As Matt Williams put it in an interview at NatsFest last month at the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, MD, the Washington Nationals aren't the only ones who believe that 26-year-old infielder Danny Espinosa can still contribute to a major league roster. "I just think that there's great potential there," the new Nationals' manager told reporters.
"And again, 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."
"He's got great skills and tools and [is] a guy who has proven that he can play and perform at the big league level," Nats' GM Mike Rizzo said. "He's going to come to Spring Training with a great attitude and ready to take a job and make the team." Espinosa, a 2008 3rd Round pick out of Long Beach State, debuted in the majors in 2010, played full seasons at second in 2011 and '12, but was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse last June after injuring his shoulder (torn rotator cuff) on a defensive play at the end of the Nationals' run to the NL East crown in 2012 and his injuring his right wrist (fracture) on a HBP early in 2013. It was the wrist, not the shoulder, that was the problem last season according to Espinosa.
"My rotator cuff has been fine," Espinosa said. "My shoulder is unbelievable now, the weight that I'm doing and I'm lifting. Everything is completely fine. It was my wrist. There was times where I couldn't pick my bat up with one hand. So, my wrist was just in a bad place."
Before he was DL'd and sent to the Nats' top affiliate, Espinosa, who put up a .236/.323/.414 line with 29 doubles and 29 HRs in 158 games and 658 plate appearances in a +3.2 fWAR campaign in 2011 and followed that up with a .247/.315/.402, 37 double, 17 HR, +3.4 fWAR season for the division champions in 2012 in which he played 160 games and made 658 PAs, posted a .158/.193/.272 line with nine doubles and three home runs in 44 games and 167 PAs over which he was worth -0.6 fWAR.
Espinosa's defense and value as a backup at short kept him around longer that he might have otherwise lasted, but he was replaced by 2011 1st Round pick Anthony Rendon in June and he'll be competing with the 23-year-old infielder this Spring to see who ends up being the Nationals' Opening Day second baseman.
In his first full professional season following a few injury-plagued campaigns in college at Rice and injury-shortened first year in the Nats' system, Rendon put up a .265/.329/.396 line with 23 doubles and seven home runs in 98 games and 384 PAs in the majors and finished at +1.5 fWAR while learning on the job defensively at second.
The Nationals plan to give Espinosa a chance to compete for the job though, and as nationals.com writer Bill Ladson reported tonight, though teams keep calling, GM Mike Rizzo is in no rush to deal the switch-hitting infielder.
"At least a dozen teams have inquired about Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa," Ladson writes. "But don't look for general manager Mike Rizzo to trade him any time soon." Espinosa is young and affordable, at a low point in his value, with options remaining and the Nationals appear willing to see if he can work his way back and either play second or take over for Steve Lombardozzi in a utility role. Or he can figure things out at Triple-A and provide insurance should any injury issues arise among the Nats' infielders. Will the Nationals get an offer that changes their stance?
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