Given opportunity, Difo stepped up and delivered in 2017

As we transition into offseason mode here, we're reviewing each significant player on the Nationals roster. We continue today with Wilmer Difo, who upon being given a chance to play regularly showed off some dynamic skills and an excellent glove.


Age on opening day 2018: 25

How acquired: Signed as international free agent, June 2010

MLB service time: 1 year, 98 days

2017 salary: $537,800

Contract status: Under team control through 2019, arbitration-eligible in 2020, free agent in 2023

2017 stats: 124 G, 365 PA, 332 AB, 47 R, 90 H, 10 2B, 4 3B, 5 HR, 21 RBI, 10 SB, 1 CS, 24 BB, 74 SO, .271 AVG, .319 OBP, .370 SLG, .690 OPS, 14 DRS (at SS), -3 DRS (at 2B), 1.0 WAR

Quotable: "Just playing every day makes me feel more comfortable. I feel like I'm contributing to the team, and every day it's getting me more comfortable out there and making me feel better about playing." - Difo

2017 analysis: Difo wasn't assured of a roster spot in spring training, but he played well enough to head north with the club. And, aside from a 12-day return to the minors early in the summer, he remained with the Nationals throughout the season, becoming a trusted contributor off the bench.

wilmer-difo-bat-white.jpgThough his job was as a reserve, Difo was far more productive when he played on a regular basis. In 74 starts, he hit .286/.331/.401. In 50 appearances off the bench, he hit only .178/.245/.178. Thus, his biggest contributions came during a two-month late-summer stint as the Nationals' starting shortstop after Trea Turner fractured his wrist.

Fans became infatuated with Difo for his production at the plate and energy on the bases, but his best work actually came in the field. Despite playing only 473 1/3 innings in the field, he managed to rank third among all major league shortstops in Defensive Runs Saved, trailing only Andrelton Simmons (32 DRS in 1,369 2/3 innings) and Addison Russell (15 DRS in 808 1/3 innings).

2018 outlook: Difo has firmly entrenched himself as the Nationals' primary backup infielder heading into next season, but he'll need to start to prove he can be a productive hitter even when he doesn't get regular at-bats. That's always a tough job for a young player, but he'll have a full season of backup experience under his belt, which may help some.

Then again, Difo could find himself holding a more prominent role early on. Daniel Murphy's recovery from knee surgery last week could extend into spring training and possibly even into the start of the regular season. If that happens, Difo figures to be first on the list of potential replacements at second base. Even if it's only for a short period of time, the opportunity will likely come again for this talented young infielder.

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