In need of strengthening their bench, the Nationals acquired outfielder Alex Escobar from the White Sox in exchange for outfielder Jerry Owens on Sunday.

Escobar, once the top prospect in the Mets organization, played in 46 games for Cleveland in 2004, but his season was cut short by a stress fracture in his right foot. On Aug. 17, Escobar was claimed off waivers by the White Sox and immediately placed on the 15-day disabled list. Escobar, however, is expected to be ready for Spring Training.

"We are trying to get players with a high ceiling," said interim general manager Jim Bowden. "(Escobar) is capable of hitting 20 to 25 home runs and driving in 80 to 90 RBIs. But he has had problems with injuries and lack of opportunities."

The Nationals need right-handed hitters off the bench and Escobar could be a perfect fit. During the last two years, manager Frank Robinson often complained that the bench was overloaded with left-handed hitters, leading to matchup problems in the late innings.

Bowden wouldn't say where Escobar would fit on the team. But he did say that Escobar, along with outfielders Terrmel Sledge and Endy Chavez and first baseman Nick Johnson, would have to prove himself on the field during Spring Training.

Escobar has long been regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball. However, injuries have prevented him from reaching his potential.

After the Mets included him in the package they sent to Cleveland for second baseman Roberto Alomar in December 2001, Escobar tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Spring Training in 2002 and missed the rest of the season. He rebounded to hit a combined 29 home runs for the Indians and Triple-A Buffalo.

Owens, 23, was the Nationals' second-round pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft. After being drafted, Owens played only two games for Class A Vermont because of a separated shoulder he suffered by crashing into the outfield wall. Plus, he had hernia surgery, which was planned long before the shoulder injury.

Owens rebounded and hit .292 with one home run and 37 RBIs for Class A Savannah last season.

The trade surprised Owens, who was expected to be with the Nationals during Spring Training.

"It's kind of unexpected, but I'm excited about it," Owens said. "It's nice to go to an organization that wants me. I'm looking forward to the future. I don't know what my future would have been with the Nationals."

To make room for Escobar on their 40-man roster, the Nationals designated infielder Alejandro Machado for assignment.