What’s On Second? Settling the Keystone Situation

Will Espinosa Have the Starting Job, Or End Up Back in the Minors?

Yesterday morning, Baseball Nation’s Rob Neyer wrote a piece talking about Danny Espinosa’s injury woes in 2013, and how his broken wrist hurt the Nationals in 2013. The news of Espinosa’s broken wrist was broken at Nats Fest this weekend, when he told reporters that in April 14th game against the Braves, his wrist broke after getting hit by a pitch from pitcher Paul Maholm. While the injury was originally diagnosed as a bone bruise, it was discovered after the season that Espinosa had actually broke his wrist. From April 15th until his eventual demotion on June 2nd, Espinosa batted a lowly .158 with 2 home runs and a .425 OPS. This past week, Espinosa told reporters that he will be competing for the Nationals starting second base job, saying “Matt [Williams] and Mike [Rizzo] have both called me in the offseason and told me I’m going to get a fair opportunity to win my job back.”  But is there room for Espinosa to even be on the Opening Day roster?

Last season, former first round pick Anthony Rendon took over at second base after Espinosa’s demotion to AAA. During his rookie season, Rendon went through streaks of hot and cold hitting, finishing the season with a .265 batting average and an 99 OPS+. While it did take Rendon some time to get acclimated the the second base position, by the end of the season, Rendon made good strides in being a league average second baseman defensively. Going into this season, Rendon will most likely have the edge over any other second base candidate, as it is his job to lose. There is also the option of Jamey Carroll, who the Nationals signed to a minor league deal earlier this month. Carroll, who last started in 2012 with the Twins, struggled last season, hitting .211/261/.251 with the Twins and Royals. While it would be a long shot for Carroll to be the Nationals second baseman, he will definitely be competing for a utility role this season. While there are other options, like Mike Fontenot and Emmanuel Burris, who were both signed to minor league deals earlier this offseason, the competition will most likely be between Espinosa, Rendon, and Carroll for the starting job and the utility infielder job.

In order to compare the three players, it is best to look at the last seasons that they started the majority of games for there teams. For Rendon, that season would be 2013, but for Espinosa and Carroll, 2012 was the last year that both players started regularly. Looking at offensive production, each player brings something different to the table. Espinosa is the best pure power hitter of the three, with a .402 slugging percentage and 17 home runs. Carroll has the highest average at .268 and highest OBP at .343. Rendon is more of a combination of the two, having the highest OPS+ at 99. Both Espinosa and Carroll have gapping holes in their game; Espinosa has a very high tendency to strike out and swing at bad pitches, while Carroll cannot hit for power. In his 12 year career, Carroll has hit a total of 188 extra base hits. To put that in perspective, Espinosa has hit only 50 fewer extra base hits in a little under 400 games. In terms of the most complete hitter of the three, that title would probably go to Rendon.

It isn’t very hard to compare these players defensively. If you want to look at defensive flexibly, Carroll would be your man. In his 12 season, Jamey Carroll has played every position except for catcher. Yes, he even pitched last season for the Twins.

But in terms of defensive ability, Espinosa probably wins the cake. He has the range and the arm of a shortstop, probably because he is a natural shortstop. When Espinosa is on his game, there are only a few second baseman better than him defensively.

Each player’s stats make a compelling argument for them to be on the opening day roster. However, there are other factors besides stats that come into play. First of all, the organization still has high hopes for Danny Espinosa, thinking that he still has time to live up to his potential. Secondly, Jamey Carroll has the option to refuse his assignment to AAA, and opt to be a free agent if he doesn’t make the club. If the Nationals want to keep Carroll with the organization, he would most likely have to make the club out of spring training. Third of all, like Espinosa, the Nationals want Rendon to get regular playing time so that he can play to his potential. The only conceivable way that all three of these players would be on the major league roster at the same time is if there were and injury to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Other than that, there doesn’t seem to be any other option.

So, who will start for the Nationals come Opening Day? Most likely, it will come down to who has the better spring training. While it is important to take spring training statistics with a grain of salt, each player will be trying extremely hard to prove their worth. In the end, I believe that the Nationals will go with Anthony Rendon starting Opening Day, Jamey Carroll backing him up, and Danny Espinosa starting the season in AAA. Even though Espinosa is beloved in the Nationals organization, manager Matt Williams will do everything he can to win, and putting Anthony Rendon at second will lead to victories.

Way to go Anthony

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