It’s not very often that a team finds a regular starter through the Rule 5 draft. Joe Biagini comes to mind as well as Elvis Luciano, who pitched for the Jays in 2019 when he was 18, is a useful prospect. However, did you know that the minor leagues also have a Rule 5 portion of the draft as well?
In the 2021 Jays lost Tanner Kirwer and Curtis Taylor to the Mariners and Nationals respectively. They also added 23-year-old right-handed pitcher Abdiel Mendoza. Why is this important? Well, prospect #13, Sebastian Espino was chosen in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft.
The 21-year-old 3B/OF was chosen in the minor league portion of the 2020 Rule 5 draft. Out of any prospect on my Top 20 list, Espino has the largest range in terms of potential. Prior to being picked up by the Jays, it didn’t seem this way.
In his first professional season, the then 17-year-old slashed .267/.338/.772 in the Dominican Summer League (DOSL) in 269 plate appearances. Espino also added two home runs and had a K% of 22.3% with a BB% of 8.2%. For a 17-year-old, this wasn’t awful. Espino had a brief spell with the Gulf Coast Mets team, but only had 18 plate appearances.
In 2018 with the Gulf Coast team, he had a slash line of .267/.329/.696 in 169 plate appearances. He didn’t register a home run and his K% and BB% were relatively the same as the season prior (23.1% K%, 8.9% BB%).
In 2019, he stayed with the Mets’ Gulf Coast team where his stats tailed off. In 202 plate appearances, he slashed .251/.303/.635 with two home runs. To add more insult to injury, his K% jumped to 30.2% and his BB% dropped to 5.9%. 2019 was by far the worst season of his career.
When the Jays picked him up in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft, they obviously saw something as they promoted him to High A Vancouver.
In turn, the 21-year-old had by far his best season to date. In 259 plate appearances, Espino slashed .295/.358/.869 (a lot of numbers that end in 69, nice). He doubled his professional home run total as well, as he hit eight homers in Vancouver. However, his K% of 27.4% was still rather high, which we’ll get into.
One notable difference in Espino’s game is the percentage of line drives he hit. Mentioned in an earlier prospect article, line drives have the highest batting average out of any batted balls. In his prior three seasons, Espino had a line drive (LD%) of 16.02%. In 2021, his LD% skyrocketed to 27.4%, which explains his drastic batting average increase and above average BABIP of .386. His LD% ranked the 10th highest in High A with batters over 200 plate appearances.
Prior to the start of the 2021, if you had told me Espino would be anything more than a non-prospect, you would have gotten a funny look. However, his 2021 stats are quite impressive, especially for a 21-year-old in High A.
What the scouts say:
According to TSN’s Scott Mitchell he has a great arm meaning that the 21-year-old is likely to stick at third base. While there is a lot to like about Espino, including his defensive abilities and versatility, scouts are concerned about his approach at the plate. Espino is swing happy, in fact, per Fangraphs, he swings at pitches well out of the zone and has one of the lowest contact rates for Vancouver.
The table below shows his grades according to Fangraphs.
|Tool||Current Value||Future Value|
While I agree with his approach being an issue (remember his K% of 27.4%), I believe his hit tool should be valued a little bit higher. The 21-year-old utility player has made adjustments to hit line drives and this shows in his 15 doubles and 8 home runs.
Espino in 2022:
As there is no Rule 5 draft for the Major leagues this season, Espino will stay a Blue Jay barring any trade. The soon to be 22-year-old will likely start his season in Double A. It’s a big season for the young man as the jump to New Hampshire will be a big test. If he can cut down the strikeouts and be more selective with his swings while maintaining his high LD%, he’ll turn heads.
Either way, Espino has an interesting story that perhaps I will explore as the season progresses. Expectations weren’t high for the utility player, but he sure exceeded them and then some.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter @Brennan_L_D. The Jays 12th best prospect is a player who I’m very excited about. In fact, he’s the only prospect in the list that plays that position. Take a guess in the comment section below who you think it is.