For his entire brief career, 2B Danny Espinosa has been regarded as a great defender whose offense is somewhat mediocre. He has a career .239 batting average and .315 OBP in two full seasons, including .247 and .315 marks last season, but does not lack power for a middle infielder, hitting 21 home runs in 2011 and 17 last season. After Ian Desmondtook a huge offensive leap in his third full season, can Espinosa do the same? A big part of Espinosa’s success, if he is to have it, will come from reducing his strikeout total, which was a towering 189 last season. If he can decrease his whiffs and up his contact rate, his overall offensive numbers will rise significantly. Meanwhile, our projectors are not so optimistic that he will make the leap:
ZiPS: 603 AB, .235/.308/.403, 66 RBI, 79 RS, 17 SB, 20 HR
MLB.com: 540 AB, .252/.307/.407, 61 RBI, 74 RS, 18 SB, 17 HR
CBSSports: 585 AB, .239/.299/.402, 64 RBI, 77 RS, 21 SB, 20 HR
ESPN Fantasy: 590 AB, .242/.317/.412, 63 RBI, 80 RS, 19 SB, 20 HR
Averages: 580 AB, .242/.308/.406, 64 RBI, 78 RS, 19 SB, 19 HR
These numbers are nothing to scoff at, but they aren’t representative of the talent Espinosa has. He can hit much better than .242, and watch out if he does. He hit .300 for the month of July last season, but simply needs to put his everything together for longer stretches of time. If he could manage even .275, he could be an All-Star candidate. However, he has hurdles to overcome before he reaches that level. In addition to his strikeouts, he must deal with a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder that hampered him last season. He did not have surgery on the shoulder this offseason, and claims to feel healthy now, but the risk of re-injury is real. MLB.com cited the shoulder as the reason Espinosa would not have 575+ ABs this season, as some project. Despite showing flashes of the greatness he is capable of, if Espinosa cannot show improvement, he may find his job in jeopardy.
Top prospect Anthony Rendon projects to be a third baseman in the majors, but played second base in college, and has impressed in Spring Training. If Espinosa slumps and Rendon is hot in the minors after a few months, it would be very tempting for the Nats to call Rendon up and give him the second base job. While Espinosa is only 26 and under team control until 2017, this upcoming season could be a make-or-break one for him. It’s agressive to project that he will make the jump Desmond did, but our confidence in him is high, and we expect him to exceed the numbers he’s projected for. With his power and steals, he’s a decent fantasy 2B, but won’t be much more than top 15-20 unless he can cut down on his strikeouts and increase his average. As a Nat, he will stay a great defender, and even if he fails to improve, will be a nice sparkplug with power and speed at the bottom of the lineup.