Don’t look now, but the Guardians might have Bob Feller 2.0 floating around the minors.
In a game Saturday for Cleveland’s Double-A affiliate Akron RubberDucks, RHP Daniel Espino fanned the first 11 batters he faced.
He finished the day with 14 strikeouts and no walks through five innings.
14 strikeouts. 0 walks.
It was an outing to remember for No. 2 @CleGuardians prospect Daniel Espino with the @AkronRubberDuck. https://t.co/zApC8UwRGn pic.twitter.com/PQDkwJC5u8
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) April 24, 2022
Espino is the Guardian’s No. 2 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, and the league’s No. 52 overall prospect.
That ranking makes Espino the highest-rated Guardians pitching prospect since CC Sabathia.
According to FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, Espino is a “unicorn”:
“[Espino] ranked up there in sheer power and dominance with what I saw from Gerrit Cole in the 2011 Fall League, Stephen Strasburg’s first home start at Double-A Harrisburg (which was so heavily attended that the stadium sold out of food and suffered a brownout), and (hesitates to type the following) a Jacob deGrom start in Arizona last year.”
You read that correctly.
Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Jacob deGrom.
But even if Espino doesn’t reach the apexes of Cole or deGrom (two of the league’s most dominant pitchers of the last half-decade), he looks the part of a future ace.
And just like the Heater From Van Meter, Espino’s pitches took no time to touch 100+ MPH.
Cleveland prospect Daniel Espino, owner of a 100-mph fastball and electric slider, struck out the first ELEVEN batters of the game tonight before finally surrendering a solo home run to what I assume must be some omnipotent power.
— Zack Meisel (@ZackMeisel) April 23, 2022
After the game, Espino explained that it wasn’t the strikeouts or shifty curveball that he was most proud of in his performance:
“If I’m just able to attack hitters and keep them off the bases — hits are going to happen, balls are going to get hit, that’s part of baseball — but if I’m able to control what I can control, and being able to limit walks, that’s the best thing for me and that’s the best thing I can take away from this outing.”
He’s not bragging about how he dropped the first eleven batters.
Or his fourteen strikeouts.
He’s most concerned about control.
Not only does he look the part, but he sounds like an ace, too.
Thus far in 2022, Espino has sat down 30-of-50 batters that he’s faced (60%).
That number is second in the minors, behind Philadelphia’s Andrew Painter.
That rate is devastating, on par with Thanos’ finger-snap or a Whitney Houston falsetto.
The Guardians will likely need an electric arm like Espino’s.
While the team has shown a great ability to develop talent, Espino is not only the best arm in the Guardians’ system, but he’s the only one close to making it out of the minors.
The franchise has seen a slew of excellent talent take the mound in recent years, including Cy Young winners Shane Bieber (2020), Corey Kluber (2014, 2017), and Cliff Lee (2018).
With a mind-bending slider and turbo-charged fastball, Espino has the tools to be the next great.
He may not come through this year, but keep an eye out for him.
Because when he does make it to the big leagues, make sure you get to your seat at Progressive Field early.
Or else you just might miss the first dozen batters.
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