Williams on what Espinosa must do in spring to reach his potential

Last night featured a lopsided, less-than-thrilling game, a mediocre batch of commercials and an overall boring night on Super Bowl Sunday.

Bring on baseball season.

We’ve talked a lot this offseason about Danny Espinosa and how he might fit into the Nationals’ plans for 2014. General manager Mike Rizzo says that he feels Espinosa could be valuable to the Nats as a reserve middle infielder, given his defensive ability. Espinosa says he’s been told he’ll be given a chance to win his starting second base job back in spring training.

That’s all well and good, but in order for Espinosa to make an impact on the Nationals this season, he knows that he’s going to have to make some significant offensive improvements and bounce back from a disastrous 2013 season.

Danny-Espinosa-watching-ball-out-of-box.jpgNew Nats manager Matt Williams spent part of his session with reporters at NatsFest last weekend talking up Espinosa’s ability, saying that he’s seen how good Espinosa can be defensively and the power he can provide when he’s right. The key, Williams says, will be Espinosa just going out this spring and playing, not heaping too much pressure on himself or putting expectations on his spring performance.

Williams said he’s talked with Espinosa multiple times this offseason, and seems to have a good feel for where the 26-year-old is at mentally going into spring training. Given what he’s seen from Espinosa in the past and what he heard from him during these recent conversations, I asked Williams what issues he believes are standing in the way of Espinosa turning his potential into reality.

“I’ve been that guy,” said Williams, a five-time All-Star as a player. “And I’ve said this to other folks. I’ve been the guy that led the league in RBIs and then (two years later) hit .227. And sometimes it starts going that way and you can’t stop it. So I understand that. And what got me out of it, or what gets most players out of it, is just the ability to relax and play. That’s what I want him to do.

“We’re going to get him a lot of reps at short, we’re going to get him a lot of reps at second base. He’s going to get a lot of at-bats, and get his stroke feeling good. And if he can do all those things, he’s got a chance to be a really integral part of the team.”

Consider this one part of Williams’ managerial style that might work in his favor. He played 17 years in the big leagues, and many of the players he’ll be managing grew up watching the Giants, Indians and Diamondbacks. Williams can go to his players and tell them that he knows what they’re going through, that he’s been in their spot. And he can offer advice on how he, or others that he played alongside, worked through certain issues.

With Espinosa, Williams seems to have confidence that the overall talent will win out over any other factors - mental, physical or otherwise.

“I just think that there’s great potential there,” Williams said. “And I’m not alone. There were multiple calls, as I understand it, from teams throughout baseball about him this offseason. So I’m not the only one thinking that, or the Nationals aren’t the only one thinking that.

“Now he’s got to put it together and he’s got to play. And he’s got to play well, and he’s got to be effective. So that’s the objective going in.”

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