Thursday, April 09, 2009

Danny Espinosa

Considered by some scouts to already have a Major League Glove and Arm, Danny Espinosa finds himself being groomed as an heir apparent shortstop for Our Washington Nationals. Drafted in the 3rd Round, 87th Overall, in the 2008 entry draft, Danny quickly found his way to playing short season ball for the Short Season Vermont Lake Monsters. A 19 Game appearance were Espinosa fared extremely well in his first professional campaign hitting .328 in 64 At-Bats with limited power. And don't be put off by the five errors. Remember in 1991, Chipper Jones (Hall Of Fame Possibility) committed 51 errors in 144 Games for The Sally League (Low A Ball) Macon Braves Team. And 32 more the next season. It's called getting your feet wet.

A product of College Baseball Powerhouse Long Beach State, Danny Espinosa won a silver medal at the 2007 Pan American Games where he was the starting shortstop for Team USA as a 19-Year Old. A two-time Big West Conference honoree, this 21-Year Old now wearing number 3 for The Potomac Nationals begins his first full season of professional ball tonight in Lynchburg, Virginia. Yesterday, during Media Day for The Potomac Nationals at Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge, Virginia--Danny Espinosa took some time to answer many of my questions about his future role with Our Washington Nationals.

With that, here is my conversation with Danny Espinosa.

You seem to be on the fast track within this organization, how have things gone for you since you were drafted last summer? (SBF)

“Things are actually going quite well for me. I am enjoying it. I get to play every single day. And that’s not something I did beforehand. If I have bad day, I can go out the very next day, continue to try to progress and do better. In college, you just went back to practice, which kept everything on your mind. You just fretted about it and that wasn’t good. Here, you just play the next day and move on, that’s the really good mental part of playing professionally.”

Does that make it more of job and less fun? (SBF)

“Well, it is more of a job, but I don’t look at it that way. It’s still fun. It’s always been fun and I expect playing baseball to always be fun. If you looked at this as a job, you would press too much. If you are having fun, things will fall into place and wherever you go, you go.”

How valuable was playing for Team USA in The Pan American Games two years ago? (SBF)

“Invaluable. It gave me the opportunity to play internationally and see other talented players from outside this country. It was a great honor to represent our country in competition. And the feeling to wear that Team USA is indescribable. That experience really helped me in my development and my understanding the game.”

You are known for your glove and arm—where does your bat stand right now in the development stage? (SBF)

“I felt I had a pretty good spring training. Last year in Vermont, I had really good season for the short stint that I was there. I am really not worried about my bat. Thanks to the hitting instructors, I’ve come along way with my bat. They have worked a lot with me. I am very comfortable hitting and I have no questions about what I am suppose to do at the plate.”

Has the adjustment from aluminum bats in college to wooden bats here been a difficult one for you? (SBF)

“No, not at all. I’ve played in the Cape Cod League after my freshman year at Long Beach. You can only use wooden bats in that league. I was able to make the adjustment. In fact, did well enough that it gave me the confidence that I would be alright.”

What are some of the other differences playing professional ball than college or Cape Cod League, etc?

“The atmosphere is completely different. In non-professional baseball the game in not known well among the players. There are a lot of young guys in college where the game is slowed down for them. They can’t make adjustments. Up here, you are playing at a higher level. Everyone you are playing with or against were stars at some point in their young career. At spring training (2009 in Viera), I was at an even higher level (Danny played one game for The Major League Nationals). The games moved much quicker and the guys all understand the game better. That’s actually made everything a lot more fun at this level.”

Growing up in Southern California (Santa Ana), I would be curious to know WHEN did you believe as a teenager you were going to be drafted. Did you think all along you were heading to professional ball? What was the progression? (SBF)

“I always thought I would be drafted all along. It was really just a matter of how high I would go. Even though I had a little bit of a down year in college that final year, the scouts were still coming to watch. But I am now really excited to be with The Nationals. I just want to go out and play. And if I get the opportunity I can’t complain about anything.”

