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Infield? Outfield? The Nationals’ Trey Lipscomb will play anywhere.

Infield? Outfield? The Nationals’ Trey Lipscomb will play anywhere.

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Nearly everything about the scene at the Washington Nationals’ facility Friday was normal, but something felt a bit off. Pitchers threw bullpen sessions as others looked on from behind a fence. Infielders took groundballs on a turf field near the bullpen, and — wait, where’s Trey Lipscomb?

That has been a common question during spring training. The 23-year-old prospect has played second base, shortstop and third base at camp, transitioning seamlessly among the three positions. But Friday, Lipscomb was with the outfielders, taking flyballs on a backfield. After the group finished, he stuck around to get extra reps with first base coach Gerardo Parra.

Versatility is Lipscomb’s calling card and something the organization values — especially Manager Dave Martinez. So it’s not a surprise that the Nationals want to get him comfortable with playing in the outfield, too.

“Messing around out there, getting more versatile,” Lipscomb said. “When I’m on the field, I just like to be athletic. So if I’m playing left, center, third, pitching, I’m going to go out there …”

“Eh, I don’t know about pitching. But if they were to ask me to pitch, I mean, I’m going to go out there.”

What this 19-year-old Nats prospect learned from his pitching idol

Lipscomb won a minor league Gold Glove at third base last year, but the 2022 third-round pick has primarily backed up second baseman Luis García Jr. at camp. He also saw time at first base during the Arizona Fall League. Catching flyballs on a side field, then, could make him even more of an asset. And it signals the Nationals’ interest in finding as many avenues as possible to get him on the field once he reaches the majors.

“He’s done well for himself,” Martinez said. “I’m really pleased with how he goes about his business. He’s very quiet, but he gets his work done. And he’s got a great attitude.”

Lipscomb’s versatility was molded in college at Tennessee, but that wasn’t necessarily the plan. Tony Vitello took over as the Volunteers’ coach in 2017. As he built his first recruiting class, his plan was to target good athletes who had the potential to develop into strong players. Lipscomb fit the bill as a multisport athlete who had room to grow.

“So while he didn’t have any weaknesses, there wasn’t any one thing that stuck out to call your neighbors and say, ‘Holy cow, look at this,’ ” Vitello said.

Lipscomb began his time with Tennessee as an infielder and a pitcher, so Vitello and his staff tried to find a fit. They landed on third base by the end of his freshman year, but his next few seasons didn’t follow a straight line.

Despite his impressive skill set, Lipscomb had a tough time cracking the lineup. There was competition for playing time, and Vitello thought Lipscomb needed to improve his mental approach. The coaching staff still tried to find ways to get him into games as an outfielder and even a catcher, but Lipscomb got just 69 at-bats in his first three seasons.

“Jesus taught me a lot of things through patience and how to keep those same things and apply it to the field,” Lipscomb said. “I think it was good that I got to sit around for three years. Obviously, that’s not the way I wanted it to go. But it is what it is, and I’m in a good spot today.”

Once Lipscomb got the opportunity to start every day in 2022, there was still competition. He and Cortland Lawson — a Northern Virginia native now also in the Nationals’ organization — battled for the starting shortstop job. Vitello’s staff was split on who was better and opted to keep Lipscomb at third base.

For a young Nats prospect, the swing’s rhythm has a toe-tapping beat

Lipscomb went on to put together one of the best seasons in Tennessee history: He led the team in hits (89), RBI (84) and home runs (22), becoming the first Volunteer to hit more than 20 in more than a decade.

“I think it’s better to go through a sequence he did where you search for it,” Vitello said. “Some guys never really faced enough adversity to have to go through that stuff. And then when that adversity comes, they freak out. They literally don’t know what to do. That has ended some major league careers, and it’s deterred some careers at our level, too.”

Vitello said Lipscomb challenged those ahead of him during his first three college seasons while also pushing himself. He’s doing the same with the Nationals. The question now is where he will begin the year after ending last season at Class AA Harrisburg.

Lipscomb gives the Nationals an intriguing option in the outfield, but his best shot probably will come at one of the infield spots. After he made his way to the turf Friday afternoon, he stood at shortstop and took some grounders. He finished a few moments later, high-fived his coaches and was off to the batting cages.

“He understands the game. He knows how to handle himself,” Martinez said. “So I’m going to give him an opportunity to do a bunch of different things this spring.”

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