PHILADELPHIA – Let’s play a little more “Get to Know You” with the new guys, shall we?
Luke Voit and MacKenzie Gore are the only two of the six-player return for Juan Soto and Josh Bell in Tuesday’s trade to join the Nationals so far. They each took separate red-eye flights Wednesday night to meet the team at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday afternoon.
They both met with the local media for an extended period of time, although they were at their respective lockers in the visitors' clubhouse instead of a formal press conference like the one rolled out for Soto and Bell in San Diego.
Yesterday, Voit and Gore talked about their experiences getting traded only a couple of days ago. It was the third time for the first baseman and the first time for the young left-hander. They also addressed what they expect to bring to the Nationals organization in terms of leadership and as a new top prospect.
But what about their actual play? What kind of players did the Nationals get and what can fans expect to see on the field?
Who better to ask but the players themselves?
Voit slashed .225/.317/.416 with 13 homers and 48 RBIs in 82 games with the Padres this season. He went 2-for-3 with an RBI and run scored in his Nationals debut last night, batting third and playing first base. Before coming to Washington, he had a career .258/.348/.490 slash line with an .838 OPS, 86 home runs and 251 RBIs over six seasons.
So what’s going right for him when he’s clicking at the plate?
“Just honestly, not chasing,” Voit said before yesterday’s game. “Swinging at the pitches in the zone, doing damage on it. Over the last, like, three or four weeks, I made some adjustments and I’ve been hitting the ball a lot harder. My swing-and-miss rate’s been down, and I’ve been having really good at-bats. So I’m excited to continue that into these next two months.”
What adjustments were made for harder contact and less swings and misses?
“I got more crouched in my stance, just was able to stay on my back heel more, my head wasn't moving as much,” he said. “It was like the weekend before the All-Star break, so it’s been pretty good. I’m excited to keep working with these guys and, obviously, learn them and just have a great game plan every day.”
Gore, on the other hand, is still getting his first taste of the big leagues this season. The 23-year-old is a little more reserved than the veteran Voit, but he’s no less confident in his abilities and development.
“I definitely like the fastball the best,” the southpaw said of his favorite pitch. “Changeup's probably my worst pitch right now. But everything needs to be a little better. But if the off-speed can get better then that will help a lot.”
When the off-speed stuff reaches a higher level, Gore will be able to put the complete package together that’s made him one of the prized prospects in the trade.
“Yeah, so four pitches, competitive guy,” he said of his game style. “So that's a pretty simple way to put it. But yeah, I have a good fastball and going at guys, and I think that's the best way to describe it.”
Competitive, but not flashy. It wasn’t just first-day jitters while talking to new media members. He said to expect the same demeanor when he’s on the mound, not a Max Scherzer-stalking-type.
“I'm pretty calm,” Gore said. “I don't show a ton of emotion ... but definitely calm. That's kind of how I am. I'm pretty easy-going, don't say much.”
Gore went 4-4 with a 4.50 ERA in 16 games (13 starts) with the Padres this season. But he had a 1.50 ERA and two 10-strikeout games through his first nine outings, so he’s shown at times the potential to be a front-line starter. He is on the 15-day injured list with left elbow inflammation, so that potential won’t be seen in Nationals uniform until later in the season while the team comes up with a treatment plan.
“The fastball was good, but when we had a little bit everything we were attacking guys, a lot of strikes,” he said of his strong start to his big league career. “Also getting deep into games, too. So really, that's it. When we're going at guys and able to get deep into games, that's kind of when I'm at my best.”
Voit, with Gore sitting at his locker right behind him, was able to provide his own scouting report as a hitter watching the young pitcher.
“Electric stuff,” Voit said of Gore. “Obviously, he got off to a really, really good start and we had a really good group of guys that he got to be around in our starting pitchers, like (Sean) Manaea and Clev (Mike Clevinger) and (Blake) Snell, all those guys, so they were really good mentors to him. I know he’s dealing with a little bit of an injury right now, but he’s got wipeout stuff. So it’ll be exciting to see when he’s back healthy.”
In addition to themselves, Voit and Gore were able to provide some insight into C.J. Abrams, the 21-year-old shortstop who was also included in the trade and entered the Nats system as their new No. 1 prospect.
Abrams joined Gore in making his major league debut this season with the Padres, playing 46 games in place of the injured Fernando Tatis Jr. Although he struggled, slashing .232/.285/.320, his still teammates believe the skill set is there.
“Young kid, obviously really electric. Kind of a five-tool player,” Voit said of Abrams. “Obviously, I know he’s a shortstop, but I think they were trying to play him all over the place. Obviously, I don’t know what he’ll do here. I’m guessing he’ll play, probably, middle infield. But he has a lot of thump for being a little kid and he can run like the wind.
“He’s definitely an exciting guy. Obviously, he’s got a lot to learn to still, but pretty impressive making the big leagues at 21 years old. So I’m excited to see what he can do.”
“Really good player. He does a little bit of everything,” Gore said. “Really solid defensively. Never seems like the game speeds up on him. So he's a good one.”
Even though he struggled at the majors, Abrams slashed .334/.388/.522 over three minor league seasons. So the offensive talent is there. But it’s his defense that makes him a highly touted prospect.
“People talk about his defense,” Gore said. “But when you go there and watch him, he makes all the plays and then he makes the really good ones, too. So I think that's something that we're gonna be able to see here, and it will be a lot of fun to be a part of it.”
“He’s got really good range and he’s going to be a really good player,” Voit said. “I know in San Diego, he was stuck behind a lot of guys. Unfortunately, Tatis was hurt, so he got a bunch of opportunities to play. So it was fun to watch him, but I’m excited to see him get consistent at-bats, instead of two or three per week. … It’ll be a good deal for the Nationals, I think, with MacKenzie and him. I obviously don’t know too much about those younger kids, but they’ve got a lot of potential in C.J. and MacKenzie.”