Giants Top 50: #16 - Geno Espineli

Relievers are an undervalued lot. In the majors, they're often the afterthoughts of team-building. In the minors, they're often ignored unless they are a closer, and even then aren't always respected. However, every team needs them, and needs quite a few. But when relievers get a chance to start, they can finally get noticed, and that's what happened to one in 2006. #16 is Geno Espineli!

#16 - Geno Espineli
Date of Birth: 09/08/1982 Position: P Height: 6'4" Weight: 195 Bats: L Throws: L
Acquired: Drafted in the 14th Round (#430 Overall) of the 2004 Draft
2006 Stats
Team-Level W L ERA G GS SV IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG G/F
Connecticut - AA 8 7 4.11 35 13 2 107.1 117 52 49 6 29 65 .283 1.20

Eugene ‘Geno' Espineli wasn't on this list last year.  But between last year's list and this year's, he showed one thing he could do: start!

Espineli has been a solid reliever for most of his career since being a 14th round pick by the Giants out of TCU in 2004, and even got a cup of coffee at Fresno late 2005 after a spectacular season as a setup man in San Jose.  And though hard hits and bad numbers marred his time in Fresno, he bounced back in Double-A this season.

A look at his stats won't impress you though.  What the stats don't tell you is that his season was separated into two parts; his time in the bullpen and a surprising move to the rotation.  Espineli got a spot start, his first in three seasons of professional baseball, in late June, and the start went surprisingly well.  After one more bullpen outing, Geno got another start in which he allowed no runs over 6 innings, and after that he made only one more relief appearance for the season.

Espineli's time as a starter, though it started and ended well (his final game of the year was a complete game shutout), was quite rocky and he had a couple of particularly bad stretches.  But what Espineli did display was an ability to start and pitch longer outings, facing batters more than once, and doing more good than not despite having stuff that most would consider particularly sub-par.

Espineli's ability to use his stuff in shorter situations looks better, when you consider that he had a 3.21 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 33.2 innings as a reliever, against a 4.52 ERA and just 37 strikeouts in 73.2 innings as a starter.

Espineli's fastball sits in the mid-80's, and when he's off, it can drop a bit.  Espineli works better when he's mixing in a big, slow curve and a good changeup.  The latter pitch has improved, and is effective when the fastball is at its tops.  Espineli also makes the most of an unconventional delivery, which gives him some deception to work with.  He throws with a low arm-slot, and his mechanics continue to have room to improve, but he has moved up by strides since his debut in Salem-Keizer.

Although he started, Espineli continues to project as a reliever, and while his projection tops out as a setup man, his probable future will be as a left-handed specialist in the majors.  Being a left-handed specialist is not a bad thing.  Every team needs several relievers, and strong left-handers can be hard (and expensive) to find in free agency.  Espineli has displayed that he could be that.  But with his stint this year, he also showed that he can be used in a swingman type of role, one who can make the occasional fill-in start and take pressure off of both the rotation and the bullpen when situations call.  Although Espineli got hit harder the more exposure he received as a starter, he showed that his deceptive delivery and mix of pitches can be effective even over multiple innings when he hasn't been exposed.

There is one spot of serious concern, however, because Espineli was actually hit significantly harder by left handed batters this year, batting .359 against the .258 that right handers batted.  Some of that occurred during Espineli's time as a starter, so it's possible that more use in relief will help Espineli be more effective in the future.

Espineli's jump on this list may seem unprecipitated or unwarranted, and his numbers in Connecticut don't excite, but when viewed in context, Espineli looks a lot better.  He's expanded his potential future to two valuable roles, and just as importantly, made the jump from Single-A to Double-A and survived.

Espineli's 2007 could have him back in Fresno, where he was hammered in 2005.  He should be much better prepared this time, and should be back in the bullpen.  And while the Giants have relief prospects who are much more exciting, Espineli's workman production should give him a real shot at the majors by the end of the season, and legitimate chances in Spring Training to break camp with the team as soon as 2008.



Have any questions about these prospects, or perhaps some we haven't named? SFDugout.com will be answering your questions throughout this series! Send your questions to sfdugout@yahoo.com!

Check out the other prospects at the Top 50 Prospects Index!



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