Davey Martinez talked during the World Series about moving on from the Bryce Harper era in the Washington Nationals’ outfield after the 2010 No. 1 overall pick signed his 13-year/$330M free agent deal with the Philadelphia Phillies last March.
It helped that Victor Robles was ready to step up in center field between Juan Soto in left field and Adam Eaton in right.
“For me, Bryce chose to go elsewhere,” Martinez said. “But the guys we’ve had, we knew that we had the right guys to be able to step in and do the job, we really did. I mean, a healthy Adam Eaton, as you all know, you can see what he can do. We have a young center fielder in Victor Robles that’s had an opportunity to play every day this year, and has done well. And a 20-year-old that’s going to be 21 here in a day or two that’s been unbelievable.
“So coming into Spring Training, we knew if these guys were healthy, they were going to be very productive.”
Eaton, in his first full, healthy season in his third year in D.C., put up a .279/.365/.428 line, 25 doubles, and a career-high 15 home runs in 151 games and 656 plate appearances this year, over which he was worth 2.3 fWAR.
Soto, the 20-going-on-21-year-old outfielder Martinez mentioned, finished his second major league campaign with a .282/.401/.548 line, 32 doubles, and 34 homers in 150 games and a total of 659 PAs in a 4.8 fWAR season.
Robles, 22, put up a .255/.326/.419 line, 33 doubles, and 17 home runs in 155 games and 617 PAs in a 2.5 fWAR rookie campaign. He went 9 for 41 (.220/.273/.366) with a double and a home run in 12 games in the postseason, on the way to the Nationals’ World Series win over the AL champion Houston Astros.
Soto was 18 for 65 (.277/.373/.554) with three doubles and five home runs in October, with the veteran of the group, Eaton, at 31, and in his first postseason run, going 15 for 61 (.246/.361/.410) with a total of two doubles and two home runs for the winners of the 115th Fall Classic.
Robles and Soto are young and under team control for years to come. Eaton, after the Nats picked up a club option this winter, is set to make $9.5M this season, with a club option for $10.5M in 2021 that could keep the outfield together for at least two more seasons if they keep producing.
“Now that everything is said and done and we did what we did,” Martinez said at the Winter Meetings earlier this month, “now I started looking forward to the future and what we have for next year. I like where we’re at.”
The best part with the young outfield duo of Soto and Robles, the manager said, is that there is still room for improvement.
“Just keep hitting, keep improving,” he said. “They take ten minutes a day every day, and they go out there and work on their play. Bobby Henley has done a great job with those guys. He really has. I really believe, and I pushed Juan and Victor and tell them, ‘Hey, I want you guys to win a Gold Glove.’ That should be a goal when you’re playing defense, is to win that Gold Glove, and they both took it to heart.”
Neither won a Gold Glove this year, though both were finalists.
So was Anthony Rendon, though he didn’t win one either.
Replacing Rendon at third base, now that he’s signed on in LA, taking a 7-year/$245M offer from the Angels, might be a trickier proposition for the Nationals this time around.
Before the 29-year-old infielder’s deal with the Angels was announced, Martinez discussed the possibility that the Nats would have to find a way to move on from their 2011 1st Round pick, a year after losing their top 2010 draft pick.
“We’re going to look at other avenues and other things and try to fill that void, but it’s a tough one to fill,” Martinez acknowledged.
Carter Kieboom, now 22, and another 1st Round pick (28th overall in 2016), is an option at third (or more likely second) for the Nationals in 2019, depending on where they find help this winter, after a shaky start in the big leagues (5 for 43, .128/.209/.282, with two home runs, four walks, and 16 Ks in 43 plate appearances over 11 games) and a big offensive season in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League this past season (.303/.409/.493, 24 doubles, three triples, and 16 home runs over 494 PAs).
“We have some special young players,” Martinez said, “Soto being one, Victor learning, he learned a lot, man. His improvement this year was incredible -- at the plate, defensively.
“And the biggest thing I’ll tell Carter is that he’s a guy that needs to use the whole field when he hits and not to take his at-bats out to the field. It’s two different things.
“You’ve got to play defense, and then you’ve got to hit. I think that’s something, as a young player, that you need to learn to be consistent up here.”
“We think he’s going to be a good defensive infielder be it at third base or second base,” GM Mike Rizzo said at the Winter Meetings.
“And with shortstop filled with Trea [Turner], we feel that [Kieboom] gives us options at both positions.”
With openings at third and second base (where Howie Kendrick is expected to get a couple starts a week according to Martinez), there are opportunities to bolster the roster with free agent or trade acquisitions this winter, but the idea of adding everyday options at both third and second seems unlikely.
Will another early-20s product of the organization be able to help the Nationals get over the exit of another homegrown star? Rizzo and Co. in the front office in D.C. appear to be ready to give Kieboom a chance to join Soto and Robles in the everyday lineup and help the 2019 World Series champions defend their crown.