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Skipper ribs Soto for goal of 'making team' 

@jessicacamerato
February 20, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Nationals manager Dave Martinez began his daily media availability with a statement before taking questions.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Nationals manager Dave Martinez began his daily media availability with a statement before taking questions.

“I’ll start off by saying, I just want everybody to know that from what I’ve seen from Juan Soto, I think he’s got a really good chance of making the team,” Martinez said. “He’s going to be all right.”

Two days into the Nationals’ full-squad workouts, Martinez was referring to Soto’s comments from earlier this week when he said his mentality is “you’ve got to make the team.” The 21-year-old’s roster spot wasn’t exactly in question heading into his third Major League season following a breakout playoff run, but he didn’t want to fall into complacency.

“I’m going to fight for my place,” Soto said on Monday. “I’m going to keep working hard, keep playing baseball the right way because it’s a lot of new players, a lot of new outfielders and you don’t want to get comfortable on this team. You want to keep going. I come here to play for one spot, and that’s why I’m here.”

Martinez has been traveling around the Nats’ training complex since the team is spread out across fields working on various drills. Soto’s work on Thursday included taking batting practice off Javy Guerra and Paolo Espino. The sound of the bat is easy to hear above music playing from speakers when Soto, who hit .282/.401/.548 with 34 home runs last season (five in the postseason), is at the plate.

Soto would like to add base stealing to his offensive repertoire this year. He figures if he is going to get walked, he could add a swiped bag to it, too. Last season, he had 12 steals.

In addition to his offensive potential, Martinez has been impressed by Soto’s attention to details on defense. Soto posted a .993 fielding percentage in 2019, and his to-do list for ’20 includes working on footwork and avoiding dropping his arm on his throws.

“It’s just who he is,” Martinez said. “He wants to be prepared and ready in any way, shape or form to help us win.”

So has Martinez informed Soto of his place on the Nationals’ roster?

“No, not yet,” Martinez said. “I want him to fight for his position. He looks good, though.”

Opener expectations

When the Nationals take on the Astros in their Spring Training opener on Saturday night at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, it will be more than a rematch of the 2019 World Series. It will be the first time the Astros have taken the field since Major League Baseball’s investigation into sign-stealing during the 2017 season.

“I’m hoping that on our side -- I can’t tell you anything about the Houston Astros or what they’re going to do -- but for us, we act professional, we go about our business and get ready for the season,” Martinez said. “Go out there and compete and just get ready to play.”

13-year veteran Max Scherzer is slated to start against Astros prospect Cristian Javier.

Listening and learning

Turn a corner in the Nationals clubhouse and you will enter an area designated for catchers. Among the prospects and Spring Training candidates is the returning veteran duo of Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes.

Martinez lauded their professionalism, communication and studying of the game. There’s so much work, he said, that goes on after the final out.

“They’re very smart,” Martinez said. “Their routine in between starts, in between innings -- unbelievable. The amount of videos, the amount of communication. Even the days after they catch somebody, they constantly have a communication with that guy and they break down the game. Moving forward, they have an idea of what they want to do for the next opponent. It’s really nice.”

Martinez has said he would like other position players to form a pairing like the two catchers. At the same time, he wants the other catchers to learn what they can during Spring Training, too.

“If you’re a young catcher now and you’ve got two veteran catchers like that, you need to get with them and figure out what’s good and what’s not and they can help them in many ways,” Martinez said.

Jessica Camerato covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicacamerato, Facebook and Instagram.