Scouting Anderson Espinoza, Newest Padre Prospect by Eric Longenhagen July 14, 2016 The Padres continue to capitalize on the short-term success of their big leaguers by parlaying what might just be small-sample mirages into good prospects. For those of you missed my report on RHP Chris Paddack, who San Diego got from Miami in exchange for Fernando Rodney, that write up is here. The Padres arm du jour is Anderson Espinoza, one of baseball most electric young arms and, in my opinion, a great return for the likes of Drew Pomeranz. Let’s start by addressing Espinoza’s size, which is often the aspect of his prospectdom that leads to some dissension. At just an even six-feet tall, Espinoza is short (but not necessarily small, a distinction I think is important) and many worry about how a pitcher this size will hold up to the 180+ inning workload required of a big league starter. I do not share those concerns. Espinoza’s thighs, butt and torso are thick and strong, he is exceptionally athletic and has incredible arm acceleration. Those are some of the same phrases that were bandied about when Yordano Ventura was a prospect, though I believe in Espinoza’s mechanical and future strike-throwing efficiency more than I did Ventura’s and I considered the latter a decent bet to start. Additionally, there’s very little evidence that supports the maxim that taller pitchers are better bets to stay healthy and handle a Major League work load than shorter arms (allow me to reiterate the distinction I’m making between “small” and “short”) and in fact, there’s some common sense evidence to the contrary. Sure, pitchers get hurt, and a teenager whose fastball kisses 99 inherently represents significant risk for injury. But I don’t think Espinoza’s size further amplifies that risk. The one aspect of Espinoza’s game that I do think is negatively impacted by his height is fastball plane. Espinoza’s fastball is regularly 93-96 with some sink and armside movement, and that allows for considerable margin for error, even at the highest levels, but too often he fails to finish his delivery and drive the ball down toward the strike zone. Pitches get left up in the zone or out of it altogether, which could make him fly ball and/or walk prone once upper-level hitters get a look at him. Espinoza turned 18 in March and there’s plenty of time to fix this and reason to believe he will. Purely based on velocity, Espinoza sports a plus-plus fastball. Even if he’s only able to maintain his current velocity as he ages, the pitch’s movement could allow it to play as an elite offering, provided Espinoza learns to keep the ball down with more regularity. When Espinoza signed with Boston for $1.8 million back in 2015 (here’s Espinoza at age 15, late in 2013), he was a short, physically immature fastball/curveball prospect who was touching 94 and had the kind of quick arm and athleticism that allowed for gobs of changeup projection. Part of the reason Espinoza has been able to climb all the way to the South Atlantic League, and have success there, as a teenager is because that change has come along faster than anticipated. It’s already flashing plus with regularity and should at least solidify there. Lots of scouts think the change has surpassed his curveball as his best secondary weapon. The curveball features good, 11-5 depth though there are times when Espinoza noticeably alters his arm action when he throws it, which will tip hitters at the upper levels off as to what is coming. This is a very correctable issue, especially for an arm so young, and the feel Espinoza has for spinning his curveball is exceptional. It, too, projects to plus and I’m not concerned that is hasn’t progressed as quickly as the rest of the repertoire. If you’re keeping track, that’s a 70 fastball (though left-handed hitters do pick the ball up fairly early against him and it might play a little below that) and two 60 secondaries. If that sounds like a potential top-of-the rotation arm, that’s because it is. Espinoza’s control is below average right now — and I’d say he has 35 command — but it hasn’t mattered because the stuff is so good. I believe in the athleticism and, considering his age, feel comfortable projecting average control and command though some think there’s a half grade more in there. Bear in mind that risk factors in to Future Value and Espinoza’s age and proximity to the Majors are huge variables in that equation right now. Projecting an ETA for a teenage arm is a fool’s errand, but let’s examine some hypotheticals anyway, because I am a fool. It makes sense for Espinoza to complete this year with Low-A Fort Wayne and possibly make a few late starts at Hi-A Lake Elsinore the same way he got a taste of A-ball late last year. If Espinoza pitches well next spring and/or Padres Player Development wants him to avoid a full-season on the surface of the moon (aka, the Cal League) then he might be skipped to Double-A, at which point I think he’d be forced to have better command of his stuff than he does now to have success. If this scenario plays out and he adjusts quickly in Double-A with better sequencing and location of secondary pitches, then the he’s on the doorstep of the Majors. The likelihood of this scenario is (grabs calculator) quite small, but it is extant. San Diego could also send him to Elsinore in 2017 and hope the challenge of the Cal League’s vivacious offensive environment helps forge more mature command of the secondaries and the kind sequencing that will help Espinoza’s stuff play at upper levels. There’s a chance that it takes longer for him to polish things up than Padres fans would like and he repeats a level somewhere along the line as well as a chance for a year lost to injury. Barring something like that, I think it’s reasonable to hope for a late 2018 debut (though I consider it unlikely) and to expect one midway through 2019. Fastball: 70/70+, Changeup: 55/60, Curveball: 55/60, Control/Command: 40/50, FV: 60 60 FV prospects usually fall in the 10-25 range on top 100 (or whatever number) lists give or take a few spots depending on the strength of that year’s class. Considering s the height of Espinoza’s ceiling, I think he belongs toward the top of that range.