So what then have you learned that you didn’t know over your past 10 months as a professional player? (SBF)

“My hitting, just my hitting. That is the biggest thing I need to work on. I am not worried about it. I am confident going into this season, but I am capable of better.”

What then exactly are you working on that needs to improve? (SBF)

“Staying short on the ball (no long swings for the fences). That’s it. Short (swing) to the ball and use my legs. I never used to use my legs. I always swung with my arms. They (the coaches) got me using my legs in instructional league and it’s given me a lot more power. The ability to be more aggressive at the plate. They had me repeat my bat path over and over again and getting my legs in the exact same position. If I can be short to the ball, I will be fine.”

“I’ve worked hard on my bat. I went down to Florida during the off-season to work with Rick Eckstein (Nationals Major League Hitting Instructor) along with Michael Burgess, Chris Marrero and Stephen King (all current P-Nats Teammates). We all went down there and worked hard. And my swing feels a lot better. Like I said, I am very confident in pro ball. I think it’s just being able to go out there everyday. It helps my bat.”

In the short time I’ve seen Rick Eckstein work with others this spring, he just doesn’t give up. (SBF)

“He doesn’t care who you are. If you want to put the time in, he will work with you as long as you want. He will be there early. He will be there late. But that’s the way it’s been in our entire organization with any of the hitting instructors. As long as you want to put in the good, quality work, and you want to get better, and they see that you want to get better—they will be there to work with you at any time.”

We’ve talked about your hitting alot, how about your fielding? (SBF)

“My fielding is fine. I need to be more consistent. I was tending to rush the ball (when it was hit) or my throw. My glove and my arm are going to be there. I just need to slow things down sometimes. Basically, field the ball and throw it.”

This is a very young franchise looking for talent all over the field of play—did that very fact give you high hopes when The Nationals drafted you last summer? (SBF)

“Yes, and exciting at the same time. If I play well, there is a good chance I could move quickly. It’s not guaranteed, but I know in the back of my head that if I do well I have the possibility to move up. So I have always been excited about that. Hopefully, I can have a good season and move up.”

Since the very day Washington drafted you they have been very high on you—but does the organization actually talk to you about your potential and how they see you fitting within their system? (SBF)

“No. They haven’t said anything. They haven’t put any pressure on me.”

Not Dana Brown (Scouting Director) or Bobby Williams (Director of Player Development)? (SBF)

“I have talked to them a couple of times, not a whole lot. They’ve told me they liked me in college. They had heard good things out of me. They are excited to see me move up, but they are not trying to put pressure on me. They are not telling me they need me up there (Major League Roster) quick. I think that as long as I play well they will when I am ready.”

But the very fact of it all is that this franchise is short of middle infielders in their system. So I would imagine when they drafted you you were smiling? (SBF)

“Yeah, in retrospect, but I had no idea they were going to draft me. They (The Nationals) had not talked with me much. I had talked to them in college with an interview through a local scout and didn’t hear back from them. And when they drafted me I was surprised and excited at the same time. I knew Mike Rizzo. I knew Dana Brown. They are good guys. I knew their reputations before and I was just thrilled to get myself into the organization and playing as soon as possible.”

Final question—expectations for 2009? (SBF)

“If I do well, I expect to move up. If I didn’t (move up), there is nothing I can do about it. But I am looking forward to having a good season and moving up within the organization.”

With that final answer my conversation with Shortstop Danny Espinosa of The Potomac Nationals concluded. First impressions--relaxed, confident, but knows he must never quit working. A good sign.

This past winter at The P-Nats Hot Stove Luncheon, The Director of Player Development for Our Washington Nationals--Bobby Williams, mentioned to me that Danny Espinosa has all the tools to be a quality Big League infielder. And if he can improve his impact with the bat, even better. Yesterday, during fielding practice for The Potomac Nationals, it was clear that Danny Espinosa is one smooth fielder defensively. It will interesting to see how quickly he advances through our farm system. No question, he's the first real impact middle infielder to come through Washington's Farm System since Baseball returned to D.C.

Danny Espinosa is worth watching very closely.

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