Oct 20, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
Age on Opening Day 2016: 28
How acquired: 3rd round pick, 2008 draft
MLB service time: 4 years, 113 days
2015 salary+bonuses: $1.8 million
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2016, free agent in 2018
2015 stats: 118 G, 412 PA, 59 R, 88 H, 21 2B, 1 3B, 13 HR, 37 RBI, 5 SB, 33 BB, 106 SO, .240 BA, .311 OBP .409 SLG, .719 OPS, 3 E, 10.3 UZR (at 2B), -0.9 UZR (at 3B), 1.8 WAR
Quotable: “He’s played all over the diamond, done everything we’ve asked him to do, and then some. It says something about his character.” — Matt Williams on Danny Espinosa, July 11
2015 analysis: Very little was expected of Danny Espinosa entering the season, and for good reason. After two straight dismal years at the plate, he faced a career crossroads, forced into trying to give up switch-hitting and only bat from the right side during spring training.
Espinosa, though, never felt comfortable doing that, so in his first at-bat of the season against a right-hander, he dug in from the left side of the plate … and proceeded to double. A few days later, he homered as a left-handed batter, and thus ended the experiment. He wound up a dramatically more productive hitter, lowering his strikeout rate (from 33.5 percent to 25.7 percent), increasing his walk rate (from 5 percent to 8 percent) and his home run rate (from 2.2 percent to 3.2 percent).
Espinosa also proved as valuable as ever in the field, making his career debuts at three new positions: third base, first base and left field. That versatility and better offensive approach made him quite important to the Nationals; they went 54-41 when he was in the starting lineup, 29-38 when he wasn’t.
2016 outlook: So, how does Espinosa figure into the Nationals’ plans now? That remains to be seen. Ian Desmond’s expected departure opens up a spot in the starting infield, but Espinosa isn’t assured of being handed that job (either at second base or shortstop) and could lose out to either top prospect Trea Turner or someone else the club acquires in the offseason.
Though he may not like it, Espinosa does have real value coming off the bench. His willingness to learn all those new positions this year makes him a good backup option for several other regulars. And as a switch-hitter with good speed, he can be used in just about any scenario that develops during the course of a game.
For all the progress he made in 2015, though, Espinosa does need to prove he can sustain his offensive success. He faded some in the second half — possibly a negative result of his playing time diminishing quite a bit — and he still had a tendency sometimes to swing out of control from the left side. If he can keep that swing short and avoid chasing pitches out of the zone, he can continue to develop into a highly valuable player for the Nationals, no matter his exact role.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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