From the moment Danny Espinosa was called up to the big leagues in 2010, it seemed baseball pundits almost universally touted his ability to play at his natural position of shortstop. The only problem? The Nationals already had their man at that spot, with Ian Desmond patrolling the six-hole full time from 2010 to 2015.
Espinosa would eventually find a new home at second base, where he'd play for most of his Nats tenure before proving to be more versatile last season while filling in at first base, third base and even left field. In his 622 career games with Washington, he only had a chance to play short in 58 of them.
But now that Desmond is a free agent that's likely to sign with another team, it appears Espinosa may finally get his shot. Not only is he in line to start next season as a shortstop, he's looking to become an everyday player after turning in a few up-and-down seasons.
"[Shortstop]'s where home is for me," he said at Nats WinterFest over the weekend. "That's where I'm comfortable. That's where I grew up playing. That's where the Nationals drafted me as, as a shortstop....I am very confident in my abilities at shortstop and I'd like to get back there."
2015 was a bit of a mixed bag for Espinosa. During the season's first half, he experienced a resurgence at the plate that reminded many why he was once considered one of the organization's top prospects. With Anthony Rendon out for the first few months of the season, the 28-year-old Espinosa served as the team's starting second baseman, owning a slash line of .254/.331/.435 with 10 home runs at the All-Star break.
"I made a turnaround, made some adjustments and I felt good about my game," Espinosa said. "I felt good being out there. It was refreshing being back out there and playing every single day. Two-thirds of the season I was pretty happy with it."
However, once Rendon returned, Espinosa's at-bats came few and far between; so much so that Espinosa said he became frustrated. In the second half, he appeared in just 40 games (starting 23 of them) and had 107 at-bats, 153 fewer than the amount he had before the break. Espinosa's playing time became an issue own the stretch, which only added to the tumult that was building inside the Nats' clubhouse as the season was tailspinning during the final month and a half.
"There were days where it was tough," Espinosa recalled. "Going on seven, eight or nine days without playing. At a certain point, it's frustrating. At a certain time, it's like 'I'm at nine days now, when's the next time I'm going to get an at-bat?' To stay mentally tuned into everything when you haven't had an at-bat in a week and a half, that's tough.
"I'm sure it depends on the manager. But the manager makes the decision. I thought I did what I needed to do in the first half or the first 300 at-bats to where I thought I should be out there a little bit more and that wasn't the case. That's not how I was treated."
Though he will have competition next year in the form of top prospect Trea Turner — who, like Espinosa, came to the majors up as a shortstop — a recent FOXSports.com report suggests that the Nats feel more comfortable with the veteran option at this point.
Espinosa likely to open at SS for #Nationals. Turner could be ready mid-season. Espinosa then could platoon with new 2B and fill in at SS.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 14, 2015
The prevailing thought from the majority of Nats players at WinterFest was that the team needed to turn the page after 2015's ugly end. And for Espinosa, that means getting an fresh opportunity to resuscitate his career and prove he's worthy of having his name in the lineup everyday.
"You move on and this is a new year," he said. "I'm ready to go again. I'm ready to move on."