Nick Senzel Looks Like A Different Player (A Good One)

With high expectations after being drafted number 2 overall back in 2016, Nick Senzel never quite found his groove with the Cincinnati Reds. Now with a fresh start, Senzel is making the most of it.
Houston Astros v Washington Nationals
Houston Astros v Washington Nationals / Scott Taetsch/GettyImages

"Oh my...". When Nick Senzel blasted a 404 home run to right-center off of Ryan Weathers, those were the words Nationals broadcaster Kevin Frandsen let out. You could hear Frandsen's feelings, pleasantly surprised and impressed to see Senzel hitting his fourth home run in five games. Later that game, when Senzel crushed a go-ahead home run off of Anthony Bender, Frandsen again exclaimed "Oh my", but in a more serious and bewildered tone. It was shocking to everybody that Senzel was even capable of hitting like this.

After Senzel's fifth homer in five games played, he deserves an early-season performance review. He quickly returned from a broken thumb he suffered during batting practice on Opening Day, and has started to really hit, and hit for power. With 5 home runs in 39 plate appearances after Sunday's game, Senzel has a .639 slugging% and a 143 wRC+. Where did he learn to hit like 2019 Joey Gallo?

When Senzel was acquired in the offseason, I'm not sure a single person was excited to buy a Senzel Nationals jersey or pick up his new baseball card. Following some truly terrible recent seasons with the Reds, Senzel's value was only barely high enough to secure a major league deal, which is what led him to the Nationals. He no longer fits the "post-hype prospect" label at age 28 with no productive seasons in his career, and expectations were quite low for his tenure as the starting third baseman. Senzel fit in quite well with the carousel of one-year veterans at the hot corner in DC, following Jeimer Candelario, Maikel Franco, and Starlin Castro.

Well, can you imagine any of those players or eternal farmhand Carter Kieboom hitting 5 home runs in 5 games? Not really, no, but you likely couldn't have imagined Nick Senzel doing it, either. Last year, Senzel reached a career high with 13 home runs in 104 games, which was the second time he hit more than five in a season. In these five games he has tied his home run total from 2022, when he played 110 games. He has only once had a slugging percentage over .400, and his right-center laser off of Weathers was the only time he's ever hit a right-center laser in his career. He's never done that before. I checked every home run.

So, who is this guy right now? It's safe to say that he's playing completely unlike the player he has been in the past. Senzel has notably dropped his sprint speed all the way down to sub-leage average this year, and he appears physically stockier and has clearly brought more strength into his game. Theoretically, the new Senzel is a bat-first, homer-hitting corner guy, and that's worked well in a microscopic sample size thus far. It's easy to predict a new career high in home runs this year, as he'd only have to hit nine more to get there, but could he become a 20+, or even 25+ home run hitter? Lane Thomas came out of nowhere to do exactly that last season, and it did wonders for his value and outlook.

Senzel has slotted in at DH in four of the last five games, while Trey Lipscomb and Ildemaro Vargas have played third. When Lane Thomas and Joey Gallo come off of IL, Senzel will likely man third base full-time, but his partnership with the glove-first Lipscomb has worked shockingly well in April. Neither player is expected to become a star, but their complementary skill sets have done wonders for the Nats as they hover around .500. Simply avoiding a total black hole in the bottom of the lineup is a big win for the club, but it's too soon to expect solid hitting to continue from the hot corner duo.

I wouldn't have considered Senzel to be a serious trade candidate a week ago, but home runs are a cure-all for anybody who can hit them. His production will even out over the coming weeks, but if he can maintain a solid bump in slugging, he improves from what has been a sub-replacement career in aggregate and can be classified as an everyday starter. If he can add some on-base skills to his profile, which he has severely lacked in the past, he can truly take the next step as a bat-first player. If the Nationals can flip Senzel for some youngsters like they did with Candelario, that would be a success.