Time to talk about Church

Ryan Church is ready for a big year. Manny Acta has confidence Church will be the starting left fielder on April 2. 

Church told the Washington Post “this is the year I prove everybody wrong.” And to start 2007 off on the right note he is leaving today from his suburban Cleveland home for Viera, Fla., to get an early start on spring training. Position players are not required to arrive until Feb. 18. Then again, he could be leaving early because its Florida and not Ohio. I mean that from a weather standpoint only.

Church uses the old athlete adage of something to prove. He sure does have something to prove-to himself and the organization for starters. Last spring, Church bottomed out hitting just .200 and was sent to AAA New Orleans to start the season. He went back to Washington, AA Harrisburg, then New Orleans before recalled in late July. In 71 games with the big club in 2006, Church batted .276 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs.

“I was devastated, and it affected my whole year," Church told the Post of his demotion to New Orleans.  "I was just like the other guys down there that don’t belong there, and I sure . . . didn’t belong down there. But it was my fault.

“I learned all last year. I’m mentally tough now, beyond belief. I’ve been basically through all my trials. Last year, I couldn’t deal with going up and down, all that stuff. I’m that much more confident now, and I’m just looking forward to getting down there and getting started,” Church told the Post.

My thought after reading this quote was he has to be mentally tougher. It’s not a choice. Church is coming into this spring training not only playing for job but his future in the nation’s capital. 

There was speculation about Church’s future during this offseason when he did not play Mexican Winter League ball.  He was subject to trade rumors as the Mexican ball situation seemed to spell the end of his time in the Washington organization. Church addressed that topic in the Post story.  Church said he and his agent were interested in going to Mexico but the Mexican club has signed another outfielder.  Instead, Church went to a vision specialist to improve his tracking the baseball. Church’s weakness for breaking balls is well documented.

The long debated question is not Church’s potential but whether he’ll show it on a consistent basis.  His 2005 and 2006 combined numbers read as follows:  282 batting average, .359 on-base percentage with 19 homers and 77 RBI.

Decent stats but let’s see it over a whole season. This would be the season to do it.  If Church could average those figures, he could be a good fit in the No. 6 spot.

Acta put his faith in Church telling the Post “if the season started tomorrow Church would be the starting left fielder.”

It’s a nice show of confidence in Church but is it premature?  Church seemed to have the starting center field job entering 2006 spring training too. The best thing Church can do is win this job early in spring training with a great work ethic, good attitude and even better play.

Church might be the manager’s vote but he still has to bust his hide during spring training. He’ll be competing against Chris Snelling, Alex Escobar and Nationals two-time Minor League Player of the Year Kory Casto.

I thought Church was going to be dealt during this offseason but it seems for now he is staying and will get the opportunity again to prove he can be the Nationals starting left fielder.  If he’s matured, we’ll see it. If the vision specialist helped, we’ll see that too (no pun intended).  If he’s improved, we’ll know it. If he doesn’t improve, his time in Washington might be running out.

Big year? I think it’s more a make-or-break year. 


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