SARASOTA, Fla.--As if the Red Sox system wasn’t impressive enough, there’s another blue-chipper lurking between the raindrops on their Rookie-level Gulf Coast League team. His name is Anderson Espinoza, he’s righthanded and 17 years old and on Tuesday showed off an arsenal that will make him a household name in very short order.
Ranked as the No. 4 prospect in the 2014 international class, the Red Sox inked Espinoza for $1.8 million on the strength of high-octane fastball, three-pitch mix and potential for growth both in frame and pitchability.
On Tuesday, during one of the rare recent dry moments on the East Coast of Florida over the past month or so, Espinoza more than lived up to his billing.
The righty showed a fastball that touched as high as 98 mph, sat comfortably for four inning between 95-97 and never dipped lower than 93. The pitch featured sink and run away from lefthanders, and Espinoza showed an ability to spot in on both sides of the plate. On the occasions he failed to finish the pitch, it stayed up and away to lefties.
To complement the fastball, Espinoza brought a pair of pitches that could easily grade as plus or better in the future. The first was a 12-6 curveball in the low-70s that, when he threw it right, featured sharp, tight break that will allow him to get swings and misses. He also threw a low-80s changeup with plenty of fade. He got multiple swings and misses on the pitch on Tuesday.
“He’s like any other kid in the aspect that he just needs to stay healthy,” manager Tom Kotchman said between games of Tuesday’s doubleheader. “You put him in America, and he’s the age of a young high school junior. He’s 17 years old and 3 months. It’s a special arm and he’s a special kid.”
He stands at 6-foot even and is listed at 170 pounds, but at 17 years old could still have plenty of growing to do before he’s physically mature. Additional strength will obviously aid in his stamina going forth as he learns to work deeper into games (he went four innings on Tuesday) and could help him hold his velocity.
Right now, according to Kotchman, all Espinoza needs is time.
“He’s just going to grow into his body normally. He’s 6-foot, 6-1, who knows how much taller he is. His stuff is fine. He just needs to pitch and stay healthy.”
PROSPECT SHOWDOWN IN PORT CHARLOTTE
An hour down the road from Sarasota, the Charlotte Stone Crabs (high Class A Rays) and Dunedin Blue Jays played a doubleheader. The first game featured one of the more tantalizing pitching matchups the league can offer in Rays RHP Brent Honeywell against Blue Jays righty Sean Reid-Foley.
Honeywell was a supplemental second-rounder out of Walters State (Tenn.) CC in 2014, and Reid-Foley was picked in the second round of the same draft, 23 picks prior at No. 49 overall. Both players were selected to this year’s Midwest League All-Star Game.
As the only pitcher in the minors to throw a screwball, Honeywell is unique. What he isn’t, however, is a gimmick. Beyond the screwball, which helped him whiff seven over six two-run innings on Tuesday, Honeywell is armed with a lively fastball that reaches into the mid-90s and a mid-70s curve.
For the most part, Honeywell was dominant, save for one stretch in the fourth inning when he lost command and found the middle of the plate often. After two straight breaking pitches missed to shortstop Richard Urena, Honeywell grooved a fastball and Urena pummeled it over the wall in right field.
The longball was Urena’s first since a promotion from low Class A Lansing, and his 13th of the season overall. He also made a pair of stellar plays in the field, including ranging far to his left, spinning and throwing out the runner at first.
Early on, Reid-Foley looked like he was up to matching Honeywell pitch-for-pitch, but he too lost command of the zone and got hit hard. At his best, he showed a 92-95 mph fastball that touched 96 and featured excellent late life. He also threw a high-80s changeup and a slider thrown in the same range.
Neither offspeed pitch was more than average, with the exception of a few glimmers from the slider. His delivery featured above-average stride length and excellent extension out front. He also showed quite a bit of emotion on the mound, both during the game and after he was removed.