Nick Senzel was the No. 2 pick in 2016’s MLB Draft, with Cincinnati Reds selecting the third baseman out of the University of Tennessee a pick after the Philadelphia Phillies drafted Mickey Moniak and 25 picks before the Washington Nationals took Carter Kieboom at No. 28.
Fans in the nation’s capital are familiar with Kieboom’s struggles at the major league level, and Senzel too has some experience with the difficulty of living up to the sort of hype which comes with being a high draft pick and highly-regarded prospect.
Baseball America ranked Senzel the No. 1 prospect in the Reds’ system the year after he was drafted, and again in 2018, before he made his MLB debut in 2019, hitting 20 doubles and 12 home runs as a rookie, with a .256/.315/.427 line, 30 walks, and 101 Ks in 104 games and 414 plate appearances.
A variety of injuries limited Senzel to 169 games total between 2020-22, 110 of the games in 2022, and he played 104 again in 2023 before the Reds non-tendered the infielder, making him a free agent.
He signed on with the Nationals a month later, with the former No. 2 draft pick (who got a $6.2M bonus out of college) agreeing to a 1-year/$2M deal.
How has he dealt with the expectations which come along with being a high draft pick and the hype and the scrutiny which accompanies that sort of spotlight?
“I think any time you get drafted that high there’s an expectation that comes with it,” Senzel acknowledged.
“I think a lot of it is self-imposed pressure and expectation that was something I had to learn to handle and to get through.”
The self-imposed pressure came with his rise to the big league level.
“I think through the minor leagues it’s a little bit easier,” the now-28-year-old explained, “... because there’s not as much pressure in-game because you know you’re going to be playing every day, but once I kind of got to the big leagues it was a big adjustment for me, to kind of handle those things, and the older I’ve gotten and the years of failures and successes, and just riding that wave I've got a better handle on how to handle that stuff, but yeah it was definitely tough. Definitely tough for sure.”
Getting an opportunity to return to third base after playing predominantly in the outfield in Cincinnati, and having a chance to mentor members of a young roster in D.C. appealed to Senzel when he looked at his options this winter, and he said with the Nats he saw parallels to what he went through with a rebooting Reds’ club last season.
“Last year with Cincinnati,” he said, “… obviously the time I was there it was kind of an older crop of guys with a couple young guys coming in and then obviously with trades and stuff brought in an overhaul of young talent and just with the youth you get excitement, you get that energy and I could definitely see playing the Nationals from the other side that they brought that, you could see they play with energy and excitement and I could just see the similarities. So it will be exciting, it should be an easy transition going to a group of a lot of younger guys and just try to mentor them and just try to match the energy level with them because that youth has so much energy and it’s great for a team and great for a clubhouse.”
Getting to play alongside CJ Abrams, in particular, on the left side of the infield, has Senzel excited.
“[Abrams is a] super-talented player, athletic, really good at shortstop,” Senzel said. “Just excited to be around him, learn from him, try to mentor him in any way I can, be there for him, but just watching him from the other side I saw him in his first year in San Diego, and even the way he’s grown, he’s just still so young, and even the way he’s grown in the last couple years it’s almost exponential.
“Last year you really started to see him come into his own and just with the more at-bats and just the more games he’s playing, just really excited to be on that left side with him.”