Scouting Anderson Espinoza, Newest Padre Prospect

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.

Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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7 years ago

Some thoughts as a Padres fan (which I am)
1. I love the trade
2. I do not believe Pomeranz’s season is a big fluke. While I don’t buy him as a top 20 pitcher, his curveball is ridiculous when one, his cutter has helped a lot against righties. The big worry with Pomeranz is of course he has no changeup, but I see no reason to think why Pomeranz can’t be a 25-40 starter going forward if he can stay healthy
3. The “if” on staying healthy is a big thing, his delivery does not look great but I am far from a scout, and he has a very bad history on staying healthy. He hadn’t thrown more than 100 IP since 2012 I believe.
4. I don’t think Padres will rush Espinoza, I fully expect him to start at LE next year, btw while parks like High Desert/Lancaster are absolutely ridiculous, LE is pitcher/neutral friendly.The year to target is clear, 2019.
5. On the Rodney note, while I think Red Sox overpaid for Pomeranz, the Rodney/Kimbrel trades were much more lopsided.
Very excited to have Espinoza in the system, and padres are now getting good collection of high upside arms in lower minors. Wonder who goes to FW/LE next year as LE maybe very crowded.

Brent Henry
7 years ago
Reply to  matt

I agree the Padres got a great return.

Pomeranz innings between the majors and minors:

146 2/3 (2012) 112 2/3 (2013), 115 1/3 (2014), 88 (2015) and 102 (2016)

7 years ago
Reply to  matt

I feel like the Preller has been fleecing Dombrowski which sucks for me as a Red Sox fan. I feel like we should have been able to turn Espinoza and Margot into more than a closer (even if it is Kimbrel) and a pitcher that may be having a fluke season. I’ve never watched the guy pitch though so I sure hope I’m wrong.

7 years ago
Reply to  B3mal

As a Red Sox fan who has always really liked Pomeranz (so I don’t view this as a fluke season at all…my only worry is the innings for the rest of this season, but I like his talent and I have a high level of confidence in him for the next two seasons of control Boston has).

I would also strongly disagree that Dombrowski was “fleeced” in either deal. He overpaid, for sure, but then again the market dictated those overpays, in effect making them not overpays at all. Here is how I view each one:

The Kimbrel Deal- DD felt he NEEDED to upgrade the bullpen. Upgrading the bullpen in any confident way, given the volatility of arms, is very hard. So he knew he wanted to target a true elite arm. That being said, there aren’t that many out there, and fewer even who are available. Chapman was the first target, but Boston wrote him off due to his off-the-field issue. Kimbrel was really the only choice. So DD could have taken extra time to try to work a cheaper deal, but here’s the thing: that would have been a disaster. Given the FA contracts relievers were getting, and the Ken Giles trade return, if anything SD would have been in position to demand MORE in a deal. It’s somewhat forgotten now, but the Kimbrel deal happened fairly early on. Essentially, DD paid extra to make certain that he got his guy, and to get SD to do the deal earlier, before they could let any bidding wars open up.

It doesn’t change the fact that, in absolute (not relative) terms, it is an overpay, but it essentially came down to overpay early and lock in the piece you think your team needs, or gambling on waiting for better value, which easily could have left Boston with nothing (Dave Cameron was very disingenuous on this, multiple times after the fact saying that Boston should have just signed Darren O’Day as much better value – without ever acknowledging that O’Day may never have even seriously considered Boston as a destination).

The Pomeranz Deal- Teheran isn’t the guy; he is going to require a HUGE return, and he is neither a clear higher-end #1 nor a certainty to handle the transition to the AL well. Put those two factors together, and you definitely don’t want to deal multiple elite prospects (Espinoza AND Devers?) plus other pieces for him. Then you have Pomeranz. And then you have…what, exactly? The market doesn’t have a lot to offer, and prices again are looking higher anyways. And it goes overlooked, but once again DD has struck early, convincing SD to give up Pomeranz NOW with a bit of an overpay rather than let it wait for potential bidding wars to open up. Given past trade deadline history, I feel the bidding easily could have pushed the price tag for Pomeranz up to Espinoza PLUS one or two of Boston’s next tier prospects. DD overpaid for certain now to both secure Pomeranz pre-bidding AND to lock in a price that it could manage.

And a final word on this: it HAS to be factored in WHICH prospects have been traded in these deals. Margot was a very nice second-level prospect whom I have a LOT of certainty will be a solid or better MLB player, but he is very, very blocked at the MLB level. Other than that, the only other higher-end piece in the Kimbrel deal was a blocked breakout SS who had all the look of a sell-high piece – and he has looked exactly like that this season – and two lesser pieces that could be spared. Meanwhile, it seems clear Pomeranz was going to cost one of the four elite Boston prospects, so DD sold off the 18 year-old arm that is YEARS away from the majors…the kind of piece filled with a lot of risk, not matter how awesome the talent level.

Boston has had a lot to work with in its system. With plenty of locked-in MLB pieces, there is only so much room for these guys to have an impact. It makes sense to add guys who fit clear needs – guys who, it should not be forgotten, will be around for multiple future years too – with prospects who may not have a chance to contribute in Boston even if they were to pan out personally.

P.S. That is not to say that there should be any more of these. The Kimbrel deal used expendable pieces, sure, but that used up most all of the expendable pieces Boston could afford in a short period. Any more major deals and the system (and the flexibility that comes with it) would start being gutted. But given the smaller Hill and Ziegler deals, there isn’t really any reason to believe that DD will keep dealing willy nilly. If he were to do so…I think that would be a BIG mistake.

P.P.S. Don’t take this as a polished praising of DD. Ask me what I think about Swihart being sent down early in the season some time, and you’ll see that I’m just defending these moves, not DD as a whole.

Justin B
7 years ago
Reply to  matt

Interesting that the last Venezuelan pitcher to recieve the highest bonus coming out of the country was K-Rod, who had similar stuff and a similar frame, which might be a decent future profile for Espinoza if his command doesn’t fill into the projection or has durability issues because of his smaller frame.