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Washington Nationals Find a Gem in Prospect Danny Espinosa

Danny Espinosa
Potomac's Danny Espinosa (3), a third-round pick in last year's draft, is among a number of talented shortstops in the Washington organization. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
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"His performance will dictate when he's ready for the next level," said Bobby Williams, the Nationals' director of player development, "but certainly, he's showing he can play at this level."

As well as things are going for Espinosa, he's keenly aware that today's success guarantees nothing.

After batting close to .390 during his junior season at Mater Dei High School, the Santa Ana, Calif., native was told he could be drafted in the top five rounds with a similar showing as a senior. When his average dropped to .295 in a nightmarish season, he went undrafted.

Instead of starting his professional career, Espinosa headed to Long Beach State, a "major league shortstop factory" in Rizzo's words.

Following in the recent lineage of Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki and Oakland's Bobby Crosby, Espinosa became a star as a freshman and sophomore at Long Beach State. Entering his junior season, he was a preseason second-team all-American and potential first-round pick.

Then it happened again.

"For the first three weeks, I was hitting the ball really well and playing great," Espinosa said. "And then I had a bad weekend and kind of got into my own head."

He finished the year with a .309 average -- pedestrian for a top college player -- and his draft stock slipped.

When the Nationals had the opportunity to select him with the 87th overall pick last June, however, they decided to ignore his sub-par season.

"Although statistics tell us certain things, we really liked his approach at the plate and his swing," Rizzo said, "and we kind of chalked the season up to bad luck or a guy that was pressing in his draft year."

Thus far, Espinosa has rewarded that faith.

After signing for an above-slot $525,000 bonus, Espinosa did two things: He traded in his '92 Ford Ranger for a new Cadillac CTS, and he returned his focus at the plate to simply making contact.

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