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January 27, 2014

Rumor Roundup

The Best Shapers Are Back

by Daniel Rathman

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Yep, it’s that time of year again: Danny Espinosa is in the best shape of his life
Nothing says spring training is near like tweets and articles about players who claim to be fitter than ever. Enter Danny Espinosa—and MLB.com’s Andrew Simon, the reporter with whom he spoke over the weekend. According to the Nationals infielder, the club has not closed the door on his days as an everyday contributor, and Espinosa hopes to prove worthy of taking back the keystone in Viera, Florida, over the next two months.

It’s tough to overstate how disastrous the 2013 campaign was for Espinosa, who chipped in 3.6 WARP in 2011 and 2.1 WARP in 2012 before falling off a cliff. The 26-year-old was never a particularly disciplined hitter—he struck out 166 and 189 times in his first two big-league seasons—but the Nationals derived plenty of value from his power-and-speed tandem, as well as his above-average defense at second base. Last year, all of those things fell by the wayside.

Espinosa batted just .158/.193/.272 in 2013, logging only 12 extra-base hits in 167 plate appearances after slugging 56 of them in 658 trips to the box the previous year. His walk rate plunged from 7.0 percent to 2.4 percent. He stole only one base after going 20-for-26 in that department in 2012. And while he was still an asset in the field, his FRAA rating fell from 5.8 in 2012 to 0.6 in 2013.

To be fair, Espinosa was hurt—and it appears that he was actually hurt worse than the team’s doctors led him to believe. He played through the entire season with a strained rotator cuff in his left shoulder, and he was told following an April plunking that his wrist injury was a bone bruise, not a fracture. Unfortunately, Espinosa can’t fall back on either of those ailments if he hopes to snatch the second-base job back from Anthony Rendon, who outhit him by a mile (.265/.329/.396).

If Espinosa shows manager Matt Williams that he is worthy of extended playing time, the first-year skipper will need to juggle four infielders at three spots. Ian Desmond is entrenched at shortstop, so Espinosa would need to share time with Adam LaRoche, Rendon, and Ryan Zimmerman. Time will tell if the Nationals need to cross that bridge, but if they do, Williams could opt to bench LaRoche against left-handed pitchers, who held him to a .214 True Average in 2013.

First-year Brave Ryan Doumit is not done catching
When the Braves acquired Ryan Doumit from the Twins last month, in exchange for pitching prospect Sean Gilmartin, some wondered about the role that general manager Frank Wren had in mind for him.

Doumit’s former teammate, Brian Dozier, told St. Paul Pioneer Press beat writer Mike Berardino last week that the 32-year-old discussed his future with his family and came away unwilling to get into the squat any longer. If true, that would have limited Doumit’s versatility, leaving first base and the corner-outfield positions as the only spots at which manager Fredi Gonzalez could deploy him. And since Freddie Freeman (147 games in each of the past two seasons) and Justin Upton (149 or more games in each of the last three) have been very durable in recent years, Doumit seemed likely to see his playing time plunge from the 538 plate appearances he logged for the Twins in 2013.

Except, it's not true. Whether Dozier was wrong or Doumit changed his mind, the former Twin's agent, Paul Cobbe, told David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that his client will put the gear on if Gonzalez and the Braves so desire. That means the Braves are likely to carry three possible catchers on their 25-man roster, with Doumit joining fellow catcher-outfielder Evan Gattis and backup Gerald Laird. How often the Braves will actually use Doumit behind the dish remains to be seen.

Doumit’s defense at catcher has made him the butt of many a joke and GIF, and he ranked dead last in Mike Fast’s pitch-framing study published in 2011. The switch-hitter also suffered the sixth documented concussion of his professional career last August, and he did not catch for the rest of the 2013 season. Those factors may have led to Dozier's unexpected statement to Berardino last week, and they may eventually lead Doumit to give up the position for good. Assuming Cobbe's word stands, though, that day is not today.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

Related Content:  Ryan Doumit,  Danny Espinosa

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