Steve Lombardozzi Sr. was a big league infielder from 1985 to ’90, and while his career ended too early for Steve Jr. to have gotten the chance to grow up in a big league clubhouse, the way some sons of big leaguers do, through a combination of genetics and design the youngster came to know at an early age what it meant to carry oneself like a big leaguer.
“When I was young, my dad would take me to some spring training games, and he’d always know some coaches,” said Steve Jr., a Columbia native and product of Atholton High. “We’d watch some BP, talk to some guys. I think just him showing me around and seeing what it’s like, what guys are like and what their routine is, was definitely helpful.”
“He’s picked the brains of everyone from Rod Carew to Cal Ripken to Gary Gaetti,” said the elder Lombardozzi. “He’s been around [the game] his whole life.”
As the Nationals try to decide whether the younger Lombardozzi is ready to be a big leaguer — whether he should make their opening day roster as a reserve infielder (a decision that, really, may not be so difficult) — they can already say, with certainty, that one of the key components of their draft-and-development strategy has paid off in this case.
“We really bear down on guys like that in the draft — ‘pedigree guys,’ we call them,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said of Lombardozzi, whom they took in the 19th round of the 2008 draft. “Growing up in the game, the exposure to professional baseball — they have a better feel for [the game]. It’s huge for us.
“That’s a philosophy we employ here. We like big power pitchers and athletic players up the middle. And then, pedigree is one of the things we look for, especially when you’re down in that [lower] area of the draft.”
If the Nationals didn’t think so highly of Lombardozzi, the decision facing them would be a slam-dunk: He would make their roster as the utility infielder, playing sparingly as a fill-in at second base, shortstop and third base.
But since they do, the calculus is a little more complex. The Nationals believe 300 is the magic number: If Manager Davey Johnson can get him that many at-bats in the big leagues in 2012 — starting, say, once a week at second, shortstop and third in place of (respectively) Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman — the team is inclined to keep Lombardozzi on the roster. If not, he would go to Class AAA as the everyday second baseman.