Washington Nationals prospect Steve Lombardozzi (Photo courtesy of Syracuse Chiefs)
Prospect of the Day:Steve Lombardozzi, 2B, Washington Nationals
Following in the footsteps of his father, Washington Nationals infield prospect Steve Lombardozzi is thriving in Triple-A and on the verge of reaching the major leagues.
Fans may remember the original Steve Lombardozzi as the slick-fielding, weak-hitting second baseman for the 1987 World Champion Minnesota Twins. The younger Lombardozzi doesn't remember this, since he wasn't alive yet; he was born in September of 1988. The Nationals drafted him 20 years later as a 19th round pick out of St. Petersburg Junior College. At the time, scouts rated him as similar to his dad: a strong fielder but not much of a hitter and probably no more than a utility player at higher levels. It looks like he can exceed those expectations.
Lombardozzi hit.283/.371/.322 for the GCL Nationals in '08, showing contact hitting skills and some patience, but lacking power. He improved in the Sally League in '09, hitting .296/.375/.395 with 26 doubles, 62 walks, and 16 steals in 496 at-bats for Hagerstown. Last year he hit .293/.370/.409 in 440 at-bats for High-A Potomac, then surprised everyone with a robust .295/.373/.524 mark in 27 games for Double-A Harrisburg.
That could be written off as a small-sample fluke, except he's kept hitting this year: .309/.366/.454 with 16 steals in 262 at-bats for Harrisburg, followed by a .322/.366/.431 mark in 255 at-bats for Triple-A Syracuse. Overall, he's hitting .315/.366/.443 with 24 doubles, nine triples, eight homers, 36 walks, 71 strikeouts, and 27 steals in 517 at-bats this year.
A switch-hitter, the 6-0, 170 pound Lombardozzi draws good reviews for his plate discipline and feel for the zone, although his walk rate has declined this year. He keeps his strikeout rate low, and while he'll never be a big home run guy, he has developed more power than scouts expected when he was younger. He has clean, simple swing that produces line drives. He has average physical speed but is an aggressive and skilled runner and stealer. He's good at the "little ball" stuff like bunting, although he hasn't been asked to do that as often since developing more pop at the plate.
His glove was always well-regarded. Although his physical tools are just average-to-fringy for a middle infielder, he is extremely sound fundamentally, positions himself well, has great hands, and avoids mistakes like the plague: he has made just two errors all year at second base while showing good range. He has some experience at shortstop and isn't terrible there, making the routine plays well but lacking range. At second he is very, very good. He hustles and has the "clubhouse presence" that managers like.
His dad was similar with the glove but hit just .233/.307/.347 (76 OPS+) in 446 major league games and was out of the Show by age 30. Although no one expects him to win batting titles or slug 20 homers, Steve should be a better hitter than his dad. Combine that with the strong defense, and you have a player who could start for some teams. I don't know exactly how he fits into Washington's plans, but we should be seeing him in the majors sometime soon.