When you have the No. 3 overall pick, it’s never too soon to take a quick peek into this year’s MLB draft. This year’s draft class is loaded with excellent hitting prospects, but is relatively weak on the pitching side.
Draft Prospects You Should Know is a new series that features prospects who the White Sox could pursue in this year’s draft. As the June draft nears, we’ll return to many of these athletes and provide updates on whether their stocks are rising (or falling).
Age listed as of Day One of the Draft (June 3).
Georgia Premier Academy (Statesboro, Ga.)
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
Baseball America 6 (among only preps)
MLB 13 (entire draft class)
FanGraphs 15 (entire draft class)
Throughout recent MLB draft history, right-handed prep pitchers taken with high draft picks haven’t been overly successful. But one player with the talent, stuff and makeup to buck that trend is Georgia Premier Academy starting pitcher Daniel Espino.
Rather than attempt to enter the MLB as an international free agent, Daniel chose to nurture his pitching talent while also cracking the books and focusing on academics and a path to college. When he came to the Academy as a 15-year-old, Espino was throwing 82-84 mph; after three years in the program — which emphasizes “religious” long-toss, stretching and core strength — he’s gained 50 pounds of muscle and is throwing a lot harder.
Espino’s coach, Gene Reynolds, described his prodigy’s four pitch arsenal to South Side Sox: “His four seamer sits 96-98 when he’s in mid-season form, and has touched 100. His slider is devastating and pretty much unhittable for this level, and his curveball is right there as well. Both pitches are plus. His changeup is something we are working on, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to throw in high school, since it’s the only thing he throws that gives hitters a chance to catch up.” Reynolds also pointed out that Espino has great faith in his secondaries, and is absolutely fearless about throwing his slider in any count.
Reynolds offers that the precocious young right-hander has “insane flexibility,” which gives him a naturally high knee lift, helping him get into his back leg and engage his lower half during the pitching motion, while also creating separation and a long arm stroke. The coach said he doesn’t have any concerns about Espino’s ability to maintain his velocity or remain a starting pitcher in the professional ranks. “He doesn’t grunt or show stress in his delivery,” Reynolds says. “He takes great care of his body, he repeats well, and pounds the strike zone.”
When asked about Espino’s character and mental makeup, Reynolds continued the superlatives, saying, “He’s a better young man than a pitcher, and I say that with all sincerity. You won’t find one person who knows him that would have a negative thing to say.”
Well, a few opposing hitters might disagree, Coach Reynolds.
To be sure, opponents shouldn’t expect Espino to be “Mr. Nice Guy” on the mound. “He has an uncanny ability to be humble and extremely competitive at the same time,” Reynolds says. “On the mound, he’s an assassin.”
At the Academy, Espino has faced some of the best high school talent in the nation and has thrived. Reynolds says that Espino has faced Top 300 high school draft prospects 27 times, and they have gone 1-for-25, with 17 strikeouts and two walks against him. He seems to rise to the occasion as well, as Espino threw a 99 mph fastball to Bobby Witt Jr. — but ended up walking him on a 3-2 count. When Espino posted his 100 mph radar gun reading it was also against a premier draft prospect, Riley Greene, who struck out.
GBSA Rays Baseball recently tweeted, “Daniel Espino is the Zion Williamson of HS baseball. Best way to describe his summer performance vs. the best talent in the country. Throws 100mph w/2 plus breaking balls. What will he throw at 21 yrs old?”
Espino is committed to the LSU baseball program, but it is possible that a high draft pick will be enough to lure him away from that commitment and allow him to begin chasing his major league dreams. His name is getting a lot of pre-draft helium, and is likely to be called in the top half of the first round.