Angels’ Espinosa eager for Orange County homecoming in trade
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Growing up three miles from Angel Stadium, Danny Espinosa got to watch all the heroes of the 2002 Anaheim Angels championship team: Troy Percival, Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon and Darin Erstad, among others.
Now, he’s getting to play at the ballpark where his parents had season tickets.
Espinosa got the break most players only dream about when the Washington Nationals traded him in the offseason to the Los Angeles Angels, where he’s slated to be the team’s everyday second baseman.
“I’m ecstatic to be traded to the Angels,” he said. “It’s like a dream to play for your hometown team.”
Espinosa, who played shortstop in Washington, could sense he might be moved. He heard the team was looking for a center fielder, and, sure enough, they landed Adam Eaton from the Chicago White Sox.
That meant Trea Turner would be moving to shortstop, and that made Espinosa expendable.
“For me, there was going to be another opportunity somewhere else,” Espinosa said. “I’d been there a long time. All things work out for a reason. And to have an opportunity to come home to play on this team, I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity.”
While Espinosa needed a new team, the Angels have needed a solid second baseman for two years since Howie Kendrick’s departure. Los Angeles struggled with a series of middling veterans in the position last year, getting minimal offensive production.
Along with his powerful bat, Espinosa could well give the Angels one of baseball’s best up-the-middle defensive combinations along with excellent shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
“He’s really a good defender, able to play short and second,” Simmons said of Espinosa. “We’ve taken some ground balls together already. He’s good, as good as they come. It’s going to be fun to see him turn some double plays.”
The Angels’ improved team skill on defense, which also includes outfielders Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun, should help a pitching staff in flux.
“First and foremost, he’s going to be a great presence on our defensive end,” manager Mike Scioscia said of Espinosa. “With him and Andrelton Simmons, we’re looking to make the plays at the rate they need to be made up the middle to help our pitching. But he also brings an element of power to the second base position that’s not common. He’s going to help us offensively.”
Espinosa’s 2016 in Washington was a mixed bag. He hit only .209, but still was productive with 24 homers and 72 RBIs.
“Maybe his average wasn’t what it could be but I don’t think there’s any denying his production and what he brings,” Scioscia said. “We’re looking for that part of the puzzle.”
Part of the Angels’ game plan is to be a high-contact group that runs the bases aggressively.
But Espinoza’s OBP was just .306, while walking 54 times with 174 strikeouts.
So, as he works out this spring in Tempe, he’s emphasizing “more consistent contact. That’s my main goal.”
Espinosa didn’t quite know what to expect with his new (and old) team: “I didn’t know anybody on the team. It’s a young, different group of guys. It feels like a hungry group of guys that wants to win. It’s a different atmosphere in this clubhouse than when I was in Washington,” where the players had been together for years.
“Being here, maybe partially because I’m new, everything seems fresh, everything seems real upbeat here.”
Espinosa won’t have far to drive after games. He’ll stay at his house not far from his parents in Santa Ana, the same one where he saw much of the 2002 World Series title season in person.
NOTES: The Angels would love to cut down on the double plays they hit into. They did so 91 times per game last year, the second-worst mark in baseball. But Scioscia doesn’t sound like he’s losing much sleep over this issue. “Sometimes, when you are making contact and not driving the ball out of the park, the end result could be a double play. Yet the overall picture is total offensive production.”
The manager indicated he senses “real potential that we’re going to be stronger this year on the offensive side. Double plays are sometimes part of a team’s make-up. But it doesn’t mean that on the other side, they’re not doing things that are going to add to your overall run total. If there’s enough power, if there’s enough guys who are driving the ball and you have some double plays, usually they balance each other.”