Thrust into action, Young paving way for Nats' younger outfielders

MIAMI – Jacob Young wasn’t in the minor leagues for too long before finally getting the call to the major leagues.

The 2021 seventh-round pick out of the University of Florida played 26 games at Single-A Fredericksburg the year he was drafted by the Nationals. He spent all of last year with the FredNats, slashing .262/.360/.331 with a .691 OPS, 118 runs, 52 stolen bases in 59 attempts and 152 total bases on his way to being named the Nationals’ 2022 Minor League Base Runner of the Year.

Young was one of two players in all of Minor League Baseball to steal at least 50 bases and score at least 100 runs in 2022. His 118 runs scored were tied for the most in all of the minor leagues, while his 52 stolen bases were the most among Nationals minor leaguers.

The 24-year-old started this season at High-A Wilmington, where he hit .307 and stole 22 bags in 56 games. That earned him a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg, where he hit .304 with an .805 OPS and 17 stolen bases in 52 games.

Even with top prospects James Wood and Robert Hassell III patrolling the Senators outfield with him, Young was still the standout prospect in Harrisburg.

And so when the Nationals were ready to promote No. 2 overall pick and top prospect Dylan Crews to Harrisburg this week, so too were they ready to promote Young to Triple-A Rochester.

Rochester was Young’s shortest stay yet, as he went 5-for-17 (.294) in only four games before having his contract selected by the Nationals yesterday.

“It's been a whirlwind,” Young said of his last couple of weeks. “A lot of traveling up the East Coast, but good travel. It's been a lot of fun just trying to kind of stay consistent and play my game and kind of see where it takes me.”

Now it has taken him – and his family – to The Show in South Beach. His parents had just arrived in Rochester from the Jacksonville area to watch their son play Triple-A ball when they were suddenly trying to book flights back to Florida to hopefully watch their son make his major league debut.

“Yeah, they got a flight, too,” Young said. “They arrived around 11 o'clock (Saturday), so they're here.”

It then wasn’t too long before he made his major league debut.

After Joey Meneses was hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners with no outs and the Nats down 2-1 in the top of the ninth yesterday, manager Davey Martinez decided to throw Young into a high-leverage situation as a pinch-runner at first base.

Young would move to second on an infield grounder by Dominic Smith, which resulted in Lane Thomas getting thrown out at home. And then he would come around to score the tying run on Jake Alu’s single up the middle, flipping the game in an instant.

“Honestly, I don't think he realized what he did,” Martinez said. “But he was able to score the run there and he's gonna get an opportunity to play tomorrow. He's in there tomorrow. But I told him, I said, 'Your first run scored in the major leagues. You're gonna get many, many more.'”

Young said he would try his best to get some sleep ahead of his first major league start. But getting into the game last night might help with some of the nerves.

“I think no matter what, that first start will always have nerves to it,” he said. “If it doesn't, I think there's something wrong with you honestly. It's something you always dreamed of doing, so I'm excited for it. But getting in today was definitely a nice little kind of get your feet wet moment. I liked it a lot.”

With his parents following him from Rochester, Young figured he would have a handful of friends and family come to the game last night just in case he made his debut. It turned out he did. And it turned out a lot more showed up.

“Yeah, more than I thought showed up, which is amazing,” he said with a big smile. “Having their support, they're my rock, they always have been. Having my fiancé, her family and then my family here, it just means the world to me. So it was great to be able to spend some time with them after the game.”

Young has been one of the Nats’ fastest-rising prospects because of his ability to hit and speed around the basepaths. He leads Washington’s system with 132 hits and ranks second with a .305 average and 39 stolen bases across the three levels this year.

“Did a couple of swing changes and then just try to hunt the right pitches,” he said. “Swing at more strikes and take more balls and just not really get too high or too low. Just kind of keep it consistent as best I could.”

Martinez hopes Young keeps that consistency now that he’s at the big league level.

“I saw Davey in the hotel lobby,” Young said. “He just said, 'congratulations and let's get going.'”

Even with his hitting prowess and threat to steal bases, Young will start in the bottom of Martinez’s lineup once he starts playing the outfield on a consistent basis. CJ Abrams and Thomas have proven to be too good of a 1-2 punch for the skipper to mess with now.

“Right now, I envision him starting at the bottom, kind of like what I do with CJ a little bit, and give him some growth moments there. And then we'll go from there,” Martinez said. “But it's nice to be athletic, it really is. We have some guys that could do some different things for us.”

Those guys have been playing really good baseball as of late. They’re the owners of a 16-7 record in August and a clubhouse that Young is excited to join.

“They've been playing really good baseball,” he said. “So it's exciting to join a team that's playing good ball. I just hope I can help wherever I can help and kind of wherever I'm at.”

Young is familiar with some of the guys already. But he hadn’t met a majority of the major leaguers just yet.

“I got a chance to talk to (Young) in spring training when I was rehabbing and stuff,” Alu said after his heroics last night. “He's awesome. It's good to see that for him. Hopefully, he gets a knock here soon and see what happens.”

The first to greet him and congratulate him when he walked into the clubhouse yesterday? Josiah Gray, one of the young leaders of this team.

“It's been awesome,” Young said. “A bunch of dudes have come up to me and introduced themselves. I know a couple guys from other stops or their rehab stops. So it's been great meeting the other guys I don't really know and they've all been very helpful so far.”

Now the Nationals’ No. 30 prospect per MLB Pipeline, Young made it to the big leagues a little over two years after being drafted in the seventh round out of a top SEC program.

That could be the blueprint timeline for the big league arrival of another top outfield prospect who was a first-round pick out of a top SEC program.

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