Tuesday, February 09, 2010

A Few Minutes With Danny Espinosa

The who will be Washington's shortstop come Opening Day 2010 debate has not ended. Whether Cristian Guzman gets the nod or rookie, Ian Desmond, no one knows for sure. But what has come abundantly clear is that any final decision this year, may become a moot point by 2011. Washington's 3rd Round pick in the 2008 Entry Draft, Danny Espinosa, is on Our General Manager's radar. And The Long Beach State University product will be given every chance over the next two seasons to wrestle that key starting middle infield job away for himself.

No question, Danny Espinosa is talented: an above average arm with good fielding skills; some pop in his bat and the ability to steal a base on a consistent basis. He's also not lacking for confidence. Those are some of the very reasons Our Washington Nationals showcased Espinosa during the recently completed Winter Caravan and Hot Stove Luncheon.

He has a future at Nationals Park, if all things go as planned.

Just before The Winter Caravan began its stop at Pftizner Stadium in Woodbridge, Nats320 spoke with Danny Espinosa inside the home clubhouse of The Potomac Nationals. Ironically, last April, we spoke with Danny in the exact same locale--one day before he began his first full season of professional baseball.

With that, here we go with A Few Minutes With Danny Espinosa.

Let’s start with a review of your just completed 2009 season. Personal thoughts on your efforts?

“I thought it was a good season. I almost hit .270 in the regular season and was able to show some pretty good power. And power is not necessarily my game, but I was able to contribute, get some runs batted in for the team, steal some bases and get to where my teammates could knock me in and we win some games. More so than that, my fielding, I think, was stable all year. And more than anything else, I was able to help my team defensively. We had a good hitting team here at Potomac. But overall, I was happiest to be able to help my team defensively.”

Were you surprised with the power you displayed?

“Yes....and no. I don’t want to say I can do that every year, but at the same time, I played at the biggest stadium in college (Long Beach State). I was never going to put up big power numbers (chuckling). Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay) hit eleven his junior year. He hits 30 now in the Big Leagues. Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado Rockies) did the same that very season and he hits 30 homers now. We played on a huge field, so it’s hard to judge what kind of power I had playing in a stadium as big as we had at Long Beach.”

You finished strong, but in the middle of the year you struggled--striking out more often than normally. Were you swinging from your heels too much?

“I don’t know if I was swinging too much from my heels. I just wasn’t having a consistent approach. There were a lot of things the coaches and I were working on--making adjustments in my swing. We thought this would help, then another thing would help--and all of it was good intentioned. You know I wanted to get out of that slump as bad as they wanted me to. Those ideas, maybe, weren’t for me all the time. It’s always hard to change your swing when you are in a slump--instead of just sticking with something and just trying to grind it out. We were trying to change my swing. But I was young, it was all new to me and that’s what happens. They (the coaches) are not trying to hurt you by any means. They are trying to get you to the Big Leagues. They are trying to get you out of that slump. I tried to work with them as much as I could--to see if there was something I wasn’t seeing.”

“Eventually, everything worked out in the long run. And I credit that to just relaxing more and not giving in to the situation. There is enough pressure already to succeed in the game--without adding more on yourself.”

Team goals are all good in the Minor Leagues, but really it’s all about individual development and advancing to the Major Leagues. You know that, every single baseball operation's guy out there understands that. What did you learn in 2009 that you didn’t realize before?

“Here (at Potomac) we had a high “A” team. In fact, we had a little bit of an older team here. And we wanted to win. I realized in short season (2008)--there are a lot of fresh faces and you are just trying to move up to the next level. You are just trying to get out of short season. I had a very short stint there, but you are just trying to get out of there. Being here (in Woodbridge), we were trying to win a championship. The year before they (Potomac Nationals) had won a championship. And we wanted to win a championship this year. We didn’t want not to. Unfortunately, we didn’t win. But playing this entire year of professional baseball trying to win and not just focusing on your personal statistics, I realized you do better yourself. Winning helps everything. It’s really a means to the end.”

Like in making the Big Leagues?

“Yeah, definitely an important step.”

What about The Arizona Fall League? There is a big step up in competition for not just any Single A player, but for most any young player in the game?

“Huge competition. I was really excited to get out there to see if I could hit the velocity of those pitchers out there. I made some adjustments out there in my hitting and my average went way up. I was more consistently taking pitches the other way and holding back more on pitches I couldn't handle. It really was a great experience. Like you said, the chance to compete against some the best young guys in the game.”

[At this point, we needed to conclude the chat as The Potomac Nationals Fans were being allowed in for autographs and pictures]

We can’t finish any chat with you without talking about your fielding?

“My fielding is good. It’s solid. I don’t know what my fielding percentage is. I never look. I would guess I am around .970. I get to the ball all the time. I feel good and I am always going to be working on my range. But I am not necessarily worried about my fielding, it’s there. I was more worried about my hitting in the fall league. And when I made those adjustments, my strikeouts went down; my walks stayed up; and my average went up. I am very happy with where I am today.”

You seem to understand that you can have all the tools, but if you don’t put it all together into a complete package--you are not going to reach the top level?

“It’s all about the package. I don’t want to be a one-dimensional baseball player. I don’t want to be known as a good field, no hit player. And I want to be a player that my teammates can depend on in any situation. I want them to depend on me.”

Danny Espinosa not only has a great throwing arm, fine fielding skills and the potential to be a solid hitter in a major league lineup--but the attitude it takes to advance to The Big Leagues and stay there. That’s why he’s been invited to Major League Camp in just a few short weeks. And that’s why Our Washington Nationals will be watching his development closely over the next two seasons.


Positively Half St. said...

Thanks, SBF. I always enjoy how much of the player's comments you include, rather than shave parts to make your own points. Espinosa seemed like a good kid when I talked to him so briefly during the Caravan. The hardest part seems to be putting a few good seasons together to make it clear you belong in the bigs. This will be the big one for him before we coronate him for 2011.

Screech's Best Friend said...

Positively Half St: Thanks. We've always felt it's important to let everyone get a good understanding of the personality of the subject and putting up the entire chat let's the reader decide for himself what to think about that person.

Steve Shoup said...

Thanks SBF, great interview. I can't wait to see Espinosa with the big league club in a few years. I saw him a few times at Potomac and was always impressed. Though no need to rush him. I'm fine waiting until 2012 for him.

Screech's Best Friend said...

NatBiscuit: Yes, we got your question and have actually been working on just such a post. Stay Tuned. Thanks for asking.