Lane Thomas ready to prove his worth as Nationals reflect on outfield future
WASHINGTON — The Nationals may not have a roster of a contending team, but they already have key pieces in place for 2023 and beyond.
Luis García and CJ Abrams are entrenched in midfield. Keibert Ruiz, although currently sidelined, is a lock to be their starting receiver. MacKenzie Gore, Cade Cavalli and Josiah Gray are all listed to fill the rotational positions. Relievers Kyle Finnegan, Carl Edwards Jr. and Mason Thompson are among several relievers under scrutiny for next year and beyond.
The outfield, however, is wide open. Never mind the hole left by Juan Soto in right field, especially with Joey Meneses filling it in so well. Center fielder Victor Robles hasn’t been able to recapture the success he had as a rookie in 2019. Left field has been a revolving door all year.
One of the biggest benefactors of the Nationals’ outfield uncertainty has been Lane Thomas, who has caught fire since being moved to early Sept. 1 with a 0.367/0.446/0.551 slant line in 11 games going into Tuesday’s series opener against the Orioles. Thomas has held the No. 1 spot before, but it’s the longest streak he’s seen at the top of the roster this season.
“I think I had success there last year and I honestly felt like I didn’t hit very well when I started randomly until recently,” Thomas said. “It’s just nice to have a few more hits while you’re also feeling great at home plate.”
Acquired as part of Jon Lester’s trade deal with the St. Louis Cardinals last year, Thomas has since hit .259 with 22 home runs and a .769 OPS in 171 games. He exceeded all expectations for a player who was traded for a struggling starting pitcher late in his career, but Thomas isn’t in Washington trying to justify the trade. He wants to be part of the club next season and help the team out of the depths of reconstruction they are mired in.
Even if the Nationals acquire an outfielder or two this offseason, Thomas will have a case to crack their roster in 2023. Although he doesn’t hit the ball very hard, he showed a bit of sneaky pop and even set up a game at three circuits. this season. Thomas also has game-changing speed and can play all three outfield positions.
“We are looking for players,” Martinez said in his pre-match press conference on Tuesday. “We need players… These guys need to understand, next year we need to field a team. We’ll take the top 26 guys, like [Mike] Rizzo always says, and like I’m always looking for the top 26 guys. So these guys have a chance to show us what they can do and that way we get an idea of what we want to do in spring training.
With the playing time he received in 2021, the Nationals had a chance to determine what kind of player Thomas is at the major league level. Him too.
“I just think a little more aware of the player that I’m capable of,” Thomas said of the biggest lesson he learned at DC. “It just gives me a little bit more confidence because I have the feeling like coming here fresh and not I had really played a lot in the big leagues in the past and now it’s – with 500 at bats under my belt… I did some good things and showed what I can do , it’s just being more consistent with these things.
If he stays at No. 1, Thomas will have the opportunity to rack up more at-bats than anyone else on the team for the rest of the season. Martinez hopes he will use these opportunities to work on being aggressive at the plate; he’s spoken several times this season about how Thomas does his best damage on fastballs early in the count.
Thomas understands he’s competing for a spot on the roster in 2023. Even amid his recent hot streak, he’s trying not to push himself too far.
“Any time you feel comfortable, I think that’s a bad thing,” Thomas said. “You’re always trying to prove your worth, I guess that makes sense. So yes, take each day as if it were not given to you. It’s really important to get out there and try to compete for your spot every day. Even if you are playing well at the time, it can still be taken away from you.