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East Coast Pro Day 3: Daniel Espino Dazzles

HOOVER, Ala.—There’s something about Georgia righthanders on day three of the East Coast Pro Showcase. At least that’s been the case for the past two years.

Almost a year ago to the day, righthander Ethan Hankins—who was just selectedby the Indians with the 35th pick in the 2018 draft this June—put together one of the most dominant outings from any prep pitcher in the 2018 class on the third day of the 2017 ECP.

Friday night, Georgia Premier Academy righthander Daniel Espino followed in Hankins’ path, touching 100 mph in an overpowering three-inning outing and making his claim as the top high school arm in the 2019 class.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Louisiana State commit came out of the gate with a 97 mph fastball and sat in the 95-98 mph range throughout three innings, touching 99 and 100 mph according to multiple radar guns in the stands. An overpowering pitch on velocity alone, Espino’s fastball featured glove-side cutting action and arm-side run, and he located the pitch well, breaking two bats in the process.

He generated seven swings and misses with the pitch, which scouts in attendance graded out as an 80-grade offering on the 20-to-80 scale. In addition to his fastball, Espino also threw a breaking ball that ranged from 78-85 mph and graded out as a plus pitch as well—a 60 on the 20-80 scale. Espino has thrown distinct breaking balls in the past—both a slider and a curveball—and Friday night he threw one 78 mph breaking ball that looked more like a traditional curve, with impressive shape that finished off one of Espino’s six strikeouts.

More frequently in this outing, Espino delivered a more firm breaking ball in the 82-85 mph range that had the shape of a slider and featured two-plane, late-breaking action, generating two additional whiffs and finishing a pair of strikeouts.

Espino toyed with a changeup in-game, but spiked the single 88 mph offering that he threw, which wound up in the dirt and rolled to the backstop. He lost the release point of his fastball after choking the change, missing with the heater up and to his arm side, but quickly regained his control of the pitch. Aside from the changeup, Espino’s only blemishes on the day were a hit batter in his second inning and an errant pickoff throw to first base.

Scout feedback was mixed on whether or not Espino’s performance Friday night was more or less impressive than Hankins’ notable ECP display a year ago, with some saying that Espino had better pure stuff and others favoring Hankins’ secondary offerings and fastball life and command at the time.

Espino throws from a low, three-quarter arm slot like Hankins, and multiple scouts are concerned that his long arm stroke could create injury concerns in the future with the stress that it creates on the elbow and shoulder. Hankins, notably, dealt with shoulder issues last spring and still wound up being a first-round pick.

You can watch some of Espino’s outing in the video below and also check out reports on several of the other impressive arms who threw in his shadow Friday night:

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2019 MLB Draft Chat: Discussing Our Latest Rankings (3/21/19)

We dropped our updated BA 300 draft rankings on Wednesday followed by a full first-round mock draft. We'll discuss both at 12 p.m. ET.

Arms Race

While Espino was the most impressive arm of the day, he was far from the only talented player to toe the rubber at the Hoover Met Complex. In just the final game (Blue Jays-Brewers) alone, four of the six pitchers are SEC commits, while one is committed to an ACC program and another is committed to Florida Gulf Coast.

There were only six total hits in this game, three for each club, with 30 strikeouts to just one walk—a testament to the skill of each of the players who took the mound. Here's a brief breakdown of each of the five non-Espino arms who threw in the night game on day three:

Hunter Barco | LHP | Bolles HS, Jacksonville
Committed: Florida

Barco was his usual self Friday night, pitching in the 90-93 mph range with his fastball, which held up well over three full innings and had its typical heavy, arm-side running life. He generated nine total swings and misses with the pitch and paired it with a split-change in the 81-85 mph range that had tremendous tumble and looked like an above-average or plus offering at its best. He used the pitch to strike out third baseman Rece Hinds (Fla.), and after choking a few of the pitches in the dirt in the third inning, regained his feel for it to strikeout another batter. Barco also threw a tight slider in the low to mid-80s, which he was on top of consistently with 2-to-8 shape.

Final Line: 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 6 K, 0 BB on 44 pitches (63.6 percent strikes)

Landon Sims | RHP | South Forsyth HS, Cumming, Ga.
Committed: Mississippi State

A 6-foot-1, 205-pound righthander, Sims struck out five batters in his three innings of work, pitching off of an impressive fastball that sat in the 90-94 mph range and touched 95 in the first. The pitch has natural cutting action, which could be a difficult offering to square up for righthanded hitters, as Sims also sets up on the far third base side of the rubber. He throws from a three-quarter arm slot with a crossfire landing, adding to the deception, though there is some effort to the delivery and his weight falls off to the first base side in his follow through. In addition to the fastball, Sims threw a 75-78 mph curveball that had 3/4 shape, but could use more consistent bite. The pitch was at its best when thrown down and out of the zone as a chase pitch to his glove side.

Final Line: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 5 K, 0 BB on 43 pitches (69.8 percent strikes)

Kendall Williams | RHP | IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.
Committed: Vanderbilt

The most physically imposing pitcher to toe the rubber in this game, Williams stands at 6-foot-6, 195 pounds with plenty of room for added weight as he continues to develop. On this occasion, Williams pitched in the 90-93 mph range with his fastball, with below-average control of the pitch, before ticking down into the 88-90 mph range in his third inning. Williams' most impressive offering was a 73-78 mph curveball that had significant vertical and horizontal movement and 3/4 shape, generating six whiffs and finishing off three of his four strikeouts. The pitch froze hitters on multiple occasions and could be used effectively as a chase pitch or a breaking ball that landed in the zone for a strike. Williams also threw an 83 mph changeup in the third inning that showed solid fading action, but he relied on his breaking ball as his primary secondary pitch.

Final Line: 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 4 K, 0 BB on 39 pitches (64.1 percent strikes)

Tyler Nesbitt | RHP | LaBelle (Fla.) HS
Committed: Florida Gulf Coast

Nesbitt has some funk in his delivery, throwing from a three-quarter slot with a bit of length in the back of his arm stroke, wrapping his wrist at times as well. The FGCU commit sat in the 87-91 mph range with his fastball, which had solid arm-side running action, and paired it with a 79-83 mph slider that had average spin and ranged in shape from a 10-to-4 breaking ball when thrown to the glove side, to a pitch with more vertical movement on the arm side. The slider was Nesbitt's best swing-and-miss offering, generating four whiffs. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound righty didn't have a consistent release point with his fastball throughout this outing, and had below-average fastball control because of that, missing regularly to his arm side with the pitch in the third inning. Despite that, he avoided walking a batter and didn't allow a hit in 2.2 innings.

Final Line: 2.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 K 0 BB on 49 pitches (55.1 percent strikes)

Joe Charles | RHP | The First Academy, Orlando
Committed: North Carolina

Aside from Espino, Charles was the hardest-throwing pitcher of the day, routinely working his fastball into the mid-90s. He struck out seven batters in three innings and walked just one, but had some difficult spotting his fastball, particularly in the first inning. A 6-foot-3, 190-pound righty with a fast arm, Charles has some hooking action in the back of his arm stroke with a high back elbow, and scattered his fastball all around the zone in the first inning, though he made notable improvements in this area as his outing progressed. The Tar Heel commit threw two breaking balls—a 78-80 mph curveball and a mid-80s slider—but didn't have great feel to land either consistently, and his arm speed slowed noticeably at times when he dropped in the curve. The arm speed and strength is obvious with Charles, and that's why he was a famous name as an underclassman, but there is still some polishing that needs to be done.

Final Line: 3 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 7 K, 1 BB on 51 pitches (54.9 percent strikes)

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