23-year-old Washington Nationals' second baseman Danny Espinosa (who'll turn 24 in late April '11) made his MLB debut this past September, playing 28 games in which he put up a .214/.277/.447 slash line with 4 doubles, 6 HR's and 15 RBI's in 103 at bats after he'd hit .268 with a .337 OBP, .464 SLG, 18 doubles, 22 HR's and 69 RBI's in 123 games and 481 at bats between Double and Triple-A in the Nats' system. After his third year in the Nationals' organization and his MLB debut, Espinosa went to the Puerto Rican Winter League where he posted a .281/.343/.483 slash line with 6 doubles, 3 triples, 2 HR's, 8 RBI's and 9 stolen bases in 22 games and 89 at bats playing alongside first baseman and '06 1st Round pick Chris Marrero before a broken hamate bone in Espinosa's right hand required surgery, ending his winter.
The '08 3rd Round pick out of Long Beach State University, whose name popped up in trade rumors this winter, made an appearance last night on 106.7 the FAN with Danny Rouhier and MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr...
Asked about being the Nats' second baseman heading into the 2011 season, Espinosa said he's not taking anything for granted, "I don't feel like I have the job won out right now," Espinosa explained, "I feel that I need to go in there and I need to win the postition. No one's told me that it's my job and I feel that I need to go in there and prove myself and show them that I can play at the big league level." D.C. GM Mike Rizzo said much the same in a late-season in-game appearance on MASN in which the general manager said, "Nothing's set in stone," when it comes to the Nats' infield, not even the fact that Espinosa, who was drafted and came through the system as a shortstop, will remain at second base with Ian Desmond at short in 2011. Rizzo says it's an open competition:
"Competition is great. I love when guys battle over things. It gives the manager, it gives the general manager some flexibility and some option down the road. We need to see long-term where Espinosa stands as far as in the 2011 club out of Spring Training. September baseball can fool you sometimes, and we're trying to figure out who these guys really are and what we really have."
Espinosa, who's expected to be healthy and ready for Spring Training, says he's progressed quickly in rehabbing from the hamate bone surgery, and he says his, "hand strength is higher than what it was before while I was playing in Puerto Rico and with the Nationals, my hand strength is above what it was then right now." Asked about the new faces he'll see this Spring, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche, Espinosa says the additions to the Nationals' roster, "...will help us a lot. Especially give [Ryan Zimmerman] some back up as far as giving him protection. They bring a lot of experience to this team and I think experience that we really need."
Echoing the sentiments of the Nats' General Manager, who told Sirius/XM MLB Network Radio's "Power Alley" hosts Jim Duquette and Kevin Kennedy earlier this Winter that the team was being built with defense in mind because, "...defense never goes into slumps and offenses do," Espinosa told Mr.'s Rouhier and Kerr that, "Pitching and defense always win. Everyone knows that pitching and defense wins, that your bat does not always show up to the field, but your pitching and defense should be able to show up every day." As for the offensive side of his game, Espinosa says he doesn't know, "what kind of hitter I am truly right now."
"I feel like I have power to be in the middle of the order," Espinosa explains, "but I don't think I'm a true 3-4 hitter. I think I could really do well at 5 or 6, and get on base there and drive runs in there and steal bases. I think I could do a good job [in] the leadoff spot, as long as I continue to progress in my career and I see pitching more, I realize what I can do against different guys and learn myself better as a hitter." Cutting down on his strikeouts is one of Espinosa's goals at the plate, "I think if I put the ball in play in a little more, and have a high on base percentage that will do great things for me. I can't go up there and strike out a whole bunch. I just need to stay within myself and I think hopefully with the surgery on my hand and having a little more strength when I'm up there, I won't feel that I have to swing as hard and I can just more or less try to put the ball in play and I'll still be able to drive the ball."
Bill James (via Fangraphs.com) is projecting a .255/.312/.425 slash line with 69 runs, 16 doubles, 21 HR's and 60 RBI's for Espinosa in his first full major league season at second in 2011, providing a boost in power over what the Nats got out of the position last season when Espinosa combined with Adam Kennedy, Cristian Guzman and Alberto Gonzalez to provide a combined .252/.312/.350 slash line with 81 runs scored, 26 doubles, 8 HR's and 47 RBI's. Defensively, Espinosa should be an improvement too, and though LaRoche, who signed on for two years, isn't likely the Nats' so-called first baseman of the future, the infield Nats fans see this season, barring any surprising deals that send Espinosa or Desmond out of town, is the one that's likely to be in place when the Nats plan to make a run at the postseason in 2012-13. The future is now.