The Washington Nationals have a young, star-studded roster. Bryce Harper has been getting most of the headlines this offseason, but Stephen Strasburg is right behind him. There's also been a lot of talk about Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmermann, and Dan Haren. But a player who was the Rookie of the Year favorite in the first half of 2011 has slipped under the radar as his performance dropped off after the All-Star Break and into 2012
My x-factor for the Washington Nationals in 2013 is Danny Espinosa.
Espinosa is a guy that doesn't get a lot of attention around the league. He's a low batting average/low on-base guy that strikes out a lot. But Espinosa has above average power, is a pretty good base stealer, and is an above average defender at both second and short. His 7.3 fWAR over the last two years is seventh among all second basemen in baseball, and is better than Aaron Hill's 7.0 fWAR. Hill is five years older than Espinosa, and just got a three-year $35 million extension. His .166 ISO is also better than that of Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Phillips, Jason Kipnis, and Neil Walker over the last two seasons. Yet Espinosa always seems to not get much attention, probably because of his .319 OBP (Ryan Theriot territory).
Danny Espinosa isn't a superstar, and he's not going to be forced into a huge role on this Nationals team. He's penciled into the seventh spot in the lineup as the team's starting second baseman. Yet, he could end up being a crucial part of the team on offense. With the anemic bat of Kurt Suzuki and the pitcher's spot behind Espinosa in Washington's order, Espinosa is going to get chances to set the table, especially if Ian Desmond continues to mash in front of him in the order. If you're just able to combine an above average BABIP with the near 9% walk rate Espinosa posted in 2011 along with his power and base stealing ability, you've got a guy who could put together a line resembling .250/.330/.420 with 20 homers, 20 steals, and awesome defense. That's a four win guy, and something the Nationals could really use if the offense struggles at points in 2013.
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Danny's injured rotator cuff is the biggest concern heading into this season. Of course, if he takes a Desmond-like jump in his performance and becomes an All Start, the Nats will have the best young middle infield in baseball.
@kkolchack Valid point about the rotator cuff. And if he's going to miss any significant time, they'll be in a tough spot. Lombardozzi is fine coming off the bench and as a spot starter, but I really don't think he's an every day player.