Guzman in running as fourth outfielder

Outfielder Guzman competing for spot

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- When they took Garrett Guzman in the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 6, the Nationals saw him as having the potential to be their fourth outfielder. The left-handed-hitting Guzman is often compared to Orlando Palmeiro, who did an admirable job coming off the bench for 13 years in the big leagues.

Since acquiring Guzman, however, the Nationals have added outfield depth. They signed free agents Willie Harris and Rob Mackowiak a week later. As of now, the No. 4 outfielder is Elijah Dukes, who came over from Tampa Bay this offseason in a trade, so Guzman has to compete with at least three players for the final outfield spot.

If Guzman doesn't make the team out of Spring Training, the Nationals could give him back to the Twins before Opening Day, put him on waivers in hopes that no ones picks him up or trade with Minnesota for his rights.

"I don't know what my chances are of making the team," Guzman said. "I'm just going to play and play up to their standards. I'm not going to worry about chances and what other people do, because I can't control it."

Guzman is coming off his best season in professional baseball. He hit .312 with 16 home runs and 88 RBIs for Double-A New Britain. That season indicated how far he has come since early 2005.

On Feb. 26 of that year, Guzman was in a serious car accident while driving back to Las Vegas. He acknowledged that he had fallen asleep at the wheel before his truck flipped over in Arizona. Guzman suffered a broken neck in the accident. One of the first questions he asked the doctor that night was, "Will I play ball again?"

The doctor was blunt.

"He said, 'We are not thinking about that,'" Guzman said. "'You have a long way to go. You may not be able to play again.'"

After spending 24 hours in the hospital, Guzman had to wear a neck brace for next four months, and spent the entire '05 season in his Las Vegas home watching the Twins play on TV.

"It was bad, but it could have been a lot worse," Guzman said. "If I didn't have my seatbelt on, I probably wouldn't be playing today or be alive. When something like that happens, it makes you appreciate [what you have]."

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Once he returned to the Twins organization in 2006, Guzman had a different mind-set. He vowed to be on an even keel, no matter what happened on the field. Most of the results have been positive.

In '06, Guzman split the season between Class A Fort Myers and New Britain, and had 77 RBIs, which ranked second in the Twins' Minor League system. His best game that season came against Double-A Harrisburg on Sept. 3, when he hit three home runs and drove in six RBIs.

"It's a game and I love it, I hope to make a career out of it," he said. "Hopefully, it works out. I enjoy being here all the time."

Guzman has played in one official Spring Training game, in Sunday's 8-3 victory over the Astros. He entered the game as a pinch-runner in the eighth inning and scored a run. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Guzman robbed Reggie Abercrombie of a double.

"He knows how to hit; he is capable of hitting .280 in the big leagues," general manager Jim Bowden said. "I think he will be a fourth or fifth outfielder on a Major League team. On our club, it's going to be difficult to make it. We got Rob Mackowiak and Willie Harris.

"We have some depth that is going to make it hard. We have a deeper team than we had last year. But I've been around a long time to know that injuries and trades always happen before the bell rings. Anything is possible. We are really early in the spring."

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