Nationals Spring Training Update: Is it Time to Give Up on Joey Meneses?

After a “Linsanity” run in 2022, coming out of nowhere to give us something to root for after the Juan Soto trade, Meneses was a league-average bat in 2023 and has struggled in Spring Training this year. Is it time for the Nats to let the 31-year-old primary DH walk?
Washington Nationals 1B/DH Joey Meneses
Washington Nationals 1B/DH Joey Meneses / Jess Rapfogel/GettyImages

After the World Series run in 2019, as an admittedly very biased fan I was excited for 2020. The pitching staff still featured three guys who were aces, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin, with many of the vital World Series members returning outside of Anthony Rendon. The season was nothing short of a nightmare, and it seems like I have not woke up from the nightmare since.

Fast forwarding a bit, the 2022 season was the least exciting I have been as a Nats fan since the late 2000s, and I still get a shiver down my spine thinking about the Opening Day infield. It's almost a miracle that we won 55 games with César Hernández, Alcides Escobar, and Maikel Franco playing every day. The three combined for -0.6 fWAR in 292 total games, with Cesar Hernandez hitting one single home run in 147 games, after hitting 21 with the White Sox a year earlier.

The only bright spots were Juan Soto and Josh Bell, and after the soul-crushing trade that sent them both away, 30-year-old Joey Meneses was called up to the big leagues for the first time in his career after 12 years in the minors and independent ball-amassing nearly 5,500 professional plate appearances. And then… Meneses started to write his movie script.

On August 2nd, 2022, Meneses led off the 7th inning with a first pitch bomb to right center field. It was his first career hit, and his first career home run, smashed 405 feet igniting an emotional crowd. This proved to not only be a career-defining moment but a foreshadowing of what was to come for the rest of the season. Meneses went from a nobody to one of the best stories of baseball, slashing .354/.385/.626 with 7 home runs, a 180 wRC+, and 1.0 fWAR over his first 104 plate appearances. Joey went from a nobody to somebody very quickly, almost ensuring that not only did he deserve a roster spot heading into 2023, but he deserved every day at-bats in the middle of the order.

Meneses finished the 2022 season with 13 home runs, slashing .324/.367/.563 for a 157 wRC+ and 1.6 fWAR in 56 games. His 157 wRC+ put him 18th in the league from August 2nd when he made his debut until the end of the season, just behind Yordan Alvarez and ahead of Shohei Ohtani. Pretty good.

Heading into 2023, Davey Martinez and Mike Rizzo confirmed Meneses was a lock for everyday at-bats, confirmed even more so after he even tore up the World Baseball Classic, bashing 2 home runs in a team Mexico win over the USA. Expectations were inflated for Joey, and he went into 2023 with high expectations.

Meneses started the season off hitting the ball hard but having almost no power to show for it. In 154 games Meneses slashed .275/.321/.401 for a 96 wRC+ and matched his 13 home runs total of 2022, taking almost 100 more games to do so than he did the year prior. This resulted in a -0.2 fWAR, as he provided no defensive value in his little time at first base, logged one game in right field, and misjudged a ball so badly vs the Dodgers that Davey never trusted him out there again. His hard-hit rate, barrel percentage, and average exit velocity all fell dramatically from well above league average in 2022 to league average or below in 2023, and his underlying statistics suggest that Joey actually outperformed his expected stats last year. It is fair to say Meneses was a miss.

Meneses only hit two home runs over the first three months of the season but did begin to drive the ball more over the last three months, hitting the remaining eleven homers he had on the year. Meneses expressed the struggles he faced adapting to a DH role, and Mike Rizzo announced after the season that he was dealing with a knee injury that he suffered during winter ball that affected him throughout the season.

On the bright side, Meneses slashed .363/.396/.494 with runners in scoring position, but on the downside, it's fair to admit not many Nationals like to get on base. Meneses is still under team control for five more potential seasons, posted a .771 OPS vs left-handed pitching, and performed better at the plate when he played first base last season in limited opportunities. Although he is currently struggling in Spring Training, Meneses deserves to be on the roster in a 1B/DH role for now, especially against left-handed pitching, but could see his role diminish if he does not regain his 2022 form.

After the signings of Joey Gallo, Jesse Winker, new addition Eddie Rosario, and Stone Garrett hopefully returning soon, Meneses needs to show signs of life. It would be foolish to think Joey can be a top 20 hitter like he was in 2022, but I still think there is potential for him to be a 110-120 wRC+ bat that is controllable. Meneses may not be the most valuable, but it would be foolish to give up on him now before letting him get one more shot during the regular season. If he produces similar to how he did last year, it is time to give a younger player the majority of at-bats against lefties. It's easy to root for a guy like Joey, so I hope he puts the doubts to bed and has a solid season this year. Now it's time for him to prove it.