VIERA, Florida | The hot corner could be hotly debated this year.
The Washington Nationals have made their choices, and gotten a little lucky, but that won’t quiet speculation about how the future of the third base position. It is an exciting time not just in the nation’s capital, but Syracuse as well.
“We are blessed at the position from [Ryan] Zim[merman] through [Carlos Rivero and Mike Costanzo] to Anthony [Rendon]. It is our job to maximize the at-bats and the defensive reps,” Washington Director of Player Development Doug Harris said during Spring Training in Viera, Fla.
As of Opening Day, Ryan Zimmerman has things on lock down in the majors (and does so for the foreseeable future). After that there is a firing line forming that most organizations could only hope for.
Carlos Rivero had a solid season (138 hits, 28 doubles in 126 games in Syracuse) last year and Washington snuck him through the waiver wire to man third in Triple-A to start the season. Rivero was out of options to the minors making Philadelphia’s major league roster a few years back. He could have been picked up by another team, but the calculated risk paid off for the Nats.
Rivero will get the majority of the reps at third with Mike Costanzo, Jared Head, Will Rhymes, and Jimmy Van Ostrand also making appearances at third in Syracuse.
“For me it isn’t an issue simply because (Anthony) Rendon isn’t here (in Triple-A),” Syracuse manager Tony Beasley said about potentially having top prospect Anthony Rendon at third to start the year as some speculated. “Rivero will move around the field a little bit. He will play a little first and some shortstop. [Rivero logged time in the outfield in Spring Training as well]. We have a team this year that has a lot of flexibility, which I like, because we can move around in National League scenarios.”
Then there that Rendon character. The top prospect in the Nationals system is a third basemen naturally – even though he has played some shortstop and could be a second baseman in the future – and will start the season in Double-A Harrisburg. He was 12-for-32 this spring with four home runs and four doubles with the Nationals making an argument that he is ready for the next level. He is in need of game time though as he is coming off of back-to-back injury-shortened seasons.
“I just go day by day. I just come out here and work hard and go day by day,” Rendon said at Spring Training sounding much more veteran than prospect. “If something happens, something happens. It doesn’t matter where I am if I have a bat in my hand to swing I am pretty happy.”
As for the hot start in spring, “I came in a little bit more prepared for spring than I had been. I had a chip on my shoulder I guess, I didn’t have a good start my first year. This is kind of like my first year all over again. There is a little more piece of mind. The first thing I have to do is not going to the training room this year.”
Rendon may stay in Harrisburg only a short time before making his way to Syracuse.
“He is going to have an opportunity to play everyday, but developmentally, he is at a certain stage in his career. He’ll have an opportunity to be with his peer group. That ball club in Harrisburg is going to be a pretty talented ball club,” Harris said of Rendon.
Then there is Matt Skole – who was the organization’s 2012 minor leaguer of the year – and had a strong season in the Arizona Fall League (along with Rendon). He is also working on transitioning to first base, but is a natural third baseman.
“He is going to play on both corners. He is has done a really nice job on both. He is really acclimated well at first base quickly. He is a big body kid, a deceptive athlete for a big body guy, and he has good hands,” Harris said of Skole. “We felt that it would be a good, quick transition and it has been. He handled himself extremely well in big league camp. He performed really well and he continues to open our eyes.”
Skole is starting the year in Harrisburg.
In other words, the position is well cared for for a long time.