Asked during the NLDS how the Washington Nationals could improve on their 98-win 2012 campaign, Nats' skipper Davey Johnson noted that the team was still young, with several key players still growing as they made their first run at the postseason. "We still," the manager said, pausing, "... a lot of guys haven't hit their stride. There's still a bigger ceiling for a number of players on this ballclub."
"You know, [Jordan Zimmermann], [Stephen Strasburg], [Ross Detwiler], this is really their first full season in the big leagues. [Danny] Espinosa, he's still learning how to make adjustments up here. Certainly [Bryce] Harper, same thing. So I think -- and we lost our no.1 catcher, [Wilson] Ramos, and he's going to be back healthy next year. So I think we have got a way to go; we can still improve to be a lot stronger and more consistent ballclub."
As for Espinosa in particular, the Nationals' 69-year-old manager said the team's 25-year-old second baseman, who finished his second full major league season with a .247/.315/.402 line, 37 doubles and 17 HRs in 160 games and 658 plate appearances over which he was worth +3.8 fWAR (6th in the Majors amongst qualified second baseman), "... made a lot of strides this year." In discussing Espinosa's struggles in the NLDS, which saw him go 1 for 15 with two walks and seven Ks in five games, Johnson said he remained confident in his second baseman and the infielder's confidence in himself remained high as well.
"He always feels like he's the right guy at the right time to do something, and a lot of times he does," Johnson said, "But it's just the inexperience, you can get a little overly aggressive and he needs to be a little more patient." So the '08 3rd Round pick out of Cal State Long Beach has some growing to do. If Espinosa's improvement between his 25 and 26-year-old seasons is anything like Ian Desmond's, the Nationals' middle infield appears set for the near-future. If Espinosa's on-field improvement is half as impressive as the beard he's sporting these days, opposing pitchers are going to have a long lineup to get through in 2013...
• I don't want to post a photo from a protected Twitter account w/out permission, but you can see Espinosa's new beard everywhere:
• D.C. Sports Bog: LINK to Espinosa's Impressive Beard.