The Washington Times - March 7, 2012, 08:00AM

Infield prospect Zach Walters is in his first spring training with a new team (he was acquired in the Jason Marquis trade) and with a new set of coaches and officials to impress if he is to move up the minor league chain. Chances are, Walters, who grew up with Bryce Harper and went to college with Sammy Solis, will start the season at Double-A.

But he’s already been brought over to the major league side of camp a handful of times, most recently when he made one of SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays with a magnificent play at shortstop against the New York Mets, and it appears he intends to make the most of his opportunities. (Which could be why he kept quiet a right hand tweak that’d been bothering him for several days. The injury does not appear serious and he played through it Monday before even mentioning it.)


Before Walters, a natural shortstop who is working on playing multiple positions, entered Monday night’s game, he made his way over to Washington Nationals’ manager Davey Johnson and asked if he might get a private class on second base footwork with the former All-Star. Johnson, who’s noted on a few occasions that he intends to work with Anthony Rendon on just that, was delighted.

“I’ll probably have a little one-on-one second base clinic over on the half-field for Rendon and (Walters) and (Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa),” Johnson said. “Espi’s still leaving himself a little vulnerable which I don’t like. Espi’s got a college degree in second right now but he don’t have his doctorate yet and he ain’t got the masters over there yet so we’re going to have a little classroom session.”

Turning a double play at second base may be the most dangerous spot on the infield for a baseball player. As Johnson noted, “everybody likes to break up a double play.”

When Johnson was coming up, he had former Yankee Bobby Richardson and former Pirate Bill Mazeroski, who Johnson said “arguably turned the double play better than any human being alive,” give him his own tutorial. 

“Neither one of them, from what I can remember, ever got taken out at second,” Johnson said. “Neither did I because I had their tutelage.”

For Johnson, it’s all about the proper footwork — footwork not only to be quicker, cleaner and more accurate, but also to ensure your own safety as a runner comes barreling into you at second base.

“I think, the prettiest play in baseball,” he said. “It’s not the shortstop turning it, it’s the second baseman turning the double play. To me, that’s a beautiful pirouette.

“I’ve seen a lot of second basemen, big league second basemen, totally butcher it. But when it’s done properly it’s just a beautiful thing and you never get hurt.”

For Walters and Rendon the course will represent a chance for them to improve their versatility as they progress through the Nationals minor league system. For Espinosa, who turned in a fine defensive season in 2011 in his first year at second base, it’ll represent a chance to improve. Espinosa played both second and shortstop in college at Long Beach State University, but was almost exclusively a shortstop until the end of his minor league tenure with the Nationals. 

Count Johnson among those who feel Espinosa could have been in the Gold Glove conversation last season, so it’s not a knock on Espinosa by any means that his manager would like to get him out to work on footwork. It’s just a chance for him to continue bettering himself at the position.

“You’ve got to have the masters course,” Johnson said.