Bring up the subject of playing time and the talented outfielders who are ahead of him in the organizational pecking order, and the soft-spoken Stevenson doesn’t really mince words.
“It’s tough to say,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of good outfielders, so we’ll just kind of see how it plays out and try to earn a spot. See what happens.”
Two springs ago, Stevenson opened eyes with his defensive acumen and his speed. Last year, there were fewer chances to impress. This year, even with the departure of Bryce Harper to the Phillies via free agency, there doesn’t appear to be a clear path to regular duty.
Adam Eaton is taking over for Harper in right field, while Juan Soto is the incumbent in left field, coming off a rookie season that no one could have predicted. In center field, veteran Michael A. Taylor is trying to hold off top prospect Victor Robles. Whichever player loses the center field derby could wind up as the Nats’ fourth outfielder.
The Nats probably won’t carry five outfielders, so where does that leave Stevenson, a second-round pick out of LSU in the 2015 First-Year Player Draft who slashed .253/.306/.320 with a homer and 13 RBIs last year in 57 games with the Nationals and .235/.318/.338 in 77 games at Triple-A Syracuse?
“For me, he’s a left-handed hitter who can play all three outfield positions,” said manager Davey Martinez. “He did a great job last year, pinch-hitting at the end of the year. With the guys that we’ve got, especially our younger outfielders, it’ll be hard to get him playing time, but we value what he does, especially being a left-handed hitter.”
Ultimately, being able to man all three outfield positions - and play them well - may be the easiest route to the big leagues for Stevenson. A generation ago, clubs carried a couple of outfielders who were versatile enough to play anywhere; now, that role has become a coveted niche.
“I preach all the time to the outfielders that they need to learn to play all three,” Martinez said. “You never know what the needs are in the game. If somebody goes down, if you can play another position, it’s really good for them. It creates opportunities for them.”
Stevenson, 24, isn’t about to get caught up in numbers crunching or possible roster permutations. Doing so would only take away from his focus on trying to play as well as he can.
“Every now and again, you think about it,” he said. “But at the end of the day, they’re going to put the best lineup they can out there. Hopefully, I’m one of those guys, but if not, I’ll keep working and try to earn a spot.”
There’s a certain comfort level that comes with being a veteran of spring camp. But Stevenson won’t let himself become too comfortable.
“Essentially, you’re able to kind of relax and do your own thing,” he said. “I won’t say you ever really get too comfortable over here. Everybody’s coming and fighting for a spot. Whenever you get too comfortable, that’s when someone will sneak up on you. I think you definitely know what’s going on, the routine, and that definitely helps.”