Strong down the stretch, Abrams looks like a keeper

PLAYER REVIEW: CJ ABRAMS

Age on opening day 2023: 22

How acquired: Traded from Padres with MacKenzie Gore, Luke Voit, Robert Hassell III, James Wood and Jarlin Susana for Juan Soto and Josh Bell, August 2022

MLB service time: 131 days

2022 salary: $700,000

Contract status: Under team control, arbitration-eligible in 2025, free agent in 2029

2022 stats (SD/WSH): 90 G, 302 PA, 284 AB, 33 R, 70 H, 12 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 21 RBI, 7 SB, 4 CS, 5 BB, 50 SO, .246 AVG, .280 OBP, .324 SLG, .604 OPS, 76 OPS+, -5 DRS, -0.3 fWAR, 0.2 bWAR

Quotable: “We got him here, and I didn’t put any expectations on him whatsoever. We talked about that: ‘You’re going to come here, you’re going to play, you’re going to be our shortstop. We’re going to take baby steps with you. I just want you to go out there and have fun.’ He’s been really good with everything.” – Davey Martinez

2022 analysis: Rated the ninth-best prospect in baseball this spring, Abrams opened the season as the Padres’ starting shortstop because of Fernando Tatis Jr.’s injury but wound up losing playing time to Ha-Seong Kim and was optioned to Triple-A in early May. He returned to the big leagues for much of June and July and was beginning to find his footing when he suddenly became part of one of the biggest trades in recent history.

The Nationals wanted to give Abrams a little time to adjust following his acquisition, so he spent 10 days with Triple-A Rochester before getting the call to D.C. Things were a little rocky early on; over his first 16 games with the Nats, he hit .148 with a .360 OPS, one extra-base hit and 14 strikeouts. But he got comfortable in due time, and over his last 28 games, he hit .314 with a .730 OPS, eight extra-base hits and only nine strikeouts while also successfully stealing five bases on six attempts.

In the field, Abrams showed off his exceptional speed and quick reflexes, at one point seemingly make at least one play per night worthy of a highlight reel. But he was prone to some defensive slumps, maybe most notably during the season’s final week, when he was charged with five errors in seven games (including three in a row against the Phillies).

2023 outlook: In a perfect world, Abrams probably would’ve spent more time at Triple-A this season, but neither the Padres nor the Nationals were in a position to leave him in the minors for long. That forced him to learn on the job more than some would’ve liked. Even so, he clearly showed signs of improvement and showed off the skills that made him so intriguing all along.

Abrams has the ability to be an elite shortstop if he can cut down on his mistakes and become more consistent with routine throws. He already is proving he can make the non-routine plays, especially when ranging to his left to snag grounders up the middle that look like sure hits off the bat. There’s every reason to believe he’ll continue to get better with experience.

Abrams also clearly has skills at the plate, most notably his bat-to-ball skills and speed once he puts the ball in play. He needs to be willing to go to the opposite field a bit more, and he needs to hit the ball in the air a bit more (his 52.5 percent groundball rate was quite high). Like middle infield teammate Luis Garcia, he’s probably never going to draw a ton of walks (though he was better at it in the minors than the majors, so maybe there’s room for improvement).

What Abrams, like Garcia, can do is be more selective with the pitches he tries to hit. Abrams’ chase rate (he swung at 42.5 percent of pitches outside the strike zone) is way too high, and as is the case with many young hitters, many of those came on sliders. If he can learn how to lay off more of those pitches and then do damage against fastballs (against which he hit .319 and slugged .458) he’ll become a truly accomplished offensive player, with power hopefully developing over time.

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