Joey Meneses is in rare air, but can it continue?

Photo by Sol Tucker for TalkNats

Many baseball careers have happy beginnings and sad endings like those novels in the discount bin at Barnes & Noble. We want to embrace those happy times like a lover, wrapping our arms around them, and never wanting to believe it can end. We are in that newlywed period with a 30 year old rookie. We embrace it, and at the same time — a little skeptical as to the cruelty of this game that can suck that positivity right out of you because baseball is so hard and unforgiving. Why? Because you lived through Clint Robinson‘s rookie and sophomore seasons in 2015-2016. But what if Joey Meneses  is different? Well, that’s why we play the games. 

I can’t tell you the rest of the Meneses story because it hasn’t been written yet. Real life will play this to its natural conclusion, and you’re there for the ride. My prediction is that he will come up clutch for the Washington Nationals in some big spots. Why? Because there’s so many moments of greatness that were bottled up, that are ready to be uncorked on the baseball world. Maybe age regression will be an age progression for him, and he can be the 2013 version of Jayson Werth next year. But at this moment in time, we live the here and now.

“Joey is a great example of what it takes to grind your way through the minor leagues to get to the big leagues and reach your dream,” Nats’ general manager Mike Rizzo said on the Sports Junkies radio show. “…They’re happy stories. They’re upbeat stories, because this guy has obviously earned every at-bat he’s gotten in the big leagues, and the most important part — he’s taken advantage of it. So he’s a great story of a guy who never gave up on his dream.”

As a result of the Juan Soto trade on August 2nd, this career minor leaguer got his call-up to the big leagues and has made the most of it. Born in 1992, making Meneses thirty years of age just like Aaron Judge — and nobody is skeptical of the Yankees’ star or the mega contract he’s going to sign shortly.  While the longitude of Linden, California where Judge was born isn’t too dissimilar from Culiacán, Mexico where Meneses was born, their childhoods and path to the Majors were so divergent. 

Over the course of his professional career, Meneses has split time between minor league teams, and international teams from Mexico to Japan to small towns you’ve never heard of like Pearl, Mississippi where mosquitoes are the size of butterflies but dreams are larger.

On the Meneses résumé is an NL East tour that started with the Atlanta Braves organization in 2011 as a teenager. He made it to the Philadelphia Phillies minor leagues in 2018 where Meneses won their MiLB MVP award. These were minor league jaunts that kept the dream alive. After the Phillies cut him loose, he played for the Orix Buffaloes of Japan and teammates with former Nats first-rounder Chris Marrero. Japan didn’t work for Meneses, and he returned to North America. The right-handed power hitter signed a minor league deal with the Boston Red Sox. He went on to play for their Double-A and Triple-A teams.

Early in 2022, Meneses was off to minor league free agency again, and that was his point and time when he signed a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals. Some might remember the older guy with a high numbered jersey (98), and no name on the back, get a call from minor league camp for a chance to play in a Spring Training game on March 31 — yes, that was Meneses cranking a 3-run homer against the Mets, and in the same lineup as Soto.  With his chance to start in Triple-A Rochester, Meneses impressed those who were watching. He kept impressing. He earned his call-up.

Over the course of 12 seasons in the minor leagues, Meneses hit for a very respectable average of .281. During his MVP season for the Triple-A affiliate for the Phillies, he had an average of .311, while hitting 23 HR’s with 82 RBIs. As of today, Meneses is batting .333 with a .954 OPS in his short MLB career. He’s put up much bigger stats than the 23 year old, future Hall of Famer, who he replaced on the roster. But we know that he’s no Soto. He is Meneses. We know it’s only 22 games and 84 at-bats. We just don’t know what comes next.

“Right now, he’s a big part of our future, right?” Nats’ manager Dave Martinez said. “I mean, he’s done well, and we’re looking for big bats like that. I love watching him play. I love watching that. So I want to keep it going.”

Teams stay skeptical of giving players older than 26 a first chance. Werth was cut loose by the Dodgers at 27, but he got another chance because of that 1st round pedigree. Meneses was a mutt in the eyes of evaluators. But he was at the right place at the right time with the Nats.

Record Setting Start

Meneses has absolutely destroyed the baseball ever since his MLB debut on August 2nd. In his first career game, he hit a 405-foot HR. What? He’s passed Anthony RendonRyan Zimmerman, Soto, and Ian Desmond for most hits to start a career with the Nats. Pedigree, schmedigree. He’s humble and probably has no idea of the superstars he has passed in Nats’ history. 

Much like Yadiel Hernandez, this is a great opportunity for an older rookie. You have to stay hungry and remember those mosquitoes from Pearl, Mississippi, and those fans who booed you in Reading, Pennsylvania. As soon as you get complacent thinking they need you, it’s over at that point. You need them, and you’re only as good to them as your last hit.

But I need you Joey Meneses. Even in a lost season, there’s a reason to watch. Joey, you are the Disney movie. You’re the real-life rookie.

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