Long before he spent a decade as Joe Maddon’s right-hand man in Tampa Bay and Chicago, Martinez was a major league outfielder fighting for playing time. In his 16 seasons in the bigs, Martinez played in more than 120 games only nine times. Like most ballplayers, he had to fight to carve out his niche as a regular. Sometimes he was more successful than others.
That’s Goodwin in a nutshell, a one-time top prospect at 27 who’s finally earned the trust of an organization but who doesn’t have a position to call his own. When outfielders were falling with alarming regularity last season, it was Goodwin who was Johnny-on-the-spot, playing in a career-high 74 games in his second major league campaign, showing some pop with his bat to hit 13 homers and utilizing his speed in the outfield on defense and on the basepaths as a weapon.
So it’s not far-fetched when Martinez talks with admiration about Goodwin, who is capable of holding his own in all three outfield spots and can be an offensive weapon. His outfield may be set with Adam Eaton in left field, Michael A. Taylor in center field and Bryce Harper in right field, but Martinez sees Goodwin as a valuable commodity, the versatile and productive kind of player no team ever has enough of.
“It’s a really good problem to have because he’s really good,” Martinez said of Goodwin. “We’re going to utilize him the best we can. I had a conversation with him and I told him, like I tell everybody, we’re going to use all 25 guys on the roster. So you’re going to play. You’re going to get a chance to play maybe all three outfield positions and pinch-hit, stuff like that. I know what he did last year and I’m looking forward to him doing the same thing this year.”
His manager’s confidence notwithstanding, Goodwin doesn’t feel particularly comfortable as spring training nears its mid-point. When you’re used to battling and scraping for everything you’ve got, there’s really no room for complacency or comfort.
“I don’t think my role is defined, or ever has been since I’ve been in camp,” Goodwin said. “I come into camp and I feel like I’m trying to earn a spot, trying to find somewhere - a home, where I can play every day, start 162 games and play every day for somebody whether it’s here or anywhere. But it all starts on the field, so I just come out and give it my all.”
Chances are, unless an injury wrecks the construciton of the Nationals outfield, Goodwin will have to make do with the opportunities he’s given - as a defensive replacement, as an injury fill-in, as a pinch-runner or pinch-hitter.
And when you fancy yourself a regular without a position, that’s sometimes difficult to do.
“You talk to guys who have been there before,” Goodwin said. “Fortunately, we’re blessed with a veteran locker room and we’ve got a lot of guys who have been there or are there now. You lean on those guys, just like you’d do with your parents or somebody who’s been through similar situations outside of baseball. It’s the same thing in here. We try to pick their brains and get their knowledge and rely on them to help us.”
A first-round pick (34th overall) in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of North Carolina, Goodwin has learned to become a student of the game. When he’s not playing, he’s watching intently or going over game situations with teammates or coaches. As a bench guy with limited playing options, it’s how you learn to get better.
“You follow (the game) a little bit differently,” he explained. “You pay attention to pitchers warming up. You pay attention to who’s in the bullpen, what part of the lineup we’re at, who’s coming up. It varies every day and every day it’s something new. You try to prepare yourself. You gather all the information and if you don’t use it that day, you store it. When you store it, you try your best not to forget it and just keep adding and building on it so when the time comes, you’re ready.”
Goodwin quickly became a favorite of former manager Dusty Baker, who trusted a player without significant experience because of how he prepared and carried himself. Martinez hasn’t been around the Nationals for very long, but he’s seen enough to know Goodwin is the kind of multifaceted player who seems to find a way to contribute when called upon.
Maybe it’s because at various stages of his career, Martinez was in Goodwin’s shoes.
“Anytime a guy’s been through it, you just have a different level of understanding,” Goodwin said. “A lot of guys, a lot of managers, they’ve been around the game for a long time and seen it. But it’s always a little different when you’ve seen it firsthand.”