely won’t get a fourth opportunity to hunt with the Nationals.