Washington Nationals Editorial: Shortstop Battle An Open Competition

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May 24, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa (8) is unable to catch the single hit by Philadelphia Phillies left fielder Ben Revere (not pictured) during the first inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
May 24, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa (8) is unable to catch the single hit by Philadelphia Phillies left fielder Ben Revere (not pictured) during the first inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /
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By far, the biggest competition in Washington Nationals spring training is who is going to be the Opening Day shortstop

With Spring Training underway in Viera, there aren’t many position battles for the Washington Nationals. But, the one position to keep an eye on is at shortstop now that Ian Desmond is no longer in DC. It would appear that Danny Espinosa would be the favorite, but it appears no one should count out Trea Turner or even Stephen Drew for that spot.

Since Desmond was the everyday shortstop for the last few years with the Nationals, Espinosa hasn’t had a large sample size at the position. He has played shortstop 59 times in his Nats’ career and 36 of those games came back in 2012. Last year, he played shortstop eight times and started five times. However, his beard is once again a story in camp, but for good reasons:

While Espinosa has been a strong defender over the course of his six-year career, he still has to prove he can handle being the everyday shortstop to his new manager, Dusty Baker. Here is what Baker had to say about the shortstop battle on Friday:

"“I haven’t seen Turner, who I’m very excited to see play. … And I haven’t seen Espinosa play short at all. I remember him from second base. So this is all kind of new for me.” (h/t Mark Zuckerman, MASNSports.com)"

Last season, one of the highlights of Trea Turner’s year was his first Major League home run on September 29 against the Braves at Turner Field. Judging by Baker’s comments, Turner has a chance to start Opening Day in Atlanta for the Nats. Even though he only hit .225 in 27 games last season, Turner has the speed to make an impact on a lineup that didn’t steal many bases last year.

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One name to not rule out in this mix is Drew. Even though Drew has only played 54 games at shortstop in the last two years combined, he still can hold his own at shortstop. His fielding percentage of .984 in 2013 was second in the American League behind former Nats’ third baseman Yunel Escobar (then with the Tampa Bay Rays).

The problem for Drew is his offense when you look at the fact that his batting average was .162 in 2014 and .201 in 2015. To me, Drew is the kind of player the Nationals could bring in late in the game at either shortstop or second base for a defensive replacement or when they need a home run off the bench. Despite his average being low, the 32-year old has hit 13+ home runs in two of the last three seasons (13 in 2013, 15 in 2015).

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Right now, the favorite should be Espinosa, especially when he was one of the key players for the Nats during all the injuries in the first half of last season (.254, 10 home runs, 28 RBI’s in 61 games). His ten home runs in the first half were the second most on the team behind Bryce Harper (26). However, if he struggles this spring, that gives Turner the opening to get the job and allows Espinosa to still play a crucial role as the team’s utility man in case of injury.

Next: Nats Non-Roster Player Profile: Matt Skole

Even though the Nationals do not have Desmond in their lineup anymore, they still have a good mix of talent at the shortstop position, which should make for an interesting battle this spring as they try to make good first impressions.

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