While nobody had said it publicly, Rendon is the leading candidate to win the job. Rendon had a quick rise to the big leagues and produced last year, hitting .265 with seven home runs and 35 RBIs in 98 games. A third baseman by trade, Rendon was above average at second base, making nine errors at the position.
Espinosa, on the other hand, is coming off the worst year of his career and spent most of the season at Triple-A Syracuse. An excellent defensive second baseman, he struck out a combined 148 times in 471 at-bats for the Nationals and Chiefs.
Espinosa must cut down on his strikeouts and be more consistent at the plate if he wants to make the team. He recently blamed his hitting woes on a right wrist injury he sustained last April against the Braves.
"There was times I couldn't pick my bat up with one hand," Espinosa said at NatsFest. "So my wrist was just in a bad place, and I shouldn't have been playing on it, but I made the choice to try to play on it.
"I shouldn't have been playing. But at the same time, I'm not the doctor reading the film. So I shouldn't have been playing on a broken wrist the whole year. But you're told, 'You have a bruise,' you have to play through a bruise. Everyone plays through bumps and bruises. I'm not gonna play through a broken wrist. If I'd have known it was a broken wrist, I wouldn't have been playing."
Last December, one talent evaluator said Espinosa has to stop thinking about hitting home runs. The evaluator believes hitting a career-high 21 home runs in 2011 got to Espinosa's head.
"He has that long uppercut swing," the evaluator said. "He has to shorten his swing in order to make more contact. He has to realize that the pitchers can tell what his weaknesses are. They don't have to throw him a strike to get him out. He doesn't make consistent contact. He has to realize that the pitchers have made an adjustment, and he has to make an adjustment. He has made no adjustments since he has been in the big leagues."
If Espinosa doesn't make the team as a starter, he could become a backup infielder. For example, if Ian Desmond went down with an injury, Espinosa would be the likely fill-in at shortstop. The organization also believes Espinosa can play third.
Then again, Espinosa can be optioned to Triple-A Syracuse if he doesn't impress the Nats this spring. He has two options left. One thing is certain, Washington is not in a rush to trade him.