How long can a great player hang on to their place by name and past performance alone?
Guardians prospect Daniel Espino is learning — not long.
Espino was recently banging on the door of a top-10 minor league ranking.
But after missing almost the entire season with a knee injury, he’s seen his place in MLB.com’s farm system rankings slip.
Fortunately, Espino didn’t crater completely, a sign that the experts still believe in his value whenever he does return healthy.
Back in May, Espino was one of the biggest risers among any minor leaguer.
MLB.com started him off at No. 49, before ultimately slotting him at No. 11 — the biggest rise of any minor leaguer at the time.
But after months with absolutely no time spent on the mound, those same experts had to lower the righty.
The drop wasn’t significant — he moved down to No. 16 — but it was a sign that Espino’s stock had dropped ever so slightly.
It’s not something that should be earth-shattering.
— Bally Sports Cleveland (@BallySportsCLE) August 19, 2022
He’ll be right back on the edge of the top-10, or better, so long as he rediscovers the pre-injury form.
Perhaps what’s more disappointing is that Espino’s failed to continue climbing despite the flurry of call-ups this season.
For instance, Adley Rutschmann, who began the season as the nation’s top minor league prospect, was called up by the Orioles several months back.
That would, in theory, open up a spot in the top-10 for Espino, had he been healthy.
Instead, he’s seen names like Elly De La Cruz and Eury Perez leapfrog him.
Espino started out as one of the best storylines in the minors, another future ace in the offing for Cleveland.
The quicker he gets back on the mound to remind people of his ability, the better.
Nonetheless, with a preseason ranking at No. 53, Espino was still one of the league’s top risers by midseason, up 37 spots.
Four other Guardians made the updated top-100 list: George Valera, Gavin Williams, Brayan Rocchio, and Bo Naylor.
The Guardians are tied for fifth-most in the top 100, behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Baltimore Orioles, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Texas Rangers.
Both the Dodgers and Cardinals’ farm system rankings benefitted from losing out on the Juan Soto sweepstakes.
The Padres, who landed Soto, lost most of their significant minor leaguers.
After the trade, the Friars were left with only two players in the top 100 (both in the bottom-12).
And had the Guardians been in on Soto, they too would likely have lost three or four of their top-five prospects.
It would have been a death blow to the farm, even if an instant boost to the team in Cleveland.
The Guardians and Cavs are so similar right now. Both teams have super-talented young cores, rosters with good guys who are easy to cheer for, and both in the early stages of building championship-caliber teams. Really exciting time to be a fan!#ForTheLand #LetEmKnow pic.twitter.com/LBKFLPF5Xs
— 1st Place Guardians (@OurCLEGuardians) August 14, 2022
And the loaded farm for Cleveland is perfectly aligned with what the club is striving for this season: evaluating young players.
Bo Naylor’s professional debut likely isn’t too far away, with a midseason call-up next year in the cards.
And Espino was once pegged to perhaps make next season’s Opening Day roster.
But those hopes have likely been dashed after this significant injury.
His timeline might be more on track now with Williams, a fellow pitcher.
If both make their debuts around the same time, watch out.
A future lineup of Espino, Williams, and Triston McKenzie could be fun to watch.