“Joey Meneses is kind of the epitome of hitting with runners in scoring position,” Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters late this past season, “... and producing in big moments.”
Washington’s General Manager and President of Baseball ops was discussing where the 31-year-old, long-time minor leaguer and second-year big leaguer fit into the rebooting club’s plans.
Meneses finished the 2023 campaign at .363/.396/.494 with runners in scoring position, as Rizzo highlighted, with a .275/.321/.401 line overall, hitting 36 doubles and 13 home runs in 154 games and 657 plate appearances, after he hit 14 doubles and 13 homers over a total of 56 games and 240 PAs in his breakthrough run after making his MLB debut late in 2022.
Meneses hit just two home runs in the first three months of the season, before connecting for 11 over the final three months of the 2023 campaign, as he adjusted to his new role as the DH for the Nationals.
“He’s getting behind the baseball,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said late in the season.
“It’s really, really nice. He’s another guy that — I know he’s been frustrated about not hitting home runs, but man, the guy can drive in runs. He’s drove in some big runs for us all year long. I said, ‘Last year you hit home runs. This year it hasn’t come yet, but it’s in there, you know it’s in there. We know it’s in there. But you got to stay back and use you legs, and not jump forward, and he’s been doing that the last couple days.”
Martinez talked often about Meneses trying to adjust to DH duties, and the manager tried to get him in the field at first on occasion, though he only played 19 games there (and one in right field), spending the majority of his time in the lineup as the designated hitter (131 G).
Rizzo and Martinez both acknowledged being in the corner infield market this offseason, and the Nationals signed Nick Senzel earlier this month, with the expectation he’ll be the third baseman most days.
If it’s necessary they can turn to Meneses at first base, but ideally, Martinez said, he would be the DH while playing first base occasionally.
“I want to see him do a little bit of both, I really do,” Martinez explained. “I want to see him play some more first base. We are pretty good about masking his — he had a knee issue so we wanted to keep him healthy. The biggest thing was to keep him on field, keep him hitting.”
A knee issue?
According to a report by MASN’s Bobby Blanco, the problem with Meneses’s knee is, “... believed to be patellar tendinitis suffered while playing winter ball last year,” but he’s healthy this winter, and they’re hoping that it makes a difference for Meneses in 2024.
In a small sample size (19 G and 86 PAs) he played at first base this past season, Meneses put up a .333/.372/.630 line, with a .265/.313/.361 line as the DH.
“Hopefully this year he comes ready to go,” Martinez said, looking forward to 2024 Spring Training.
“I know he’s doing a lot of agility stuff, he looks good so far. So I told him, I said — and he even mentioned to me about playing some outfield too as well. He loves playing left field.
“So we’ll see what kind of shape he comes into Spring Training, and then we’ll go from there.”
Meneses has to, Martinez added, continue to get more comfortable as a DH, since it likely will be his role again this coming season.
“Look, he did really well,” Martinez said. “I know he wanted to play more of a position. I had to explain to him that DH is a position, and it’s a big position because we needed him to hit.
“But I will look at the options, and we’ll get him out there to play some first base more this year just to keep him engaged a little bit.
“But I thought he did a heck of a job. I know he didn’t like it at first, but towards the end he actually accepted it a lot better.
“I didn’t hear any griping towards the end about not playing first base or outfield. But, man, he can hit though. We need him to hit.”