Welcome to the 2020 IBI Top 50 Indians Prospect Countdown. This year’s list and reports have been compiled by Indians Baseball Insider Editor-in-Chief Justin Lada, IBI contributor Willie Hood and other IBI staff members.
#4 Daniel Espino- RHP
Born: 1/5/2001 – Height: 6’2 – Weight: 205 – Bats: Right – Throws: Right
Facts and info: The Indians drafted Espino in the first round (24th overall) from Georgia Premier Academy in the 2019 MLB draft, signing the talented right-hander for $2.5 million. Espino was born in Panama and moved to Georgia during his sophomore year of high school, throwing in the mid-80’s at that time. His fastball now sits in the mid-to-upper 90’s and has reportedly touched 100 mph. In 2019, Espino pitched across two levels; pitching for the rookie league Arizona League Indians and the short season (Single-A) Mahoning Valley Scrappers. The right-hander started 9 games, pitching 23.2 innings, allowing 16 hits, walking 10 batters and striking out 34 batters with an ERA of 3.80.
Stuff: Espino features a four-pitch mix with a plus-plus fastball, a slider, a curveball and change up. The young righty throws both a four seamer with life and a heavy sinking two seamer with both variations grading as plus-plus (70). The young righty features both a plus (60) slider and an above average (55) curveball that projects as plus. The least of Espino’s impressive array of pitches is his average (50) change up. Espino’s fastball sits regularly in the 94-97 mph range and touches 99 mph with reports touching triple digits in the past. With a plus two-plane breaking slider and a curveball that projects as a plus pitch, Espino features two potential out pitches. The righty’s change up wasn’t used much in the prep ranks, but it will be needed against quality left-handed professional batters as he ascends the ladder. With high velocity stuff, improving his change up will give the righty an alternative to throw batters off his mid-to-upper 90’s fastballs.
Delivery and intangibles: Espino appears to stand in the center of the mound coming set; he gets into a powerful load position with his back knee bent and his front leg straight. As he holds the ball high by his right ear he begins with a high leg kick to the letters across his chest. Espino dips into his hip load with a long arm motion, down, upward and back into the scapula load. The righty uncoils his powerful motion quickly and sequences his body together in one motion as he brings his arm through his follow through, across his body and landing with his back leg following. Standing 6’2, 205 pounds, Espino has a strong, athletic build that contains power in his strong legs, core and arms. Much has been said about Espino’s lengthy arm path limiting his upside with projected control issues minimizing his ability to develop as a starting pitcher. While Espino’s arm path is lengthy, the Indians development staff will make necessary tweaks along the way and internet video appears to show some minor changes to his overall delivery already. Prospectlive.com’s Jason Pennini appropriately points out the length of Espino’s delivery allows left-handed hitters to get a better view of his pitches. Espino is determined to succeed, moving from Panama to Georgia with MLB the end goal. Espino is a hard worker that incorporates powerlifting, stretching and long tossing into his development routines. He is highly advanced in terms of stuff, physique and work ethic essentially putting the young right-hander on par or beyond with college age arms.
Focus: Espino will need to continue to work on his change up. The right-hander will need to continue to work to refine his command. The night Espino was drafted then Indians right-hander Trevor Bauer was on hand for MLB Network’s draft coverage. Bauer was asked to break down the delivery and throwing motion of the Georgia Premier Academy product. Bauer utilized a side-by-side screen of his own throwing motion (when he first arrived at UCLA) to break down Espino’s motion. He mentioned one particular item, the two had in common the “head whack” or distinct pull off to the first base side of the head in the throwing motion. Watch for the Tribe to make this a more central motion (neck and back straight and over his body with reduced tilt toward his left shoulder) allowing Espino to make a clearer more efficient delivery and follow through that results in controlling the ball better. In the Spring Training videos posted on Twitter, the right-hander appears to be using a slightly lower leg kick which should keep him compact, powerful and help him sequence with the slight reduction of head pull toward first. Another area the Tribe might focus attention on is Espino’s arm length (part of the reason he’s gotten reliever chatter) as he utilizes as a full extension reach and load pulling his throwing arm back almost straight / flat as he reaches back for more.
Advanced Stats: Espino was dominant in his Arizona League debut often touching upper-90’s with his fastball and just blowing the ball by hitters. In Arizona he struck out 30.2% of the hitters he faced stranding 86.2% of runners on the bases. Espino induced a whopping 60% IFBB (infield fly balls – weak contact) along with posting a 48.3% GB rate, .149 BAA, a .200 BABIP and a 4.20 FIP. After being promoted to Short Season Low-A Mahoning Valley the righty ran into some scuffles producing an ERA of 6.30, surrendering a FB% of 71.4% and holding a meager 47.6%. However, as Prospectslive.com’s Jason Pennini points out the right-hander was 3 years younger than league average and was specifically instructed to work on certain pitches (presumably the change up) and certain quadrants of the strike zone. Nevertheless, Espino produced 18 strikeouts in 10 innings of work striking out 40% of the batters he faced, while allowing a .225 BA and recording a 2.60 FIP.
Future: Overall, I grade Espino as a 50+ prospect with the potential to eventually reach a 60 prospect grade. There is reliever risk with Espino as there is with any arm. I believe that Espino is in the right organization to continue to develop and mature as a starting pitcher. The player / pitching development group should be able to guide the young righty down the right path, coupled with his work ethic and athletic ability Espino could reach his lofty ceiling in a hurry. The best possible outcome is a #1 starter, he has that kind of potential, though a #2 starter is a more likely outcome. As I stated above there is reliever concern, but is his floor and with a high level closer a possible outcome there. The young native Panamanian will have to show continued progress with his ability to command his pitches and develop his average changeup, but I believe there is potential for him to have four above average pitches (including both variations of his fastball) when all is said and done. I believe Espino will continue to push his way toward the top of the Indians prospect rankings with #1-2 overall status insight as soon as the end of this season. Espino is a highly advanced (stuff and physique) young athletic right-hander with a strong, flexible maxed out 6’2, 205 pound frame. I expect an aggressive push from the Indians with Espino starting his 2020 season in Low-A Lake County.
– Willie Hood