Espinosa’s defense, power, base running and durability last season made him one of the league’s most valuable second basemen. There may be just one skill preventing him from emerging as an elite player, and it happens to be baseball’s most elemental objective. He struck out 189 times last season, more than any hitter in the National League.
“I’m not going to think about it,” Espinosa said. “I think [strikeouts] will go down naturally, just by having a better swing. I won’t miss pitches. Of course I want them to go down. It’s embarrassing to strike out. But I think they’re going to go down naturally because my swing is a lot better.”
Both Espinosa and the Nationals believe changes to his swing will enable him to put more balls in play, strike out less and repeat the kind of leap shortstop Ian Desmond made in his third full season — from a player who flashes his considerable ability to an all-star who shows it consistently.
On Tuesday, Espinosa whacked two sharp, line-drive singles from the left side; he dropped a bunt in his only other plate appearance. Spring training results possess scant relevance, but there is this: Espinosa struck out five times in his first 14 at-bats this spring, which he attributed to rusty timing. He’s whiffed only twice in his past 12 plate appearances. Overall, he’s 8 for 25 (.320) with a double.
“He knows who he is,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “He knows what he needs to do. Espi reminds me of being about where Desi was a year or so ago.”
Desmond and Espinosa are not identical. Desmond had shown he had all the pieces, but had not brought them together until last year. Espinosa is already a complete picture, with one blemish to be removed. But Desmond, too, can see the similarity.
“Everyone is different,” Desmond said. “But at the same time, he’s shown signs of everything he can do. He’s hit big home runs in pressure-packed situations. He’s played unbelievable defense. He’s done it all. Now it’s just got to be about that consistent basis. The more you play, the more consistent you get. It’s as simple as that. So, yeah, I see Danny having a big year. He’s got his head in the right place. He’s going to be a superstar, no doubt.”