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Trea Turner, Nationals' shortstop of the future, optioned to Triple-A

VIERA, Fla. -- It’s official: Trea Turner may be the shortstop of the future, but Danny Espinosa is the shortstop of the present.

On Monday afternoon, the Washington Nationals announced that they optioned Turner to Triple-A Syracuse, all but ensuring that the 28-year-old Espinosa will be the team’s Opening Day starter.

A former first-round pick in 2014, Turner was recently rated by Baseball America as Washington’s top position prospect and the No. 9 prospect in all of baseball. Prior to making his big league debut last season, the 22-year-old speedster, who was acquired from San Diego in December 2014 as part of a three-team trade, hit .322 with 52 steals in 185 minor league games. In 27 games with the Nationals following his late August call-up, Turner hit just .225 and posted a .294 on-base percentage.

Heading into the offseason, with the departures of starting shortstop Ian Desmond (via free agency) and starting second baseman Yunel Escobar (via trade to the Angels), Turner -- a natural shortstop who played both short and second after his promotion -- was supposed to compete with Espinosa for the starting shortstop gig in 2016. At the very least, he seemed like a good bet to make the big club. But over the winter, the Nationals signed veteran middle infielders Daniel Murphy, Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan, a trio of moves that suggested the club wouldn’t mind giving Turner a little more time to build on a minor league résumé that includes just 48 games above Double-A.

Even though Turner is 7-for-7 in steals this spring and has a .766 OPS that’s nearly 300 points higher than Espinosa’s (.469), the truth is the Nationals can afford to be patient with him because A) in a lineup that’s oozing with offense, they don’t need a whole lot of production at shortstop; B) offseason trade acquisition Ben Revere has solidified the leadoff spot; and C) Espinosa is really good at the whole catching the ball thing. As a result, Turner finds himself headed to Syracuse.

“You know when you can play,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said when asked how Turner took the news. “He had a good attitude about it.”

Baker said Turner will play mostly shortstop at Syracuse, but might also get some time at second base.

Asked what he said to Turner, the 66-year-old Baker joked: “I can’t tell you everything I told him, cuz I can’t remember everything I told him.”