With no move by the Nationals at the trade deadline to find some middle infield help, they are left with Danny Espinosa at SS and Steve Lombardozzi at 2B. They can back each other up if one gets hurt, with Mark DeRosa playing 2B in that case. But Ian Desmond’s oblique injury is expected to sideline him until the end of August, although it’s one of those things that wouldn’t surprise me if it lasted longer (not knowing much about it, of course). But DeRosa hasn’t played much 2B recently, and I’m not sure how comfortable the Nats would really be with him penciled in that spot for more than a day or two. So who in the minors might fill in if they need someone longer term?
Jim Negrych (2B, 27 years old) is small and, according to Baseball Prospectus, unathletic. But he’s lead the AAA Chiefs in time served at 2B, and in that time he’s hit pretty well. In fact, he’s known as a hitter more than a fielder – that is to say, he’s not a great 2B, but his bat wouldn’t sustain him at an easier position. Still, his .271/.353/.413 at Syracuse seems good enough, although at 27 anything less than that would probably cause major red flags. He’s certainly an option, if they’re willing to sacrifice defense, and don’t need a SS.
Jarrett Hoffpauir (2B, 29 years old) is another 2B only type, and he is smaller than Negrych and two years older. He’s bounced around quite a bit (this year he’s on the AAA team of his 4th organization in 4 years) and the last two seasons his hitting has regressed. However, his .263/.317/.321 line this year may show a veteran who is bored or dissatisfied with being stuck in the minors. His career .283/.362/.420 line is actually below his AAA production in 2009-2011, so he does have some abilities. Before last season, BP said about him “The knock on Hoffpauir is his defense, which isn’t strong at second, and since his bat won’t carry him any further down the defensive spectrum, he’s likely a utility asset at best” which sounds pretty similar to Negrych, and noted his power was actually pretty decent. He’s played some 3B in Syracuse, but also doesn’t appear to be a SS candidate.
Seth Bynum (2B/SS, 31 years old) is a little older than the other two, but he can play SS. He’s got that “grinder” reputation that Lombardozzi brought with him, but 9 seasons in the minors without a chance at the big leagues might comes with such a rep. He’s never gotten on base, but he has some pop, and his career .249/.317/.407 in the minors shows just that. In the majors you could expect a drop in all categories, but still expect some of those home runs to come through. Perhaps an Ian Desmond light with the bat would be an ideal situation, and he may get a shot, but it would be more for his position versatility than his hitting.
Josh Johnson (2B/SS, 26 years old), no not that one, rounds out the guys with any significant middle infield time in Syracuse. A perfect world projection for him as a hitter might be very similar to Lombardozzi, in that he won’t hit with power, but he can get on base. He’s struggled a little bit in his first AAA season (.238/.337/.265) but his career line of .250/.375/.348, and extremely patient low power guy with a good eye. Because of his age and ability to play SS, you’d think the Nats would want to take a look, but his struggles in AAA might make them want to wait.
Manny Mayorson (2B, 29 years old) was just promoted to Syracuse, so he doesn’t have much time at all there, but he’s got plenty of time in Harrisburg. He actually played 3B much more than 2B there, and only hit .244/.256/.285. This is after hitting .313/.371/.394 in AAA for Toronto last year. I can’t see them calling him up at this point, both because he’s not hitting and because he’s even less of a middle infielder than alot of these guys.
Jeff Kobernus (2B, 24 years old) is more of a real prospect than any of the guys on this list, and there was a time before the MI situation was settled (as much as it is) that many saw him as the 2B of the future. He was a second round pick by the Nats in 2009 and has advanced up the org ladder each year, sitting in AA right now. He’s hitting .282/.325/.333, showing a little more patience but less power than his career numbers indicate. He’s not a spectacular fielder, but he could be a good doubles hitting, strong batting average guy (without a great OBP) if he develops. I wouldn’t be shocked if they called him up, but my guess is he isn’t first on the list at this point, and will probably remain in AA for the season.
Chris McConnell (SS, 26 years old) is a light hitting shortstop with some speed. His quickness makes him a decent fielder, but his OPS has been below .550 the last two seasons and its hard to imagine him being anything but completely dominated by major league pitching. He’s probably not on the Nats radar screen for a callup right now.
Jose Lozada (SS/3B, 26 years old) has the weird distinction of playing mostly SS and 3B over the last two years. He has hit ok in AA this year with a .252/.339/.336, but that’s certainly nothing eye opening from a guy his age. He spent two years each in low-A and high-A and it took him quite a while to adjust to pitching at those levels, so it’s hard to imagine him moving quickly. He’s probably more of an org guy than a real prospect, and I doubt the Nats are looking for him to provide middle infield help.
Zach Walters (SS/2B, 22 years old) came over from the Diamondbacks last summer in exchange for Jason Marquis. It didn’t make much noise at the time, but by January, Kevin Goldstein listed him as the Nats #14 prospect and said he has a “Good bat for a shortstop, but profiles better as a second baseman.” That might mean his arm isn’t what he’d like, or just his defense in general, but that bat does look good. He’s hitting .291/.323/.517 in Harrisburg, in his first stint in AA. He looks like he could turn out to be a decent prospect, and is probably the best bet on this list, but not to be called up immediately. Keep an eye on this guy, though, whether it’s insurance, trade bait, or allowing them to part with a guy ready to make the big bucks, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with him.
I didn’t include guys like Sean Nicol who have played all over the place but aren’t really middle infielders, even if they’ve seen a little action there.
So Who’s Coming Up
Maybe nobody! Yup, all that and maybe nobody. It’s not difficult to secure the services of some lower end veteran guys from other teams, even after the deadline, if that’s what they’re looking for. But if they do bring someone up, I think Negrych and Hoffpauir might have the best shots. Josh Johnson and Jeff Kobernus wouldn’t shock me either, but I’d put them less likely than the first two. Anything else from the farm system would surprise me, but it wouldn’t be the first time this organization did that.