VIERA, Fla. - Despite putting together a strong spring, infielder Zach Walters was sent to minor league camp this morning.
The move is not official yet, but once it is formally announced, Walters will be optioned to Triple-A Syracuse.
Walters hit .379 (11-for-29) in 15 Grapefruit League games this spring, with one homer, a triple, two doubles and five RBIs. He drew four walks and struck out eight times.
It was an impressive offensive showing from the 24-year-old, but with a handful of experienced middle infielders ahead of him on the depth chart, his chances of cracking the opening day roster seemed slim from the beginning of camp.
Ian Desmond is entrenched at shortstop and Anthony Rendon will almost certainly be the Nationals’ starting second baseman. Danny Espinosa is in line to earn a spot on the Nats bench as a reserve infielder, and Jamey Carroll also has a shot to crack the roster as an extra experienced bat off the bench.
After being told last spring by then-manager Davey Johnson that he should try and use his frame to hit for more power, Walters led the International League last season with 29 homers, and he slugged .517. But he hit .253, had an on-base percentage of .286 and made 38 errors on the year playing primarily at shortstop.
He earned a September call-up to the big leagues, and went 3-for-8 in eight games played.
Manager Matt Williams spoke highly of Walters this spring, and there’s a decent chance we see him up at the big league level at some point later this season, but he’ll start the year at Syracuse.
Assuming Espinosa does indeed earn a spot on Williams’ bench along with outfielders Nate McLouth and Scott Hairston and backup catcher Jose Lobaton, that likely leaves one spot still up for grabs.
Carroll and Tyler Moore appear to be the main candidates for that position, even though they bring vastly different skill-sets to the table. Carroll is a proven pinch-hitter in the big leagues, is a strong clubhouse presence and can play second base, shortstop or third. Moore is a power right-handed bat, can back up Adam LaRoche at first base and can also play left field.
Update: Walters was the first one sent over to minor league camp today. But he wasn’t the last.
The Nats also optioned right-handers Ross Ohlendorf and Christian Garcia and catcher Jhonatan Solano to Triple-A Syracuse, and reassigned righty Manny Delcarmen, first baseman Brock Peterson and infielder Will Rhymes to minor league camp.
These moves leave the team with 36 players still in big league camp.
Ohlendorf was limited by back spasms this spring and allowed two runs in two spring appearances. Garcia posted a 6.43 ERA in seven spring outings, and Delcarmen, in camp on a minor league deal, posted a 5.68 ERA in six games, with all four of his runs allowed coming in one outing.
With those three cuts, the guys still in play for the likely final bullpen spot are: lefties Xavier Cedeno and Michael Gonzalez and righties Aaron Barrett, Ryan Mattheus, Blake Treinen and Tanner Roark (if he doesn’t end up in the rotation).
Solano hit .167 in 12 spring at-bats, Rhymes hit .333 in 24 at-bats, and Peterson impressed, batting .370/.433/.556 with one homer and six RBIs.