PHOENIX—It's spring training, and it's early.
And if you're a minor leaguer, where the games have only just begun, it's even earlier.
But for Anderson Espinoza, early in his workup to the start of the season, Friday's outing was a step in the process.
In his previous outing Espinoza's command was scattershot, which is surprising for a young pitcher whose command has always been advanced for his age.
On Friday, Espinoza wasn't in midseason form. He barely used his changeup, a pitch that was above-average or better almost every time out last year. In the first of his three innings of work, he didn't have the feel for his curveball, either. The one he threw didn't break at all as he lost the grip on it.
But even with all those caveats, Espinoza showed again why he's one of the best pitching prospects in baseball.
Pitching against the Royals' high Class A club, the Padres' No. 1 prospect showed better fastball command than he'd shown in his previous outing, and with a 93-95 mph fastball with excellent run, that's sometimes enough by itself.
"I think he's progressing," said Padres pitching coordinator Mark Prior, the former Cubs ace. "Anderson is probably harder on himself than most of us. But we also forget he's only 19 years old. He's still learning as a pitcher—what he has to do to be successful within a game."
In his warmup pitches for his second inning of work, Espinoza kept trying to throw his curve, but he continued to struggle to break it off, much less land it in the zone.
The first one out of his hand in the second inning wasn't much better. But he stuck with it and before long, he threw a few much tighter curves that were much closer to the above-average breaking ball he's shown at his best in the past.
"He controlled the zone a lot better," Prior said. "He's got a big curve, but it's still a learning process of how to land it, where to land it and how to use it properly. To go with his fastball, he's got to learn to use them to complement each other."
Espinoza touched 97 mph at his best on Friday. Even with him relying on his fastball heavily on Friday, he showed the kind of pitch separation that gives hitters fits. His mid-90s fastball requires hitters to gear up. His mid-80s changeup has solid separation in velocity and deception and his 75-78 mph curveball is nearly a full 10 mph less than his changeup.
And Espinoza has another look as well. With two strikes, he showed an ability to drop his release point. It gave his 95-mph fastball the look of a much slower breaking ball out of the hand.