In his Zoom call with reporters after signing a multi-year extension in Washington D.C., GM Mike Rizzo talked extensively about how Nationals’ talent evaluators were assessing players in the organization at the minor and major league levels as they try to determine which may end up being part of the core Washington’s next championship roster.
What is Rizzo himself watching as he evaluates players who make it up to the majors?
Is he looking at statistics? Overall play? Specific areas of their games?
“I think it’s a combination of all those things,” he explained. “We all like the statistical end of it, that’s fairly easy to read and recognize. But I look at it with much more of a microscope. I look at — what’s the preparation of the players? Do they have a routine like a major leaguer?
“Are they becoming major league players before our very eyes? Are they overmatched at this level? What is the thought process and the mindset of a player that goes 0 for 12?
“We all know the mindset of a guy that’s 4 for 10, but how do they handle the ebbs and flows of a major league season?
“And I think the biggest thing, how I judge it, is: How do you get through the season?”
Seeing how young players and prospects handle the rigors of the big league schedule and the grind of the day-to-day during the 162-game season, is a big part of the evaluation once a player has arrived in the majors, and since they kicked off their organizational reboot in 2021, the club has tried to handle young players carefully as they’ve worked them into the major league mix.
“We’ve got young pitchers like [Josiah] Gray and [MacKenzie] Gore and [Jake] Irvin, who we’ve really —- painstakingly have taken our time with them and made sure they got through the season at a pitch-count and an innings-count that we were comfortable with,” Rizzo said, “... and I think that’s going well, and you’ll see players like [CJ] Abrams, and [Keibert] Ruiz, and [Luis] García, who’ve never played this many games day after day after day, like a Lane Thomas has, and got through the season. So, that’s a big part of it is getting through the season healthy and successfully and going into the offseason with a good mindset and a good frame of mind to really get to work and improve on this season going into next.”
A reporter noted that one of those players was not like the others.
Lane Thomas, 28, played in a career-high 156 games this season, and put up career highs in doubles (36), home runs (28), and stolen bases (20), finishing with a .268/.315/.468 line over 682 plate appearances.
But at 28 years old, isn’t he something of an outlier on the roster along with the likes of Abrams (23), Ruiz (25), García (23), Gray (25), Gore (24), and Irvin (26)?
How does Thomas fit in the plans for the future? How about Joey Meneses (31)? Both are older, but still controllable and relatively affordable, so how do they fit in the core group?
“I think they’re both going to get an opportunity to fit into it,” Rizzo said.
“Each player develops at their own rate and once you develop and you get to the big leagues and you perform at the big league level, that’s what it’s all about.
“To me, Lane Thomas is a young 27-year-old [who’s] had a terrific season for us. He’s a toolsy player [who] has performed at the big league level.
“He’s a guy that’s shown some leadership in the clubhouse. He can do a lot of things for you on the baseball field.
“And Joey Meneses is kind of the epitome of hitting with runners in scoring position, and producing in big moments,” Rizzo added, pointing to Meneses’s .363/.396/.494 line with runners in scoring position this past season.
“So I think both of those players, as far as chronological age, may be a little older than what you’re looking for in a core group, but as far as baseball — major league performance time, I think they both have a chance to fit in for us.
“Now with that said,” the GM qualified, “... we are one of the youngest teams in the major leagues this year, and we’re going to — we’ve got players champing at the bit to get to the big leagues and they are going to be on the heels of a lot of these big league players that are currently on the roster, so that’s what this thing is all about: competition at the highest level.
“You’re bringing the best 26 [players] north and trying to compete in what is a very, very long marathon of a season.”