The Washington Nationals do have hope for the future, as several of their key players, such as CJ Abrams, Luis Garcia, and Keibert Ruiz, are under 25 years old.
At 37, first base coach Eric Young Jr. is also part of the building process, as he is in his “sophomore” season as a young Major League coach.
While some current players are older than Young, the former MLB outfielder certainly has the necessary experience to tutor and guide current Major Leaguers.
He played 10 years in the Majors, most notably leading the National League in stolen bases in 2013 with the New York Mets.
While he is in a role where he is teaching and working with young players frequently, the man who stole 87 bases as a Colorado Rockies minor leaguer in 2006 says he is seeing the game through new lenses.
“No matter how old you are, you’re always learning something new every day,” Young told The Game Day.
“You’re learning personalities, learning how to be creative and to go out there and coach them to have success.”
From the outside perspective, becoming a Major League coach seemed to be a natural path for Young.
His father, Eric Young Sr., was also a former MLB stolen bases leader (1996) and All-Star who is now the first base coach for the Atlanta Braves.
Seeing his father take on the role gave him insights to consider what coaching might be like, but he said that becoming a coach was not a prominent thought as his playing career reached its finishing points.
“He made it an easier decision,” Young said.
“I don’t necessarily think I definitely wanted to go into coaching. Especially as a player, you don’t think about that. Having him as a mentor for the good and bad made it easy.”
For Young, the internal fire that he had harbored since he first started playing pro ball in 2004 still burned brightly, so moving into a coaching role became the next sensible extension of his baseball career.
“I love the game, love teaching it, and love talking about it. I definitely want to be around like-minded people with the same competitive edge; that makes it fun,” Young said.
“I got into the game to play because I loved it, and I still do. I just don’t go between the lines at 7 o’clock.”
As a player, Young was always willing to show the younger guys how to acclimate to life in the Major Leagues.
The last MLB team he played for was the Seattle Mariners in 2019, and the organization’s decision-makers noticed that Young was a potential coach because of the way he connected with his teammates who were less experienced.
“They already saw how I was working with the younger players,” Young said. “They put the bug in my ear; if ever I thought about it, to give them a call. About a year or so after I finished playing with them, I gave them a call.”
In 2021. Young joined the coaching staff of the Tacoma Rainiers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Mariners. By October, he had made his way back to the Majors when the Nationals hired him.
Young said that Washington was familiar with him from his days playing in the National League East with the Mets and Atlanta Braves from 2013 to 2015.
“It was mutual respect. Playing for the Mets, I played against the Nationals and a good amount of their coaching staff for years,” Young said.
“They respected how I went about my business on and off the field. I was definitely thankful when they said they wanted to bring me over to teach the young guys how to run, not just steal.”
After stealing 25-plus bases four times in his career, Young seems like an ideal fit as a first base coach.
The rewards are already apparent for him, as he is passing on the finer points of the game that made him a significant baserunning threat as a player.
“I’m able to share things I was able to see and learn over the years,” Young said.
“When I see a younger guy pick up on some information and utilize it, that gives me a lot of enjoyment.”
This season, though, the game has been altered for Young as a coach. New MLB changes instituted larger bases and lesser throws to first base in an effort to feature more baserunning action.
However, Young indicated that the game’s new features did not present any difficult adjustments due to the players that he was already working with.
“Now it’s just about different ways to be creative on the bases,” Young said.
“It’s designed to try to get more running, but at the same time, the players still have to be aggressive. We’ve got a lot of younger, aggressive guys, and it makes it easy for me to teach because they’re already hungry.”
Abrams, who is projected to become a top base stealer for the Nationals as he progresses, can certainly benefit from working with Young.
In his first 248 games in the Washington organization, the 22-year-old infielder had 54 steals, and absorbing as much as possible from Young can help Abrams tap more into his potential.
“He has tremendous speed and great instincts,” Young said.
“The ceiling is going to be up to him. It’s as far as he takes it and as much as he studies and applies it to his game. He takes the information really quickly and really well. I’m excited to see what he does.”
The changes to the MLB baserunning environment can elevate the production of a player like Abrams with Young’s guidance. But does Young himself wonder how he would have fared with the larger bases and new pickoff rules?
The thought of playing with today’s rules is a fun one for Young, but he is ultimately focused on his role as a coach.
“I definitely would have taken advantage. That’s the same way as somebody in my dad’s era was wishing they were playing in my time,” Young said.
“The game is always changing and always evolving. Here we are now, and I just have to get these young guys ready.”
Now in his second season on the Washington staff, Young has seemed to settle in more comfortably.
At this point in his life as a professional, his mindset and perspectives have changed, yet he still draws from the competitive instincts and experiences that paved the way for a successful run as a player.
“As a player, I had been doing my homework and studying and helping the younger guys,” Young said.
“The biggest transition now is that you definitely can’t worry about yourself. As a player, you want to make sure that you’re ready to go for game time. Now, I’m making sure everybody’s ready to go. It’s definitely a new challenge, but that’s why you get into this business, to compete and for the challenges.”
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