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Changing of the Guard for Washington Nationals...

Voit steps up as a new leader now that Soto and Bell are gone; manager Martinez excited about new prospects …

Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

WASHINGTON – Forget for a second, if possible, that incredible plate discipline and the amazing on-base percentage for Juan Soto.

At the age of 23, Soto was becoming a clubhouse presence this year.

“He was becoming that leader. He tried to lead by example,” Washington manager Dave Martinez said here Friday at Nationals Park.

Soto and first baseman Josh Bell, of course, were traded to the Padres in late July and returned to town this weekend with their new San Diego club.

“That guy is a leader,” Martinez said of Bell. “He is one of the best. He was a consistent leader in the clubhouse – he never had a bad day. That, to me, is a leader.”

So who fills that void in the clubhouse now that Soto and Bell are gone?

Martinez points out that Nelson Cruz is still around and he has been a strong voice in the clubhouse all season at the age of 42.

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Prior to Friday’s series opener against San Diego, Cruz was batting .235 with eight homers and 52 RBI.

A new veteran voice and leader in the first-base clubhouse off South Capital Street is first baseman Luke Voit, who hit second in front of Cruz in the lineup Friday.

He was hitting .230 with 15 homers and 51 RBIs overall going into the series opener.

In his first seven games since being traded to the Nationals, Voit hit two homers and drove in three.

He was drafted by the Cardinals in the 22nd round out of Missouri State in 2013 and turned 31 earlier this year.

“He has been really good” in the clubhouse, Martinez said.

Voit has six years of Major League experience while other players who came from San Diego could be a few years away from the majors.

That includes players at lower level that Martinez has been following.

“We have some young, young players we are excited about,” Martinez said.

That includes outfielder James Wood, who grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland and played at St. John’s in D.C. before heading to IMG in Florida.

Drafted by the Padres in 2020, Wood had four hits in his first game with Single-A Fredericksburg, including a homer.

He was 3-for-6 in a doubleheader at home in Virginia on Thursday and was hitting .385 this month with his new team before play Friday.

Wood was teammates at IMG with Elijah Green, the first-round draft pick of Washington last month.

Green also homered in his first game in the Nationals’ system, in the Florida Complex League.

Both of their fathers played college sports in Virginia – the father of Wood played basketball at Richmond and the father of Green was a football standout at Liberty in Lynchburg.