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July 14, 2016 at 9:17 PM

Trade Analysis: Scouting the Espinoza for Pomeranz deal

The Red Sox are all in for 2016. That much was clear following the reported Drew Pomeranz for Anderson Espinoza trade that came down Thursday evening. In dealing for Pomeranz, the Red Sox filled their desperate need for a starting pitcher, acquiring a left-hander who has been well above-average for the first half of the season but has a limited track record, has never topped 147 1/3 innings, and has an injury history. Pomeranz is under team control through 2018, so this is not a rental, and the price for starting pitching--particularly for team-controlled starting pitching--was going to be steep given how thin this year's trade market looks to be. But even with that in mind, the Red Sox paid a steep price in giving up one of the most exciting pitching prospects to come through the organization in a number of years.

The only piece heading back to the Padres is a good one in 18-year-old right-handed pitcher Anderson Espinoza. The Venezuelan signed in July 2014 as the top pitching prospect on the international market for $1.8 million. We began to hear glowing reports about Espinoza during extended spring training 2015, and he excelled in four starts in the Dominican Summer League in his first taste of pro ball before moving up to the Gulf Coast League and continuing to dominate, posting a 0.68 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in ten four-inning starts, striking out 40 batters. He earned a one-game cup of coffee with the Greenville Drive to end the season, allowing three runs in 3 1/3 innings, but holding his own despite being more than a year younger than any other player in the league at the time of the start.

It was during last year's Fall Instructional League that I got to see Espinoza in person for the first time and to say he was impressive was an understatement. Even in a short outing, his professional demeanor and feel for pitching really stood out--as did, of course, his impressive stuff. It was evident that this was the kind of pitcher this system had not seen in a long time.

Espinoza began this year with the Drive as the youngest player in the South Atlantic League, and in 76 innings over 17 starts, he struck out 72 hitters and walked only 27. His ERA of 4.38 and WHIP of 1.37 do not accurately reflect the type of talent he has, as he is regarded as one of the top 20 or so prospects in all of baseball and is on the short list of its top pitching prospects, all things considered.

Though he has the reputation of being an undersized right-hander, listed at only 6-foot-0, 160 pounds, that does him a disservice, as he is clearly bigger than that now. Having seen him in person a few weeks ago, I would guess he is closer to 6-foot-1, 180-190 pounds. For a starting pitcher, that is slightly undersized, but he is not a small guy by any means. He still has some projection left in his frame, especially considering his youth, as he will not turn 19 until next March.

Espinoza’s delivery is remarkably easy and clean for someone who throws as hard as he does. He throws from a three-quarters arm slot from the first base side of the mound and generates easy velocity. He has a short arm action that works fine with the rest of his delivery.  Espinoza has a very quick arm, and that has actually given him some trouble this year, as he can get out of sync, with his arm getting out ahead and coming through before the rest of his delivery. This was on display when I saw him in Greenville this month, and it impacted his fastball command and the release point and arm slot of his secondary pitches.

Espinoza’s fastball will generally sit 94-96 mph, but he can run it up into the high-90s and will even touch 100 mph in short bursts. He generates the velocity remarkably easy given his size, and at its best the pitch will show life and sink. He has surprisingly advanced command of the pitch for someone his age, but the command has at times abandoned him this year. He does struggle to hold velocity, dripping down a grade as he works deeper into games, but that as he grows stronger and is more physically suited to handle a larger workload, that problem should fade away. As he matures and continues to refine the pitch, he has a plus command profile and the pitch overall could be a plus-to-double-plus offering.

An 18-year-old with Espinoza’s fastball alone is an intriguing prospect, but what really separates him is his feel for and the potential in his secondary offerings. Espinoza throws a changeup and curveball, and both will flash plus. He has not had both pitches on at the same time when I have seen him, however, but again, he is only 18 and that should come eventually with improved consistency. For me, Espinoza’s curveball has shown slightly more potential. Espinoza throws the pitch in the mid-70s, and at its best it will show 12-to-6 shape and late, tight break. He has confidence in the pitch and it has the makings of a true out pitch at the big league level. At times he has not had the pitch this year, as he will sometimes come from the side on the pitch with it being loose and lacking its usual finish.

Espinoza’s changeup is slightly behind his curve, coming in 82-84 mph with heavy, late fade. It has great separation and he throws it with the same arm speed as his fastball when he has it working. It is more inconsistent than his curveball, however, and he does not have as much confidence in the pitch. It is very rare to see an 18-year-old with three workable pitches, so even though it lags behind his other two pitches, it is still a better third pitch than you will see from a lot of pitchers, let alone teenagers, in Low A.

While Espinoza has the upside to pitch at the top of a big league rotation someday, he is still a ways away from reaching that potential, so there is a lot of time for things to go wrong along the way. For example, there are not many players his age at only 6-foot-0 to 6-foot-1 who throw as hard as he does that will not encounter injury problems along the way, though the ease with which he throws could mitigate some of that risk. More importantly for the Red Sox, however, Espinoza is likely three years from even reaching the big leagues, let alone becoming the type of pitcher I--and others--think he can be. Given the team they have right now, especially on offense, and the lack of starting pitching options both at the big league level and in the high minors, the opportunity to acquire a 27-year-old pitcher who has shown the ability to be an impact starter and has two more years of team control was likely too good to pass up.

This is a win-now trade, and in dealing Espinoza it lets the Red Sox hold onto their three big bats in the minor leagues who are all ahead of Espinoza on the developmental curve: Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, and Rafael Devers. While this move makes the Red Sox better in the short term, long term, it could come back to bite them. If Espinoza reaches his potential or even settles in as a solid mid-rotation starter, that is still a significant price to pay for a player with very little track record as even a mid-rotation starter, and even with today's Jason Groome signing and Michael Kopech's impressive velocity, Espinoza is still a better prospect than either of them, so their presence only slightly cushions his loss, if at all.

Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.

Photo Credit: Kelly O'Connor