The Nationals decided against trading for a utility infielder at the trade deadline, even with shortstop Ian Desmond injured and little depth at the major league level. They stood pat in part because of their comfort with minor leaguer Zach Walters. To boost his preparedness, the Nationals promoted Walters from Class AA Harrisburg to Class AAA Syracuse.
Desmond is expected to return in roughly four weeks, which leaves the Nationals vulnerable until rosters expand. Mark DeRosa can play, and has played, second base in a pinch. But if either Danny Espinosa or Steve Lombardozzi suffered an injury before Desmond returned, they would be exposed.
If the Nationals faced that dilemma, they would still probably explore a waiver trade for an experienced middle fielder. But before the July 31 non-waiver deadline, they decided any upgrade would not match their in-house options – which included Walters.
The Nationals acquired Walters last season when they traded Jason Marquis to the Arizona Diamondbacks, which remains one of the General Manager Mike Rizzo’s most underrated good deals. They turned a pitcher who at the time was of no use to them into a prospect that will eventually make the majors – and Arizona ate all Marquis’s remaining salary, about $2.3 million.
Walters began the season at Class A Potomac, and after 54 games he moved to Harrisburg. In 43 games there, Walters hit .293/.326/.518 with six homers. He impressed Manager Davey Johnson in spring training, when he played a couple games in major league camp. He made one of the most sensational plays of the Nationals’ spring, a diving play up the middle as a shortstop. His athleticism stood out.
The Nationals are thin on prospects in the middle infield in the higher levels of their minor league system, but in the lower levels it is a considerable strength. If the Nationals make a trade to bolster their major league team this offseason or next year, it is a good bet one of the prospects they deal will be a middle infielder.
Anthony Rendon, perhaps the Nationals’ top prospect, is rehabbing at rookie ball in Auburn. Jason Martinson, who is on the cusp of 100 RBIs between Hagerstown and Potomac, Rick Hague and Adrian Sanchez play at Potomac. The Nationals just spent $500,000 to sign second-round pick Tony Renda, a second baseman. At Harrisburg, Jeff Kobernus has only a .658 OPS, but he’s stolen 42 bases.
And with Ryan Zimmerman, Desmond and Espinosa around the infield, there is not exactly a lot of room for them in the coming seasons.
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