PHILADELPHIA - SEPTEMBER 20: Second baseman Stephen Lombardozzi #1 of the Washington Nationals throws to first base during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on September 20, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
Lost in all the backward glances, reminiscing and chatter at the end of the Washington Nationals' 2011 season was the announcement that Fulton, Maryland-born '08 19th Round pick Steve Lombardozzi had been named one of nine Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove Award winners chosen from amongst, "... qualifying players from the 10 domestic-based, full-season Minor Leagues," as a press release on the awards announced.
More impressive than Lombardozzi's .309/.360/.430 slash, 25 doubles, nine triples, eight HR's and 30 stolen bases offensively, was the infielder's .996 FLD% in 122 games played mostly at second (13G at SS) split between Double-A Harrisburg, where he made two errors in 66 games, and Triple-A Syracuse where he played 59 games without committing an error.
After four seasons in the Nats' system, Lombardozzi was called up this past September, playing 13 games and collecting 6 hits (1 2B) in 32 plate appearances in which he walked once and struck out four times. After going hitless in his first 16 plate appearances, Lombardozzi knocked in a run with his first major league hit off Mets' knuckler R.A. Dickey, driving in the winning run in a 3-2 game that was part of a four-game Nats' sweep on the road in New York. After collecting his first hit, Lombardozzi was 5 for 15 the rest of the way.
Talk this past July, as the Non-Waiver trade deadling approached, had some in the Nationals' front office so high on the son of former Major Leaguer Steve Lombardozzi, that they were considering trading Ian Desmond or transitioning the current Nats' shortstop into a utility role as Lombardozzi could take over at second with Danny Espinosa moving back to short where he'd played in college and throughout the Nats' system before moving to second base when he arrived in D.C.
Praise followed Lombardozzi throughout the Nats' system. In an June 2011 article entitled, "Lombardozzi continues in groove following promotion to Triple-A", the Nats' Director of Player Development, Doug Harris, told MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr that though Lombardozzi, "... is not blessed with tremendous tools... he gets more out of what he has than most guys. He continues to put himself in position to be recognized at the big leagues."
MLB.com's Bill Ladson, in an article entitled, "Corrales impressed with Lombardozzi", quoted Pat Corrales, who was a roving instructor before he became Davey Johnson's bench coach, explaining that Lombardozzi simply "'... does things to help the team win. He bunts, plays great defense, hits behind the runners," and, Corrales said, "'He is bound to make his move.'"
As the MLB.com writer noted at the time, however, in spite of the talk about Lombardozzi, "... the Nationals like what they have now with Espinosa and shortstop Ian Desmond as their double-play combination." Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson, in a late-season press conference talked about September as chance for call-ups to, "... compete on the same playing field as the guys that are already established up here."
Johnson told reporters he was happy with the play of Espinosa and Desmond this season. "I'm very comfortable with the guys that we have up the middle," but, he continued, "As far as I'm concerned, could [Lombardozzi] be an every day second baseman? Yeah, [but] could he fill a utility role? That's what he's up here to see."
Nothing that happened in September will likely decide the future of the Nationals' infield. Neither Espinosa, whose name surfaced in trade talks last Winter, nor Desmond, whose name came up in July, went anywhere this year, and unless one of the two is traded this winter, they're expected to make up the middle of the Nats' infield in 2012 in spite of the flaws exposed in each of their games over the last few seasons. So where does Lombardozzi fit in? Can he knock either of the incumbent infielders out of their spots this Spring? Will he spend more time at Triple-A next year?
The Minnesota Twins were reportedly interested in Lombardozzi when they discussed a deal for Drew Storen this past July. Were Lombardozzi and fellow September call-up Chris Marrero being showcased at the end of the year for any prospective trade partners that arise as the Nationals try to improve their roster this winter? Having too many infielders that can play at the major league level? This is an example of a good problem to have. Is this year's MiLB Gold Glove winning infielder at second the Nats' future second baseman or future utility man?