Even before they came to Washington, centerfield has been like a black hole for the franchise. From Endy Chavez to Brad Wilkerson to Marlon Byrd to Alex Escobar to Nook Logan to Elijah Dukes to Lastings Milledge to Nyjer Morgan and now to Rick Ankiel, the parade of has-beens, failed prospects, and never-weres has been sad for fans to watch as their NL East rivals boasted stars like Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn.
Perhaps mega-prospect Bryce Harper, now with the Nationals’ Major League club, will fill the void in the middle of the Washington outfield, but he may, instead, play a corner outfield position.
Assuming Harper plays left or rightfield and that the next Nationals centerfielder will come from within the organization, who could it possibly be?
One candidate is Eury Perez, the current centerfielder for the Harrisburg Senators, one of minor league baseball’s most talented and exciting teams. Fans got a glimse of Perez and his abilities during this year’s spring training, when he impressed Nats manager Davey Johnson with his speed, defense, and ability to spray hits and get on base.
If you’re looking for a classic centerfielder – small, blazing speed, good bunter, good base stealer, great range, good enough arm – Perez is your guy. He has all the tools. The only question is can he display those tools on a regular basis at the Major League level and achieve at least a .350 on-base percentage and, thus, resolve the glaring weakness at the top of the Nationals’ line-up – one that has persisted for seven years and counting.
Perez performed well enough at Potomac (High A) last season and in Viera this spring to earn a promotion to the AA level. So far, however, he has struggled. He looks overmatched against the better pitchers (AA is often where team’s have their best pitching prospects) with a .223 batting average and Ian Desmond-like .263 on-base percentage. He has stolen only 5 bases in 10 tries.
Perez started slow at Potomac in 2011, but adjusted to have a fine season. He will need to do the same at Harrisburg to continue to be the Nationals’ next great hope inside their organization to get the CF albatross off of their necks.
His statistics says he will. In six minor league seasons and more than 1700 plate apperances, Perez has a .298 batting average and .363 on-base percentage. His stolen base success rate, over 225 attempts, is 78%. If Perez can match those numbers at the AA and AAA levels over the next two seasons, he could indeed arrive in centerfield at Nationals Park sometime in 2014.
Future: Unclear, but bright if he duplicates his historical trajectory at AA and AAA. He is only 22, right on track for his progression.
Chances of Being a National in 2012: Almost nil, except, due to his speed, he could be a September call-up as a pinch-runner and late inning defensive replacement.