Matt Williams was asked last month at NatsFest if he felt it was important for him to get together with Danny Espinosa early this spring to get a feel for how the infielder is approaching the 2014 campaign after a disappointing season for the 26-year-old Washington Nationals' infielder in 2013?
"I just think that there's great potential there," Williams said, noting that he wasn't the only one who thought the '08 3rd Round pick still had something to offer a major league roster.
"I'm not alone," he said. "There were multiple calls, as I understand it, from teams throughout baseball about him this offseason, so I'm not the only one that's thinking that or the Nationals aren't the only ones that are thinking that."
Though Espinosa said he was determined to compete for the starting job at second, Williams said he wanted the slick-fielding shortstop/second baseman to come into camp without any expectations, "...other than competing for a job and letting it fly in Spring Training." The talk this winter has been about potentially using Espinosa as the Nationals' utility infielder after Anthony Rendon took over at second in Espinosa's absence last summer.
"We're going to get him a lot of reps at short," Williams said. "We're going to get a lot of reps at second base. He's going to get a lot of at bats and get his stroke feeling good and if he can do all those things then he has a chance to be a really integral part of this team."
Nationals' hitting coach Rick Schu told nationals.com writer Bill Ladson this week that he wanted to get to work with Espinosa, who was one of a group of position players who arrived early in camp:
"For me, what I see offensively, he can be the total package. He could be that guy that hits for average. He is a switch-hitter, power from both sides, he is really an exciting guy. He had an off year because of injuries. Playing in the big leagues is tough."
It was especially tough for Espinosa, who was playing with a torn rotator cuff he said didn't affect him. After a few weeks of the season, he also had to deal a broken wrist that he sustained when now-former Atlanta Braves' lefty Paul Maholm hit him with a pitch. The Nats' infielder played with what was initially diagnosed as a bone bruise, but it was eventually revealed to be a break. Espinosa put up a .158/.193/.272 line in 44 games and 167 plate appearances before the Nationals made the decision to DL and then option Espinosa to Triple-A Syracuse. He put up a .216/.280/.286 line with the Nats' top affiliate.
Espinosa said last month that he hired his personal trainer to do one-on-one work this winter and was 100% healthy and ready to get going. "I feel strong," he said. "My wrist feels great. I'm just ready to go and I know, I guess the basic thing is, I know that if I'm given a fair opportunity to win my job, I can win my job."
Matt Williams said he was happy to see some of the position players, including Espinosa, arrive early and the first-time skipper noted that the determination they're bringing to the start of Spring Training has not gone unnoticed.
"It tells me that they take pride in their performance and they take pride in our team," the new manager told reporters on Saturday. "So, that's a good thing and the fact that they are here is fantastic, because it shows me and the rest of the staff that they're ready to go."
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