Is Lipscomb forcing his way onto Opening Day roster?

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Dylan Crews drew the lion’s share of attention when camp began, given his high-profile status coming out of LSU only seven months prior. James Wood stole the spotlight through the first week of Grapefruit League play, launching three homers that required tape-measure readings. Brady House and Robert Hassell III also were on everyone’s radar from the outset, given the hype that accompanied each player’s acquisition and the up-and-down path each has taken since.

But as the final days of spring training play out, and as the time for major decisions fast approaches, the prospect most likely to make the Nationals’ Opening Day roster is the one who was least-heralded of the group. The third round pick from less than two years ago. The guy without a natural position.

As the end of camp draws near, Trey Lipscomb is the one deservedly drawing the top reviews, the one perhaps making club officials reconsider their plan for him five weeks ago.

“I think the same about him all the time,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I love the kid.”

Enough to put him on the Opening Day roster? It’s sure starting to look like a real possibility.

While it looked like Wood had the best chance among the Nats’ top prospects earlier this spring, the 6-foot-7 outfielder has cooled off somewhat since his torrid start. Lipscomb, meanwhile, has continued to produce the entire time.

The 23-year-old put on his best show to date Wednesday night during an otherwise forgettable 13-4 exhibition loss to the Cardinals. Starting at second base, he went 3-for-4 with a homer, a double and four RBIs. He launched that homer (his first of the spring) off an 0-2 pitch from veteran lefty Steven Matz, against whom he also delivered a two-out, opposite-field RBI single his next time up. And then he capped off his evening with an RBI double to right-center in the ninth off minor leaguer Trent Baker.

And so here we are on the morning of March 21, and Lipscomb is the proud owner of a .372/.438/.535 slash line in 18 games, having going 16-for-43 with five walks and only seven strikeouts, all while taking the fourth-most plate appearances on the club.

Add to that his solid defense at second base (11 games), shortstop (five games) and third base (three games), and there has been nothing not to like.

“He understands the game,” Martinez said. “He plays the game the right way. He doesn’t try to do too much. He’s got a good eye at the plate. He’s got a good two-strike approach. You saw what he can do with both sides (of the field). He plays defense. He can play all over, and really play all positions well. Runs the bases well. I love having him here.”

Lipscomb’s ability to play multiple positions has been playing into his favor for some time. He won the minor league Gold Glove Award at third base last season at Single-A Wilmington and Double-A Harrisburg, but he has proven more than adept at turning double plays as a middle infielder this spring.

That versatility, though, can be a double-edged sword. Guys who can play multiple positions get labeled as utililty players. The Nationals don’t view Lipscomb that way.

“I think you shortchange him by putting a utility tag on him right away,” general manager Mike Rizzo said last week. “Fortunately for us – and maybe unfortunately for him – he can play a lot of different positions very, very well. This guy was a Gold Glove third baseman last year that’s proven he can hit at the high levels in the minor leagues, and he’s shown really well here in spring training.

“So I’m not going to limit his ceiling by putting a moniker on him that he’s a utility player. This guy’s a good player. If he could help us at a single position, impact us the most, that’s great. If he can impact us greater by being able to bounce around the field, I think that’s great also. But he’s a player. And a player’s got to play, and they’ve got to play a lot.”

And therein lies the final dilemma confronting Rizzo, Martinez and the rest of the organization right now. If they want to put Lipscomb on the Opening Day roster, whose spot would he take?

Would Luis Garcia Jr. be out of a job, making Lipscomb the everyday second baseman? Would offseason addition Nick Senzel be dropped, making Lipscomb the everyday third baseman? Would veteran infielder Ildemaro Vargas or rookie Rule 5 draftee Nasim Nuñez draw the short straw, making Lipscomb a jack of all trades?

The Nationals always insist they want their top young players to play every day, not sit on the bench. And that philosophy applies to Lipscomb if he makes the club.

“He’d have to play, yeah,” Martinez said. “I think he’s good enough to play here every day. From what we’ve seen in spring, and from what I know about him and saw in the Fall League, he’s pretty good.”

Starting lineups: Nats vs. Twins in West Palm Beac...
Davies roughed up in last scheduled start of sprin...

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to