Feb 9, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
As the countdown to spring training reaches its final days, we’re counting down the Nationals’ five biggest storylines of camp. We continue today with storyline No. 4: Danny Espinosa’s attempt to bounce back from a disastrous 2013…
To say Danny Espinosa has something to prove this spring is a gross understatement. Espinosa has everything to prove after a disastrous 2013 that saw the young second baseman hit .158, battle shoulder and wrist injuries, get demoted to Class AAA, hit .216 in Syracuse and never earn a promotion back to Washington.
On the heels of a year like that, Espinosa seemingly would be an afterthought at Nationals camp this spring. Except club officials, general manager Mike Rizzo chief among them, remain huge supporters of the 26-year-old and have vowed to give him a fair chance to win the starting second base job back.
How realistic is that possibility? It would require a phenomenal performance this spring from Espinosa, who needs to prove not only that he’s healthy but that he can cut down on his swing and produce more hits and fewer strikeouts. And it would probably require a sub-par performance from Anthony Rendon, the organization’s top prospect who took over second baseman following Espinosa’s demotion and impressed in his rookie campaign.
Espinosa certainly has the skills to do it. He has already proven his ability to hit 20 homers in a big-league season (2011), steal 20 bases in a big-league season (2012) and play elite defense (throughout his career). It’s those skills — not to mention the fact his value is at a low point — that have kept Rizzo from trading Espinosa despite calls from several other clubs.
Espinosa remains as confident (and defiant) as ever, insisting two weeks ago at NatsFest that his performance last season was “a fluke” and was a direct result of a fractured wrist that wasn’t accurately diagnosed until after the fact.
The Nationals don’t entirely agree and maintain he needs to take some personal responsibility for his own performance, injured or not. So the club’s decision-makers will be watching not only how Espinosa plays this spring but how he mentally approaches the entire endeavor.
Whether it results in a starting job, a spot on the bench or a ticket back to Syracuse, Espinosa’s camp figures to provide a compelling storyline.
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