With Opening Day less than two weeks away, the Washington Nationals are getting closer and closer to announcing their Opening Day roster. And although manager Matt Williams still has time to make the difficult decisions that are inherent with the final week of Spring Training, it looks like the Opening Day roster is almost set, and it looks nothing like what the Nationals expected to see just a few weeks ago.
Prior to the start of Spring Training, the Nationals’ 25-man roster was all but set, with the exception of a couple of spots in the bullpen and a spot or two on the bench. Now, injuries have forced the Nationals to rely on several players who didn’t have a chance to make the Opening Day roster when the team was at full strength.
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For these players, of course, the injures were a blessing in disguise as they gave them a chance to prove their worth to the ball club. Anthony Rendon‘s injury in particular appears to increase Dan Uggla‘s chances of making the big league club and, in the process, it could give Danny Espinosa a chance to further prove his value to the team.
Throughout Spring Training, it looked as though Espinosa was set as the backup second baseman and Uggla would be the odd man out. However, now that Rendon may not be ready in time for Opening Day, the Nationals could see both Espinosa and Uggla on the Opening Day roster, and it’ll be a key opportunity for both players to prove their worth.
In the last few years, Espinosa seems to have lost value in the eyes of the Nationals’ front office. The team no longer considers him the second baseman of the future, and his continued offensive struggles over the last few years have made many wonder if Espinosa’s time with the Nationals is coming to an end.
This spring, however, Espinosa has done things that have significantly increased his value to the team. After being a switch-hitter throughout his career, Espinosa has been hitting mostly right-handed, which has been his dominant side of the plate in recent years. The change hasn’t helped his offensive numbers yet (he’s hitting just .139 this spring), but if he can adapt as an exclusively right-handed hitter, his offensive numbers could improve significantly this season.
Espinosa has also increased his value by playing third base this spring. In light of Rendon’s injury, Williams has played Espinosa at third several times to prepare him to spend time there in the regular season if Rendon is not ready for Opening Day. With Ryan Zimmerman settled in at first base and many of the team’s other bench players set to start the season in the outfield to replace the injured Jayson Werth and Denard Span, the Nationals have very few options to play third base if Rendon starts the season late.
For Espinosa, showing that he can play third base not only gives him an all but guaranteed ticket to the Opening Day roster, but it also gives him a chance to further prove his value to the ball club. The Nationals already know Espinosa is an elite defender and a speedster on the bases. Now, Espinosa will be much more valuable to the team for his versatility, as the infielder could potentially play third, short and second base with ease.
Of course, Rendon’s injury doesn’t guarantee that Espinosa will get more playing time or that the Nationals will value him more. It does, however, give him the opportunity to show the team that he’s much more than just a sure-handed late-inning option at second base. And for Uggla, it gives him a fighting chance to stay with the big league club longer than many expected.
Espinosa and Uggla have a golden opportunity to prove themselves during the first couple of weeks of the season. Whether or not they take advantage of that opportunity remains to be seen, but it may be their last chance to prove that they belong on the Nationals. Because once Rendon returns, there’s a good chance that one of them will be gone.