Baker will view shortstop competition "with eyes wide open"

VIERA, Fla. - There aren't many significant jobs up for grabs this spring, but there is one high-profile position that figures to be decided via an open competition over the next six weeks: shortstop.

That's not a position that has featured much, if any, uncertainty in some time, not with Ian Desmond entrenching himself as the Nationals' everyday shortstop over the last five seasons. But with Desmond now gone, new manager Dusty Baker has an array of choices that includes longtime second baseman Danny Espinosa, veteran acquisition Stephen Drew and top prospect Trea Turner.

Conventional wisdom has suggested Espinosa will open camp as the frontrunner for the job, but Baker insisted Friday he comes into this process with no preconceived notions.

"I'm going into it with eyes wide open," the manager said. "Because I haven't seen Drew in years. And I haven't seen Turner, who I'm very excited to see play. ... And I haven't seen Espinosa play short at all. I remember him from second base. So this is all kind of new for me. I want to see them with my own eyes, and I'm going into it with my eyes wide open."

Trea-Turner-Throw-White.jpgThe Nationals were comfortable letting Desmond walk as a free agent because of the emergence of Turner last season following his acquisition from the Padres. The 2014 first-round pick showed no ill effects of his unusual path through the minors, beginning with San Diego's Double-A affiliate despite the fact he (and the rest of the world) already knew he was the player to be named in a three-team trade with Washington and Tampa Bay and ending with a promotion to the majors.

The 22-year-old Turner is viewed within the organization as the unquestioned long-term plan at shortstop. The pertinent question this spring is whether he's ready for the job right now.

The presence of both Espinosa and Drew helps buy Turner some more seasoning time if needed. Though he has spent the bulk of his major league career at second base, Espinosa came up through the Nationals farm system as a shortstop and has always been considered by some a better defensive shortstop than Desmond. The key, as always, will be his ability to cut down on his loopy swing from the left side of the plate as he did with more regularity in 2015.

Drew, meanwhile, has a solid pedigree in the field at both shortstop and second base, along with some surprising pop for a middle infielder (114 homers and a .421 slugging percentage in 1,152 career big league games). The 32-year-old veteran, though, hit a combined .185 with a .257 on-base percentage the last two seasons with the Red Sox and Yankees, raising some questions about his offensive skills at this stage of his career.

The Nationals have six weeks to solve this puzzle, and they may well use up the entire spring to do it.

"We want to take the best 25 that we can," Baker said. "That's why we're here for spring training."

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