Weight: 200 lbs.
FB velo- Sits 93-96, T100
College commitment: LSU
Long touted as one of the top prospects in the class thanks to his early velocity and ability to spin the ball, Espino is an explosive athlete with likely the best now stuff of any pitcher in the prep class. The 6’4” righty has a unique delivery with big movements, but has the athleticism to repeat it consistently, and does. Espino employs a big leg kick and generates a ton of leg drive, and has long, but not violent, arm action.
Espino is fairly maxed out, but already shows the ability to carry velocity deep into starts, and has advanced pitchability for a prep arm as well. He can spot his fastball to both sides of the plate and gets great running action on the pitch, and shows feel for several secondaries. To my eye he employs both a slider and curveball, both of which have tight break at their best. He’ll occasionally mix in a changeup as well, and gets some fade and bite on the pitch already.
The track record for upper-90s high school arms in recent history isn’t especially good, but Espino’s velocity doesn’t all come from arm speed and his feel for pitching is beyond that of a typical high school arm. He’s been dominant at the prep level, and, while he could likely get similar results throwing all fastballs, with the feel he’s shown for three different secondary offerings I feel confident that he’ll find a mix that works well for him at the pro level. He can lose location of his breaking stuff at times, but largely spots his fastball well and shows the ability to get swings and misses in and out of the zone with breaking stuff.
While his leg kick has drawn some comparisons to Padres pitching prospect Mackenzie Gore’s, their overall styles aren’t especially similar. While watching Espino I was most reminded of two recent prep pitchers who were day one picks, Touki Toussaint and Lance McCullers, Jr. All three pitchers are right handers who generate premium velocity and have hard breaking stuff with rapid spin rates, and may have an approach that is best suited to a lighter workload than that of a typical starting pitcher. Espino is a bit more advanced as a prep senior than McCullers was, but Lance made quick progress developing a changeup in pro ball and probably represents the best analog to Espino’s power style in terms of recent draft prospects.
Although Espino started the year in the top ten on most draft boards and now projects as more of a late first rounder, it’s by no fault of his own. The 2019 class is especially rich in offensive talent, and a number of prep arms who’d had less exposure than Espino have pushed their way into day one range after getting more eyeballs. Personally, I still have Espino as the second best prep pitching prospect I’ve seen this season behind Quinn Priester, and easily the best present pitcher of the group. While his delivery is different, I see no reason to red flag it, and his full-body approach to pitching should allow him to generate consistent velocity even in long outings. I like Espino’s potential as a starting pitcher and think he’s solidly a first round arm.
Does he fit with Houston?
Espino’s ability to generate spin and premium velo will check the Astros’ two biggest boxes, and he’s been a popular choice for them in mock drafts of late. He looks to be on the short list for the team’s first round selection.
Will he sign?
While his commitment to LSU certainly represents a good fallback plan, it’s very risky to turn down first round money out of high school as a pitcher and I’d expect that he will be playing pro ball later this year.
Projected draft position
If the Astros’ first round pick isn’t Espino’s floor, it likely isn’t much further.