When the Nationals traded away Juan Soto, I thought my life was over. Looking back on the trade almost two years later, it’s clear the Nationals made the right move trading away their superstar to expedite their rebuild. CJ Abrams, one of the main pieces in the Soto trade, got off to a slow start with the Nationals before heating up in the second half of the season. What was it exactly that helped flip the switch for Abrams down the stretch?
You could make an argument that Abrams got better as the season went on with more at-bats under his belt, but I don’t think it was a coincidence that we saw Abrams heat up once Davey Martinez put him in the leadoff spot. When Martinez made the move to bat Abrams first in the batting order, he was hitting .233 with only 11 stolen bases. He then went 12 for 25 with 5 steals in his first five games as the Nationals’ leadoff man. The spark was clearly ignited once Davey put some trust in his young star.
Abrams went on to hit over .255 with more than three times the amount of steals he had at the bottom of the lineup. His strikeout percentage went down nearly 10%, which is insane considering it is the most difficult spot to hit in the batting order. What is even crazier is that it was not just his offense that improved in his new role. His defense also continued to improve as the season went on. Baseball is an extremely mental sport; it is clear that Abrams' newfound confidence at the top of the order positively impacted his performance on the field.
The most important “revelation” of the Abrams leadoff experiment was that he is one of the best base-stealers in the league. He ended fifth in all of baseball in steals this season with 47 after barely having double-digit steals in his first half of the season. The Diamondbacks made it all the way to the World Series last season in large part due to Corbin Carroll’s elite speed and aggression on the basepaths. If you don’t have elite power (like the Rangers did), you need to make up for it with speed on the basebaths and timely hitting.
After watching Abrams continue to develop in the leadoff spot in the latter half of the season, I am completely bought-in. This kid has been doubted for his entire professional career, mainly in San Diego where he struggled to get off the ground after being rushed through the Minor Leagues. Once Davey Martinez injected him into the top of the order, we saw his confidence return and the talent shine. People forget he was one of the top prospects in all of baseball. The CJ Abrams leadoff experiment was a complete success.
After the Soto trade in 2022, there was not much hope surrounding this team in DC. Abrams made this team exciting in the darkest of times. He brought the energy, swagger, and speed you need to be an elite leadoff hitter. It took a while for Abrams to get his feet under him, but once he did, boy was he fun to watch. Once Davey gave him a chance, the rest was history. His confidence at the top of the lineup was one of, if not the best viewing pleasure as a Nationals fan this season. Well, besides seeing the Phillies and Braves not make it to the World Series.
Thank you CJ Abrams! I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store for the 2024 season.