30 Players in 30 Days: Danny Espinosa
Michael Morse, Adam Dunn and Roger Bernadina stood at home plate waiting for Danny Espinosa to round the bases. Espinosa had just blasted a grand slam on a 1-0, 93 mph fastball to the first row of the second deck, right above the Nats bullpen in right field, to give the Nats a 12-3 lead. Right as Espinosa touched home plate, the three of them turned around and started walking to the dugout without a word, hand shake or high five for Espinosa.
Welcome to the Majors, rookie. The silent treatment never felt so good. Espinosa couldn’t help but smile as he walked back to the dugout by himself looking up at the 20,224 fans on their feet.
Bernadina was the first person to end the joke; he stopped on the first step of the dugout, turned around and patted Espinosa’s head. Espinosa was quickly engulfed by his teammates and the fans cheered for a curtain call. A pie in the face soon followed and so did hope for the future of the Nationals. “Espi,” as he is known by his teammates, finished 4-for-5 at the plate with 6 RBI–his only non-hit was a near home run.
He became the first player ever to hit at least two home runs and drive in at least six RBI in one of his first five Major League games–not in the history of the Washington Nationals, but in the history of Major League baseball. He is a switch hitter who can hit for power to both sides of the field. “It’s a big part [of my game]. They can’t just pitch me one way. I’m not just a dead-pull hitter,” Espinosa said.
What’s even more encouraging is his sound defense. He played shortstop at Long Beach State–a shortstop factory–and was drafted in 2008 and continued to play the position until he was converted into a second baseman when he was called up to Triple-A Syracuse in August. It was an inevitable move for him with the Nationals knowing full well it wouldn’t be long before he arrived in the Big Leagues where rookie Ian Desmond was already proving his potential as the Nationals shortstop of the future. Despite the change of position, Espinosa has excelled and his days as a shortstop seem to have only strengthened his ability to play with speed and agility.
“I’m very comfortable at second base,” Espinosa said. “It’s a position I’ve played before [in high school]… It wasn’t a tough transition at all.” He also works well with Desmond and it’s hard not to see them as the middle infield combo of the future. Desmond leads with intensity and Espinosa reflects his will to try.
Espinosa could work on his consistency at the plate; he started with a bang but slowed down as his short month in the Majors progressed. He had six home runs in just 103 at bats, which translates roughly to 30-plus homers in a full-length season, but you can’t expect production that consistent from a rookie second baseman. His batting average had also dipped to .214 by the end of the season and he struck out eight times in his final 24 plate appearances–not signs of drooping ability or failed expectations, but rather, natural signs from a rookie who will continue to have ups and downs in his first full Major League season. As far as Manager Jim Riggleman is concerned, his hitting is a bonus. They just want him in the field.
What he showed in his September call up is: while his youth can be a drawback at times at the plate, it’s a definite benefit in the infield. He’s earned the chance to lose the starting spot at second next season.