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Espinosa in middle of Nationals' future

Espinosa in middle of Nationals' future

ANAHEIM -- Pat Corrales, a senior assistant in player development for the Nationals, made a bold statement Saturday evening. He said shortstop Danny Espinosa is the best all-around prospect in the organization.

Espinosa's stats -- .245 with 10 home runs and 32 RBIs for Double-A Harrisburg -- don't scream phenom, but Corrales said the numbers don't tell the whole story. Espinosa is not bad with runners on base, an excellent defensive shortstop and an above-average baserunner.

"He is going to be all right. He is going to be a good Major League player," Corrales said. "The first month and a half was a real struggle for him, but he is doing well now. He went out there and started doing extra work and applied himself. It has paid off."

When told what Corrales said, the switching-hitting Espinosa, 23, wasn't sure if he is the best in the organization.

"I just try to work hard. I'm just like everybody else," Espinosa said on Sunday. "I get down on myself, and it's frustrating. It's such a frustrating game. I have plenty of friends and coaches in the organization that have helped me stay positive. That's a big reason I've been able to turn my season around, because they have been positive with me."

Staying positive and working hard are two reasons he played in the 2010 XM All-Star Futures Game at Angel Stadium on Sunday afternoon. He entered the game in the top of the sixth inning and went 0-for-2.

It was Espinosa's second straight Futures Game. But Sunday was extra special for him because he grew up in Santa Ana, Calif., about five miles from Angel Stadium. As a kid, Espinosa spent a lot of time at the ballpark watching the Angels play.

Espinosa called playing at the stadium a big moment for him because 15 to 20 family members were in attendance.

"It's unbelievable to have my family here,' Espinosa said. "Some of my family and friends have never seen me play professionally. I'm excited to play here."

A third-round pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, Espinosa was able to get off to a great start in professional baseball, going 21-for 64 [.328] for Class A Vermont that same year. In '09, Espinosa was with Class A Potomac and was among the league leaders in runs scored, walks, home runs and total bases. In a Baseball America survey, managers in the Carolina League voted him the best defensive shortstop and best infield arm.

After a slow start this season at Double-A Harrisburg, Espinosa is more relaxed at the plate and sticking to his game plan. He said he is seeing more pitches instead of swinging early in the count, as he was earlier in the season. Espinosa was trying to be patient, but he would go in a different direction if things went wrong at the plate.

"If I didn't do well, I would jump ship," Espinosa said. "I would get nervous. I just wanted to hit. I would get overly aggressive. Now, I stick with the same approach the entire game. I'm better off, and I see more pitches."

Espinosa also needed to calm down at the plate. Whenever he was up in a big situation, he would get too excited. It took Harrisburg hitting coach Troy Gingrich to show him another way.

"He wanted to calm me down," Espinosa said. "So I started calming down, taking a deep breath before stepping into the batter's box."

The ultimate goal for Espinosa is to play for the Nationals at Nationals Park. Some in the organization predict that he could be in the Major Leagues by late next season. The big question is, will he play shortstop or second base, which is where he entered the game on Sunday, though he switched over to short later in the game.

Ian Desmond is the current starting shortstop in Washington, but there's been talk of switching Desmond to second base. Espinosa is known to make the routine plays, while Desmond is known to make the spectacular ones. Most of Desmond's errors are on routine plays.

Asked what position he would like to play once he reaches the Major Leagues, Espinosa said he would prefer to play shortstop, but he's also confident in his ability at second.

"I think of myself as a shortstop, but I have played second. I know how to play second still," Espinosa said. "I play the position during batting practice. So if I can be in the big leagues as a second baseman, I would love to do it. It's not going to bother me to play second.

"I prefer playing shortstop. I think it's more fun. You get more balls and you make harder throws. But second is a great position, too, and I wouldn't mind playing there, too.

Espinosa said whichever position he ends up playing for the big club, he'd be happy to see Desmond as his double-play partner.

"We are too guys with a lot of range. We are two exciting guys who play very hard," Espinosa said. "I've watched him play. He plays very hard, and he is exciting to watch. There will probably be a lot of double plays and not too many balls that go up the middle for hits."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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