The Nats, with Danny Espinosa at 2B and Ian Desmond at SS, have two young middle infielder in their starting lineup. Espinosa is coming off a very good season, with a low AVG but decent OBP and good SLG, especially for a 24 year out 2B, hitting .232/.323/.414. That OPS put him 7th among qualified NL second basemen, not bad for a rookie. Desmond hit very poorly, although at .253/.298/.358, his .656 OPS was 8th among qualified NL shortstops, making you wonder about the 4 guys below him.
Both did had strong defensive seasons. Espinosa demonstrated why many want him to play SS, and Desmond displayed excellent range, cut down his errors by 1/3 from the previous year, and generally looked comfortable out there. But if Desmond never hits, and many people believe he won’t, his time as a starter could be limited. If that’s the case, it makes sense to slide Espinosa over to SS, and bring in yet another slick fielding middle infield prospect, Steve Lombardozzi, to play second base. That’s all well and good, but if Lombardozzi doesn’t hit, what’s the point? Well, here’s what Lombardozzi would bring with the bat.
He is a light hitting middle infielder who always seems to play above projections, so he is what many will call “scrappy” if he makes it in the majors. Despite being a switch hitter, he is much better against righties than against lefties- in 2010 his OPS vs RHP was around .870 while vs LHP it was around .650. He doesn’t have much power, although in a perfect world he could hit quite a few doubles, which he has done in his minor league career.
He has always had a high OBP, and while it is driven more by a high AVG rather than a ton of walks, he’s been incredibly consistent throughout his pro career. His minor league numbers of .298/.369/.411 is a very good approximation of what he’s done in each individual season. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to think that at only 23 this year, he could develop into a player that does something slightly worse in the majors. If he hit .275/.350/.380, and played great defense, with Espinosa playing SS, that could be a strong tandem.
Right now, he is getting some time in the outfield with the Nats during spring training. This isn’t because Davey sees him as a future outfielder. More likely, it is because if he is going to be a bench player at his age, he needs at bats. And if he can play anywhere on the field, he can get enough every week by playing all over the field. I think Davey realizes that this is the last year of the Desmond experiment – either Ian succeeds or fails.
Next year is a full year of Strasburg and Harper, there’s no more playing around with that position. He needs to know what his middle infield is going to be. If Ian isn’t it, then he’s gotta see if Lombardozzi is. Whether he starts out in the minors or on the bench in the majors, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing alot of the Maryland native this season in DC.