In case you were sleeping under a rock and/or you were so enamored with the NBA finals that you forgot baseball existed, you might not have noticed that a small little event we call the MLB Draft took place a little under two weeks ago. It was the weirdest draft I’ve covered in my 70 —okay, seven—years of covering it. We saw several teams drafting early choose to go with a quantity over quality approach, taking players that may not have been top-of-the-board talents with their top three selections, allowing them to pick up expensive talents later on day two and in some cases day three.
One of the reasons we saw this approach is that outside of Jason Groome (and, in my opinion, Corey Ray), there just weren’t many upper-echelon talents in this class. Even when Alec Hansen, Conner Jones, Buddy Reed and a few other players were considered legit high-end players at the beginning of the year, this was still a class that was known more for its depth of quality players than its strength at the top. When those players saw their stock fade—to put it nicely—the class took a huge hit for anyone drafting in the top five.
So, I decided to play another what-if game. What if Boston Red Sox right-handed pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza was in this class? Espinoza was the top pitching prospect of 2014’s IFA class, but let’s pretend that Espinoza was in California instead of Venezuela, and that instead of signing with a professional team, he was instead a senior at Made Up High School in beautiful Laguna Beach.
Now before you poo-poo this idea (not that you would ever do that, you’ve all grown to love my zany ideas) and assume that Espinoza would obviously be the first pick, let’s keep three things in mind.
1. There has NEVER been a right-handed prep pitcher taken with the first-overall pick. There have also only been a handful of prep right-handers who have gone in the top five since 2005, and Jameson Taillon is the only one who has gone second overall.
2. Anderson Espinoza stands only 6-foot tall, and history has not been kind to those with that small of stature, so to speak.
3. There has NEVER been a right-handed prep pitcher taken with the first overall pick. Sorry, it bore repeating.
With those caveats set in place, I asked three scouts who have seen Espinoza pitch and are also familiar with the workings of the MLB Draft where they think he’d go if he were eligible for the 2016 draft.
AL West Scout: “I think he’d go somewhere in the top five, maybe the top three. A lot of it is going to depend on the signing bonus, of course, but in terms of talent, I cannot imagine he isn’t on par with any of the players who were selected that early. I think the one concern is the size, I’m not completely sold he’s going to hold up over 200 innings, which is something I’d want for someone I’m taking that early. When you consider how advanced his stuff already is, however, that helps alleviate some of the concerns. The only other name I heard mentioned as a top of the rotation guy was Jason Groome, and Espinoza certainly has a chance to be one, too.”
AL East Scout: “Well, I’d take him first overall, I think he’s the best starting pitching prospect in the lower-levels. I don’t get to make the choice [however] so what I would do isn’t all that important. Based on what my colleagues have said about Riley Pint, it sounds like they are fairly similar but Espinoza with more complete stuff, so I imagine he probably takes his place with the fourth pick. My concern would actually be the same as my concern with Pint: When you throw that hard that early, I think you’re asking for trouble, and we’ve seen examples of this time and time again over the past couple of years. The good news is Espinoza is still a stud even if he took a tick or two off his fastball; he’s just so advanced with his secondary stuff for someone this young.
NL Central Scout: “It’s impossible to say because of these allocation fund rules, but I can’t imagine he wouldn’t go in the first ten selections. He’s got a 70 fastball, a 60 curve, and a 55 change, but what separates him is his ability to throw strikes, you typically don’t see that from someone at that age. He actually reminds me of Brady Aiken from the right-side because of that, it’s all just very easy for him.”
“All that being said, this kind of talent is going to cost a [lot] of money. And if you are the Phillies, Reds or Braves, are you going to want to spend all of your cash on a guy who can only help you every fifth day and has size concerns? I’m not completely sold they’d do that. There’s no way he’d get past San Diego or a team like that, but because this has become such a numbers game, I don’t think he’d go in the first couple of selections.”
Surprised? I am too. I suppose you can say that the AL East scout was willing to take him with the first overall pick, but that wasn’t really the exercise. We wanted to see where Anderson Espinoza would go in the 2016 draft, not where he should go. No one can deny his talent. You’d have to have some sort of weird, sick hatred towards pitchers with two last names to deny that this is one of the most talented pitching prospects in all of baseball.
Unfortunately—for me and a few others anyway—baseball is a sport where money plays just as big of a part in the draft as the talent of the player. That has only been amplified by the new draft allocation fund rules, and even a talent like Espinoza would see his draft stock play a part. There are some legitimate reasons that he wouldn’t be the first overall selection, but the financial implications would play the biggest factor. That’s kind of sad, isn’t it?
Thank you for reading
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Financial implications are going to be the biggest single factor in *any* draft question. The anticipated signing bonus for Espinoza (or anyone else) can't be separated from speculation about where he might've been selected.
The interesting question is where Espinoza might've ranked on BP's ranking of top draft prospects, and you've shed a little bit of light on that here. Thanks.
Financial considerations come into play after you've decided preference based on talent and projection.