Friday, July 29, 2011

Danny Espinosa, Shortstop

When Davey Johnson was hired, he made comments about how important it is to use the rest of the season to find out what the team has going into next season. That's in part why Roger Bernadina has been getting so much playing time--to make sure that the team knew whether he could be the starter next year, or more likely not.

In that spirit, it's time to find out if Danny Espinosa can be an everyday shortstop. Because we know that, at least at this point, Ian Desmond cannot.

First let's focus on the good news. Espinosa was seen as a good prospect going into the season--a guy who someday would become a solid regular in the majors even. Well, he's already become that, and at age 24 he now has a chance--not a likelihood, but a chance--to become a perennial first division starter.

He's slumping a bit lately, but his power has exceeded scouts' expectations, and his approach has continued to mature. He's also stealing bases with an 86% success rate and doesn't make errors in the field (tonight was just his eighth). He's been a fantastic second basemen, and he's shown plenty of arm to make the transition to shortstop.

Long-term, Espinosa is more valuable to the Nationals as a shortstop for the simple reason that it's harder to find offensive-minded shortstops than second basemen. Also, you gotta figure that Anthony Rendon's fastest path to the majors is to transition to second, if not just hang around and wait for Ryan Zimmerman to hit free agency.

Regardless, the Nationals need to know going into next season whether they need to add a shortstop in the off-season or if the Espinosa is the answer. They have 58 games to figure that out, and time's a-wastin'.

That leaves the question of what to do with Desmond. He's been prominent in trade talks, which I guess makes sense. If someone sees Desmond as a 25-year-old starting shortstop and wants to give up that kind of value, then fine. But there's no reason to get frustrated and dump him.

Desmond was red-hot in his September call-up two years ago, and has done nothing but get worse and worse. Pitchers have adjusted, and Desmond hasn't responded. He's not getting in very many hitters' counts, and he isn't making nearly enough hard contact. But the tools are still there. He could still have a good career as a utility man. He could also improve his plate discipline, allowing his power to reemerge.

Teams way too often get tired of their own prospects when their development stalls. The Nationals should try to avoid that mistake, send Desmond down to Syracuse, start working him at second, third, and the corner outfield spots, and let him hit his way back.

But at the very least, Desmond shouldn't be blocking Danny Espinosa from proving himself as the team's true shortstop of the future.

1 comment:

IPLawguy said...

I do not understand the determination to stick with Desmond. If could get the Nats Upton, that's a trade that should be made.