Filtering by Tag: Danny Espinosa

Player Preview: Danny Espinosa

Danny Espinosa’s career as a Washington National has been a roller coaster. Starting with a fine rookie season in 2011, a slight regression at the plate in 2012, a labrum injury that wasn’t surgically repaired, a demotion to AAA in 2013 that saw him play far more games in Syracuse than in Washington, and then a moderately better season in 2014 that was better than abysmal. It got to the point that after the 2014 season the Nats brought in Dan Uggla (coming off of a resounding 29 wRC+ in 2014) to bolster the middle infield bats. I hope this drives home the point that very little was expected from Danny Espinosa in 2015.

Then came The Danny Espinosa Renaissance (#TDER). 

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Thoughts about Spring Training so far

Just as we thought that the Nationals were set in possible bullpen options, Mike Rizzo goes and resigns left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez to a minor league deal with an invite to camp. Gonzalez was in a Nationals uniform during their amazing 2012 season, in which he was a major contributor out of the bullpen.

With the Gonzalez addition, I think it solidifies that Jerry Blevins won't be the only left-hander in the pen. They want another lefty in there, since it might appear they have full intention of giving the fifth starter spot to Ross Detwiler. If not, three lefty relievers is never anything to look down upon. Also with the move, it might look slimmer and slimmer that Xavier Cedeno will be in the bullpen come opening day, but will have every chance to compete for that position and send Gonzalez packing through the rest of Spring Training.

So far, the Nationals have been very solid during their exhibition games. Jayson Werth is just getting back in to playing mode, and that is the only concern. Pitching has mostly been solid, especially from the potential starters. Stephen Strasburg is one that really caught my eye. He has developed a slider, and it leads me to believe he will be even more effective this season than he ever has been. Since he throws hard, it will compliment all of his pitches in multiple ways. His fastball will jump through the zone, his curveball can be devastating with 12-6 movement, and is a fantastic compliment to the change-up with each pitch being off speed and diving to a side of the plate. The slider will be used mostly against left-handed hitters, but will mix in to righties. Only fear of this new pitch is an escalation in home runs given up. A few flat ones or sliders up in the zone could potentially be upper deck meat for lefties (cue Bryce Harper or Adam Dunn status)

Another name that has stuck out to me is prospect Zach Walters. Even though he is most likely going to end up at Triple-A Syracuse, he has made a positive impression with me, and hopefully Nats personnel. He has shown good hands, and pop in the bat, a sizzling 1.538 OPS in 16 AB’s this spring. Looks like he will be able to shoot the gaps well, and use what speed he has even though it is below average for shortstops. If he keeps good consistent play, look for him to potentially earn a bench slot over vets Jamey Carroll or Mike Fontenot, however in the long run would not be beneficial for him.

Speaking of shortstops, my impact player for the year is Ian Desmond. He was the guy I knew from the get-go that if he doesn't have a good year, things might not happen for the Nationals. But he has come into camp with a fire to lead with passion and succeed on the field, a fire I believe Matt Williams added gasoline to by looking to him for leadership. He has shown that he should be in the conversations for best shortstops in the league. He now has power, will use his speed and newfound aggressiveness on the base paths to swipe bases, and has tirelessly worked on his defense. He will easily be a 20-20 guy this season, maybe even 30-30.

Lastly, there are a few players I feel haven't left a good impression on me so far, or have still something to prove. First, is Danny Espinosa. Back in 2012, he was my favorite player. Now, he has a long hill to climb. He has shown some good defense, something he has always been known for. His at-bats so far haven't been great, but they aren't terrible. He went 0-for-10 to start the Spring, but his approach has been decent. Even Matt Williams likes his approach so far. I expect some growth their still, and hope he can pull out a backup role. His retooled swing has improved over the past few weeks, so optimism is flowing over the Nats once best-kept secret.

The last player would be Steven Souza. Souza was hyped in Spring Training as a potential player that could possibly come in and pick up a bench role for his power, and maybe even convert to first base. He’s looked fine in the outfield and while his offense is something yet to be proven consistently, he has been solid to start the spring. He still has a hill to climb before unseating Tyler Moore, but with both having options available Souza could certainly work his way on to the Opening Day roster.

