Venezuelan detour sparks resurgence for Goodwin
by Josh Walfish
Sunday, July 10, 2016
DURHAM — Even 1,900 miles away, Rocky Mount was still in Brian Goodwin’s mind.
As Rocky Mount High was forging its way to a state championship in football, Goodwin was glued to mother’s updates that kept flooding his phone. Although it might have felt like he was in Chapel Hill that chilly December evening, he was instead on picturesque Margarita Island honing his baseball skills.
“I was getting live updates from my mom, it was like I was sitting right in the stands,” Goodwin joked.
But Rocky Mount is also tuned into Goodwin’s progress within the Washington Nationals’ organization.
With Goodwin playing a three-game series in Durham with the Syracuse Chiefs, he joked that almost everyone in the city has made their way to Durham to watch him play. That includes Goodwin’s baseball coach at Rocky Mount High, Pat Smith, and a majority of the 2008 state title team that still lives in the area.
“I’ve probably got 25 on the pass list tonight,” Goodwin said before Wednesday’s loss. “(I’ve had a) pretty good amount of family and friends, it seems like everyone in the area (has been here this week) ... I just appreciate everyone keeping up with me and actually come out and supporting me. It feels good, it’s like I’m back home.”
The detour through Venezuela was just the antidote Goodwin needed to find his stroke once again. He batted .316 with eight doubles and 18 RBI in 35 games for Bravos de Margarita, showcasing the skillset that made him the 34th overall selection in the 2011 draft by the Washington Nationals.
The opportunity to play baseball in Venezuela began as a disappointing 2015 began to wind down for Goodwin at the Double-A level. He performed worse in every statistical category except for RBI when compared to his production in 2013 at the same level.
The biggest change was a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the second half of 2014 and required offseason surgery before the 2015 campaign. Goodwin acknowledged that there were concerns floating around that he might never return to the player he was before the surgery.
“We all just want to get back to 100 percent as quickly as possible and when it doesn’t happen as fast as you want to, that can cause a little worry,” Goodwin said. “I don’t think I ever really lost confidence or anything, just going over there helped boost it.”
His physical strength is basically back to normal now, and his trademark childlike enthusiasm is still in full display.
Between innings late in Wednesday’s loss, Goodwin pantomimed searching for a baseball in his uniform in attempt to fulfill a request from six of his former Gryphons teammates who asked for a ball. It was a sign that even mired in a mini slump at the plate, he still enjoys playing the game and looking at the bright side of life.
That mindset certainly helped to calm any anxieties about immersing himself in a new culture for two months.
“Just being over there took some pressure off myself, knowing it is technically the offseason,” Goodwin said. “Being able to relax and say ‘if I’m not going to play well then at least I’m on a beautiful island and beach so I might as well enjoy it.’ Just being relaxed and having the confidence to go over there and succeed, both of those things combined allowed me to have success.”
Whatever form Goodwin found in Venezuela, it has translated over to his season with the Chiefs, the Nationals’ Triple-A affiliate. He is currently third on the team with a .281 batting average and leads the team with 44 RBI following the Chiefs’ three-game series against the Bulls.
He’s slowly morphing back into the player that attracted the Nationals back in 2011, the one that could impact the game with his smooth left-handed swing, blazing speed and solid defense in the outfield. Goodwin was named to the International League All-Star squad last week, and his recent form has eased any concerns from the people who ultimately make the call on whether or not he gets called up to the big leagues.
“He’s someone we are excited about,” said Mark Scialabba, who oversees the entire Nationals’ minor-league system from the academies in the Dominican Republic all the way through Triple-A as Washington’s director of player development. “He’s really put himself in a really good position to help our major league club (in the future). We’re happy with his performance on the field — we still want to continue to see that consistency throughout the season — but overall we’re excited about his progress.”
Goodwin is well aware how difficult it is to stay consistent given the fluctuations that occur at the minor league level as players get promoted and demoted.
He was one of those quick risers through the organization and reached the Triple-A level within his first three seasons as a professional before the shoulder derailed that progress. Just this season, he has played all three outfield positions at least eight times and has hit in six different spots in the batting order — three in at least 15 games.
But none of that seems to worry Goodwin, who said the key to him finding his consistency is to be in the lineup daily — no matter which position he plays or where hits in the order.
“With a couple of injuries here and there and not being able to have full seasons, it kind of slows down your progression,” Goodwin said. “Ultimately just getting the reps and getting the time in and getting your body used to doing this on a daily basis is the biggest step from college to the professional ranks.”
Goodwin said he rarely worries about where he fits within the Nationals organization. As recently as 2014, Goodwin was ranked as one of the 10 best prospects in Washington’s system. But now he’s not even ranked in the top 30, giving way to players like former N.C. State infielder Trea Turner, who is making the transition to the outfield in Syracuse.
Of course Goodwin understands his position within the franchise as one of four players competing for the third outfielders spot with Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth. But he’s the only one of the four never to have played in the majors and seems to be a potential trade chip as the trade deadline nears.
It doesn’t faze Goodwin, who said he knows he’ll be able to fit in wherever he might end up in the future.
“I don’t put too much time into thinking about something like that,” Goodwin said. “People are looking for good players all the time, and I think I’m a good player so I think I’ll fit in within any organization. Obviously the Nationals are the home team — close to home — that’s a plus, but I think just playing my game and being who I am both on and off the field, I’ll fit in well wherever I go.”