Healthy House ready to make up for lost time

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – It would be easy for Brady House to look back at his 2022 season, which lasted only 45 games and included zero games played after June 11, and consider it a lost year.

This was supposed to be the Nationals’ 2021 first-round pick’s first full pro season, an opportunity to really show what he could do at low Single-A and establish himself as one of the best prospects in baseball. Instead, the unfortunate combination of a COVID-19 bout and a lower back injury derailed those plans and left House watching from the dugout for months.

Now, as he starts over again this spring, House could feel the weight of that missed opportunity and put more pressure on himself to make up for lost time in 2023. The 19-year-old, though, has chosen a completely different approach to the situation.

“It is frustrating, but everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I believe this is only going to make me better. And I’m looking forward to seeing what happens this year.”

One year ago, the Nationals and the baseball world were as high on House as they could get. The 11th overall pick out of Winder-Barrow High School in Georgia, he tore up the rookie Florida Complex League to the tune of a .322/.394/.576 slash line and earned a top-50 prospect rating in the sport.

Now, after a disappointing .278/.356/.375 showing in 45 games in Fredericksburg, then the extended stint on the minor league injured list, he doesn’t show up on most experts’ top-100 list.

“If something’s going on with your body, you’ve got to listen to it,” he said of his longer-than-expected absence from mid-June through season’s end. “You can’t just ignore it. If you ignore something like that, it’s only going to make it worse in the long run. So taking care of it early is a priority, for sure.”

House was back to full health by the fall, he insists. He participated in the Nationals’ fall instructional league, enjoyed a normal offseason and reported at the start of this month for the early minor league camp the organization has held for its top prospects. He’s been working every day with fellow first-rounder Elijah Green, plus recent acquisitions James Wood, Robert Hassell, Jarlin Susana and Cristhian Vaquero.

He’s also been working at a new position.

On draft day 2021, Nationals scouting director Kris Kline admitted the 6-foor-4, 215-pound House might not stick at shortstop long-term, that he might be destined to play third base. This spring, the organization decided to make the move for good.

“I think with Brady’s body-type and his skillset, I think he transfers over to third base very comfortably and very smoothly,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “He was a big shortstop over there, kind of looked like a third baseman playing shortstop. So that was our thought process since we drafted him, and I talked to a lot of good players that have gone through that transformation. Troy Glaus comes to mind. Matt Williams comes to mind. These guys were big prospects that moved to third base and became Gold Glove kind-of players. We broached the subject with Brady early on, and I think that he’s on board. And then when he tweaked his back last year, we thought this was a good time to move him to the position that we think he’s going to play in the big leagues for us.”

Asked the last time he played third base, House laughed and guessed it was about 10 years ago, before he even started playing travel ball as a kid.

He’s fully on-board with the decision, though.

“Whenever I was told to go to third base, I was totally fine with doing that job and working hard at getting better at third base,” he said. “It’s been a change, for sure. I haven’t played there in a long time. But I have gotten a lot of reps here at spring training. I’m just looking forward to getting better every day at it.”

Much as the Nationals would love for House to shine in his first season at his new position, that’s secondary to their primary objective for him in 2023: Stay on the field the entire year.

There’s a long way to go, but he’s on the right track. House even made his Grapefruit League debut Sunday afternoon, joining the squad that traveled to Port St. Lucie for a split-squad game against the Mets. He played three innings at third base and drew a walk in his lone plate appearance, coming around to score on Darren Baker’s infield single.

Perhaps several years from now, there will be regular opportunities to do that kind of thing in a starring role for the major league club. For now, it’s all about reestablishing himself after a 2022 season that didn’t do according to plan.

“It was challenging, but I’ve used this offseason to really mentally and physically prepare myself for this season,” House said. “I’m feeling better than ever this year and ready to show it.”

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