According to a tweet from Bill Ladson of MLB.com, the center field battle has lost a competitor, as he reports that the job has come down to the incumbent, Nyjer Morgan, and off-season free agent acquisition Rick Ankiel.
Either Roger Bernadina is slated to be the fourth outfielder, or he will find his way to Triple-A Syracuse, a victim of the fact he has an option remaining.
Morgan, 30, and Ankiel, 31, couldn't be more dissimilar, save for their handedness and lack of production against left-handed pitching.
Ankiel is a lifetime .232/.282/.386 hitter in 360 plate appearances against left-handed pitching. Morgan hits .200/.292/.269 in 334 lifetime appearances versus southpaws.
Either way, Jerry Hairston, Jr. will get his at bats and playing time in centerfield, though he's not ideal since he's an infielder by trade and only .262/.321/.383 lifetime vs. LHP.
So let's take a look at the tale of the tape.
Morgan is a speedster, though erratic. He makes his living beating ground balls in the dirt and hope they go through or he can beat it out to first.
Ankiel is theoretically a slugger, hitting 25 home runs in the 2008 season, but hasn't combined for 25 since. He slugged .387 and .389 in 2009-2010.
Both players walk rates are significantly below league average.
Morgan has produced some impressive stolen base numbers -- but has equally destructive caught stealing numbers. He's led the N.L. in CS in both of the last two seasons.
Ankiel has 10 stolen bases in eight seasons.
Morgan's fleetness allows him to get to a lot of balls, sometimes in spectacular fashion. Though for every highlight reel catch, Morgan misjudges a fly, misses a cut-off man, or throws to the wrong base with his wet noodle for an arm.
Ankiel is renown for his cannon of a left arm, once a flame-throwing pitcher that lost the ability to throw strikes. He's not fast in center, but he plays within himself and makes the plays he should. He has below average range for the position.
Morgan's less-than-sunny disposition is widely documented, including in this space. Last year, he famously threw his glove in anger during a ball in play against Baltimore, went out of his way to run over opposing catchers twice, threw a ball at a fan in Philadelphia, incited a brawl in Florida, then flexed like a WWA heel after being ejected, and was suspended for eight games at the end of the season. He "cleanly" drew contact with Albert Pujols in yesterday's game, triggering three beanballs and a heated exchange from Tony LaRussa and Jim Riggleman, old friends.
Ankiel is widely assumed to ascend to a coaching gig when his playing career is over. Noted for "playing the game the right way." Regarded as a mentor to younger players during his time in St. Louis. Has a quiet, unassuming manner.
Morgan was acquired by Mike Rizzo in a trade in 2008 and Rizzo has been insistent upon making good on the trade. Was a hockey player growing up and took to baseball when his hockey career stalled in major juniors.
Ankiel was on St. Louis teams when
Jim Riggleman and Rick Eckstein coached for LaRussa [ed. and Jim Riggleman was the Cardinals minor league coordinator]. Was a pitcher growing up and didn't start playing outfield until his pitching career famously imploded.
If Morgan wins the job, Ankiel will make the team regardless. If Riggleman decides he's had enough and goes with Ankiel, Morgan could very well be shipped to the minors or released. I can't imagine the Nats living with Morgan on their bench.
Either way, it's bad news for Bernadina. He's apparently lost the left field job to Michael Morse and now center field to two very flawed players. It doesn't speak very well for his future in the organization, nor for the organization's committment to younger players in what is spposed to be a building process.