Ted Youngling: Espinosa a special player, but a work in progress

If you want to find the front-runners of the National League Rookie of the Year race, look no further than the NL East.

Danny Espinosa of the Washington Nationals, along with Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves, make up the trio of youngsters looking to take home the crown.

If I had a vote, I would go Kimbrel, Freeman and then Espinosa. I believe the fact that the Braves are contenders and their rookies are largely the reason for their success is something that should not be overlooked. There is no denying Espinosa has had a breakout season, but the Nationals haven’t been able to win and find themselves in the cellar of the division.

Small in stature but big in heart, Espinosa sure has a lot of pop in his bat. Through Wednesday, Espinosa is batting .226 with 17 home runs, 55 RBIs and 108 strikeouts. To put that into perspective, his batting average and strikeout totals are nearly identical to Jayson Werth’s. So given the statistics, we can clearly see that he has some work to do. But could we be seeing a trend early on in Espinosa’s career?

Several players have come through the league putting up big power numbers with low batting averages - like a Carlos Pena or Mark Reynolds, just to name a couple. I think it is unfair to label Espinosa as being that type of player, but consider this: In three seasons in the minor leagues, the only time in which he had a batting average over .268 was when he hit .328 in 19 games with the Vermont Lake Monsters of the short-season Single-A New York-Penn League back in 2008.

If I had to guess, I would say Espinosa will see his batting average rise in the coming years. Whether it be relying on the long ball too much, or simply bad luck, I think the chances are high the he will one day hit for average. If that takes away from his power numbers, so be it - that’s what the Nationals have Werth and Ryan Zimmerman for, right?

Despite all of this so-called criticism, it’s hard to rag on a guy who has arguably been the most clutch National all season, hitting several late-game home runs that knock the wind out of the other team. This, along with his stellar defense, has made him a fan favorite and a cornerstone piece for the franchise.

The second base position has seen a wave of sluggers burst on to the scene the past decade, with stars like Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees, Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers and Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies putting up impressive offensive statistics on a year-to-year basis for teams that win a lot of games. Will Espinosa’s name be included in that conversation? Maybe, but first he needs to worry about becoming a more well-rounded ballplayer before that can ever happen.

One thing’s for sure: He has the ability and work ethic to make it happen.

Ted Youngling blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog, and offers his viewpoints as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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