General Manager A.J. Preller’s remake of the San Diego Padres organization took another massive step forward on Thursday when the club acquired Anderson Espinoza in exchange for first-time All-Star Drew Pomeranz.
The 18-year-old righty, who was the top 2014 international signing class pitcher, came stateside last June and has already established himself among the top pitching prospects at in the game, even though his production has lagged a bit behind his talent thus far in the Low-A South Atlantic League.
Working with a fastball that already sits in the mid- to upper-90s, the short Venezuelan hurler also has both a change and curve that are already above-average at times and can flash plus. He has a very fast arm action without too much effort in his delivery, giving plenty of reason for scouts to get excited about his future prospects.
While the club’s front office had been reticent to use the word “rebuilding” heading into the season, the deal is the fourth major future-focused trade in eight months – and third that revolved around a high-end, young arm has the primary return for a big-league pitcher.
Espinosa will join a Fort Wayne staff that already features fellow trade acquisitions Chris Paddack (Fernando Rodney trade this month), J.C. Cosme (Odrisamer Despaigne) and currently-DL’ed Logan Allen (Craig Kimbrel), and early 2015 draftees Jake Nix and Austin Smith.
In combination with the high-upside/high-risk arms at the top of this year’s draft class and an international signing group highlighted by 17-year-old Cuban lefty Adrian Morejon, Preller and his top advisors have added a remarkable amount of [admittedly volatile] pitching talent in the lower levels of the system.
Espinoza’s size, stuff and signing organization have drawn him the relatively obvious comparisons to Pedro Martinez – who was, of course, involved in a trade himself when he was a precocious 21-year-old - though the two pitching profiles are not exactly the same.
The cost to secure Espinoza was steep. The team traded away Pomeranz less than a week after he was added to the National League All-Star Team as an injury replacement. The big lefty, himself once the crown jewel prospect in a trade that sent then-All-Star Ubaldo Jimenez to the Cleveland Indians for a playoff push, has emerged this year as a high-strikeout starter capable of shutting down any lineup.
While Pomeranz will remain incredibly affordable during his two remaining years of team control, the Padres are acknowledging that their window of opportunity probably won’t open in that time. There were some concerns that waiting to trade him, as the team did with both Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross last summer, might not increase his trade value.
The Padres have already been the most active seller on the trade market, and it’s quite likely that this is just the beginning.
With Austin Hedges and Hunter Renfroe both waiting on the El Paso roster for a shot at the big leagues, it seems likely that Preller will look to move short-term pieces like Derek Norris, Melvin Upton, Jr., and – once he’s healthy – Jon Jay. If he’s concerned about Cashner accepting a qualifying offer this winter, Preller could also trade the big Texan, as well as any of several bullpen pieces.
If they come, those trades may not actually decrease the overall position-player talent on the Padres roster significantly because of what they have on the farm. But finding viable options for the big league rotation is going to be difficult.
Edwin Jackson, recently signed to a minor league deal after being released by his second organization in less than a year, was scheduled to start Thursday night’s game for the Chihuahuas, but was held back, presumably to take the roster spot of Pomeranz.
El Paso’s top performing starter over the last month, Michael Kelly, is having his innings managed after already matching his career-high workload from 2015 and was just sent back to Double-A. Brandon Morrow just rejoined the Chihuahuas on another attempt to come back from his offseason shoulder surgery and Valley Fever, though he may only work in relief at this point.
Beyond those two, San Antonio’s Aaron Northcraft and Dinelson Lamet appear to be the next options to make big league starts in the organization. Northcraft has struggled in his attempts at Triple-A since 2014, while Lamet – although quite talented – is still trying to get his legs under him in his first taste of Double-A.