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2017 IBI Top 75 Prospects: #25 Matt Esparza

The 2017 countdown continues with a pitcher who was a bit of an unknown coming out of the 2015 Draft but is someone who the Indians were very intrigued with and felt he was a dark horse from that draft and has settled in well into the organization...

25. Matt Esparza - Right-handed Pitcher

Born: 08/22/1994 - Height: 6'2" - Weight: 195 - Bats: Right - Throws: Right

Facts & Info: Esparza was selected by the Indians in the 14th round of the 2015 Draft out of the University of California-Irvine. He started his college career at the University of Tennessee before transferring to a junior college at Cypress College for his sophomore season and then transferred to UC-Irvine for his junior season.  In 2014 he was a first team All-Orange Empire Conference selection while with Cypress College. Last season, he tied for 10th in the Midwest League in wins (8) and was 12th in strikeouts (109), and would have been in the top 10 in ERA (3.14) had he stayed all year to qualify. He also finished 8th in the Indians organization in ERA (3.36) and 1st in strikeouts (141).

Stuff: Esparza is not a pure stuff guy, but he has an interesting mix of pitches with some upside to them and shows the ability to command them and locate to both sides of the plate. He features a solid average fastball that sits at 89-92 MPH and gets up to 93 MPH, and does a nice job of moving and locating it to all four quadrants. His fastball velocity and command both showed some improvement last season as he was more regularly in the low 90s and touching 93 MPH and was better at attacking the zone with it and showing no fear to pitch inside with it. The best pitch in his arsenal is an above average curveball that he shows an advanced feel for spin and really commands well. It has some excellent bite and good shape and is a legit Major League offering that he can get some swing and miss with. His developing changeup is a work in progress and has some potential to be an average offering for him, but it lacks consistency because his feel comes and goes with it. He also mixes in a fringy slider to give hitters a different look to his breaking ball and is a pitch that may eventually be shelved in order to concentrate on just developing the changeup and using a three pitch mix.

Delivery & Intangibles: Esparza has a nice, strong frame that provides the strength and durability needed to haul innings, and he has the athleticism and delivery which allow for him to repeat his delivery, display some clean arm action and be sound mechanically. As a former college shortstop, he brings that athleticism he had as a shortstop to the mound as he fields his position very well. He has tremendous mound presence with a lot of pitchability, strong mental toughness and maintains a good demeanor which makes him a bulldog when he pitches. He’s thoughtful and deliberate in what he does, the game doesn’t speed up on him and he shows the aptitude to make quick adjustments. He mixes his pitches well and is not afraid to pitch inside and is able to expand the zone, and is a great competitor who has a strong desire to win.

Focus: Esparza came into the organization as a fresh arm with limited mound experience, so the Indians have been working to build him up from the ground up and have seen some great results to date. They have worked with him to establish his routines and add some strength and bulk to his frame through a regimented strength and conditioning program. He had a tendency to collapse his back leg and work uphill, so the Indians worked on some mechanical adjustments to his delivery last season and used the additional strength incorporated into his frame to make a correction and really settle into a delivery that works well for him where he is more powerful and he can repeat it well. The hope is that as he repeats his delivery better and he is able to get more power out of it that down the road it will help him improve the command of all of his pitches and also add a tick or two of velocity to his fastball. As he continues to refine his delivery and gains more mound experience the hope is that he will also get better with locating to both sides of the plate and more consistently down in the zone. His changeup is a key pitch for him and the third pitch he needs as a starter, so he is working to get more consistent with the feel of it, locating it to the bottom of the zone and gaining more confidence in it.

Future: From the his senior year of high school until his last year of college, Esparza went through four different schools and coaches, so he never had that stability that allowed for growth and to tap into his natural talents. The Indians believed that once he entered into a stable environment that it would foster his growth and his true talent would show, and so far that has been the case. He has really settled into the organization well and was a hidden gem out of the 2015 Draft that they were excited to see what would transpire with him once he hit the pro circuit, and he’s done a great job with a career 3.11 ERA, 2.4 BB/9, 9.6 K/9, 4.00 K/BB and 1.27 GO/AO (groundball rate). What makes those numbers impressive is that he still has not come close to peaking as a prospect. He came into the organization with minimal pitching experience because he didn’t start pitching until his senior year in high school and is an arm the Indians are sort of developing on the fly, but because he already is so advanced with his strike throwing and is so athletic and can make adjustments easily he is getting an opportunity to develop as a starting pitcher and see where it takes him. He should continue on a starting pitching development path and should return to High-A Lynchburg to start the year in what could be a big anchor year for him as a starting pitching prospect and quiet some doubters at the same time, all of which could propel him higher up the prospect totem pole in the organization.

Ranking History: #69 (2016)

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