- The Washington Times
Tuesday, August 16, 2022

After the Nationals traded Juan Soto on Aug. 2, many saw their game against the Mets that night as the start of a new era.

It was, and for many fans, it’s one that is tough to swallow. 

But the more accurate date for when the post-Soto era officially began was Monday, when shortstop prospect C.J. Abrams was called up and made his Nationals debut. 

Abrams is just 21 years old, but he’s already got plenty of pressure on him. When he took the field against the Cubs on Monday, it brought upon a glimmer of hope for the organization’s rebuild — one that looks like it has a brighter future after the Soto trade.

But it also kicked off a new stage for the local nine — one in which Abrams and four other prospects will be forever judged against Soto, the superstar for whom they were traded. The way Abrams performs over the final two months of the season could go a long way toward convincing the fanbase that trading away a generational talent like Soto was maybe the right move. Or it could create doubts about whether the haul of prospects the Nationals received in return for Soto will ever pan out. 

“This is what we talked about moving forward, some of our youth, and now we’re getting to see some of that here,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez told reporters Monday. “Watching these guys all play together and grow together, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Abrams’ Nationals debut was nothing like the player he was traded for, as Soto homered on the first pitch he saw in 2018 at just 19 years old. Abrams went 0-for-4 with a strikeout in the No. 7 spot in the lineup and committed an error, but he also displayed his athleticism on a slick play up the middle in Washington’s 5-4 win. The victory improved the Nationals to a still-MLB worst 39-78 before their tilt against the Cubs Tuesday night. 

“He was good. His angles were really good, which was awesome,” Martinez said. “He needs some time. Everything’s brand new to him. … But he’s got potential to be really good, and you can see that.”

Abrams was arguably the lynchpin in the Soto trade. It’s highly unlikely the Nationals would have traded away the face of the franchise without getting Abrams in return. As a trade piece, Abrams had it all: top prospect status, excellent tools, good defense at a premium position and was big-league ready at a young age. 

Before he graduated from the list this summer when he played 46 games with the Padres, Abrams was ranked as baseball’s No. 9 prospect by MLB Pipeline. Despite struggling at the plate with the Padres with a .232 average, Abrams, the No. 6 overall pick out of high school in 2019, has dominated the lower levels with a career .331/.385/.511 slash line against minor league competition. 

Whether he turns into the superstar the Nationals hope he can be remains to be seen. But it’s clear that he’s the future at shortstop. 

“We’re going to see him play every day until I deem he needs a day [off], and we’ll go from there,” Martinez told reporters. “We want him to stay here. That’s our goal.”

Infielder Luis Garcia, who had been starting at shortstop since being recalled in early June, went on the 10-day injured list with a groin injury on Monday to make room for Abrams. When Garcia returns, Martinez said he will move to second base — the position he manned for parts of 2020 and 2021. Garcia, just 22 years old and himself a former top prospect in the Nationals’ system, is more suited to play second after posting a poor .938 fielding percentage at shortstop this season.

Martinez believes that Abrams and Garcia both have the potential to be All-Stars — a combination that would make the young middle infield duo one of the best in the big leagues. 

“Both those guys have the ability to be really good, and All-Stars one day,” Martinez said. “But only time will tell.”

• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at jmeyer@washingtontimes.com.

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