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Getting to know Paolo Espino

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Photo credit:© Jeff Le - USA Today
Brennan Delaney
2 months ago
The Blue Jays finally made a transaction on Saturday.
Two days before Christmas, the Blue Jays signed Paolo Espino, according to Jon Heyman. Per a Sportsnet article, it is a minor league deal, which likely means the Blue Jays are trying to bolster their starting pitching depth.
That begs the question, what does Espino bring to the table?
The 36-year-old was drafted all the way back in 2006 in the tenth-round, and spent his first nine seasons in the minor leagues (mainly Triple-A) with various organizations, including Cleveland, Washington, Texas, and Milwaukee.
He didn’t make the big leagues until he was 30 years old , pitching just 24 innings with a 6 ERA and a 6.91 FIP with the Brewers and the Rangers in 2017. He spent another several seasons in the minor leagues, before pitching six innings with the Washington Nationals during the 2020 season.
Espino didn’t get his big break until 2021 when he was 34. He pitched 109.2 innings with the Nationals and had a 4.27 ERA and a 4.46 FIP, along with a 20.2 K% and 5.5 BB%. The Panama-native appeared in 35 games, and started 19 of them in what was his best season of his career.
The right-handed pitcher stuck around with the Nationals in 2022, posting a 4.84 ERA and a 4.93 FIP in 113.1 innings pitched, along with an 18.9 K% and a 4.9 BB%, the latter being the lowest in his career. He was certainly not an ace these two seasons, but he ate innings for a bad team, which is all you can ask for.
Unfortunately for Espino, the 2023 season didn’t go quite his way. He pitched just four innings in three appearances and allowed an insane 11 earned runs in that time, as well as three walks and three strikeouts. Espino pitched an additional 60.1 innings in Triple-A, before being released on August 6.
While the 2023 major league season was quite poor for Espino, he’s been having success in his nine starts with Toros del Este, where he has a 2.40 ERA in 48.2 innings pitched, along with 25.8 K% and a 5.3 BB%.
The name of the game for Espino isn’t velocity. In Triple-A, his fastball averaged just 87.7 mph, generating just a 9.6 whiff % on 407 pitches thrown. His changeup barely had any velocity difference, as the off-speed pitch averaged 84 mph for a 15.9 whiff %. The mid-70s sweeper was okay, as it had a 20.2 whiff percentage, but his bread and butter is the curveball.
Espino’s best pitch is his big ol’ looping curveball, averaging just 70.3 mph with Washington’s Triple-A team. The breaking ball earned his highest whiff % of 41.7%, and per Prospects Live, a 116.23 Stuff+, the highest of any of his four pitches. Not just that, but Espino locates the pitch fantastically, as he had a 112.04 Location+ on the pitch.
As for why they signed Espino, well, that’s pretty easy to answer. The Blue Jays rotation is set in stone for the most part, with Kevin Gausman, José Berríos, Chris Bassitt, and Yusei Kikuchi locking down four of the five spots. Alek Manoah (a 2022 Cy Young finalist), Mitch White, and Bowden Francis are expected to fight for the final spot.
However, other than Ricky Tiedemann and the other seven pitchers I mentioned, the Jays don’t have a ton of starters in the upper minors who’d be ready to fill in if there’s an injury.
There’s a good chance that Espino will never pitch for the Jays, and if he does, it’s not a good situation to be in as it means the rotation is hurting badly. There’s usually several points at which a veteran on a minor league deal can opt out (five days before the start of the season, May 1, and June 1), so he may only be in the organization for a few months. However, it’s never a bad idea to have a starter with major league experience on stand by.

As always, you can follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Threads @Brennan_L_D.

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