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It has become a spring rite of passage around Natstown for the desire to
replace 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.
Small sample size, Spring Training, all
that does nothing to make Anthony Rendon’s .400/.429/1.000 batting line any
less impressive. Guess what? Danny Espinosa is having himself a good Spring
Training as well batting .364/.417/.409, and his injured shoulder is looking strong.
If he continues to do the maintenance exercises for his rehab there
is no reason that he can’t make it through the entire season. All of this is
getting lost in the shuffle and the excitement as Anthony Rendon is
shoved to the forefront. It is exciting to watch a prospect grow before our
eyes, but it has to be understood that he has yet to prove he can hit AA
pitching, make it through a season healthy, or play second base.
Let’s not forget with Danny Espinosa’s
2012 season that he had a terrible April batting .205/.300/.269. It shouldn’t
come as a surprise to anyone if Danny Espinosa never has a month that bad again
in his career. Between May 1 and September 25 (when the shoulder
injury presumably happened) Espinosa batted .263/.325/.435. Much
better than his overall season stats and well above average for a second
baseman. In fact if Espinosa hadn’t played April and been healthy the end of
September his .760 OPS would have ranked fifth among MLB second baseman.
In getting rid of Espinosa what is being
lost is a player who was a top ten second baseman, one of the best defenders in
baseball and, when healthy, has the potential to be so much more. It should
come as no surprise to anyone if Espinosa breaks out in 2013 in the same manner
as Desmond in 2012. Espinosa could end the season being mentioned with the
likes of Robinson Cano or Brandon Phillips as one of the best second basemen in
baseball. Espinosa has the talent. That has been seen. As have stretches where
he has put it all together and all it really takes is for Espinosa to not have
a month with an OPS below .600 and to remain healthy for the entire season.
Spring Training stats aren’t an indication of much, but it is still a good sign
that Espinosa is making contact, getting on base, and hitting the ball hard.