Will Yoder: Lombardozzi quietly making his mark

Even though he has played just eight games this season, Bryce Harper already ranks among the top rookies in baseball in Wins Above Replacement. As crazy as that sounds, that makes him a viable Rookie of the Year candidate.

We shouldn’t be surprised, though. Harper is the type of player who was born to win the Rookie of the Year award. He has been ranked the No. 1 prospect in baseball the last two seasons, his pro debut was national news and he even appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated while in high school. In the era of publicized advanced scouting and ranked high school prospects, Rookies of the Year are reserved for those who have been tabbed to be the next great stars in baseball by the time they are 20.

Very quietly, however, another Nationals rookie has crept his way up the Wins Above Replacement leader board among rookies in the National League. Steve Lombardozzi,who almost did not make the club out of spring training, and was tabbed to be a super utility player this season, has taken full advantage of his opportunities early on in 2012.

In 21 games, Lombardozzi has hit. 305/.379/.356 while scoring four runs and driving in four. It’s obviously very early in the season, but the 23-year-old has been the best contact hitter on a first-place club and his defensive versatility has saved the Nationals as they’ve dealt with more injuries than they ever could have imagined.

When you watch the young infielder at the plate, it’s easy to see why many scouts have looked him over as a serious major league prospect. His physical frame does not look like he’ll be able to generate much power at any level, and his stroke doesn’t convince you much otherwise, either. But each at-bat that passes, he either draws a walk, works a count and manages to find a way to poke a single here or there. He’s a true fighter at the plate, and that’s something Washington needs.

There isn’t a game that goes by where Lombardozzi doesn’t do something special that helps the team win. Whether it be a highlight-reel play at third base (a position he adopted because of Ryan Zimmerman’s injury), a great baserunning play or a much-needed single poked to the opposite field, he has helped the Nationals find a way to win nearly each and every night.

Franchises are built around future superstars like Harper, but championships are won with squads that have role players like Lombardozzi.

Will Yoder blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog, and offers his viewpoints as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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