Coles believes Meneses' late success is sustainable

Joey Meneses took the Nationals and the major leagues by storm over the season’s final two months last year. The 30-year-old rookie had spent 10 years in the minors, Mexican and Japanese professional leagues before having his contract selected by the Nationals and making his major league debut on Aug. 2 against the Mets.

Not many people knew who Meneses was when he was introduced as the starting first baseman batting sixth that night at Nationals Park. Most fans were still lamenting over the trade that sent Juan Soto and Josh Bell to the Padres earlier that day.

But Meneses made sure Nats fans knew who he was by the end of the game, hitting a leadoff home run in the bottom of the seventh to secure a 5-1 win over the first-place Mets. With that longball, he became the first Mexican-born player and the fifth-oldest player in major league history to homer in his major league debut.

And he never looked back.

From that point on, Meneses was second in the National League with 72 hits, a .324 average and a .930 OPS. He was tied for fourth in the league with 13 home runs and tied for fifth with 27 extra-base hits.

Now the question remains: Is that sustainable?

Nationals pitching coach Darnell Coles, while joining “The Hot Stove Show” last week, admits that it’s hard to say for certain with such a small sample size, but he believes Meneses can indeed recapture that magic.

“Well, I don’t know that we do know that,” Coles said on MASN when asked how he knows Meneses can replicate last season’s success. “I think the only person that has an understanding of Joey is Joey. I think when he stepped in, he understood the years and the time that it took him to get there. He understood what it took, once he stepped in the batter’s box, how he’s got to compete. He understood and had a real good idea as to what he felt like they were going to do. And then he combated that with putting his A swing on as many balls as he possibly could. As you can see, he had a great three months.”

Meneses led all major league rookies with at least 200 plate appearances in batting average, weighted on-base average (.395), weighted runs created plus (156), slugging percentage (.563) and OPS. But despite his dominance as a rookie, he didn’t receive any votes in NL Rookie of the Year voting, likely due to only playing in 56 games.

Even without the hardware, Coles saw the behind-the-scenes work that Meneses put into his 56 games at the majors, which leads the hitting coach to believe the slugger can do it again.

“I think that it’s sustainable, based on his work ethic, his trust in us, his belief in himself, his ability to get the bat head to the ball,” Coles said. “And with all of those going for you, I think that he’s in a great place.”

Meneses’ place in the field remains to be seen. Last year, he played 22 games in right field, one in left and 33 at first base, with Luke Voit moving into the designated hitter role while Nelson Cruz was out due to injuries.

But with the Nationals’ offseason moves so far, it looks like Meneses will likely take most of his at-bats this year as the DH. Cruz’s option was declined and Voit was non-tendered in November. Jeimer Candelario was signed as the third baseman and backup first baseman. Dominic Smith was signed to be the starting first baseman and part-time DH. And Corey Dickerson was signed last week to solidify the outfield with Victor Robles and Lane Thomas.

That leaves Meneses as probably the best candidate to begin the season as the starting designated hitter, a position he still has to earn in spring training.

“Now again, he knows coming into spring training, he’s had to work for everything that he’s got,” Coles said. “He’s gonna come as if he hadn’t made the team. He’s gonna come in, he’s gonna go out and fight and battle and grind just like he does any other time. Because again, in years past I felt like he’s gone different places and done well and not gotten the opportunity moving forward. So again, he’s not going to take anything for granted. He’s going to come in ready to go. He’s going to continue to show, continue to fight, continue to believe as we believe in him.”

If Meneses continues to have that underdog mentality that kept him moving throughout those 10 years leading up to his major league debut, Coles believes he can have sustained success with the Nationals in 2023.

“He’s going to go out and perform just like he did last year,” Coles said. “I think that it’s sustainable. I think it’s sustainable because he understands himself better than anybody and he doesn’t get out of himself.”

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