San Diego Padres Scouting Report on RHP Anderson Espinoza

San Diego Padres

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The San Diego Padres acquired Anderson Espinoza in a mid-season trade. What can he do in his first full season in the organization?

Player Profile

The San Diego Padres traded for Espinoza this summer from the Boston Red Sox.

Boston signed Anderson Jose (Dominguez) Espinoza from Venzuela as part of their big 2014 July 2 class of signees. While the signing of Cuban Yoan Moncada drew the biggest headlines of their big spending in the 2014-2015 signing period, Espinoza’s deal was the biggest of traditional 16-year-old signees, with $1.8M in signing bonus and $200K for future college for Espinoza included in his signing.

Espinoza opened the 2015 season in the Dominican Summer League, and after two weeks and just four appearances, he was moved up to the Gulf Coast League, where he spent most of the rest of the summer. He finished with one regular season start with Greenville in the low-A South Atlantic League.

Combined among the three levels, he made 15 starts, throwing 58 1/3 innings with a 1.23 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 6.01 percent walk rate and 27.9 percent strikeout rate.

His incredible production and pedigree rocketed him up prospect lists, as Baseball Prospectus was the low spot on Espinoza at #73, MLB Pipeline ranked him #39 and Baseball America rated him #19.

Espinoza opened the 2016 season with Greenville, the youngest player opening the season in a full-season league in 2016. He made 17 starts with Greenville.

On July 14, the San Diego Padres acquired Anderson Espinoza in exchange for lefty Drew Pomeranz from the Boston Red Sox. The trade was later found to have misleading medical information, but the Red Sox chose not to seek a reversal of the trade.

Espinoza made eight appearances (seven starts) with the low-A affiliate for the San Diego Padres in Fort Wayne of the Midwest League before being shut down for the season for innings purposes.

In all, Espinoza made 25 appearances in 2016, 24 of them starts, throwing 108 1/3 innings. He posted a 4.49 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 7.54 percent walk rate and 21.55 percent strikeout rate.

After that fairly solid season as an 18-year-old in full-season ball, he ranked well again, sitting at #21 with BA, #25 with MLB Pipeline and #24 with BP.

I had Anderson Espinoza #16 in my top 125 for Call to the Pen in January.

Scouting Report

Size/Delivery/Control

Size – Espinoza is a fairly diminutive righty, listed at 6’0″ and 160 pounds. He looks to be accurate in those numbers. From reports, he does have long fingers, which allows him to get extra break on his pitches.

Delivery – Espinoza takes an easy and smooth delivery to the plate. He begins with his left foot staggered toward first base and his right foot in position to throw.

He takes a rock step straight toward first. He then brings his knee up to about belly button height and tucks his left hip and shoulder toward third base.

He comes toward the plate with a quick, explosive motion that is still very under control, repeating a 3/4 delivery slot consistently.

Control (60) – I’ve seen plenty of grades that have Espinoza with a 50 or 55 grade control, and I don’t know that I could go any lower than plus.

Especially when you take age into play, a guy with an elite fastball like Espinoza posting walk rates in the sub-8 percent range in his first two professional seasons is an exceptional thing.

In watching Espinoza’s starts, I was even more impressed as he didn’t just fill up the zone, he nailed his catcher’s target an extremely high percentage of the time.

I would say that he has a legit opportunity to be a plus-plus control guy before he graduates as a prospect.

Pitches

Fastball (70) – When you watch his easy delivery and see his small stature, reading the radar gun approach triple digits will absolutely make you believe that your gun is malfunctioning.

Espinoza sits in the 94-97 range with his fastball, and he has touched triple digits in exhibition pitching. The pitch gets just a touch of sink at the very end, which allows him to get very few squared up pitches, but in general the pitch doesn’t move tremendously well and at 6’0″, he doesn’t get great plane on the pitch either.

In watching Espinoza’s pitch mix, with his minimal natural movement on his fastball, a perfect fourth pitch to add could be a fastball variant, whether that be throwing a two-seam to pair with his four-seam or using a cutter or split finger (as his fingers could reportedly support a split fairly well).

Change Up (65) – There are absolutely reasons that some people grade his change as a pure plus-plus pitch and sometimes as high as a 75-grade pitch currently.

It very well could be the best change up in the entire minor leagues when he’s throwing healthy, though he lost some of the crispness of his arm action when he wore down at the end of the 2016 season.

The change comes in with exceptional arm angle to the fastball and has very good sink on the pitch, leaving hitters flailing at the pitch with ridiculous swings, either weakly tapping the ball or swinging over it.

Curve Ball (55) – The curve has exceptional flashes with the most distance to go as far as consistency. If he had any pitch that he struggled to keep in the strike zone in 2016, it was the curve.

He doesn’t throw the spike curve nor the big, loopy curve, but his curve is quite effective when he’s on nonetheless. He gets very good 12-6 break on the pitch, but seemed to do much better in locating the pitch from the middle of the plate toward his arm side. The farther glove side he attempted to go, the more variable the pitch got in its result.

MLB Player Comp

While their builds are nearly nothing the same, the only guy I can think of in recent memory with the same caliber of a change and control at his age is the late Jose Fernandez.

That is an exceptionally high bar to set for a young pitcher, and Fernandez had the size at 6’3″ and 240 pounds that you’d want in a prototype starter, but he broke down and had Tommy John surgery as well.

Fernandez also had a three-pitch mix coming up, with a change that was easily plus and often plus-plus when he was in the minors and definite plus-plus command/control grades.

I mentioned with Espinoza that one of the things that I think would be effective for him to add is a fastball variant, and one of the most effective things that Fernandez did for his career was to utilize a two-seam fastball as his fourth pitch.

Fernandez and Espinoza also have similar types of velocity on their pitches as well, with the triple-digit top-end fastball, a curve that sits in the upper-middle range in velocity and a change with not a full 10 MPH variance in speed but excellent movement.

While Espinoza is exceptionally young, there is certainly a path for him to be the ace of the San Diego Padres pitching staff before the turn of the next decade. As polished as he is on the mound with his command and control already, it would not surprise me if he’s the type that jumps three levels in a season.

Whether that season is 2017 with him going from high-A to AAA in one year, or he gets a full season of high-A and AA and then jumps AA all the way to the majors in 2018, neither would truly surprise me as polished as he is already.

Espinoza will be just 19 for all of the 2017 season, and he will open in high-A, likely one of the (if not THE) youngest players to open at that level in 2017.

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