Young sticking to strengths to stand out in outfield shuffle

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Unlike some other Nationals prospects, Jacob Young has been in this situation before. He’s no stranger to a major league clubhouse after spending the last month-plus of the 2023 season with the Nats.

He is new to a major league clubhouse at spring training, however, now enjoying his first big league camp. The 24-year-old is hoping his limited, but not insignificant, big league experience helps him this spring and onto the Opening Day roster.

In 33 games last year, Young hit .252 with a .658 OPS, seven doubles, one triple, a perfect 13-for-13 stolen bases, 10 walks and 22 strikeouts, while also playing solid, if not stellar, defense in the outfield.

“That experience, it was great,” Young said. “It was a lot of dreams come true, getting to do your first of a lot of things. It was good to kind of experience that with the family and my wife and everyone. It was just really cool to kind of get that under my belt. I think it's got me more ready for something like this. You know, the guy who just knows more of (his) routine. So it was a great experience. And then the offseason was awesome. I was down in Jacksonville just training. So it was a good offseason. I got to relax a little bit, but a lot of training.”

Young entered spring training on the 40-man roster. He’s a part of an outfield group that has some question marks and a lot of young talent on the way. Although he has an upper leg on his fellow prospects, he’s not a sure thing to make the roster once camp breaks north.

So what was his mentality coming to West Palm Beach?

“It's just to continue to show how I can help this team win, all the different ways that I believe that I can help,” he said. “Kind of show (manager Davey Martinez) and the coaching staff all the different things I can do, whether it's baserunning, defense or with the bat. So it's just kind of reminding them and showing them what my skill set is and kind of just showing how I can help this team win baseball games.”

Lane Thomas showed last year he can be an all-around-type player. Once fully healthy, Stone Garrett provides power, as does new acquisition Joey Gallo. Victor Robles and Alex Call can create havoc on the basepaths and play strong defense.

What about Young’s game separates him from the rest of the group to help the Nats win?

“I just think on the bases is huge for us, especially with the way the game is going right now, obviously,” he said. “I think baserunning is becoming huge. I think stealing and just finding a way on base, and then I think you can manufacture runs a lot differently now. I mean, home runs always help, but I think there's also those days where the ball is not going to fly. So like that, where you can manufacture runs different ways. I think that's one of the big things that I can do.”

Then there are the other prospects, all of whom have also impressed so far this spring. Dylan Crews and James Wood are among the top prospects in the sport. Robert Hassell III is having a strong camp now that he’s fully healthy. And even in the infield, Brady House and Trey Lipscomb are proving their worth.

That’s another group from which Young has to distinguish himself.

“They're great players,” he said. “I played with a lot of them throughout all my years. I've become really good friends with most of them and they're gonna help this team win a lot of ballgames, too. Like I said, just the baserunning, the speed aspect of it, defensively. I think I can do things differently. You know, you're going to have the bangers, the James Woods, the Gallos, the Thomases. The guys who are going to drive in runs and hit home runs. But I also think you need guys on base that can be the guys that they drive in. So just kind of always getting on base and just trying to be a sparkplug.”

Young is 5-for-10 with a run, double, RBI, stolen base and strikeout in four Grapefruit League games so far. Another small sample size with noteworthy results.

“It's early. I'm happy with it,” he said. “I'm seeing the ball really well, which is nice. It's early, so you don't want to look too much into it. Just kind of keep on swinging at strikes and having good at-bats. If the balls fall right now, they fall. If not, you know that if you continue to do that, you'll be ready for whenever the season starts, which is what really matters.”

Defensively, Young has played 14 innings in left field and six in center field after making all 32 of his major league defensive appearances in center last year.

“He just plays the game the right way,” Martinez said. “Good ball reads, scored on a ball that was 10 feet from the catcher. He's a game-changer. That's what he does. He can run, he plays good defense, he puts the bat on the ball. So I like what he does. For him to be able to play all three outfield positions is awesome.”

Young doesn’t know where he’ll be when the season starts. Ideally, he’ll be included in the 26-man group that flies to Cincinnati for his first major league Opening Day. Otherwise, he’ll head to Rochester to start his campaign in Triple-A, where he could be with some of the Nats’ top prospects.

“It's awesome. We've seen the highs and lows of minor league baseball together,” Young said. “Especially guys like House, Trey, even Woody, I've played now three levels with. So it's been awesome. It's just cool to see how much they've grown. Being the first one to get up there, just trying to help them. Show them kind of the ropes and what to do and what not to do, who to talk to. It's been really fun and I can't wait to see what they continue to do.”

Young has already had a small taste of the big leagues. But he’s still a rookie himself, leaving him stuck in the middle where he’s still absorbing information from the older veterans and providing insight to his fellow prospects.

“Trying to be as open as I can with them,” Young said. “Explain the things I found difficult when I was up here and what helped and just those types of things. And also still, getting with Lane and those guys and hearing what they got to say in going through their experiences. I mean, this is my first big league camp with all them, too. So just really kind of going through the ropes of that, learning from the older guys and then passing down whatever I learn from them.”

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