While the Washington Nationals were waiting for injured infielders Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman to return to the lineup last summer, second baseman/shortstop Danny Espinosa was getting regular at bats and trying to make the most of the opportunity to try to revive his career after a few seasons of dealing with injuries and struggling offensively.
In 78 games in the first half of the season, after giving up the idea of giving up switch hitting, the 28-year-old infielder, who turns 29 this April, put up a .254/.331/.435 line with 15 doubles and 10 home runs in 295 plate appearances.
It was a nice bounce-back for the Nationals' '08 3rd Round pick, who put up a combined .200/.255/.326 line with 23 doubles and 11 home runs in 531 plate appearances in 2012-13.
Once Rendon and Zimmerman returned, however, the at bats were hard to come by, and, as Washington Post writer Barry Svrluga reported in his late-season look at what went wrong for the Nats and manager Matt Williams, Espinosa grew frustrated with the situation.
"Williams initially told Espinosa that he would do his best to work him into the starting lineup two or three times every 10 games," Svrluga noted, but, "between July 26 and Aug. 5, Espinosa played two innings and pinch-ran once," and "... between Aug. 8 and Aug. 18, he started once and pinch-hit five times.":
"Privately, Espinosa seethed. But people familiar with the situation said Espinosa’s frustration wasn’t entirely because he wasn’t in the lineup every day. It was because Williams didn’t follow through on his plan to find time for him occasionally — and then never communicated why."
Espinosa made just 117 plate appearances after the All-Star Break, putting up a .206/.259/.346 line over the final 40 games of his sixth major league season.
"I thought it went real well until the tough time of not being able to really get any at bats," he said this winter.
"I thought up to that point, I thought it was going pretty well. I made a turn-around and made some adjustments. I felt good about my game. I felt good being out there. It felt refreshing being back out there playing every single day. I was happy with... basically two-thirds of the season I was really happy with it."
"I thought I did what I needed to do in the first half or my first 300 at bats to have an idea that I thought I should be out there a little bit more," Espinosa said, "but that wasn't the case, that's not how I was treated, so you move on and this is a new year and I'm ready to go again. I'm ready to take on as many at bats and as many games as I can."
The prevailing wisdom, at this point, as MLB.com's Bill Ladson wrote this week, citing "team sources", is that Espinosa will start the 2016 campaign at short, which will give him an opportunity to return to the position he played in college and coming up in the organization before he moved to second with Ian Desmond the incumbent shortstop in D.C.
How long he remains there is unclear, however, with top infield prospect Trea Turner major league-ready and coming to Spring Training with a chance to win the starting job, and Stephen Drew in camp as well competing for at bats.
If the Nationals want to keep Turner in the minors until they've guaranteed another year of team control before the 22-year-old infielder reaches free agency, they've have to wait till June-ish before bringing him up.
Espinosa said in December he was eager to get to work with new manager Dusty Baker at the helm this season after the Nationals parted ways with Williams.
"I've talked to him a little bit," he said of his early conversations with Baker. "Nice guy. All the guys that I know that have ever played for him have nothing but great things to say about him. Very personable person it seems like. I'm excited about it. He seems like an old-school manager, just go out there and grind, win games and let's go."
Marcel is projecting that Espinosa gets 442 plate appearances this season (which would be the most since 2012) and puts up a .230/.293/.383 line with 21 doubles and 12 home runs.
Steamer's projections have Espinosa putting up a .230/.292/.371 line with 17 doubles and nine home runs over 344 PAs.
ZiPS projects a .223/.286/.367 line, 20 doubles and 11 home runs in 435 plate appearances.
If he starts the season at short, will Espinosa be able to put up respectable numbers at the plate until the Nationals call upon Turner?
And how will Espinosa react (at the plate, not emotionally) if he's moved into a utility role at that point, assuming the Nats won't bring Turner up unless he's going to take over the everyday job at short?