A Conversation With Cleveland Pitching Prospect Daniel Espino

Daniel Espino has emerged as the top prospect in Cleveland’s system. Ranked sixth on Eric Longenhagen’s list coming into the season, the 20-year-old right-hander now ranks No. 1 after dominating hitters to the tune of 152 strikeouts in 91-and-two-thirds innings in 20 starts split evenly between Low-A Lynchburg and High-A Lake County. Moreover, Espino — a 6-foot-2, 225-pound native of Panama with a triple-digit heater — is currently No. 50 on FanGraphs’ ranking of the top prospects in all of baseball.

Espino discussed his development, including an impactful mechanical adjustment, near the end of the minor-league season.


David Laurila: I’ve seen the scouting reports, but how would you describe yourself? What do you bring to the table as a pitcher?

Daniel Espino: “I feel that everybody knows about my fastball; they know how hard I can throw. I see myself as a competitor who doesn’t give away at-bats, doesn’t give away pitches. I also feel that I’m smart. That’s the best quality I have: being able to read hitters and understand the game. I feel that’s the biggest thing.”

Laurila: You’re 20 years old. A lot of pitchers your age are more “throwers” than they are “pitchers.” Do you feel that you’ve already crossed that threshold?

Espino: “I do. Especially this season. You’ve got guys trying to ambush you on the fastball, and that’s when you’ve got to be smart. I’ve got three other pitches that I can do damage with, and I can control them pretty well. That’s one of my best [qualities].”

Laurila: What percentage of the pitches you throw in the average game are fastballs?

Espino: “I’d have to look, but I’m pretty much fastball-heavy. For me, that’s good. As a starting pitcher, that’s one of the things I look for: establishing my fastball. I need to let the hitter know that I have my fastball. Hitters don’t want to get beat by that, and that’s where my other pitches come in.”

Laurila: You throw a four-seamer. What are you topping out at?

Espino: “I’ve topped out this year at 101 [mph]. This is the first time, and it was on different occasions. But for me, the most important thing is how my velo has been carrying into the fifth inning, or however late I’m staying in the game. In my last start, I had in two strikeouts in my last inning and the pitches were 98 and 99. That speaks to how well I’ve prepared, especially this late in the season.”

Laurila: Is maintaining your velocity due to conditioning, or is more about having a cleaner delivery?

Espino: “I feel it’s both. I feel that the adjustments I’ve made to my mechanics… I don’t know if you’ve seen videos of me pitching, but if you look at 2019, I had a pretty long arm action. Now it’s pretty much just quick-and-go to the plate. That adjustment has helped make me what I am now. But there is also the preparation I did over the offseason. For three, four months, I was waking up every day at five o’clock in the morning and working out. Being in love with the game, I’m trying to get better every single day.”

Laurila: Do you get good ride on your four-seamer?

Espino: “Yeah. I think at some point, in one of the games, one of my teammates was like, ‘Man, that pitch was 100 [mph], with 20-something [inches] of ride.’”

Laurila: What is your best secondary pitch?

Espino: “I feel it’s my slider. The slider has been working really good for me this season. It’s kind of my go-to pitch at times. It plays really well with my fastball, especially throwing it outside.”

Laurila: Is it a pitch you’ve always had, or something you’ve developed recently?

Espino: “I had it in 2017. That’s when I started throwing it, and it was good, but once I got to pro ball [in 2019] is when I started perfecting it. Now it’s one of my best pitches.”

Laurila: What is the movement profile on your slider? Is it more depth, or more horizontal?

Espino: “I can do both. It’s gotten to the point that I can have the depth — that will be more like 84-85 mph — but I’ve also got the hard slider that is my put-away. That one is more 88-90, maybe 91.”

Laurila: You also have a curveball and a changeup. Correct?

Espino: “Yes.”

Laurila: “No cutter?

Espino: “No.”

Laurila: I feel obligated to ask how a pitcher who grew up in Panama doesn’t throw a cutter…

Espino: “Yeah [laughing]. He’s my role model. I grew up watching Mariano [Rivera] and one day wanted to be like him. I’ve never really played with a cutter, though. But now I’m in a great organization where I can accomplish what I want to accomplish.”

Laurila: The Cleveland organization obviously has a great track record when it comes to developing pitchers. What are some of the things you’ve learned?

Espino: “They really know a lot. Like you said, they’re a really great organization that is known for developing pitchers. I see what they have done with the guys they have in the big leagues, Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac, Triston McKenzie. Every single one of them was drafted by Cleveland, and look who they are right now. When I got drafted, I saw how serious they are when it comes to pitching. I also saw how much of a family we are, how well they treat their players. That’s really important to me.”

Laurila: Do you like to delve into the data and see what your pitches are doing from an analytics perspective?

Espino: “Not really. I’m worried more about what I see with my eyes. Yeah, the data is good — I’m not saying that I don’t look at it; I do look at it — but for me, especially during the season, it’s more about just going out there and competing. I’m attacking the hitters. If you look at some of my walks this year… I don’t want to put it on the umpires, but a lot of those pitches were real close. I’m a hard thrower, but I can also command the ball pretty well.”

Laurila: Any final thoughts — anything we haven’t touched on that you feel is important?

Espino: “I mentioned the change in my arm action, and that hasn’t been talked about too much. If you watch video of me from when I got drafted [24th overall in 2019 out of Georgia Premier Academy], and video of me this season, I think you can see a really good change. I’m really proud of that. It’s something I did in the offseason with the pitching coordinators and the other guys [involved] in our pitcher development. I feel that has been a big reason I’ve gotten better.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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1 year ago

Thanks for sharing, David. Good read!