Earlier that night, House was on a video call with Washington media, still at his childhood home in Winder, Ga., and called sticking at shortstop one of his main goals. He cited Trevor Story, the 6-foot-2, free-agent star, as a template for his future. House, 18 and the Nationals’ top position player prospect, is 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds. Up close, he looks more like a young outside linebacker than middle infielder.
Yet nothing has changed for House in the seven month since he was picked 11th overall by the Nationals. At early minor league camp in West Palm Beach this week, he doubled down on shortstop as his spot of the present and future. And while his size could eventually fit better at third, it makes sense for House to want the cornerstone position he filled at Winder-Barrow High School, then the first 16 games in the Florida Complex League last summer.
Premier shortstops can have whole franchises built around them. House’s defense just has to keep pace with his eye-popping bat.
“Be patient. Let’s let his skills play out,” De Jon Watson, the Nationals’ new head of player development, said when asked about those trying to move House to third already. “Let us get our hands a little dirty as we’re trying to work on cleaning up the footwork and just the baseball feel and IQ. If you remember, he’s coming from a high school program, I’m sure he played on a national stage with all the showcases, but the competition and what you get here in professional baseball, everything turns up.
“The velocity of the ball off the bat is a lot greater. Understanding where you need to be, positioning, now we have some more advanced information where we can help him with getting himself into a better position to field balls and where balls are going to be hit. We’re going to do everything we can to see if this is the natural position for him.”
In those 16 games down in Florida last year, House clubbed four homers and finished with a batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage slash line of .322/.394/.576 in 66 plate appearances. On Thursday in West Palm, in his first batting practice round of the morning, he took a half swing and lined a ball off the opposite-field fence in right. His power matches his build. Shortstop Sammy Infante, the Nationals’ second-round pick in 2020, called House “kind of like a freak of nature.”
The two of them have worked side-by-side in drills this week. Armando Cruz and Jackson Cluff, two more prospects, have been at shortstop, too. The Nationals have long stockpiled shortstops and used them to fill other holes. Carter Kieboom, who should get another shot as the club’s everyday third baseman this spring, was once a top shortstop prospect. So was Luis García, who’s made 90 of his 98 major-league starts at second.
If House is moved down the line, it wouldn’t be a failure on his part. It could, in theory, be a product of the roster construction at the time, or just the front office’s ultimate plan for him. And it’s worth noting that, while he’s excelled early on, House is a teenager with a long, long way to go.
But allow him to plot his next steps in the middle of the diamond. To this point, he’s earned that much.
“I had another really tall shortstop over in that other place on the West Coast,” Watson said. “He’s still playing and got a whole lot of money recently. … Let’s give this thing a little time. Let’s see how it works itself out.”
Watson was referring to Corey Seager. He spoke in code because, with the lockout ongoing, club officials aren’t allowed to speak publicly about anyone represented by the players’ union. Watson was overseeing player development for the Los Angeles Dodgers when they drafted Seager in 2012. Seager, 27, won Most Valuable Player of the World Series in 2020 and signed a 10-year, $325 million deal with the Texas Rangers in November.
Championships and generational wealth are likely in House’s dreams. What matters most in this case, though, is that Seager and House are listed at the same height and weight.
“For fielding, everyone has to have their footwork touched and ready to go,” House said, adding that, given his size, good footwork and staying low are even more important. “So my feet were actually not moving to their full potential, I would say, until I got that coaching and learned more about it.”