Energetic Abrams to open spring in leadoff spot

Manager Dave Martinez expecting variation in mid-lineup, playing time for top prospects

February 23rd, 2024

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The starting lineup manager Dave Martinez maps out for Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener is likely to go through several iterations before Opening Day, but it will give a glimpse into how the Nationals roster is shaping up in camp.

Drafting the batting order can be like maneuvering puzzle pieces depending on matchups, availability and the need for reps and looks. Martinez addressed specific areas of the lineup ahead of the Spring Training kickoff against the Astros.

Top of the order
CJ Abrams thrived when he was moved to the top of the order in early July last season, and the shortstop will be tabbed there for the Grapefruit League opener. He batted .258 with 11 home runs and 34 stolen bases in 71 starts after his move to the No. 1 slot.

Martinez lauded Abrams, 23, for leading by example and demonstrating energy and confidence while embracing the staff’s direction for improvement.

“We try to lessen his chase and really try to stay in the middle of the field,” Martinez said. “I think sometimes he gets a little pull-happy. We still want him to be aggressive, but aggressive in the strike zone. I’m watching him work, and he’s doing everything right right now.”

Middle of the lineup
Expect to see different combinations at the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 spots in camp. Last season, the Nats plugged in four players to bat third, 10 to bat fourth and 14 to bat fifth. Joey Meneses and Keibert Ruiz are likely to hit in that range again, while Joey Gallo, Nick Senzel and Jesse Winker are new additions who could do so as well.

“Obviously this spring, we’ll toy around with it a little bit,” said Martinez. “It can go so many different ways. We’ll see how it works out. We could do something against lefties, we could do something against righties. But like I said before, it’s nice to have options, it’s nice to have a couple guys in the middle of the lineup that could drive the ball and hit a three-run homer. I’m looking forward to watching these guys.”

In that group, Ruiz brings matchup versatility, hitting from both sides of the plate. The catcher batted third in 10 of the last 20 games of 2023, although 12 of his 18 homers came batting fourth or fifth.

“I’m not afraid to put him back up at the top of the order -- he’s a switch-hitter -- and have guys hit behind him,” Martinez said. “He’s going to hit 3, 4, 5, maybe 6 in spring. We’ll see how it works out.”

Playing time for prospects
In addition to preparing a Major League roster for Opening Day, the Nationals plan to get their top prospects who are non-roster invitees a good amount of playing time in big league camp. Martinez estimates this group could get one to two at-bats per game, giving the team an early opportunity to see emerging talents including No. 2 overall Draft pick Dylan Crews (MLB Pipeline's No. 7 prospect, Nats’ No. 1), Nationals Minor League Hitter of the Year James Wood (MLB No. 14, Nats’ No. 2) and Nationals Minor League Defensive Player of the Year Trey Lipscomb (Nats’ No. 14).

“While they’re here, I want to see them play, I want to see what they can do,” Martinez said. “We’ve been working with them just as much as we worked with our guys, our veteran guys. But they’re part of the Nationals organization, and we want to get them ready. I love the fact that they’re here and getting a lot of work in.”