WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 8: Danny Espinosa #18 of the Washington Nationals reacts after striking out in fifth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Nationals Park on July 8, 2011 in Washington, DC. The Colorado Rockies won, 3-2. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
One of several interesting observations in Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell's Spring Training opening article on Monday entitled, "Reporting day, baseball’s most relaxed day", dealt with the grip strength displayed by Nationals' second baseman Danny Espinosa as he met up with teammates again for the first time this Spring. Nats' skipper Davey Johnson, after shaking the 24-year-old infielder's hand, tells the WaPost writer, "... that last year Espinosa hit well right-handed but poorly left-handed," but, Johnson's quoted stating, "'That’s going to change dramatically this year.'" Johnson points to the Nats' '08 3rd Round pick's firm handshake as evidence that Espinosa is finally fully-healed from the injury he suffered before the 2011 season which the infielder says affected his power from the left side of the plate last year...
Espinosa, as a 23-year-old, put up a .263/.337/.464 slash in 123 games and 542 plate appearances at Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse before making his MLB debut and posting a .214/.277/.447 line in 28 games and 112 PA's with the Nationals over which he hit four doubles and six home runs, with three of the doubles and four of the home runs coming from the left side of the plate. (ed.note - "Anyone have 2010 MiLB splits?") Espinosa was 22 games and 89 at bats into the 2010-11 Liga de Beisbol Profesional de Puerto Rico season playing second alongside Nats' first base prospect Chris Marrero with the Leones de Ponce with a .281/.343/.483 line, 6 doubles, 3 triples and 2 HR's when he suffered an injury which eventually required surgery to remove the hook of the hamate bone in his right wrist.
Before the 2011 season, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told reporters he wasn't worried at all about how the injury would affect Espinosa in his first full season as the Nats' second baseman. "Danny will have no issue with the hamate surgery, he'll be 100% ready to go in Spring Training," Rizzo said, "We expect him 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."
Former Nats' catching prospect Derek Norris, who had the hamate bone removed from his left hand the previous fall (when he injured it preparing for the '09-10 AFL season), saw his power drop considerably the next season, with the patient right-handed-hitting slugger going from a .286/.413/.513, .227 ISO, 30 double, 23 HR '09 campaign at Class-A Hagerstown to .235/.419/.419, .185 ISO, 19 doubles and 12 HR's at High-A Potomac in 2010. Asked about the loss of power on Norris' part in a chat at the time, ESPN.com's Keith Law wrote that the, "Typical recovery time for power after a hamate injury is 12-18 months. I'm not saying Norris' WILL come back, but that we don't know anything about it right now." Though he struggled to hit for average, Norris' power returned at Double-A in 2011, as he hit 17 doubles and 20 HR's and finished the year with a .210/.367/.446 line and a .237 ISO.
For Norris it was an injury to his left or bottom hand on the bat that was injured and sapped the right-handed hitter's power. For the switch-hitting Espinosa the surgically-repaired right hand affected his power from the left side. "I’ve always hit better left-handed than right-handed,'" Danny Espinosa tells the Washington Post's Mr. Boswell in Monday's article, "except after that injury (and surgery). It’s the strength in your right hand that lets you deliver the barrel of the bat to the ball accurately when you hit left-handed.'" As the WaPost writer notes, Espinosa had an OPS of, ".707 hitting lefty in ’11, but .857 righty."
Espinosa hit 20 doubles, 5 triples and 15 HR's in 149 games and 443 PA's from the left side of the plate with a .223/.314/.393 line, .169 ISO and a .281 BABIP, and the Nats' second baseman hit nine doubles and six HR's in 70 games and 127 PA's as a right-handed hitter, putting up a .283/.361/.496 line, .213 ISO and a .337 BABIP. Espinosa had a 20.0% HR/FB ratio as a right-handed batter and 12.0% HR/FB as a lefty. An increase in power from the left side, more of the same from the right, combined with a decrease in his strikeout total overall (166 in 573 AB's, tops amongst 2B league-wide) and Espinosa could have an even bigger breakout season than last year's strong start to his career in the nation's capital, and as the Washington Post's Mr. Boswell writes, Espinosa's manager and teammates will have known, "... it from the first shake," this Spring.