More vocal and hands-on Martinez developing relationships with top prospects

Davey Martinez is about to begin his seventh season as the Nationals manager, by far the longest tenured skipper in team history.

He’s managed teams that have won a lot (2019) and teams that haven’t won a lot (2022). He’s managed veterans and youngsters alike. And he’s managed while making changes to his coaching staff over the years.

But to start the 2024 season, Martinez did something he hasn’t done much since donning a curly W cap: Be more vocal and hands-on during spring training.

Why after seven years did the 59-year-old suddenly decide to speak up more? The young prospects in major league camp had a lot to do with it.

“For me right now, it's about teaching and having these moments where I can get them and talk to them a little bit more,” Martinez said. “Maybe one-on-one, maybe in a group. I have been more vocal. … I preach so much about the little things, that the little things do matter. They've been great. They really have. It's been great conversations.”

The Nats’ top prospects in spring training are well known and highly touted: Dylan Crews, James Wood, Brady House, Robert Hassell III and Trey Lipscomb, just to name a few. While sticking around for the entire spring, each of them showed why they are considered top prospects one way or another on the field.

“Some of these guys that I have have learned the game. They really have,” Martinez said. “So it's not just kind of getting them ready for that next jump. Like playing in the major leagues, being consistent, playing in front of 35, 40 thousand people on a daily basis. A lot of talking about the process and preparation and communication. I tell them, hey, we're here to help you be the best version of you times two. That's our job. And we will help you do that. But you gotta buy it. For the most part, they have been.”

In the early days of camp, the Nationals begin each day with the “Circle of Trust,” a gathering of the whole team from players to coaches to staff members on the agility field outside the clubhouse at CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches. Martinez started the tradition years ago, and while he often leads the meeting, it also provides an opportunity for other coaches and players to speak up before the team begins practice.

For the longest time, that was usually the one and only time a day Martinez would address the whole team in front of the public eye. The Nats had a roster stacked with veterans, who knew how to prepare themselves for the season, and Martinez trusted his coaches to coach.

But this year, the skipper was everywhere, talking, coaching and listening. He himself would guide position groups through drills. He himself would stand behind the cage during batting practice. He himself would watch every bullpen session thrown.

And more often than not, there was a group of those young prospects nearby.

“It's been great. It's been really, really good. They've been very responsive,” the manager said. “For me, communication always works two ways. I'm a listener. I like to listen to them and see what makes them tick, see what makes him go. Let them do the talking and then I'll intervene every now and then. But for me, it's trying to get to know them and how I feel like I could generate the most out of each player just by what they say and how they react. So the conversations have been really good.”

For most of these youngsters, this spring was their first extended stay with the big league club, so now they only know Martinez to be vocal and hands-on.

“It's been great allowing him to be more hands-on and get involved with us,” said Crews, the organization's top prospect and No. 2 overall pick in last summer’s draft. “It's good, it's awesome, it's great. It's what you want to see in a manager. And it's only gonna get better. What he brings to us, it just feeds on us the energy that he brings. It just motivates us to give even more to him. So it's been great.”

“He's been around all types of great players, and obviously great teams, won a championship. So he knows what it takes,” said Wood, who has made a lasting impression this spring. “Just him being around, it's nice because you kind of got that presence in the locker room. He kind of sets the standard, so you know you gotta follow that.”

“It's awesome. He's the best,” said House, the young third baseman who has shown flashes in his first big league camp. “He's just awesome to be around. And then whenever the game hits, it's just like you feel comfortable being around everything that's going on in the dugout. So that's great to have.”

Ideally, all of these top prospects will reach the majors sooner rather than later to play under Martinez, who signed a two-year extension with an option for a third near the end of the 2023 season. The relationship building between manager and player has already begun.

“I think myself, the coaching staff, they've learned a lot this camp,” Martinez said. “I think really the biggest thing we've learned is who they really are moving forward. So I think it gives them a little bit of understanding of what they need to do moving forward, trying to get up here and help us win at the big league level. Like I said, this has been for me so far, the best camp because I've been a little more vocal. And I've been learning a lot about these young players.”

“It's been good. It's a day-to-day process,” Crews said. “But it's been great so far. He's been very welcoming to not only me but to everybody here. Like you said earlier, just being more hands-on with us and helping us younger guys out. We know he's going to be our manager in the future, so it's good to kind of get that head start now and start that relationship now on and off the field.”

“This is kind of like the first camp where I'm really starting to kind of get close with a lot of these guys,” Wood said. “So obviously, it's growing and I'm sure the more we'll all be together, the easier it'll all come along. I'm sure it's just something that will come with time.”

“It's great. And he's like that, I've seen, with all the players,” said Hassell, who was having a strong camp before a groin injury. “And everybody loves him as far as I can tell, obviously. I think he's a great guy and a great coach. So I've had the pleasure of being here every day and playing for him this spring training. It's been a blast, really.”

“It's been great,” House said. “Being here in big league spring training so far, I've got to spend more time with him rather than if I was at minor league camp, and he's just awesome. He's been great. We all seem to be working towards the same goal. So yeah, it's awesome.”

Since it was a change from his normal spring training managing style, did Martinez enjoy being more vocal and hands-on?

“Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no,” he said with a laugh. “I've been a lot more tired. Like afterwards, mentally exhausted because conversations sometimes are different from one guy to another. But then again, I love it. I really do. And it's like I said, this is part of my winter process of what I want to do this spring. So it's been great. It really has.”

One day when these kids have all grown up to be established major leaguers under his tutelage, perhaps Martinez will be able to revert back to his second-hand approach to managing, while delegating more to his coaching staff and relying on the veterans to handle their business.

But for now, it’s all about relationship building and teaching, a part of the job Martinez used to not worry about too much but is now fully embracing.

“They're good kids,” he said. “They're eager. They want to learn and they want to get better. So it's been awesome. Camp has been awesome.”

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