While the possibility of Ian Desmond making the Nationals' major-league roster as a utility player isn't out of the question, it appears more likely at this point he will play every day at shortstop, either in the majors or at Class AAA Syracuse.
Manager Jim Riggleman wouldn't rule out the idea of Desmond being a utility player, pointing to the fact that the Nationals don't yet know if the 24-year-old is going to be their everyday starter at one position or the other. But he seemed more inclined to have Desmond concentrating on one position, after former major-league manager Davey Johnson, now a senior adviser to GM Mike Rizzo, said Desmond should concentrate on one position.
"If he's not the everyday shortstop, the likelihood is he would be in Triple-A," Riggleman said. "But I don't want to say that now and we decide something different later. You could give reason to say he's going to help the club better than some other people would, even if he's not the regular, even if he's a utility-type guy. I've had that conversation with some people. Davey's voice certainly is a major contribution in our room. We're going to listen strongly to that, and I think that's kind of the way we're leaning anyway."
Desmond hit .280 with four homers and 12 RBI in 21 games last season, and looked like a strong candidate to be the starting shortstop, with Cristian Guzman moving to second base, until the Nationals signed second baseman Adam Kennedy. Riggleman has said Guzman would be his starting shortstop if the season began today, but Guzman had some health problems last year and showed diminishing range at shortstop. It seems there is a chance Desmond would beat Guzman out for the starting shortstop position, but the Nationals still aren't settled on where he will end up.
"In Ian's situation, he's going to play a lot of baseball, one way or the other," Riggleman said. "He's going to be playing every day in Triple-A, or he's going to be getting enough playing time with us that we're not going to slow down his development. If we had a crystal ball and we said there's going to be a day where he is our second baseman, he is our shortstop, and we absolutely knew that, then that would make sense to only play him there. But until we know that's going to be the case, I think we want to have him available to help the club in a few different ways."
In other middle infield news, Riggleman said utilityman Willie Harris, who has logged over 300 at-bats each of the last two years because injuries forced him into the lineup, would still get plenty of work even though stability in the Nationals' lineup means he's less likely to start on a semi-regular basis.
"That's a lot of at-bats for the person who's in that role, but that just shows how important he was to us the last two years," Riggleman said. "It's a challenge for Willie to maintain the quality of at-bats if the at-bats are fewer, but Willie's one of those guys. He just finds his way into the game. We need Willie, and we need to try to keep him sharp. I don't think any team goes into the season saying that guy's going to get 350 at-bats, but if the other guys stay healthy, we've got to get Willie as many games as we can to keep him sharp."