Both new Nats' manager Matt Williams and GM Mike Rizzo were clear when they spoke to reporters at NatsFest last month about there being a position battle in Spring Training to decide who is going to play second for the Nationals at the start of the 2014 campaign. "There is an open competition," Williams said. "There's going to be open competition in Spring Training at a few spots, so it's good. That's a good thing to have because guys come ready to play every day."
"[Espinosa is] going to come to Spring Training with a great attitude and ready to take a job and make the team," Rizzo said. Espinosa said he's been told the same.
"Matt and Mike Rizzo have both called me in the offseason and told me I'm going to get a fair opportunity to win my job back," the 26-year-old infielder explained. "That's all I can ask for. I've never asked for anything to be handed to me, but if I can get a fair opportunity to win my job I feel like I can do it." Espinosa blamed his struggles in 2013 on the broken wrist he played with after it was initially diagnosed as a bone bruise.
"There was times where I couldn't pick my bat up with one hand," Espinosa said. "So, my wrist was just in a bad place. I shouldn't have been playing on it, but I made the choice to try to play on it." The result was a .158/.193/.272 line with nine doubles and three home runs in 44 games and 167 plate appearances before he was DL'd and then optioned to the Nationals' top minor league affiliate. Espinosa then put up a .216/.280/.286 line in 75 games and 313 PAs at Triple-A Syracuse, while in the majors, 2011 1st Round pick Anthony Rendon was playing second.
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Rendon, who was drafted as a third baseman, took over at second base in June after a short stint filling in at third for Ryan Zimmerman earlier in the season, and from the first week of June on, put up a .267/.326/.405 line with 22 doubles and seven home runs in 90 games and 364 PAs, finishing his first major league campaign at +1.5 fWAR.
The Nationals' 23-year-old infielder said last month that he was satisfied with the results last season, though he saw room for improvement. "I'm pretty confident in what I did," Rendon said. "It could have been better, it could have been worse." His plan going into Spring Training is to simply do what he's always done and let the Nationals decide who wins the job.
"It's not my decision in the end," Rendon said. "If they feel I'm the one that's going to be out there to help the team, it's going to be me, if not, I'm going to be cheering on the other teammates."
In his two full major league seasons (2011-12), Espinosa put up a combined .242/.319/.408 line in 318 games and 1,316 plate appearances, hitting 29 doubles and 21 HRs in a +3.2 fWAR season in 2011 and 37 doubles and 17 HRs in a +3.4 fWAR campaign in 2012.
Can Rendon match that production? Does Espinosa's defense give him an advantage over Rendon or make it more likely he'll end up in a utility role as he figures things out at the plate and backs up Rendon at second, Ian Desmond at short and even Ryan Zimmerman at third as the Nats' GM has speculated?
Will the Nationals trade Danny Espinosa before the season begins if he's not going to start at second base? Though teams have been calling the Nats haven't pulled the trigger on a trade yet, instead saying Espinosa, who's young, affordable and has options remaining, will fight for the starting spot, fill the utility role or possibly return to Triple-A and keep working. Espinosa thinks he's going to win his job back if he's given a fair shot...
Espinosa and Rendon will battle it out this Spring.