The Nats 2024 season is getting closer by the day, and pretty soon, before we know it — pitchers and catchers will be reporting to West Palm Beach. With the upcoming season, there is growing concern on the uncertainty of who will be playing Center Field. Who will play it? Will there be a rotation in center field? What happens if that doesn’t work? Those concerns will be the main center of attention in the next coming weeks. After last year’s carousel in the middle of the outfield, Nats fans are eager to find out who will be their next center fielder, but most likely that definitive decision won’t happen this early. These young men listed below are good candidates to take over that Center Field role.
Young is a 24 year old who was drafted in the 2021 draft and arrived on the scene last year when others couldn’t get the job done in Center Field. Young stood out of all the others due to his consistency to provide electricity as others failed to do so. Last year Young slashed .252/.322/.336 with a .658 OPS. Young used his abilities to put the ball in play and let good things happen but was mostly held to base hits as opposed to extra base hits. He also posed a great threat on the bases and in the field. In 33 games, Young had 13 stolen bases and posted a +3 OAA (Outs Above Average). He was never caught stealing, and his season highlight was a walk-off single on Sept. 6. If you extrapolate Young’s defensive numbers for his 33 games (20 percent of the season), he would have had a +15 OAA which would be Gold Glove worthy. That’s the thing with Young that his speed and defense tools are his calling card. But is it enough to give him a bench spot or compete with Victor Robles for the starting spot?
Call is a 29 year old out of the 2016 draft. He was able to take over the Center Field spot last year when Robles initially got hurt. A lot of minor speed bumps for Call in the 2023 season caused a lot of uncertainty in his overall play due to his offense. Call last season slashed .200/.307/.307 with a .618 OPS. Call played in 128 games last year and was a defensive phenomenon making what seemed like play after play while even robbing a home run in Atlanta to seal a win. Call finished 15th in OAA with +8 which is impressive considering he was a part-time player. The highlight of Call’s year was his walk-off homer off the Cubs on May 4th. There are some concerns with Call’s abilities at the plate. That concern is based on his batting average being at the Mendoza line for the 2023 season and lack of power. One thing that Call doesn’t get credit for is his ability to hit lefties. Call hit .252 with a .745 OPS which is a good bat to have when facing lefties. For the Nationals, I see Call playing either the platoon role in Center Field or Left Field which would drastically alter what he can do defensively, -or- he could be a roster casualty if the team chooses Young over him.
Robles only appeared in 36 games last season due to problems with injuries throughout the year, and particularly in a strain in his back. In those 36 games, Robles hit .299/.385/.369 with a .749 OPS. Those are small sample size numbers that would be great for a full season. But while Robles was hitting, his defense was below average, and he and his manager verbally disagreed on defensive positioning. Robles is a mix of Young and Call in the way that he gets on base like Young and when he is going good, he should have the fielding ability of Call. Robles had been considered one of the best defenders in the outfield ever since he arrived on the scene at Washington of 2017. However, one of the main problems he now faces is his health and consistency as well as mental lapses that showed up in his defense and running the bases in the past. The coaching staff can’t rely on a significant role player who can’t stay healthy, and now the team has $2.65 million invested in him for the 2024 season. In the future, I hope we can see significant signs of improving health as he could play a vital role in the Nationals soon to come. Of note, this is the final year of team control for Robles who becomes a free agent after the season. He could certainly be a trade candidate at any time if he is productive and healthy.
The twenty-one year old Dylan Crews was just named Baseball America’s #6 Prospect in all of baseball. He was the Nationals First-Round draft pick last year. Crews tore it up offensively especially, when he first arrived in Fredericksburg. After Crews jumped up to Double-A Harrisburg initially, we saw a huge decline in his offensive ability. Most prospects see a struggle at some point in their Minor League career. Crews has a good chance to be called up to the Majors at some point this season whether it be early or halfway through the season if he continues the success we saw in Fredericksburg. MLB Pipeline does have Crews’ ETA to be the 2024 season but that will depend on his success.
Before Crews was drafted, Wood looked like the heir apparent to the future Nats’ center field. He has played all of the outfield positions, and is Baseball America’s #11 Prospect in all of baseball. His power is impressive, and his Double-A season showed why the scouts love him, although his strikeout rate was up. Between Crews and Wood, we could see both make their 2024 MLB debuts with one in center field and one in left field with Lane Thomas in right field if all goes according to how some fans are hoping it goes.
While none of these players are perfect (nobody is), the coaching staff has to weigh what they want out of the season. Do they want to focus on getting on-base or fielding, as the first priority? All of these players have talent and are presumably great clubhouse guys. Questions will arise whether management wants to bring up prospects now to get called up and possibly put up mediocre numbers and start service-time clocks. We have to see how spring training plays out, — and hopefully by the end of spring training, we will have a better idea of who will be the starting Center Fielder for 2024.
- By Matthew Larson 1/17/2024