Far less hyped than Stephen Strasburg or even Ian Desmond, Roger Bernadina, 26, is putting together a nice surprise of a rookie season for the Nationals. Through 65 games this season the outfielder is batting .286/.346/.434.
Bernadina's .346 wOBA compares favorably to much more hyped Rookie of the Year candidates such as Jason Heyward (.356) and Tyler Colvin (.360), and is much better than his teammate Desmond's mark of .299. To give a little more context, hitters with wOBAs close to Bernadina's this season are Ichiro Suzuki (.345) and Justin Upton (.347).
If there is a knock on Bernadina, however, it's his defense. The Dutch outfielder's defense seems to be fairly average, as he has a not very good UZR of -3.6 but a pretty good Defensive Runs Saved (DRS or Dewan +/-) rating of 0. We will have to wait until a larger sample size-three seasons is the preferred sample size-is available to get a truer picture of Bernadina's defensive skills.
The same is true, of course, of his offensive skills. Bernadina is outperforming his preseason ZiPS projection by a fairly wide margin at the moment (.305 projected wOBA) and is also above his updated ZiPS (.330 wOBA). Yet, even if he ends the season with a .330 wOBA as projected, it is very likely that Bernadina will have the 4th highest wOBA on the team behind the trio of Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, and Ryan Zimmerman.
The remaining criticism is then that for his position, corner outfielder, Bernadina is simply not productive enough. With power prospects Michael Burgess and Chris Marrero in the minors, this criticism carries some weight, since Bernadina could be replaced in the coming years.
Instead of replacing Bernadina, however, the Nationals could consider benching or trading Nyjer Morgan, 30, and then moving Bernadina to center. With Morgan playing disappointing defense along with his perennially disappointing offense, it could be an opportune time to move Bernadina to center field to continue building his confidence this season while establishing him as a cheaper, longer term alternative to Morgan.
Moving Morgan would also open up a corner outfield spot for Mike Morse, 28, who is a better offensive option-Morse has a .386 wOBA in his 77 PA this season and a .346 wOBA for his career-than either Bernadina or Morgan.
Although he's unlikely to attract much press and probably won't get mentioned in ROY discussions, it's been enjoyable watching Bernadina exceed expectations during the first half of the season. I only wish his fortune rubs off on the other Nationals.