Daily Prospect Notes: 7/23/21

These are notes on prospects from Tess Taruskin. Read previous installments of the Daily Prospect Notes here.

Anderson Espinoza, RHP, San Diego Padres
Level & Affiliate: High-A Fort Wayne Age: 23 Org Rank: 8 FV: 40+
Line: 2.2 IP, 6 H, 1 BB, 1 R, 6 K

San Diego acquired Espinoza in the Drew Pomeranz trade in 2016, but he was shutdown before the start of the 2017 due to elbow discomfort. That began five years of developmental delays in the form of multiple Tommy John surgeries and the canceled 2020 minor league season. Now the 23-year-old is back on the mound and looking to recapture the stuff that once earned him top prospect status.

His longest outings this season have gone three innings (a mark he’s matched five times), so his 2.2 innings of work is on par with his understandably stringent workload restrictions. The six hits he allowed were all singles and the ones that came in the first and second innings were all weakly hit, though well placed. Espinoza’s outing ended when those softer hits turned into more solid contact in the third, but not before recording a season-high six strikeouts. His pitch count was already pushing 70 by the end of his short outing. On paper that may seem like cause for concern regarding Espinoza’s command and feel to pitch, which he struggled with earlier this year in his sole spring training appearance with the big league club. But that wasn’t the case on Thursday; the only walk he issued was to the first batter of the game, after which only one other hitter saw a three-ball count, and many of the pitches that were called for balls were extremely close and could just as easily have been called for strikes.

Instead, the inflated pitch count was largely a testament to the somewhat confounding style of baseball the opposing Dayton Dragons have been playing this season, one defined by working up pitch counts and wearing out their opposition’s stamina rather than dominating in any particular offensive metric. That approach may ultimately prove to be unsustainable, but the Cincinnati affiliate came into Thursday’s contest sitting atop the High-A Central East divisional standings (with their loss, they’ve slipped to half a game back), though they’d achieved that lofty spot despite a negative run differential, oscillating wildly between narrow victories and landslide defeats.

That’s all to say that Espinoza’s high pitch count and the six hits he allowed should not distract from how good his stuff looked. Before being shut down in 2017, the righty sat in the mid-90s with a plus changeup and curveball, and all of that was on display in his performance on Thursday, too.

Here’s how all three of those offerings looked against Dayton’s four-hitter, Alex McGarry, in the first inning:

Nolan Jones, 3B, Cleveland
Level & Affiliate: Triple-A Columbus Age: 23 Org Rank: 2 (66 over) FV: 50
Line: 1-for-4, HR, SB

Jones homered in his third consecutive game on Thursday, which is welcome news to those hoping to see the young prospect’s raw power show up in games. He got off to a slow start this season, and though his June performance showed promise for righting the ship (as mentioned in his last DPN write-up), those numbers have deflated a bit in July, returning Jones to right around league average; he’s slashing .230/.346/.437 on the season. It of course remains to be seen whether his current homer streak is something he can translate into sustained success, but the power surge may prove well-timed given José Ramírez’s nagging elbow injury.

Ezequiel Duran, 2B, New York Yankees
Level & Affiliate: High-A Hudson Valley Age: 22 Org Rank: 7 (137 over) FV: 50
Line: 4-for-5, HR, 3B, 2B, BB

Hudson Valley’s 10-9 win over Aberdeen started and ended with Ezequiel Duran, and I mean that literally. The infielder launched the first pitch of the game over the right field wall, went on to hit a single in the third and a double in the sixth, then walked in the eighth, in what looked at the time like it may be his last at-bat. But extra innings afforded Duran an additional chance to hit for the cycle and he did not squander the opportunity, roping the triple he needed into left, which in turn induced a throwing error that allowed Duran to score what would ultimately be the winning run of the game in the 11th. It was his sixth triple of the season, the third most of any minor leaguer, and boosted his OPS to .909, placing him sixth amongst High-A batters with at least 200 plate appearances this year.

Taylor Kohlwey, OF, San Diego Padres
Level & Affiliate: Triple-A El Paso Age: 27 Org Rank: NR FV: 35
Line: 3-for-5, 3 3B, K

Surprisingly, Duran’s 11th-inning triple was not the most intriguing three-bagger hit on Thursday. In fact, it could be argued that it didn’t even crack the top three. El Paso’s right fielder Taylor Kohlwey pulled off an improbable three-triple night in the Chihuahua’s bout against the Albuquerque Isotopes, and all three came before the fifth inning. He smashed one off the highest part of the right-field wall in the first, then became the first Chihuahua to hit two triples in a game this season when he scooted a grounder past the first basemen that banged around in the right field corner in the third. Unsatisfied with that feather, he further adorned his cap in the next inning, dropping a high fly ball on the warning track, just out of reach of both the right and center fielders, thus becoming the first player in El Paso history to hit three triples in a single contest. In one night, he matched his 2019 season total in the 3B column. Kohlwey has bounced back and forth between Triple- and Double-A several times this season for a combined slash line of .324/.398/.486.

Tess is a contributor at FanGraphs. When she's not watching college or professional baseball, she works as a sports video editor, creating highlight reels for high school athletes. She can be found on Twitter at @tesstass.

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I recall when Espinoza was the latest and greatest in 2016. I didn’t think he was dominant enough that year to warrant the hype but am glad he’s still going after some arm injuries and surgeries

Anything new on what kind of defense Jones is playing these days?