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To Be Successful, Nationals Need To Go To Church Regularly In 2006

[October 26th] -- At the time, the trade made sense [sort of]. Realizing that the team's perch atop the National League East was precarious at best, Nationals' GM Jim Bowden tried to jump-start the team's moribund offense by trading grouchy pitcher Zach Day for Colorado's Preston Wilson. Ryan Church was forced from the starting lineup and spent the rest of the season as the 4th outfielder. By the end of the year, the team was disappointed with Wilson's poor defense as well as his less than stellar offensive production. Heading into the 2006 season, Preston Wilson will be but a faded memory and Ryan Church will again be one of the starting outfielders for the Washington Nationals.

Church came to the then Montreal Expos in a trade that sent Scott Stewart to the Indians for Church and shortstop Maicer Izturis. Church spent four years in the minor leagues, hitting well at each level. His 500+ games in the minor leagues provides a good indication of what the 27 year old is capable of in the major leagues. Assuming 550 at-bats, this is what Church's typical minor league season would have looked like: AVE.:.296 ~ RUNS:92 ~ HITS:163 ~ 2B:34 ~ 3B:6 ~ HR:24 ~ RBI:104 ~ BB:67 ~ K:111 ~ STOLEN BASES: 7 ~ CAUGHT STEALING: 4 ~ OBP:383 ~ SLG: 532

Church showed great promise in the minor leagues. Let's extrapolate his injury plagued 2005 season into that same 550 at-bat template and see what his numbers might have been: AVE:.287 ~ RUNS:84 ~ HITS:154 ~ 2B: 34 ~ 3B:6 ~ HR:18 ~ RBI: 84 ~ BB:48 ~ K:140 ~ SB:6 ~ CS:4 ~ OBP:.353 ~ SLG:532. The numbers are very similar to his minor league averages. He continues to show good but not great power, excellent run producing ability, and the propensity to strike out too often.

[But these numbers are skewed a bit because injuries caused Church to play hurt for a good part of the season. What would his production look like if we use his statistics only to the point where he was injured? Take a look: AVE:.325 ~ 2B:35 ~ 3B:6 ~ HR:24 ~ RBI:100 ~ OBP:.381 ~ SLG:.544. Church was on pace to to have a breakout season until he ran into the wall in Pittsburgh to make that dramatic, game ending catch against the Pirates.

Church has the potential for a solid major league career because, although he doesn't do any one thing superbly, he does most everything well. There are no "holes" in his game. He has good speed for a corner outfielder. His glove and arm are above average. He actually hits left-handers better than he does righties, unusual for a left handed batter. He hits as well on the road as he does at home. He produces during the day or at night. Manager Frank Robinson doesn't have to "hide" Church against certain southpaws, or game times, or stadiums. He doesn't have to worry about defensive replacements or pinch-runners late in games. Give him a bat and point him towards home plate. Ryan Church will take care of the rest.

At age 27, Church is ready to blossom. Don't look for him to hit many towering shots into the expansive upper deck at RFK, but he will drive many balls into the outfield gaps for doubles, and his speed will turn several of those into triples. The majority of his homeruns will be doubles that forgot to stop at the fence. If he stays healthy, and bats third in the lineup on a regular basis,

I think Church can produce these type of numbers on a regular basis: AVE:.305 ~ RUNS:100 ~ HITS: 185 ~ 2B:37 ~ 3B:8 ~ HR:22 ~ RBI:100 ~ SB:15 ~ OBP:.380 ~ SLG:.540

If Church is given the opportunity, and if he comes through, The Nationals will be one step closer to being a true pennant contender. He is not eligible for free agency until 2009, so the team can rely on his presence for some time to come. Ryan Church is the type of player the Nationals need to attract. He is quick, has some power, and hits both left and right-handers alike. If he can remain healthy, he will become a fan favorite for years to come.

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