'08 3rd Round pick, Danny Espinosa finished the 2009 season, his second in the Nats' system, with a .264/.375/.460 slash line, 31 doubles, 18 HR's, 72 RBI's and 29 stolen bases for the Class-A Potomac Nationals, and then went out to the Arizona Fall League where the then-22-year-old infielder, playing alongside '06 1st Round pick Chris Marrero and behind the top pitchers in the organization, '09 1st Round picks Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen (amongst others), put up a .345/.434/.460 line with 30 hits in 24 games and 87 at bats. The former Long Beach State University shortstop was the second-highest ranked infielder in the Nationals' organization on both Baseball America's Aaron Fitt's and ESPN.com's Keith Law's season-ending lists of Washington's best prospect after the '09 campaign, behind only Ian Desmond on each list after Desmond made his MLB debut that September and impressed enough that he was considered a challenger for the starting job at short heading into the 2010 campaign...
Espinosa, considered the "Best Defensive Infielder" in the organization by Baseball America's Mr. Fitt, was also singled out in the article as one of two prospects (along with catcher Derek Norris) who, "took major steps forward in 2009." Sent to Double-A Harrisburg to start the 2010 season, Espinosa hit 16 doubles and 18 HR's while stealing 20 bases and posting a .262/.334/.464 slash line in 99 games and 434 plate appearances. Called up to Triple-A Syracuse, the 23-year-old shortstop saw time at second for the first time in the Nats' system outside of, "one game in Spring Training in a big league game," though he said he'd, "played [second] a couple years before that in college," and had, "played a couple games in summer ball, but that's about it." After hitting .295 (28 for 95) with Triple-A Syracuse, Espinosa was called up to Washington in September where he put up a .214/.277/.447 slash line with four doubles, six HR's and 15 RBI's in 28 games and 112 plate appearances while playing a flawless second base, combining on 20 doubles plays and posting a +13.3 UZR/150 in his first taste of major league play.
Espinosa followed up on his strong 2010 campaign with a stint in the Puerto Rican Winter League where he posted a .281/.343/.483 slash line with six doubles, three triples, two HR's, eight RBI's and nine stolen bases in 22 games and 89 at bats, once again playing alongside first baseman and '06 1st Round pick Chris Marrero, but a injury to the hamate bone in the switch hitter's right hand ended his winter. MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo saw enough of Espinosa at second that he put the converted shortstop 5th on his list of the top second baseman in baseball on his recent, "Prospect Watch: Top 10 second basemen" list of the top infielders. The starting spot at second, "could very well be his job to lose this spring," Mr. Mayo wrote, but Espinosa's not taking anything for granted, telling Danny Rouhier and MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr in an interview recently on 106.7 the FAN, "I don't feel like I have the job won out right now,":
Danny Espinosa: "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."
ESPN.com's Keith Law had Espinosa ranked 5th overall as the top infielder in the Nats' system on his 2011 rankings of the top prospects by organization. Baseball America's Aaron Fitt had Espinosa ranked third overall as the top infielder in the Nats' system following the 2010 season, with the 24-in-April second baseman recognized again as the "Best Defensive Infielder" with the "Best Infield Arm" now that Desmond was off the prospect list. "Danny Espinosa is a baseball player," former D.C. GM Jim Bowden, who oversaw Espinosa's selection in 2008, said when discussing the state of the Nationals on Sirius/XM MLB Network Radio's Inside Pitch recently, "great instincts, knows how to play." Along with Desmond, Bowden said, "It's a young middle, up the middle, but certainly I think [the Nats] are doing the right thing by giving them a chance to play every day."
Bill James on Fangraphs.com is projecting a .255/.312/.460 slash line (.287 BABIP) for Espinosa in 2011, with 16 doubles, 21 HR's, 19 stolen bases and 60 RBI's. Washington got 26 doubles, 8 HR's, 47 RBI's and a .252/.312/.350 slash line combined from their second baseman last season. A full season alongside double play partner Ian Desmond, with Adam LaRoche expected to improve the defense and a Gold Glove third baseman in Ryan Zimmerman, the Nats' infield for the next two seasons seems to be set, though D.C. GM Mike Rizzo said late last season, in an interview on MASN, that nothing's set in stone when it comes to the 2011 lineup. Espinosa has to prove he's ready, and Ian Desmond has to defend his spot at short:
Mike Rizzo: "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's expected to be 100% recovered from the Hamate hook removal when Spring Training begins, and though there will be some competition, as Mr. Rizzo said last September, more recently the Nats' GM said, "We expect [Espinosa] to be our Opening Day second baseman. He's a young player, but what he gives to us defensively range-wise, energy level, and speed on the bases, we can absorb a little bit of poor rookie at bats, if you will, until he gets comfortable in the batter's box from both sides of the plate." The future is now in the Nats' infield.