One of the more compelling competitions to watch this spring for the Washington Nationals will easily be the second base competition between Anthony Rendon and Danny Espinosa. Espinosa came up in 2010 and opened eyes, showing power and some stellar defense, and eventually won the everyday second base job in 2011. Espinosa started off hot in his rookie year of 2011, with a .242/.332/.460 slash line in the first half of 2011. He had a solid 16 home runs and 52 RBIs. Unfortunately, Espinosa’s second half was a sign of things to come, as he would post a paltry .227/.310/.352 slash line with only five home runs and 14 RBIs.
Espinosa’s struggles are very well documented, and we know he went slowly but surely downward in the years following, hitting only 17 home runs in 2012, struck out 189 times and was mercifully demoted in 2013 after hitting only .158. After Espinosa was demoted, Rendon took a strong grip on the everyday second base job, at least for the 2013 season. Espinosa was hampered in 2013 by a rotator cuff injury he claims was not a hindrance and did not need surgery, but also suffered a broken wrist after being hit by a pitch, which Espinosa claims was the real reason why he never got going offensively.
Espinosa and Rendon are different as hitters. However, if both are 100 percent healthy, Washington would be in a great situation with either player. Rendon is more of a patient hitter who is able to work counts, and has all the makings of being a very good major league hitter with a nice combination of patience and power. Espinosa is a switch hitter who does not walk much, though he does have the ability to put up, if healthy, 20-25 home run seasons as an everyday player. If Espinosa is ever able to cut down his strikeouts, he could be a very good hitter as well as a very good fielder.
Espinosa got the first crack at playing second base for the Nationals Friday when they faced the New York Mets. Espinosa showed some signs that he could be back to his 2011 first half form with some positive signs in his at-bats. Sure, Espinosa was 0-2, but there were some positive signs from Espinosa against the Mets.
First off, Espinosa took both of the first pitches thrown to him, which is good because Espinosa tends to sometimes be antsy at the plate and jump on a pitch a little too early. Another positive sign was Espinosa laid off a pitch that he never was able to resist before, which is the fastball high and away, usually around the batter’s shoulders.
Batters rarely lay off this pitch since it’s up and they think they can just launch it out of the park, and Espinosa always swings at this pitch. Laying off of it twice was encouraging, even for a game on Feb. 28.
Espinosa may be doomed from the start in his competition with Rendon, but one thing players do a lot is try to improve on their weaknesses, and it seems Espinosa was able to do that in his first game of the spring. This is both exciting and encouraging, because it could lead to a strong competition that could go down to the last few days of the spring.