by Will Overton
Going into the all-star break it looked like we were watching a surefire top ten second baseman who could easily turn himself into a top five in a year or two every time Danny Espinosa stepped on to the field. He was fast, he had power, he scored and scored often, Espinosa was a rookie of the year frontrunner. At the break he had the following numbers:
.242 Batting Average
45 Runs Scored
16 Home Runs
52 Runs Batted In
12 Stolen Bases
By the end of the year Espinosa had been dropped in several leagues, was no longer considered a top ten second baseman and was leaving many of us asking many questions about the long term prospects. Espinosa rebounded slightly by hitting .274 in September, but he still finished the season with the following numbers despite the strong start:
.236 Batting Average
72 Runs Scored
21 Home Runs
66 Runs Batted In
17 Stolen Bases
It’s obvious the batting average was a strain on fantasy teams last year. Even when things were going well the average wasn’t booming. Even in Espinosa’s two seasons in the minor leagues he hit .264 and .266, nothing earth shattering certainly. Espinosa strikes out too much which hurts his average, but his .292 BABIP is a bit low for someone with his speed and as that rises so should his batting average, at least slightly. Espinosa won’t ever hit .300 it would seem, but he should be able to maintain a .250 – .265 average if he can be a bit less of a free swinger and take advantage of his speed. He does take a fair amount of walks, 8.7 BB% last year, so if you play in an OBP league that at least lessens the sting.
The hit you take in average can be tolerated, but only if the 20/20 potential is still there. Espinosa ended up with 21 HR’s last year which is nothing to complain about coming from your second baseman. The problem is for the second half of the season Espinosa only had 5 HR’s and a HR/AB rate of just a shade under 50. Did he wear down? Did he just hit a cold spell? Or did pitchers figure him out and exploit his weaknesses? Obviously you have to hope for one of the first two and not the third.
On the positive side, despite his smaller frame Espinosa does have real big league power. Pitchers may in fact have figured him out, but if he makes adjustments of his own he can hit the long ball. Espinosa hit 18 HR’s in 2009 and between three levels of minors and major leagues in 2010 he had 28 of them. Espinosa could, and one day should, reach 30 home runs in a season.
As far as the speed goes, Espinosa doesn’t have the same upside as he does in the power department, but with 17 steals last season he should be able to top 20 of them. The Nationals are quick to give the green light on the base paths and Espinosa should take advantage of that.
One thing that might impede on Espinosa’s base stealing potential however is his place in the batting order. Espinosa could be an Ian Kinsler type of top of the order hitter someday with his power/speed combo. However in 224 at-bats in the first or second spot in the lineup Espinosa hit .183 overall. Meanwhile in 268 at-bats in the fifth or sixth spot he hit .272. That is an awfully hard discrepancy to ignore and if the trend continues Espinosa won’t see nearly as much time at the top of the order, something that will improve his RBI totals, but will keep his steals potential around the 20 mark.
The bottom line is that Espinosa has flaws in his game, but the potential he showed in the first half of last season is for real. Espinosa has the kind of potential where he should put up Ben Zobrist type numbers as soon as this season, and his ceiling is somewhere just short of Ian Kinsler. After the way last season ended it’s easy to understand why someone might be hesitant to overrate Espinosa, but I think he at least has to be considered for a spot in the top ten among second baseman. There will be rough spots, just like with his comparables in Zobrist and Kinsler, but in the end it’s hard to argue with 30/20 potential and that makes Espinosa a top ten second baseman for me.
What do you think of Danny Espinosa and his fantasy potential? Was the first half of last season a fluke? Can he rebound from a tough finish? Is he a top ten second baseman? Give us your thoughts.