- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

Jim Bowden has seen thousands of players in more than two decades of work in the major leagues.

The Washington Nationals general manager has two words when it comes to the speed of center fielder Nook Logan: Prime Time.

“He’s the fastest guy I’ve had since Deion [Sanders],” Bowden said. “I haven’t had a faster guy in 22 years. Deion was first, he’s second — and I’ve had some quick guys.”

Center fielders Endy Chavez and Brandon Watson, both fast in their own right, quickly come to mind.

Yet, Chavez and Watson are just two of 12 center fielders the Nationals have used over the past two seasons, with uneven results.

Despite Logan’s speed, the center field situation isn’t necessarily solved. Logan first must prove he can hit major league pitching on a consistent basis.

So far, so good.

In Wednesday’s 7-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves, the switch-hitter recorded his seventh bunt single in 19 games with a well-placed drag bunt down the first base line that he easily beat out. That hit raised his batting average to .300 (18-for-60).

Logan, acquired in a Sept. 1 trade with the Detroit Tigers for a player to be named or cash, was the Tigers’ everyday center fielder last season, when he hit .258 with 23 stolen bases in 129 games.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland made the center field job an open competition between Logan and Curtis Granderson during spring training. Granderson won the job, and Logan didn’t even make the Tigers’ Opening Day roster. Logan’s struggles continued this summer when he hit a combined .218 at Class AAA Toledo and Class AA Erie before being designated for assignment late last month.

Logan, 26, said he didn’t think competing during the spring with Granderson made him a better player.

“No, because I was always looking over my shoulder,” Logan said. “But who’s not looking over their shoulder in this game? I was just going out there doing what I was doing, but it wasn’t enough for [the Tigers], I guess.”

When Logan reports to the Nationals’ Viera, Fla., spring training camp this February, he’ll find himself in a similar situation. He’ll have to earn the starting center field job in a three-way battle with Alex Escobar and Ryan Church. Right now, it’s Logan’s job to lose.

“It is where he is today, so we’ll see how he performs,” Bowden said. “He’s being given every opportunity. It’s all about competition. Unless you’re an Alfonso Soriano or a Ryan Zimmerman or a Nick Johnson, young players like [Logan] have to prove over a long period of time, not short bursts.

“The determination is always done on the field by the players.”

Escobar hit .356 with four home runs and 18 RBI in 87 at-bats. However, he has yet to prove he can stay healthy.

Escobar has missed two entire seasons in the last four years because of injuries and currently is out for the season following surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

Meanwhile, Church’s chances hinge on the fate of Soriano.

If the Nationals re-sign Soriano, Church will be forced to compete for the center field job. If Soriano signs elsewhere as a free agent, Church and Escobar likely would compete for Soriano’s vacant spot in left field.

Logan, in that case, likely would leave spring training as the club’s starting center fielder if the Nationals don’t acquire anyone else.

“It’s a wait and see,” Church said. “Jim [Bowden] already told me that we have to sit back and see what happens. It kind of stinks because you would like to … [go] into the offseason knowing what’s up.”

But Church can take solace in the fact that he is still is with the club, a positive considering all the center fielders the Nationals have gone through in two seasons.

Hurting for pitchers, the Nationals could trade one of their center fielders, and Church would be a likely candidate.

The Nationals have a good idea what the trio can do on the field. Church offers power from the left side, Logan brings speed and defense, and Escobar has a little bit of everything — just wrapped in gauze.

“The manager and coaches make decisions based on how people perform at this level,” Bowden said. “So those guys all get chances and whoever does the best job will end up being there.”

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