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Why Washington Nationals’ CJ Abrams will likely struggle during remainder of 2022 season

CJ Abrams, Washington Nationals

CJ Abrams made his Washington Nationals debut on Monday, bringing excitement to the ballpark as the centerpiece from the Juan Soto trade took the field. Washington’s future certainly looks promising, but fans should also set reasonable expectations for the ultra-talented infielder.

The Nationals immediately sent the 21-year-old shortstop down to Triple-A Rochester after he officially joined the organization. After witnessing him steal four bases and collect nine hits in his first eight games, Washington called up its new No. 1 prospect after placing Luis Garcia on the injured list.

  • CJ Abrams stats 2021 (MILB): .310/.360/.480, .840 OPS, 14 steals in 38 games

Related: Washington Nationals’ first-round pick homers in first game

Many in Washington are rightfully excited about Abrams. A consensus top-10 prospect entering the 2022 season, there is a belief he brings the physical tools to become an All-Star infielder in his prime. The Nationals also insisted on him as the centerpiece in a deal because he is MLB-ready.

MLB Pipeline put a 60-grade hit tool on Abrams heading into 2022. It would make him above-average hitter capable of multiple seasons with a .300 batting average and a strong OBP. When combined with his 80-grade speed on the 20-80 scale, there would seem to be some similarities to former Nationals’ star Trea Turner.

While excitement this time of year is important for the fans, there are a few reasons why everyone might want to keep expectations quite low for Abrams for the rest of the year.

Reasons for concern with CJ Abrams

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no doubt that Abrams seems to profile nicely as an ideal threat atop a lineup. One could easily project him emerging as a force atop the Washington Nationals batting order, stealing 30-plus bases per season and scoring 90-plus runs annually during his prime years.

However, what we’ve seen from him thus far in his time in the majors causes some hesitation. San Diego put him on the field in 46 games this season and his production at the plate at least raised some long-term worries.

While 143 plate appearances at the major-league level aren’t nearly enough to define a player’s future, it highlights a red flag in Abrams’ profile. According to Baseball Savant, Abrams ranked in the 44th percentile for average exit velocity (86 mph) this season. In addition, the shortstop’s 108.2 mph max exit velocity ranks 217th in the majors this season, suggesting there isn’t significant power for him to tap into even as he makes more consistent contact.

Keep in mind, James Anderson of Rotowire tracks average exit velocities in the minor league and the issues we’re seeing in the majors also happened to Abrams in Triple-A this season.

There’s another red flag that should led fans to temper expectations, at least for the remainder of the season. As StatCast shows, Abrams is like many of his fellow rookies who struggles against everything but fastballs this season.

CJ Abrams vs Pitch TypePlate ApperancesBASLGWhiff %K%
4-seam fastball161.324.48621.5%16.7%
Statistics via Baseball Savant

None of this is meant to suggest the Nationals made a mistake acquiring Abrams nor does it mean he can’t address some of his issues. Instead, it is pointed out to show his vulnerabilities and why fans shouldn’t overreact if he struggles the rest of the year.

Abrams might not develop into a perennial All-Star shortstop, but he doesn’t need to reach that ceiling. The haul of prospects Washington received in the deal could make this team better collectively in the years ahead than what we might have seen if the team kept Soto until he left in free agency.

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