Welcome to BP Boston’s Roster Recap series! We continue to break down every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of the top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. There’s no better time than the offseason to review the best (there was some best!) and worst (there was a lot of worst!) of the past year in red and navy. You can see previous editions of Roster Recap here.
There is absolutely no debating that in Anderson Espinoza, the Red Sox have one of the pitching prospects with the highest ceilings in all of baseball. For every questionable signing the Red Sox have made in the last few years, Espinoza is not to be counted among them. In fact, having signed out of Venezuela for $1.8 million dollars, or a smidge over 2 percent of what it cost to sign Rick Porcello, he is poised to become quite the bargain.
If you aren’t familiar with the name, now is time to get acquainted. This J2 signee has a lot of growing left to do but is remarkably advanced for his age. Standing at six feet tall but just 160 pounds, Espinoza looks every bit the slender teenager he is. While his stature isn’t yet major-league ready his fastball and delivery are close. With an easy delivery and repeatable mechanics, Espinoza can hit 99 MPH on his heater and has quality secondary offerings. His curveball already shows flashes of being a plus pitch and the changeup has plus potential and is improving rapidly.
Possessing such top-notch stuff has made Espinoza a prime target for the internet hyperbole machine, which is already comparing him to Pedro Martinez. While such a comparison is wildly unfair, it does illustrate the excitement building around Espinoza’s ability. Espinoza came in at number 73 on our Baseball Prospectus Top 101 and, along with Kolby Allard, he was one of only two players 18 years old or younger to make the cut. Baseball America and MLB.com were even higher on his current skills, ranking him at 19th and 39th, respectively.
What Went Right in 2015?
Everything, and that’s not a joke. As a 17-year-old Espinoza flat out dominated both the Dominican Summer League and the Gulf Coast League, earning a season-ending promotion to Low-A Greenville. Across those three levels the right-hander posted a 1.23 ERA and WHIP of just 0.94, having just one poor start at the end of the season. That is not normal. A 66/16 strikeout to walk ratio over 63 innings as a teenager isn’t normal. As they say, “This is what they look like folks.”
Just have a look at his delivery and how athletic he is. Espinoza looks so smooth and balanced when he delivers a pitch and has a calmness on the mound that belies his age. There is very little effort in his delivery and his mechanics are remarkably repeatable for someone so young. Most kids his age would be facing high school batters, but he looks cool as a cucumber facing professional hitters.
What Went Wrong in 2015?
Well, nothing went wrong for him in 2015. Who would complain about a 17-year-old throwing close to 100 MPH and making it all the way to Greenville in his first year? If there is one concern with Espinoza it relates to his size. Despite the easy delivery and relatively clean mechanics, it’s always a bit scary to have a player at such a young age and with a slight build throwing so hard. The ease of his delivery helps assuage some concerns, but Espinoza is a pitcher, and that means that at some point he’s going to battle an injury or two. But as of yet, Espinoza hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.
Future Outlook/MLB ETA
Along with Yoan Moncada it’s fair to say that Espinoza possesses one of the highest ceilings in the Red Sox system and arguably one of the highest in all of the minor leagues. Along with Lucas Giolito, Julio Urias, Alex Reyes, and Dillon Tate, he is one of the elite few who have the stuff to become a front of the rotation ace. With a low innings total from last year, Espinoza is likely to begin the year at Low-A Lowell or maybe Single-A Greenville and stay there for at least half of the year. If things go well, he could reach High-A Salem to close out the season, though that would be a very aggressive assignment.
In a best-case scenario Espinoza isn’t likely to sniff the big leagues until late in the 2018 season when he turns 20 years old. At that point David Price will be in the last year before his potential opt-out and Eduardo Rodriguez should be in the beginning of his prime. Should Price exercise his option to leave, Espinoza and Rodriguez could provide two worthy replacements at the top of the rotation, and considering the price of free agents, an internal ace could be worth hundreds of millions. That’s a lofty goal to place on any minor leaguer, but if any minor leaguer can reach it, it’s Espinoza.
Photo from MLB.com