WASHINGTON – Drew Mendoza was at his home in Florida – where he has his own batting cage – when he got a call last month from Mark Scialabba, assistant general manager, player development with the Washington Nationals.
Scialabba informed the former Florida State standout that he was being invited to Major League Spring Training as a non-roster invitee.
“I thought it was a possibility,” Mendoza said of the invite. “It was a very exciting phone call to get. The conversation with Mark was very short.”
What are the expectations from manager Davey Martinez?
“As far as Davey, no real expectations. Just basically welcome all of us down here and he is looking forward to getting to know us and watching us play.”
That didn’t take long for Mendoza, one of the top infield prospects for Washington.
Mendoza, 23, got a lot of attention on social media for the defensive play he made at first base in the first Spring Training game against the Cardinals on Feb. 28.
But he also had a good day on offense as he laced a double against St. Louis lefty pitcher Genesis Cabrera in the seventh inning.
“I saw the lefty that came in with the Cardinals was a little erratic with his breaking ball,” Mendoza said.
“I kind of eliminated that pitch. I knew he threw a lot of fastballs and he threw hard. He missed with the first one and I thought he would come with another (fastball).
“He threw one over the plate and I got a good piece of wood on it.”
.@Nationals major league camp invitee Drew Mendoza has a statistics degree from Florida State, so he can appreciate the importance of analytics in baseball. But he says "I definitely think the game is won on the field with athleticism. It's won by people." #Nats @FSUBaseball— Lacy Lusk (@LacyLuskBA) February 18, 2021
Mendoza enjoyed having fans in the stands for the game with the Cardinals.
“It was great to hear fans in the game and cheering and being locked in on every pitch. It was really cool to have that atmosphere again; it has been a long time,” he said.
Mendoza told Federal Baseball that he dressed for two Spring Training games in 2020 with the Nationals but did not see game action.
Mendoza has been used at third base and first base with the Nationals since he was drafted in the third round in 2019 out of Florida State. He played for Single-A Hagerstown of the South Atlantic League that year, hitting .264 in 55 games, then was part of the 60-player pool in Fredericksburg for part of last summer and then Instructional League.
“He has a strong arm,” Scialabba told Federal Baseball. “He worked extremely hard this winter.”
“It seems to be the focus is more on first base” this year, Mendoza said. “That seems to be where we have a need. But I have had some work over at third as well.”
The Spring Training invite is nice after Mendoza, who worked on his college degree this winter, and others missed the 2020 minor league season.
“I don’t think you can make up for that lost year,” he said. “Everything in baseball is game-oriented. Definitely getting down here early is really helpful.”
The Florida State product has been able to spend time this month with first basemen Josh Bell and Ryan Zimmerman and third baseman Carter Kieboom. “I was able to hit with Juan Soto a couple of days before camp down in Miami,” Mendoza said. “And get to see how he approaches his routine. It has been a great atmosphere.”
Mendoza is not sure where he may play this season – with a lot still up in the air for the minors.
“I really don’t know how those rosters will shake out,” he said. “It is not something I really worry about because I have no control over.”
Mendoza is 2 for 8 with a double, two walks, and three Ks in five games in Grapefruit League action this spring.