MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Espinosa has competition for shortstop job

Drew, Turner also in the running to win position in Spring Training

Espinosa has competition for shortstop job

WASHINGTON -- For the first time since 2009, the Nationals' Opening Day shortstop will not be Ian Desmond, who is a free agent. So who will be Daniel Murphy's double-play partner at short?

Veteran Danny Espinosa appears to be the favorite, according to sources, because of his defensive skills, and Espinosa has said he wants the job. Espinosa, 28, is coming off a solid year at the plate and is adept defensively at both short and second base.

But it's not a done deal at this point. General manager Mike Rizzo said last week that there will be competition during Spring Training among Espinosa, veteran Stephen Drew and rookie Trea Turner.

A shortstop by trade, Espinosa has played most of his career at second base. Last year, he played all four infield positions and even saw time in left field. When given a chance last year, Espinosa enjoyed his best offensive season since 2012.

"I want to play every day. My goal is to be ready every single day and have a starting job," Espinosa said last month. "I want to be at shortstop. That's where I would like to play. That's where home is for me. That's where I grew up playing. The Nationals drafted me as a shortstop. I moved to second base because Ian was there. I'm confident in my abilities playing short."

Just before the new year, Rizzo signed Drew to a one-year deal. The question is whether Drew can hit enough in order to stay in the lineup. Drew had a strong season for the 2013 World Series champion Red Sox, but struggled in 2014 and 2015. Last year, he played mostly second base for the Yankees and hit .201, but had 17 homers.

"Stephen Drew is capable of playing every day at both shortstop and second base," Rizzo said. "He is a great veteran player that is very versatile. He swings from the left side. I have a track record and history with him. He is a great kid, loved by his teammates. He should get a lot of at-bats at multiple positions."

With Drew on board, the odd man out could be Turner, who is considered the Nationals' second-best prospect, according to MLB.com. There doesn't seem to be much room for Turner at the start of the season. A couple of team sources said he could start the season with Triple-A Syracuse. But Rizzo said recently that Turner will compete for a starting job.

"We love competition," Rizzo said. "Trea is going to come in with the rest of the big leaguers and compete for a job at shortstop. We love the depth that we created there. His talent level is extremely high and we have extremely high hopes for him the way he should be developed."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.