Name: Danny Espinosa
Position: Second Base
No one knew exactly what kind of season to expect from Danny Espinosa. Was he going to be the power hitting, slick fielding guy who broke into the everyday lineup in 2011 or the high strikeout, low average hitter who showed up in 2012? He admitted after the 2012 season that he was playing with pain every game late in the season with a torn rotator cuff, and if had known what was wrong he probably would have taken himself out of the lineup.
Espinosa decided against surgery and decided to strengthen his shoulder with workouts so he could play the 2013 season The injury is in Espinosa’s non-throwing shoulder, so the thinking was that Danny could still play second. The hope was that his hitting would come around with the shoulder strengthening workouts and by cutting down on the strikeouts.
Why the organization and Espinosa thought the rotator cuff injury wasn’t going to affect his hitting based upon what happened to Danny’s hitting numbers after the injury occurred in September 2012 is a mystery. Whatever shoulder strengthening Espinosa did in the offseason did not help his hitting. Before his wrist was hit by a pitch on April 14th, he was batting .175. His fielding was fine, but his offense was clearly affected by the shoulder injury.
When Espinosa suffered the wrist injury, he sat out six days after initial X-rays were “negative”. He came back into the lineup and played for the next five weeks with wrist inflamation and pain. Now with his shoulder and wrist hurting, his batting average continued to slide. By June 2nd, the last game he played in the majors in 2013, he was hitting .158. Follow up testing on the wrist revealed that Espinosa had a broken bone in his wrist.
Espinosa still did not learn to lay off the inside breaking ball, which has been his major failing at the plate since 2012. Every pitcher in the Majors knows that is the pitch on which you can get Danny to strike out. It’s pretty bad when it gets to strike two on Espinosa and everyone at my house starts chanting “Inside breaking ball–strike three!” before the pitch is thrown and are right nine times out of ten.
Espinosa was sent to AAA Syracuse and played 75 games. His batting average was .216 during his minor league stint. The stat that is the most significant about Danny’s hitting at Syracuse is this: he hit .320 when he was ahead in the count and .113 when behind in the count. Apparently the minor league pitchers have watched enough film to know about that inside breaking ball problem that Espinosa has, because he couldn’t lay off of that pitch at Syracuse either.
There has been some talk of trading Espinosa, but his trade value right now given the shoulder injury and his low batting average is not looking good. If Espinosa looks good in spring training, he may end up on the Nationals bench as a late defensive replacement and substitute shortstop to give Ian Desmond days off or cover that position if Desmond gets hurt. If Espinosa does not show that he has solved or is solving the holes in his swing and is still striking out a lot, he may start the season in AAA as insurance in the event that Desmond, Steve Lombardozzi or Anthony Rendon get hurt and the Nationals need to call Espinosa up to cover second or shortstop or the utility infield position.
If Espinosa starts hitting better and shows that the rotator cuff tear is not affecting his batting, his trade value may go up and Mike Rizzo may move him if he can get some decent prospects in return.
Espinosa still has the option of having surgery on his shoulder and sitting out the 2014 season. He may finally decide that the shoulder repair will increase his career longevity and give him the best chance to either make the Nationals 2015 major league club or allow Rizzo to trade him to a team where he can again be the every day second baseman.