Written by Chris Slade
Player Profile: Steve Lombardozzi - UTL
DOB: 9/20/88 Age: 25
Birthplace: Fulton, MD
College: St. Petersburg College (FL)
Drafted: 19th round, 2008 by Washington Nationals
Height: 6?0″ Weight: 200
Background: The Orioles acquired Steve Lombardozzi from the Tigers on Mar. 24 in exchange for veteran INF Alex Gonzalez, which shocked us all that an a 37 year old has-been on a minor league deal could fetch anything worthwhile in a trade. He's a switch hitter and second baseman by trade but can also play all three other infield positions along and has seen time in the outfield too. Lombardozzi grew up in Howard County and played high school ball at Atholton, a field I have played at myself in recent years. Irrelevant. He's a junior, son of former big leaguer (and WS champion with the '87 Twins) Steve Lombardozzi, but has enough syllables in his last name to avoid using a "Jr." at the end. The Nationals drafted him in the 19th round out of St. Petersburg College in 2008.
Lombardozzi quickly established himself as a solid mid-level prospect in the Nats minors, batting .296/.375/.395 with 16 stolen bases at Low-A Hagerstown in 2009. He won Nationals minor league player of the year in 2011 after batting .309/.360/.430 with 8 home runs, 9 triples, 25 doubles, 30 stolen bases, and just 78 strikeouts in 553 at bats. At age 23, he cracked the Nats opening day roster in 2012 as he utility man and had a solid rookie year in the role, batting .273/.317/.354 with 3 home runs an just 46 strikeouts in 384 at bats. His production waned to replacement level player status in the first half of 2013 (.234/.246/.294 in 184 at bats) but he picked things up dramatically (.302/.333/.415 in 102 at bats) in the second half.
The Good: Lombardozzi has a simple setup at the plate with minimal weight transfer and an aggressive contact oriented approach. He does a great job of putting the ball in play consistently and has struck out in just 11.1 % of plate appearances at the MLB level. His natural running speed is average but plays up on the basepaths due to aggressive and skilled baserunning. Steve has often been described as an excellent fundamental defender that is very "headsy" in the field and will make all the routine plays and throws expected of him at second and third. He can handle short in a pinch but lacks the range and arm strength to be considered more than a fringe-average defender there. In 2010, while playing in the Arizona Fall League, he won the Stenson Award, given yearly "to the player who best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work and leadership." Sounds like a "Buck-type" of player to me.
The Bad: Lombardozzi is perhaps too aggressive at the plate, often trying to jump on the first pitch thrown. So while he doesn't strike muvh, that doesn't mean he's making quality contact with regularity, which is probably why he only hit a pedestrian .259 for the Nats in 2013. He could stand to draw a few more walks, looking at his below average career walk rate of 3.7% and career OBP of just .297. He's also a below average power hitter, utilizing a swing geared for hitting line drive singles with the occasional double in the gap. He had double digit steal numbers every full season in the minors but has just 9 stolen bases out of 15 attempts in the majors.
Overall Outlook: Lombardozzi had a down year for the Nats in 2013 but I think there's still some modest upside here considering his high baseball IQ. He's just 25 and he put up the kind of numbers in his 2011 season at AA/AAA that suggested he could develop into a lower tier regular at second base with a floor as a UTL guy. He needs to improve upon that grotesque 2.6% walk rate in 2013. He has actually lowered his K% at the MLB level from what it was in the minors so it's possible that if he improves his selectivity at the plate, he could develop into a .280-.290 hitter. For now, Lombardozzi gives the O's a young, cost-controlled player (set to make 500 K) who should serve them well in a bench role and can start in a pinch. Not a bad return at all for Alex Gonzalez.
(Thanks to Baseball America, Prospect Instinct, Milb.com, Mlb.com, Federal Baseball, and Fangraphs for valuable info in putting this together)
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