Food for thought to close: Give credit to Matt Williams for being gutsy and trying to pull in an extra player (Souza) in during the 8th inning of their game against the Braves last Tuesday. Nothing better than seeing your manager tinker and try some aggressive defense when it doesn't matter, and see how your team responds. I'm sure it got guys excited to make an aggressive play. I like it, Matt Williams is looking like the right choice more and more each day.

What Happens if Danny Espinosa Wins his Job Back

Today at Natsfest Danny Espinosa said he was promised the chance to compete for the starting second base job in Spring Training and in his opinion if given that opportunity he will win his job back. Given how poorly Espinosa performed in 2013 and how Anthony Rendon seemingly saved the position from total ruin it sounds impossible, but baseball isn't built on recency bias. Rendon's .265/.329/.396 batting line is good for a second baseman but it isn't too much different than Danny Espinosa's .242/.319/.408 batting line from 2011-2012. Over those two season's Danny Espinosa was one of the top second basemen in baseball racking up a 6.6 fWAR and ranking as the sixth best second baseman in baseball. 

Much of this was based on Danny Espinosa's defensive ability but his .727 OPS ranked twelfth among second basemen and was over the average MLB OPS for the position of .694 in 2011 and .689 in 2012. Danny Espinosa was an above average hitting second baseman in both 2011 and 2012. When that was paired with his defense it made him one of the best second basemen in baseball. The casual fan had issues with this because they didn't count defense as important, couldn't wrap their head around the concept of positional scarcity, and struggled to realize that strikeouts are just another form of outs. When it comes right down to it in 2013 Danny Espinosa was awful, and because of that both recency bias and confirmation bias took hold and the call to get rid of Danny Espinosa was answered when he went on the DL and Anthony Rendon took his spot.

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The Nats 20/20 Candidates

One of the downsides of having anearly complete roster at the beginning of spring is that there are very few real questions to address. One big question for 2013 is how good Danny Espinosa will be. Espinosa to his credit is already a fairly complete player. Outside of his NL-leading 189 strikeouts, he was an average to above average second baseman offensively, coupled with superb defense and above average base running.  However there is room for improvement, which has led to articles like this one by Thom Loverro. In it when asked about Espinosa’s potential Mike Rizzo said that “he can hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases.”

Accomplishing this feat would place Espinosa in the 20/20 club. While not as exclusive as the 30/30 or 40/40 club, it is still an interesting milestone to measure speed and power. In the past ten seasons only 102 times has a player had a season ending with 20 home runs and 20 steals. This feat is even rarer for second baseman, only being accomplished 11 times in 10 years. For the Nationals a 20/20 season is very rare, as it has only been accomplished twice since they moved to DC. The first time in 2006 by Alfonso Soriano on his way to joining the 40/40 club and the second time by Ian Desmond last year.

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Danny Espinosa's Good Spring Lost in the Shuffle

It has become a spring rite of passage around Natstown for the desire toreplace on middle infielder with a younger fresher model even if said prospect has yet to learn the middle infield. Last season the trendy thought was to trade Desmond, move Espinosa to short, and start Lombardozzi at second. Lombardozzi had a good spring, but the Nats viewed him as more of a utility player and that is where he ended up while Ian Desmond went on to have a career year batting .295/.335/.511. Lombardozzi was important to the Nats filling in for Werth, Zimmerman, Morse, and Desmond when they all missed time and softening the blow normally associated with losing a star player. 

As intense as the Espinosa vs. Desmond debate was last Spring Training, it wasn't without merit. Up until that point in his career Desmond was barely a 1.0 fWAR player and his only true value was derived from positional scarcity. Danny Espinosa in his rookie season was a 3.5 fWAR player and some scouts had him as a better defensive shortstop than Desmond. That argument made a lot more sense than the one to replace a 3.8 fWAR, top 10, second baseman with a minor league corner infielder that has never played the middle infield for a sizable stretch.   

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