A look at the Nats’ middle infield going forward

There’s some talk in the blogosphere (I guess we call it the Natosphere, huh?) about the Nationals’ middle infield situation today, after Daniel Espinosa hit three homers last night for Double-A Harrisburg. I thought I’d weigh in here.

Espinosa, a third-round pick in 2008, is seen by many as a possible solution in the middle infield next season. He’s made 15 errors at shortstop this season, though he’s seen as a little steadier shortstop than Ian Desmond, if not quite as rangy. Hitting coach Rick Eckstein told me this spring that Espinosa, who’s gone through some swing refinements this year, could “fall into” 10 or 12 homers a year in the majors. He and Desmond could make up a potent and athletic infield next year, if the Nats can deal with the growing pains.

They’ve also got a $2 million option on Adam Kennedy, who can be a nice insurance policy if they’re not ready to play Espinosa. But as we’ve seen this year, Kennedy doesn’t do terribly well with limited playing time, so I’m not sure another three-man infield rotation would be a great idea. The question then becomes, do you pick up Kennedy’s option or not? I can see the Nationals declining it, even without seeing Espinosa. I think, though, it might be worth taking a look at Espinosa in September.

I know it starts the clock on him sooner than it otherwise would, but is a month of service time really more costly than picking up a $2 million option on a player the Nationals might not need, or going out to get another free-agent solution at second base? The Nationals got enough of a look at Desmond last season to give him a shot at winning a job this spring. They could repeat the process with Espinosa and head into the spring with at least a remote idea of what he can do in the majors. September stats aren’t terribly reliable, but the Nationals will be playing plenty of teams that are still trying to make the playoffs and won’t be rolling out lineups full of minor leaguers.

If the Nationals didn’t feel Espinosa was going to be ready in 2011, then there’s no point in bringing him up. But if he’s a possible solution at second base, or there’s a chance the Nationals would use him at short and move Desmond to second, it’s worth taking a look at him.