On June 5 of this season, Anthony Rendon started his first big league game at second base.
Rendon had been promoted from Triple-A Syracuse the day prior, marking his second stint with the Nationals, and Danny Espinosa, who had been the Nats’ starting second baseman the vast majority of the season up to that point, had been placed on the disabled list.
That day, June 5, served as a turning point as far as the Nationals’ second base job went for the remainder of the season. Rendon effectively took over as the starter at a position he hadn’t played consistently since Little League, and Espinosa stayed in the minor leagues the rest of the way out.
Over the final 104 games of the season, Rendon got 81 starts at second base. Steve Lombardozzi got the other 23.
But despite the obvious edge in playing time this year and the fact that he played pretty well both offensively and defensively in his rookie season, Rendon won’t be given the starting second base job entering spring training about 4 1/2 months from now.
“When the season ends,” general manager Mike Rizzo said over the weekend, “Rendon will be our starting second baseman. But we’re going to go into spring training with an open competition for a lot of positions. It’s going to be something (where) we’ve got a lot of good young players at that position.
“Rendon has played remarkably well at that position for a guy who is learning defensively at the major league level and trying to hit for the first time at the major league level. Compound that with that he’s played more games than he’s ever played in his career, and he’s had a remarkable rookie season.
“And let’s not forget about Danny Espinosa, who hit 20 home runs and stole 20 bases in the big leagues already and is a stalwart defensive player, and Lombo, who is one of the most steady players that we have on the ball club. We’ve got a lot of good options over there, and we’re going to roll them out there in spring training and see what happens.”
In essence, Rendon will have the edge for the second base job next spring, but he won’t be handed the gig.
It seems like both a fair stance and a smart public relations move at the same time. Rendon performed at a pretty high level as a rookie, but it’s not like he blew everyone away with his ability to transition to big league ball. In addition, you don’t want Lombardozzi and Espinosa feeling like the organization has turned its back on them and won’t even give them a chance to battle for a starting spot next season. Both guys, after all, have done some nice things at points during their big league tenures.
That said, Rendon has clearly done enough to elevate himself to the top of the pack.
Rendon hit .265/.329/.396 with seven homers and 35 RBIs in 394 at-bats this season, and had a .976 fielding percentage and 3.4 UZR over 369 chances at second base. He adapted quickly to a new position and showed pretty impressive range and a strong arm, and offensively was able to adjust to the adjustments pitchers made on him as the season went on.
Lombardozzi hit .259/.278/.338 with two homers and 22 RBIs in 290 at-bats. He had a .987 fielding percentage and 0.6 UZR in 224 chances at second base and again showed he’s a solid, if not spectacular, defender.
Espinosa, meanwhile, had a nightmare 2013, hitting .158/.193/.272 with three homers and 12 RBIs in 158 at-bats at the big league level and .216/.280/.286 with 101 strikeouts in 75 games at Triple-A. He has, however, shown in the past he can produce big power numbers (for a second baseman) and has elite defensive ability at that postition.
While Rendon finished the season as the most well-rounded everyday option, there’s no telling how things will look in spring. Espinosa could return healthy and in a positive state mentally, and finally put it all together and live up to the potential the Nats feel he has. Lombardozzi could perform well and show that he deserves a larger share of the starts.
The Nats have options at second base, and they’re open to letting these three guys compete in Viera and seeing how things shake out.