In 2011, it appeared that Danny Espinosa was the future at second base for the Washington Nationals. Espinosa started at second base for the club and the switch-hitting rookie hit .236/.323/.414 with 21 home runs in 500+ at bats. His future looked bright, and things looked promising for the Nats middle infield.
Fast forward to the present and what was once a promising future has turned into uncertainty. Espinosa began last year as the team’s starting second baseman, but he suffered an early season wrist injury and was eventually dropped to Triple-A after posting a .158/.193/.272 line in 158 at bats. Rookie Anthony Rendon—who was forced to leave his natural third base position in order to address the team’s glaring need—replaced him and had a strong second half campaign.
Despite his tough 2013 season, Espinosa has another shot this spring to prove his worth to the Nationals. New manager Matt Williams has promised Espinosa a fair shot at the starting second base job and, at the very least, a backup role as a utility infielder.
Regardless of which player wins the second base battle this spring, the Nats will be a better team if Espinosa is able to resurrect his MLB career. Espinosa qualifies for the important backup infielder role because of a combination of his above average defense and the departure of the Nationals’ ‘jack-of-all-trades’ Steve Lombardozzi this offseason. Last season, the Nationals were hurt by a serious lack of depth and though they have improved their outfield depth by signing Nate McLouth, their infield depth is lackluster. Espinosa—who has a strong arm—started his career as a shortstop, has played over 300 games at second base in the major leagues, and will be taking some reps at third base this spring.
Espinosa could also serve as an important chess piece in the potential move of Ryan Zimmerman to first base. Zimmerman’s throwing arm and accuracy are a major question going into the 2014 season. If he cannot sort out his throwing issues, there is a chance that the Nationals will try to move their star to first base to keep his bat in the lineup. If this were to happen, it would open the door for Rendon to move back to his natural third base, and leave the second base starting job vacant for Espinosa.
Finally, if Espinosa performs well in Spring Training, he could be a potential trade piece for General Manager Mike Rizzo. The Nationals have given up multiple young pitching prospects in trades over the last couple of offseasons, and Espinosa could be a solid trade chip if used to replenish the farm system.
For these reasons, the Nationals would greatly benefit from a strong spring showing for Espinosa. Whether he is a starter, a backup, or a potential trade piece, Danny Espinosa is an important ‘behind-the-scenes’ part of the Nationals’ goal to make the playoffs and more in 2014.