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Indians top prospect Daniel Espino makes short season debut

A first first pick in June, the right handed pitcher from the Georgia Premier Academy, was promoted out of the Arizona League into the New York Penn League this past week.

Daniel Espino
Matt Powers

After establishing himself among the top arms in the class of high school pitchers in the 2019 MLB Draft, Daniel Espino ended up being the first round pick of the Cleveland Indians at #24 overall. If you are looking for a pre-draft scouting report on Espino, it can be found here.

The right handed pitcher from Panama by way of the Georgia Premier Academy in Statesboro, Georgia went to begin his career in the Arizona League, a standard first stop for almost all high school draftees. Espino used his filthy stuff to dominate at that level, pitching to a 1.98 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 13.2 innings over six starts, picking up 16 strikeouts along the way.

With a double plus fastball, two plus breaking balls, and the ability to command his pitches as well as come up with a plan to attack hitters, it was no surprise that he was too advanced for the young hitters the AZL features. That meant in order to continue to challenge their prized arm the Indians had to promote him to short season ball and a new type of competition- college hitters, who frequently make their pro debuts in the New York Penn League after being drafted.

Days after the promotion from Arizona to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, Espino was on the mound in front of his new home crowd to face the first place Batavia Muckdogs. The Muckdogs have been in first place the entire way, and leadoff hitter JD Orr is actually leading the league in hitting. This would become the first time Espino pitched a professional game in under the lights and with an actual crowd, as the AZL is a bare bones operation with games at teams spring training complexes.

Saturday couldn’t have gone much better for Espino, who had a 1-2-3 first inning, followed by another 1-2-3 inning in the second. He gave up three hits and a pair of runs in the third inning of work, but that was more a factor of luck than it was pitching badly. There was an infield single, a ball that happened to fall in, the backup catcher unable to handle a pitch, and an infielder that dropped a sure double play in that inning.

Stuff wise Espino was as advertised. His fastball sat 93-97 MPH, and bumped up to 98 MPH a couple times during his outing. Not only was he throwing with plus to plus plus velocity, but the pitches had plus movement on them that made Batavia hitters struggle to put the barrel on the ball.

The curve ball for Espino was also a plus pitch, and he was able to get some swings and misses with it. That’s something I didn’t see out of him in high school, because those hitters were instantly frozen by the pitch and couldn’t get the bat off their shoulder most of the time.

Espino also has a plus slider, but we didn’t get to really see that pitch in this short outing. We were able to get a first look at his changeup, a pitch he was unable to throw in high school because it would allow high school hitters a chance to see a pitch at a speed they are more accustomed to seeing. The pitch had the makings of a future average pitch, but it’s one that will need more repetitions in game action with it being a new pitch for him in terms of in-game usage.

If you want to get into his command, Espino was average to above with his command, giving up one walk and having a good portion of his balls thrown with two strikes as he would try to get hitters to chase.

While there were some slight changes with Espino from what I saw in April(no slider use this night, added the occasional changeup), it was more of the same thing. Seeing the way his stuff played against much older hitters less than four months after he was pitching in high school only reinforces what his ultimate upside is with the Indians- a special arm.