Washington Nationals: Brian Goodwin’s power will determine his future

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Brian Goodwin had a productive rookie season with the Washington Nationals at age 26. Can he build on his potential, or have we already seen his peak?

Brian Goodwin is often overlooked among the Washington Nationals’ stacked outfield group. Bryce Harper is the franchise centerpiece. Adam Eaton owns a 119 OPS+ over the past four years and was the key piece of a blockbuster deal last winter. Michael Taylor is an emerging asset in centerfield. In the minors, athletic outfielders Victor Robles and Juan Soto also happen to be the Nats’ top two prospects.

Meanwhile, Goodwin, a former top-100 prospect himself, will start the season on the bench despite posting a 105 OPS+ last season across 278 plate appearances. Goodwin slashed .251/.313/.498 and stuffed the box score with 13 home runs, 41 runs, 30 RBIs, and six stolen bases in 74 games.

The 26-year-old rookie suffered a groin injury in August, which forced him to miss the final 47 games of the season. He ultimately made the playoff roster, but did not receive a single at-bat.

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Defensively, Goodwin is a handy player to have available, though he does not have one singular talent that sets him apart in the outfield.

With the injuries to Taylor and Eaton, Goodwin received 51 percent of his defensive assignments in centerfield last summer. In a relatively small sample, Goodwin posted minus-6 defensive runs saved in center, and minus-1 DRS between the two corner spots. So while Goodwin is probably a below-average centerfielder, he is perfectly average in the corners.

Despite the middling numbers, he still has plenty of defensive value off the bench. While the Nats don’t want to start him in centerfield for 150 games, he can still hold his own out there in short-term situations. He is clearly qualified to play in the corners as well. He provides defensive flexibility, and could improve with more reps at the major league level.

At the plate, Goodwin has already established three fairly reliable traits. Check out these numbers:

Goodwin MiLB statsGoodwin 2017 MLB stats2017 MLB average
BB-rate11.4 percent8.3 percent8.5 percent
K-rate22.4 percent24.8 percent21.6 percent
BA.253 average.256 average.255 average

Goodwin’s batting average, walks and strikeouts have held steady throughout his professional baseball career, and are right in-line with the average MLB hitter. Expect him to at least maintain those numbers going forward.

So if Goodwin is an average defender and an average hitter, is there anything special that makes him stand out as a long-term asset, either with the Nationals or in a potential trade?

Power is Goodwin’s biggest needle-moving skill. Before 2017, his previous home run high-water mark was 14 in 119 Triple-A games two years ago. Last season, he bopped 13 home runs in just 74 games, good for a 28-homer pace over a full 162-game season.

If last year’s power surge is real, then the Nationals have another starting-caliber outfielder at their disposal. Combining 20-homer pop with his handful of other solid skills means the Nationals can afford an injury to Eaton or Taylor without skipping a beat. They could also use him as trade bait in July if they need an upgrade on the mound or elsewhere in the lineup.

But if that 2017 home run total was an outlier, then Goodwin is little more than an expendable bench piece at 27 years old. He is not a good enough defender to man centerfield consistently, and if the power deserts him, he can’t take over a corner position either.

As home run numbers balloon across the league, Goodwin needs to keep up in 2018 to prove his worth, especially with Robles breathing down his neck.

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If you graded a baseball player’s key skills, Goodwin would range from a ‘B’ to a ‘C’ in almost every category. But power carries extra weight for any outfielder, so he must make sure his power grade is closer to a ‘B’ than a ‘D’ as he hits his prime.

Statistics courtesy Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs.

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