Entering the 2016 season, the Boston Red Sox had one of the premier farm systems in baseball, loaded with talent in their top ten. They had baseball's best prospect and a couple of electric pitching stars in the making.
Nearly all of them are gone.
Anderson Espinoza was the first to go. When the Red Sox made their end run for the playoffs they traded the Venezuelan 18-year old to the San Diego Padres for Drew Pomeranz.
The Padres may be the better for it.
Espinoza, who turned 19 last week, is the exciting right-hander that has been a consensus Top 25 prospect for the past two seasons. Our own John Sickels had him right outside the Top 20, landing at 21.
While numbers weren't spectacular, he was just 18 years old in full-season ball; 92-96 with peaks at 97, should push upper boundary more often as he fills out his frame; both curveball and change-up are excellent for his age and he usually throws strikes with low-effort mechanics; makeup and mound presence also positives; at this point we basically need to see if he stays healthy; look for the ERA to come down as long as his component ratios remain strong; top of the rotation potential; ETA 2019.
The teenager was signed to a lucrative $1.8-million deal in 2014, so while they didn't need the to break the bank, the Sox knew he was special. He immediately caught everyone's attention when he dominated both the Gulf Coast League and Dominican League at the age of 17. He earned one start in the Sally that didn't go well at all, but he was reasonably below the average age of its prospects.
(This video from Grant Jones shows his pretty delivery. It also shows that he has some nice movement on his pitches, especially with the first two.)
Last season, statistically speaking, was a modest one, but he showed a lot of promising aspects. He has a smooth, fluid delivery so mechanics don't seem to be an issue. Standing at just 6-foot and 160 pounds, he somehow manages to fire off a mid-90s fastball with relative ease, that has even topped out in triple-digits. Still young, he could grow more into his frame and give himself some more power behind his pitch.
His changeup is his second-best offering. Not only does he command it well by adding some sink to it, most reports tell you he adds deception by throwing it nearly identical to his fastball. His curve is already a plus-offering despite inconsistencies last season.
To reiterate, Espinoza is 19 and has three above-average pitches, with seemingly little to worry about in the mechanics department. If you aren't sold yet, maybe now is the time to add in that he has worked out with Pedro Martinez, whom he has long been compared to.
Split between the Red Sox and Padres A-ball, Espinoza put together a 6-11 season. He struck out 8.32 per nine, while walking a very acceptable 2.91 per nine.
His 4.49 ERA is a bit unfair to judge by as he posted a 2.99 FIP with the Red Sox and a 3.17 FIP with the Padres. He was victimized by a high BABIP as well, (.343 with Sox and .363 with Padres), but he has always been a little hittable behind a .248 career batting average against. Both of his outs recorded and batted ball breakdowns indicate Espinoza is much more of a ground ball pitcher, so with better defense behind him as he moves up the ranks, those numbers could get even better.
To say this will be a "show-me" year is not quite a fair onus to bestow upon the teenager. He will likely be amongst the youngest in the hitter-friendly California League. That being said, if he shows improvement, it will speak volumes to his progress.
The Padres don't need to rush their youngster to the bigs. He has exciting stuff and is years ahead of his age. With the potential of being a future ace, the Padres would be wise to let Espinoza mature at High-A this season and unleash him next year at Double-A and see what he can do.