Ryan Zimmerman Willing To Move To 1B, But Not Yet

To me, Washington Post beat reporter Adam Kilgore is at the absolute top of his game in spring training. It’s clear that he spends the entire offseason thinking of perfect potential February stories, and he wastes no time cutting through the fat. Yesterday, he asked Ryan Zimmerman about potentially, someday, having to change positions after the Nationals drafted third baseman Anthony Rendon with the No. 6 overall pick in last year’s draft.

This was part of his response:

“I think I want to play third base until someone is better than me at it,” Zimmerman said. “I think there’s teams that move people. I’ve said it all along — I want to be here as long as I can. I want to play my whole career here. If that means me playing third base for five more years and then moving somewhere because someone is better than me at third and it’ll help us win, then I’ll do it. If that means me playing third base for 10 years and then going to first base or wherever, then I’ll do it. I don’t care.

“…I’m certainly not going to make it easy for someone to come and be better than me. Someone is going to have to take it from me. It’s not going to be given to them, that’s for sure. I don’t really see myself giving that up anytime soon.”

Kilgore also spoke to Zimmerman about changing his throwing mechanics last season to preserve his abdominal health. While it was an ugly sight last summer, he has reportedly honed in on the new throwing motion and it should no longer be an issue moving forward.

Given that, if Zimmerman can stay healthy, I see no reason why he can’t retire as the Nationals’ third baseman. We’re not talking about Cal Ripken moving out of the shortstop position when he was in his late 30’s and had played more games than any player before him. Zimmerman is a young man, in his prime, playing a position that many have been great at defensively even into their late 30’s and early 40’s. Unless something occurs where he is not able to throw across the diamond, there is no reason at all to believe that he can’t play the position at a high level for the rest of his career.

Currently, you could make a very real argument that he is the best defensively at his position in the game of baseball today, alongside Adrian Beltre, Scott Rolen and Evan Longoria. While he has committed a threw throwing errors over the past seasons which has brought down his overall UZR to slightly below the three names listed above, he has by far trumped them in Range Rating in the two seasons prior to his abdominal injury. This is important, because while fielding and throwing the ball cleanly is important for making outs, getting to balls that other third basemen cant saves runs. That’s a weapon the Nationals need to keep at third base for as long as it continues to produce.

The more logical option, and I wish Kilgore would have asked this in the clubhouse yesterday, is whether or not Danny Espinosa still feels comfortable switching back over to shortstop, his native position. Ian Desmond has been a solid figure in the clubhouse for the Nationals the past two seasons, but his lack of production at the plate and in the field have made him expendable. If he does not make major strides this season, it’s very likely that we’ll see Espinosa move back across the infield to shortstop, and the club will begin grooming Rendon as the second baseman of the future.

All of these speculations rest on the assumption that Rendon will live up to his potential and will be in the Majors within the next several years, which of course, may not happen. While some expected him to be the lock for the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, his injuries and drop off in production helped him slip to Washington at No. 6. Will he be able to overcome the shoulder injury that forced a major drop-off in his Junior season? Will he have as much of a power bat when he switches from aluminum to wood? These are all issues we’ll have to wait and see on, and time will have to be given to Rendon to answer them.