The Nationals have operated all spring as if Danny Espinosa will serve this season as their super-sub utility infielder, with Anthony Rendon holding on to the second base position he seized in the second half of last season. Rendon entered camp with 18 extra pounds of muscle and has played well all March. While Espinosa has impressed Manager Matt Williams, his performance seemingly hasn’t overwhelmed to the point he could usurp Rendon.
That all seems pretty clear. Williams, though, is not ready to declare anything. He pronounced on the first day of spring that Espinosa and Rendon would compete for the starting second base job. With one week remaining in spring training, Williams is staying tight-lipped for the sake of the competition’s integrity.
“I’m not ready to make that decision yet,” Williams said. “We’ve got a week left. They’ll continue to play and get at-bats. I like what I’ve seen. They’ve competed well.
“Anthony has played really well. His swing is right on. Danny’s swing is right on right now. They’re both quality defenders in the infield. They both play multiple positions. So, there’s options there.”
Espinosa’s usage suggests the Nationals are preparing him for a more versatile role than everyday second baseman. Eight of his 14 starts in the field this spring have come at shortstop. Rendon, meantime, has made eight of his 12 starts at second base. When Williams unveiled what looked like an opening day preview this week, Rendon started at second base.
Still, Williams does not want to tip his hand, admittedly in part to uphold his word that he would allow Espinosa to compete for the second base job.
“I’m not there yet,” Williams said. “I don’t know if that’s appropriate for either one of the guys. Coming in, I asked them both to compete, and I asked them be ready to play, every day. We’ve provided them that. They’ve both got a lot of playing time. I don’t want to, at this point, say anything that would jeopardize their competition in their brain. It’s competition. It’s healthy for them to do that. I just want them to finish up spring and continue to work hard, and we’ll make those decisions.”
In the end, Williams will not rule out a surprise answer at second base. And we really learned more about how Williams handles personnel than about the second base job.
In another competition, the final bench spot apparently will come down to either Jamey Carroll or Tyler Moore. Williams raved about Carroll’s professionalism and versatility yesterday, and he appears to be in the lead.
Ryan Zimmerman’s progress at first base will not have an impact on whether or not Moore makes the opening day roster, Williams said. He already feels comfortable that Zimmerman could serve as the Nationals’ secondary first baseman behind Adam LaRoche. He also believes Moore could get enough at-bats should he make the team.
The Nationals are playing Jeff Kobernus today in center field, which could be a showcase for rival evaluators. If Carroll or another non-roster invitee – such as Michael Gonzalez or Blake Treinen – makes the team, the Nationals would need to clear a 40-man spot. Kobernus, a blazing runner who can play everywhere, would garner interest in a trade, one NL scout said.
Catcher Jhonaton Solano also could be in danger if the Nationals need to clear a 40-man space. With Jose Lobaton entrenched as the backup and Sandy Leon still in camp, the Nationals may be okay risking parting with him.