When Danny Espinosa announced at NatsFest that he would have a chance to compete for his old job during spring training, many people didn’t buy it. After all, Espinosa was coming off the worst season in his career, in which he posted a dismal .158/.193/.272 line with three homers and a 47/4 strikeout to walk ratio in 167 plate appearances with the big league club, before being demoted to Triple-A Syracuse.
Despite his dreadful performance last season, it looks like Espinosa will indeed have a chance to earn back his old job this spring, a job that many (myself included) believed was Anthony Rendon‘s to lose. New Manager Matt Williams reiterated on Sunday that Espinosa will have a fair chance to win back his old job, and that at the moment, there are no favorites.
“I believe it’s open competition,” Williams told Nats Insider’s Mark Zuckerman. “And that’s all you can say about it at this point. They haven’t even taken their first grounder officially yet. But I think that it’s good to have competition in spring. It makes guys come into camp ready … There’s no favorite at this point. We’re going to give them both ample opportunity to become the starter, and we’ll see where we go.”
Espinosa has been saying all along that last year’s offensive woes were due to a broken wrist that he had to play through all season, and he is determined to prove that he still has what it takes to be the team’s starting second baseman. It won’t be an easy task for Espinosa by any means, but he has plenty of support from the Nationals.
General manager Mike Rizzo thinks very highly of Espinosa and has publicly supported him on several occasions this offseason. Williams is also a big supporter of Espinosa — perhaps because he sees a little bit of himself in the young second baseman.
“Way back early in my career I had some pretty good years, and then had a really bad one,” Williams told Zuckerman. “And so I understand what that feels like. So I asked him to relax and play and let him know how valuable he is to our club and what he can do on an everyday basis to help this team win. Oftentimes we need to be reminded of how good we are. I think he’s a really good player. So that’s all I’ve told him.”
Despite the skipper’s confidence in Espinosa, I still don’t see him starting at second base on opening day. My gut feeling is that Espinosa will either make the team as a utility player, or he’ll be traded sometime this spring. Nevertheless, Espinosa could be a major asset for the Nationals and it’s in everyone’s best interest that he has a strong spring. Because whether he’s in the lineup everyday, pinch-hitting in the eighth inning, or traded for prospects, Espinosa will help the Nationals in 2014.
No matter what happens, things are looking much better for Espinosa then they were at the end of last season. He’s healthy, he’s relaxed, and he’ll have a chance to earn back his old job this spring. While he certainly has support from his manager, it’ll still be tough for him to beat out Anthony Rendon for the job. That being said, if injuries were really the cause of last year’s offensive struggles, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be able to accomplish his goals this spring.