For most major leaguers, the month of July’s main theme is uncertainty, a departure from the regularity of baseball’s day-to-day activities.
It’s with good reason, too — at any given moment, nearly any player’s life can be turned around, packed up and sent to the next city in a trade.
In the minor leagues, not knowing what tomorrow will bring is even more a part of life.
On any given day, a top prospect that’s only known one organization for their entire career can be sent to an entirely different system, to an entirely different group of teammates, sometimes across the continent.
That feeling is magnified to an even greater extent in Triple-A, where one injury or one slump can bring a prospect to the biggest jump of all, from the minors to the majors.
In another universe where Michael A. Taylor hadn’t finally enjoyed a breakout season, where Brian Goodwin didn’t catch on in the absence of Jayson Werth, where Chris Heisey was still hurt, where Ryan Raburn wasn’t hitting in the high .200s, then it’s likely that 23-year-old outfielder Andrew Stevenson would have already experienced the shift from the minors to the majors, getting the call-up from Triple-A Syracuse.
That, for the reasons listed above, hasn’t happened this year, although it still may occur at the end of the season when the Nats’ roster expands to 40 men.
“You always want to try to make that jump to the next level,” Stevenson said. “I’m just doing what I can do, what I think I need to be ready for that next jump.”
However, the lefty’s next jump may very well not be from the minors to the majors, but instead to an entirely different organization by trade.
A trade involving Stevenson may have already happened if Adam Eaton never tore his ACL, or perhaps if Jayson Werth never injured his foot, in which case the Nationals would have had more outfield depth than they knew what to do with in Michael A. Taylor and Brian Goodwin.
If that was the case, Mike Rizzo, with no clear need for the LSU grad this season or in the near future, might have sent Stevenson to another ballclub.
Now, Stevenson is one injury away from making it to the show. Even so, his name has still come up plenty of times in trade rumors or proposed trades — when the Nats are connected to a trade target, he is often one of the first to pop up in a hypothetical prospect haul.
“I’m trying not to let it get to me. I’m just trying to play the game every night, Stevenson said. “But it is kind of cool for your name to be thrown out there, for people to think you have pretty good value.”
About a month ago, when the Nats sent Stevenson to Syracuse, his status as one of the more desired names in the Nationals’ system was temporarily put in question— between his Triple-A debut on May 1st and June 15th, he hit only .199, striking out 32 times.
“I was just trying to do too much — you get moved up, you want to impress everybody, so you start doing a little too much. Then stuff starts speeding up on you,” Stevenson explained.
“I was just trying to go get the ball instead of sitting back and letting it come to me, picking good pitches to hit. I was a little bit too aggressive.”
Once he realized his problem, Washington’s number five prospect began to hit the ball consistently, as he has in his time in the Nationals’ system.
Since June 16th, Stevenson has put up 38 hits, good for a .304 average and a trip to the International League All-Star Game.
For the Nats, Stevenson’s small-scale resurgence most likely wasn’t a surprise; in his three seasons in the organization, he has consistently hit around .280 while speeding through each level of the minor leagues, around what the team expected when they drafted him out of Louisiana State University.
However, at the beginning of the 2016 season, the team decided that the lefty needed a minor change to his swing before he started facing tougher pitching.
“It wasn’t too big of an adjustment -- it was just where I started my hands,” Stevenson said.
“I was able to hit the ground running when I made the adjustment... I feel like I hit the ball with a little bit more authority.”
After impressing both the team and the rest of the league in the 2016 Arizona Fall League, in which Stevenson led the league with 30 hits and put up a .353 average, second only to the second-ranked prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, Gleyber Torres of the New York Yankees, the Nationals rewarded the outfielder with a trip to big league camp in Spring Training.
He didn’t disappoint in his 13 games before being re-assigned to minor league camp, hitting .303 with five RBI, and picking up some tips from major leaguers.
“I just watched what Adam Eaton did. I feel like we have similar games,” said Stevenson.
“He was a great guy - he would give me a little advice here and there. It was cool to interact with him and see what makes him successful.”
Stevenson and Eaton’s games, both centered around contact hitting and speed, are remarkably similar. However, the major-league influence on the young prospect isn’t limited to interactions with big leaguers in Spring Training, seeing as the Syracuse Chiefs have employed a rotating cast of both relievers and position players shuttling back and forth between the majors and minors this season.
“If you take a little bit from this person, a little bit from that (person), it definitely helps out,” Stevenson noted. “It’s been helpful being around the other guys coming through here.”
Ultimately, the Nationals do have a logjam in the outfield, with Eaton having one spot locked up for the foreseeable future, in addition to either Michael A. Taylor or Brian Goodwin, and potentially Bryce Harper.
The presence of two top-100 prospects, Victor Robles and Juan Soto, in the lower levels of the farm system puts Stevenson in an odd situation, as a player the organization loves, but one that the team simply may not have a permanent spot for.
Perhaps Stevenson’s tenure as a member of the Nationals organization will end by July 31st in a trade for more relief help for the big-league club. Perhaps it’ll end when the team swings a deal in the Winter Meetings late this year. Or, perhaps the team will hold on to him, and another set of injuries and slumps will give him his chance at the major league level.
In the meantime, the Louisiana native can be sure of one thing, wherever he may end up at the end of July or December.
“I’m just gonna play hard. Hopefully, people will enjoy watching that.”