Around the Horn: Bench

Spots up for grabs on Washington bench

The following is the last in a series of weekly stories on MLB.com examining each Major League club, position by position. For the past seven Wednesdays, we've previewed a different position. Today: Bench.

VIERA, Fla. -- The Nationals' bench was a bright spot last season on a team that finished in fifth place. Thanks in large part to Marlon Anderson, Daryle Ward and Robert Fick, the bench hit .263 with eight home runs and 40 RBIs. But Anderson and Ward were traded on Aug. 31 for prospects, and it left the Nationals with some holes entering Spring Training.

What's worse is the Nationals will be one position player short, as they plan to carry 12 pitchers on the Opening Day roster. Being careful with reliever Luis Ayala, who is returning from elbow reconstruction surgery, is the reason for the extra pitcher.

Fick currently is under a Minor League contract with Washington, so there is no guarantee he will make the team. In fact, like the starting rotation, nobody knows who will be the reserves for the Nationals.

The only thing that seems to be a given is that Jesus Flores will be Brian Schneider's backup behind the plate. Flores was acquired in the Rule 5 Draft, and he was selected on the recommendation of manager Manny Acta, Triple-A Columbus manager John Stearns and Davey Johnson, who scouted for the Nationals before the non-waiver trade deadline last summer. The organization seems to think Flores will succeed Schneider in the future.

"[Flores] has tremendous tools," Acta said the day Flores was drafted last December. "He is a young kid, and we can afford to carry the guy."

Flores, 22, played with a bad thumb last season, but he hit .266 with 21 home runs and 70 RBIs in 120 games with Class A St. Lucie, the Mets' Florida State League affiliate. Defensively, Flores possesses quick feet that helped him throw out 40 percent of would-be basestealers with Class A Hagerstown in 2005.

The team signed its share of veteran players during the offseason. The most well known are D'Angelo Jimenez, Jose Macias, Travis Lee and Tony Womack.

The last good season Jimenez had was 2004, when he was with the Reds. He was an everyday player back then. Jimenez has spent most of the past two years in the Minor Leagues.

Macias has a history with the organization. The switch-hitting infielder/outfielder was a valuable player off the Expos' bench in 2002 and '03, but he hasn't played in the big leagues since 2005. He spent last year in Japan.

Lee, who could earn $500,000 if he makes the team, was signed as insurance policy in the event Nick Johnson doesn't recover from his broken right leg. Lee is considered an outstanding defensive first baseman, but he is coming off one of his toughest offensive seasons. In 114 games with the Devil Rays, the 31-year-old Lee hit .224 with 11 home runs and 31 RBIs. Tampa Bay ended up giving him his unconditional release in early September.

Washington Nationals
Catchers: Schneider leads the way
Corner IF: Corners in good hands
Middle IF: Lopez moves for Guzman
Outfielders: Four men for one spot
Starters: Rotation wide open
Bullpen: A strength with Cordero
DH/Bench: Open competition

If Womack makes the 25-man roster, he could earn $600,000. Last season, Womack played for the Reds and Cubs and hit a combined .265 with one home run and five RBIs.

During his 13-year career in the big leagues, Womack has played for seven teams, including the Pirates, D-backs, Rockies, Cardinals and Yankees. He is best remembered for his years with Arizona and St. Louis. With Womack on the roster, the teams reached the World Series in 2001 and '04, respectively.

Womack will be reunited with hitting coach Mitchell Page. They worked together in St. Louis in '04, and Womack had his best season under Page's tutelage, hitting a career-high .307 with 91 runs scored and 26 stolen bases.

The Nationals do have some holdovers in Ryan Church, Alex Escobar and Bernie Castro. But Church and Escobar are not looking to be bench players, as they are battling for the starting left-field job. Castro is an excellent baserunner, but his defense at second base and hitting ability are questionable.

Two players on the 40-man roster are outfielder Michael Restovich and shortstop Josh Wilson.

Restovich, the Twins' second-round selection in the 1997 First-Year Player Draft, has played in the big leagues each of the last five seasons, hitting .250 with six home runs and 20 RBIs in 137 games with the Twins, Rockies, Pirates and Cubs.

The 27-year-old has hit more than 20 home runs in four of his last five Minor League seasons, averaging 23 long balls per year. Defensively, he recorded a career-high 20 outfield assists for Triple-A Edmonton in 2002.

Wilson, 25, batted .307 with 10 home runs, 45 RBIs and 15 stolen bases last season for Colorado Springs of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Florida's third-round selection in the 1999 First-Year Player Draft, he has hit at least 15 home runs in each of the last three seasons, including a career-high 17 for Triple-A Albuquerque in 2005. He played in 11 games for the Marlins in 2005.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.