When the Washington Nationals placed Jayson Werth on the 10-Day Disabled List on June 5, it put manager Dusty Baker a tricky situation. Werth was hitting in the No. 2 spot ahead of the Nats’ power corps of Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon. Baker faced the difficult decision of how to rearrange his lineup, and most believed he would simply just bump everyone up a spot.
Instead, Baker opted to play musical chairs with the No. 2 spot. Ryan Raburn, Wilmer Difo and Brian Goodwin rotated through the position, causing many Nats fans to scratch their heads in amazement. The No. 2 spot is such a crucial spot in the lineup, and it appeared that Baker was handing opponents outs just before they had to face the team’s best hitters.
What’s actually happened, however, has been the revelation of Goodwin at the top of the order. The Nationals selected Goodwin 34th overall in the 2011 MLB Draft, and he eventually rose to the top of the team’s prospect rankings ahead of the 2013 season.
General manager Mike Rizzo raved about Goodwin’s potential during the post-draft press conference back in 2011.
"He's a guy with five tools. We see him as a top of the order table-setter with some power. He's got surprising pop in his bat, he's a plus plus runner, plus plus defensive player, we think he can hit at the top of the order and lead off. He's shown a propensity to have a high on-base percentage, and he's a guy who's not afraid to take a walk and steal a base. He's your prototypical speedy, defensive, top-of-the-order center field prospect."
Despite the high expectations, Goodwin’s path to the majors was a long one. He struggled to make contact, racking up consistently high strikeout rates. After struggling to a .219/.342/.328 batting line at AAA-Syracuse in 2014, Goodwin was demoted back down to AA. Another down year in 2015 seemed to write off Goodwin for good, as he entered last season ranked just the 29th overall prospect in the Nats’ organization by MLB Pipeline.
That’s when Goodwin finally began to turn things around. In 119 games back up in Syracuse, the North Carolina native hit .280/.349/.438 with 14 home runs and 15 stolen bases. Michael Taylor’s inconsistent hitting prompted the Nats to call him up in August and then again in September. He played 22 games with the club in which he posted a .747 OPS with five extra-base hits.
This season, Goodwin didn’t make the team out of Spring Training. He was, however, called back up to the majors on May 8 when fellow prospect Rafael Bautista wasn’t producing off the bench. Goodwin was sent back down for a day on May 23 but Chris Heisey’s ruptured bicep brought him right back to D.C.
Now Goodwin is a staple at the top of the Nats’ lineup with Werth still on the shelf. He will almost certainly resume a bench role when Werth returns, but his .273/.348/.545 line with six home runs, seven doubles and 16 runs scored is nothing to overlook. In fact, if it weren’t for Cody Bellinger tearing the cover off the ball for the Dodgers, a case could be made for Goodwin in the NL Rookie of the Year race if he could play every day.
“He’s learning,” Baker said recently, as quoted in The Washington Post. “He’s learning how to hit. His confidence is off the roof and he’s playing ball. He can do a lot of things.”
With Werth in the final year of his contract, Baker is going to be in another tricky situation at the start of next season. Both Taylor and Goodwin have taken full advantage of their opportunities to play consistently, but only one will be able to take the reigns in left field. Taylor’s had an up-and-down career at the major league level, but it appears Goodwin is just getting started.