Could there be 3 players in Nats’ camp competing for center field?

Yesterday was that rainy day in West Palm Beach as the top prospects all checked-in officially for big league camp. The media was swarming before 9 AM inside the facilities at the CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches. While that was going on, the players with MLB experience would get into their Spring Training uniforms that were dark blue, and didn’t have a speck of dirt or a wrinkle as they have never been worn before that morning. There were some new players in the clubhouse to meet like Nasim Nunez, Joey Gallo and Nick Senzel on MLB deals. Then there are the top prospects, and NRIs like Jesse Winker — players who don’t know their exact status.

One of the early questions in Washington Nationals’ camp was to whether there would be a competition for the starting center field job. Manager Dave Martinez went into great detail to say there would be a competition in Spring Training between Jacob Young and last year’s Opening Day starter, Victor Robles. That will give us something to watch and debate. Also, with a 4-man bench, would the player who does not get the starting job have a spot on the bench?

But another player wants to throw his hat in the mix for a center field competition. Yes, the team’s top prospect, Dylan Crews, also thinks he can compete for the spot. That is how every top player should think. You have to make the decision as difficult as possible for them to cut you from big league camp. The odds are stacked against Crews, but what if he was clearly the best player in Spring Training? Again, force the issue and make it difficult for them to cut you.

“The thing about [Crews] that I’ve learned in a short period of time, he understands who he is. He knows where he’s at, and he knows what he needs to do. He’s quiet, but yet he has a sense of leadership, and you can see that.”

— Martinez said yesterday

While Martinez is saying all of the right things, he certainly did not say this will be a tryout between Crews, Robles, and Young for center field, and let the best man win. Most likely, Crews is going to go to either Double-A Harrisburg or Triple-A Rochester and wait his turn. When that turn comes — should be sooner than later. A September call-up at the very least to preserve his prospect status going into 2025. Robles will be gone by that point as a free agent, and Crews could only have Crews as his only competition.

If Young can show he can hit, he might want to unearth his old infielder’s glove that he had in college as a second baseman, and show that he can be an asset there. The team has little depth at second base behind Luis Garcia Jr. The Nats’ future outfield is stacked.

“Super excited, super excited, ready to get going here. I feel like I belong in this locker room right now.”

“I feel like I belong here, but there’s still a job to do at the end of the day.”

“So I’m going to go out here and just give it all –and see what happens.”

— Crews said yesterday

Crews has the right attitude and Natitude. Both are important to understand his place is far from set, yet he must immerse himself in the Nationals’ culture with his future teammates. This is the future of this team as the prospects have to remember that they are part of a team, and you must bring up your teammates even though you might technically be competing against them for spots. Outfielders James Wood and Robert Hassell III are also in big league camp.

Most of the spotlight is on Crews. That is okay, he is used to it. He was Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect back at the end of 2022 for the MLB Draft in 2023. The media has followed him for years. Yesterday, he opened a door from the parking lot, and a videographer was already filming him in his civvies, before he could get into his uniform. It was like the entrance of the main actor arriving on set for the first day of work.

With the main competition between Young, who finished the 2023 season as the Nats’ starting CF, and Robles, whose balky back limited him to just 36-games last season, the edge usually goes to contract status and health. Robles is on a $2.65 million deal, and Young is on a minimum players contract. If both are healthy, Robles has the edge because the team would love to showcase him and trade him during the season as it is his final year under team control before he is eligible for free agency.

“We’re going to have a battle for center field with Young and Robles.”

“If I had a say right now, I’d say Vic has a little bit of the upper hand, but I liked everything I saw about Jacob. He’s young, but you’ve got to remember, Vic is still really young, and he got hurt. I want to give him the opportunity to come back this year, and have a good Spring Training and see what he can do.”

I love what Jacob did, and I know he can play up here and help us win games. I think he showed that, and I think he’s going to get better. But Vic was our center fielder, and right now I say they’re going to compete. If they both were equal, I would say that Vic has the upper hand.”

— Martinez said

A battle? Robles has a baseball card that shows he has played in parts of seven MLB seasons, and looked like a future star back in 2019. Since then, it has been a whole lot of days in Martinez’s doghouse for mental blunders on the basepaths, outfield positioning, and bunting when he was supposed to swing away. The brilliance gets blinded by mistakes that have knocked him back to questions of talent wasted.

Giving Robles’ some credit, his bat showed marked improvement last season with a .299 batting line and an impressive .385 OBP in his abbreviated season of only 36-games. But he screwed around with his manager after a scolding when he was told to play deeper and placed himself near the warning track which we covered in photos.

A flyball was hit to Robles in right-center field near the warning track, and he was there in time — but did not catch it. His pitcher, MacKenzie Gore, lit into him. Martinez was clearly frustrated with Robles — and that has happened multiple times in their time together as teacher and student. We were not even sure Robles would be back with the team. Yes, here he is for a chance to put all that promise together and show everyone that he is a star. That would set him up for a huge payday.

As for Robles’ health, his manager believes that he is healthy and said that he is strong and has a full bill of health. Okay, so no excuses. The odd man out if everyone is healthy is Alex Call, who has remaining MLB options. The bench seems to only have two locks with either Riley Adams or Drew Millas at catcher, and Ildemaro Vargas as the utility man. That leaves two spots, and many candidates. The final two bench we think would be filled from Robles or Young, Stone Garrett or Winker, and Nunez. Oh, there is also former first round pick, Carter Kieboom, and he is out of options. Two of those names will be starters, and two will make the bench with two of them as the odd men out. Crews hopes to disrupt everything and send some players packing for other destinations.

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