In the process of breaking down the prospects the Washington Nationals sent to the Detroit Tigers to get Doug Fister in a recent MLB Network Radio interview, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo described 25-year-old infielder Steve Lombardozzi, the one position player in the four-player deal, as a "baseball rat."
"Lombardozzi is just a baseball rat that knows how to play the game," Rizzo told Inside Pitch hosts Casey Stern and Jim Bowden. "[He] can grind out at bats and play solid defense at second base. Switch hitter that can steal you a base when you need to steal a base, puts the bat on the ball and not afraid to get a big hit in a big situation."
With 23-year-old, 2011 1st Round pick Anthony Rendon at second and 26-year-old, '08 3rd Rounder Danny Espinosa available to fill the utility role Lombardozzi filled in each of the past two seasons, however, the Nationals were willing to part with the infielder to bring in the pitcher they were after. "I think that we feel good about Anthony Rendon and backup options like Danny Espinosa as our second basemen," Rizzo said. "And I think that they're going to come into Spring Training as guys that we're going to count on this year."
Rumors of interest in Robinson Cano persisted until he signed in Seattle though, and on the first day of the Winter Meetings on Monday there were reports that the Nats continued to shop Espinosa. As Rizzo explained again, to reporters including NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman, however, Espinosa was drafted as a shortstop, converted to second and is capable of playing third base, and in spite of the significant issues at the plate last season, continued to play solid defense.
A "big league talent evaluator" nationals.com's Bill Ladson spoke to last week said, "Espinosa is not up to the task," of becoming the Nats' utility infielder, noting that though, "Espinosa is excellent with the glove," he, "...hasn't made any improvements with the bat."
Davey Johnson talked last September about the fact that the infielder hadn't made the necessary adjustments they wanted to see when he discussed the decision to not call Espinosa up for the final month of the season.
Espinosa had a .158/.193/.272 line in 44 games and 167 plate appearances with the Nationals before he was placed on the DL and then optioned to the Nationals' top affiliate. At Triple-A Syracuse, where his season ended, he put up a .216/.280/.286 line in 75 games and 313 PAs.
In his first full season in D.C. in 2011, Espinosa posted a .236/.323/.414 line with 29 doubles and 21 HRs in 158 games and and 658 plate appearances over which he was worth +3.2 fWAR. In 2012, Espinosa put up a .247/.314/.402 line and hit 37 doubles and 17 home runs in 160 games in 658 PAs in a +3.4 fWAR season.
"Right now, we're trying to get him back on track," Johnson told reporters this past August, "And it's also a reward system when you get called back up. It's a reward on how you did down there. And he's not doing the things I know he's capable of doing."
Rizzo has consistently talked about Espinosa as a player who has already hit 20 HRs and stolen 20 bases at the major league level, in spite of the continuing rumors about the infielder possibly getting dealt. According to reports from the first two days of the Winter Meetings, he has no interest in trading a player who is young, affordable and controllable while his value is low:
The Nats are determined to not sell low on Danny Espinosa, who Mike Rizzo says could play third. http://t.co/m3hvMLZJqW— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) December 9, 2013
So are you assuming Danny Espinosa's the Nationals' utility infielder on Opening Day?
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