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Turner in line to start 2016 in Nats' infield

WASHINGTON -- Over the course of a roller-coaster 2015, Trea Turner played for four teams in two organizations, making his Major League debut for the Nationals in August, barely a year after the Padres drafted him with the 13th overall pick.

Now the question for the 22-year-old is if he will open 2016 in the Nats' lineup, and if so, at what position. When Washington traded Yunel Escobar to the Angels earlier this week, it left Turner and Danny Espinosa as the team's likely shortstop and second baseman, in one alignment or the other. Yet time also remains for general manager Mike Rizzo to add to the mix, after he fell short in his pursuit of free agent Ben Zobrist.

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"For me, obviously there's more of an opportunity, but my mindset doesn't really change," Turner said on Sunday, the second day of the Nationals' Winterfest event.

"You have to do everything you can to make sure you give yourself the opportunity to stay [in the Majors] as long as possible and perform well."

Barring something unforeseen, free agent Ian Desmond will not be the Nats' everyday shortstop for the first time since 2009. With Desmond in the fold, Espinosa has played only 59 big league games at short, compared with 522 at second, but he does have a strong arm and more experience than Turner. Though he came up as a shortstop, Turner made six of his eight big league starts at second.

"I'd love to play short," said Turner, the organization's No. 2 prospect. "I think it's a little bit more fun and I'm more used to it, but if they put me at second, I'll be very happy."

Espinosa, who rebounded at the plate this season after two down years, said on Saturday that he would like to play shortstop and feels most comfortable there. So far, Rizzo and new manager Dusty Baker haven't dropped any hints about their preferences.

"We still have very good depth in the middle infield," Rizzo said on Saturday. "We've got two young players [Turner and fellow prospect Wilmer Difo] and Danny, [who's] a veteran player. We like the skill set of all three of them and we feel good about going to Spring Training with those guys. But like I said, we're also early [enough] in the offseason that we could help with depth there also."

Last December, when the Nats made a three-team deal with the Padres and Rays, Turner was the not-so-secret player to be named later going from San Diego to Washington, thanks to a since-changed rule preventing Draft picks from being traded within a year. He finally went to the Nats in mid-June, moving from Double-A to Triple-A to the Majors.

Counting all of his stops between both organizations, Turner hit .322/.370/.458 with eight homers and 29 steals in his first full season of pro ball but went 9-for-40 (.225) while getting inconsistent at-bats for the Nats. Originally scheduled to play in the Arizona Fall League, he ultimately gave his body a rest instead and now is focusing on adding some weight in the gym. Turner already has moved from 174-175 pounds to the 180-182 range, and plans to tack on a few more pounds by Spring Training.

"I think that would help [me] strengthen and just make it through a full season," he said. "I think that'll also benefit me as a player talent-wise, being able to drive the ball more and maybe be a little bit quicker, more powerful side to side and whatnot. I've been trying to do it, but I also don't want to gain too much weight and lose the speed."

Andrew Simon is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.
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