July 11, 2016 at 8:00 AM
GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Over the course of the season, the Greenville Drive has become arguably the deepest, most interesting team in the Red Sox farm system, with several potential big leaguers both on the mound and at the plate. Over the July 4th weekend, I was able to travel down to South Carolina and take in all four games of a weekend series between the Drive and the Asheville Tourists. This entry is the second of my reports from the trip (first entry), breaking down the highest ranked member of the Drive pitching staff along with another hard throwing right-hander.
- The most heralded member of the Drive staff and the top pitching prospect in Red Sox system, right-hander Anderson Espinoza had an off outing, lacking his normal feel and consistency. Espinoza lasted only 3 2/3 innings, allowing six hits—including a home run—walking three, and striking out three.
Espinoza is bigger than his listed 6-foot-0, 160 pounds. There is a misconception that he is undersized, and if I had to guess, he is closer to 6-foot-1, 180 pounds. He has some projection left, especially given his youth, and has a relatively clean delivery. He generates easy velocity, throwing from a three-quarters arm slot from the first base side of the mound. He has a very quick arm and short arm action that works fine with the rest of his delivery (for a better look at Espinoza's delivery check out video from Spring Training 2016 on the Sox Prospects YouTube page). His big issue during this outing was he was out of sync, and his arm was consistently getting out ahead of the rest of his delivery. As a result, he was constantly yanking the ball glove-side and out of the zone. He really struggled to command his fastball, and even his secondary pitches were out of sync and inconsistent.
Espinoza’s fastball worked 94-96 mph at the start before dropping down to 92-94 mph in his third inning. The pitch did not have its normal life and he struggled to command it. He could not locate it at all on the inner half of the plate to right-handed hitters, and was missing down-and-away, glove-side. When he was in the zone, he was leaving it in the middle of the plate, and he gave up a lot of contact. Because he struggled both with his command and control, he also got into a lot of deep counts, driving up his pitch count early and hitting 79 pitches before being pulled.
Espinoza’s secondary offerings were also inconsistent, but he still flashed a plus curveball and average changeup. Espinoza’s curveball is the better of the two at this point, but in this outing he was not snapping it off consistently and finishing the pitch. He threw the pitch 75-78 mph, with the best one at 78, showing tight rotation and depth. For the most part, however, it was loose and lacked the finish it usually shows. The pitch has the potential to be a true out pitch, a difference maker at the big league level, but as with all pitchers, there will be outings like this where he does not have it.
Espinoza did not use his changeup as much as his curve, but it flashed drop at 83-85 mph. He left one up with little movement at 85 mph, allowing the first home run of his pro career. Overall, the pitch was inconsistent, but he still threw it with good arm speed for the most part, and in other outings it has shown better than it did during this one.
There will be better days ahead for Espinoza and it easy to forget he is only eighteen and the youngest player in the South Atlantic League. He still showed flashes of potential, but as with all prospects, there will be bumps in the road, and recently Espinoza seems to be at that point. The issues here seemed to be mechanical, and with better pacing in his delivery and a few tweaks to ensure his arm does not get out too far ahead of his body, things should improve. Long-term, the projection has not changed: Espinoza is one of the top right-handed pitching prospects in baseball, with the upside to pitch near the top of a big league rotation someday.
- The Drive pitcher who threw the hardest was right-hander Victor Diaz. Diaz has had his struggles this year, though his numbers are skewed by a few terrible outings at the beginning of the year. Recently, Diaz’s outings have been better, and in the recent one scouted, he allowed only a single with three strikeouts through his first two innings before tiring and running into trouble in his third inning of work.
Diaz has a large, filled-out frame and looks bigger than his listed 6-foot-3, 200 pounds. He has a quick arm, but minimal deception and a lot of moving parts in his delivery. He has a max-effort delivery, starting with his front foot facing the batter, bringing it back and ending up in a normal pitching position. He does not use a windup, and has a short arm action, whipping his arm through a three-quarters arm slot. He lands hard with harsh recoil.
Diaz’s fastball sat 95-100 mph in this outing, mostly 97-100 in his first two innings before dropping off a tick in the third. He still hit 99 mph during the final batter of the outing and did not throw the pitch as often as normal, as he was relying on his secondaries. Diaz’s fastball is straight, and his command of it is poor. Given his delivery, it will be tough for him to have even below-average command of the offering.
Diaz used both his secondaries often and had a lot of success, getting five swing-and-misses on his slider and five more with his changeup. Both flashed average, but did not consistently play at that. He threw his slider 86-89 mph with it showing short, 10-to-4 break. It showed some bite when he stayed on top and dive at the end. Diaz threw his changeup at basically the same velocity as his slider, 87-89 mph. The pitch showed fade and occasional late sink. The development of his changeup is especially important—if it even turns into an offering he could throw for strikes, it would give him a weapon to use against left-handed hitters.
This was the best I have seen Diaz, especially with his secondary offerings. While his raw stuff, especially his fastball, seems to suggest big-league potential, it is hard to see him reaching the majors. The combination of his poor command profile, effort, difficult-to-repeat delivery, and inconsistent secondary offerings makes it likely he will struggle down the line, especially once he faces more advanced hitters. In a best-case scenario, Diaz could be a sixth- or seventh-inning arm, but he is already 22 years old after signing late and he has a long way to go to reach that point.
Photo credit: Anderson Espinoza by Kelly O'Connor and Victor Diaz by milb.com