MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

Youth or experience? Nats have decision at SS

Espinosa, Drew, Turner will battle for starting spot in spring

Youth or experience? Nats have decision at SS

WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Dusty Baker's first order of business is to figure out who will be his starting shortstop in 2016. General manager Mike Rizzo said there will be competition at the position during Spring Training between Danny Espinosa, Stephen Drew and Trea Turner.

The position became available after Ian Desmond declined the team's qualifying offer and became a free agent this offseason.

Spring Training: Schedule | Tickets | Complete info

Team sources have said Espinosa is the favorite. He has a great glove, but he has to show more consistency at the plate. If Espinosa wins the job, he will get a chance to play every day for the first time since 2012. The Nationals are hoping he can hit for power and drive in runs near the bottom of their order.

Prospects | Newcomers | Bounceback candidates

"At shortstop, you have an if -- whether or not Espinosa is going to be the shortstop. Is he going to hit or is he going to revert back to the hitter we have known the last couple of years, which wasn't good," said a Major League scout.

Espinosa's bases-clearing double

During NatsFest in December, Espinosa sounded like a person who is ready to be an everyday player again.

"I want to play every day. My goal is to be ready every single day and have a starting job," Espinosa said. "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."

Drew, who signed a one year deal in late December, hit 17 home runs, but hit only .201 for the Yankees last year. He, too, is known to strike out too often. If he doesn't start, Drew will likely be a backup behind second baseman Daniel Murphy.

"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."

Turner's first career home run

Then there's rookie Trea Turner, who is considered the team's No. 2 prospect, according to MLB.com. He could be a perfect No. 2 hitter because of the way he handles the bat. In 116 Minor League games last season, Turner hit a combined .322 with a .370 on-base percentage with 38 stolen bases. His success earned him a trip to the Major Leagues late last year. Turner didn't play a lot under former manager Matt Williams, but Baker will see plenty of him this spring.

Top Prospects: Turner, WSH

"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."

Pitchers and catchers report
Feb. 18

Full squad reports
Feb. 23 

First Spring Training game
Nationals at Rays, March 2, 1:05 p.m. ET

Opening Day
Nationals at Braves, April 4, 4:10 p.m. ET

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.