Jeff Nycz

MadFriars Q&A with Padres top pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza

It's not often that a pitcher in Low-A is traded straight up for a Major League All-Star. It's even less common for such a trade to be seen as a big win for the team moving the All-Star.

Anderson Espinoza made a name for himself in 2015 with a stellar stateside debut for the Red Sox as a 17-year-old. The Venezuelan righty posted a 0.68 ERA across 10 starts in the Gulf Coast League, striking out a batter an inning and flashing several potentially plus offerings. In July, the precocious hurler, midway through his first full-season campaign at 18 years of age, was traded straight up for Drew Pomeranz.

Over eight appearances for Fort Wayne, Espinoza showed flashes of brilliance, dialing his fastball up to the upper-90s and showing feel for both a curve and change-up that could be elite. But his overall performance was slightly less than the sum of the parts as he posted a pedestrian 4.73 ERA in 32.1 innings.

We talked to Espinoza (with translation help from Danny Sanchez) at Petco Park at the end of his instructional league program.

You had already had a fair amount of attention when you signed and then with your debut last year, but then you were traded straight-up for a big-leaguer and were in the news a lot more. Did that change anything in how you tried to go about your work in Fort Wayne?

Anderson Espinoza: At first, I was nervous and surprised when I first found out about the trade. It came as a shock. But now that I've been here, it's been a good change for me.  I don't really put any additional pressure on myself. Regardless of the organization, I'm going to work hard and compete to get to where I want to go. Whenever I take the mound, I'm going to work equally as hard as I was before the trade too.

When you made your U.S. debut, the reputation was that your change-up was your best offspeed pitch, but often this year, it seemed like you relied more on the curve. Is it just a matter of finding consistent feel for both pitches now?

Anderson Espinoza: When I was in the Dominican, I would say that my change was definitely my best secondary pitch. When I got here to the United States, I had some success with the curveball, so I really focused on it, working on it every day with the coaches. I was working on the mechanics, the release point, hitting both sides of the plate and controlling it. So luckily, by the end of the year, my curve had improved as well.

Were there any big differences you noticed in how the Red Sox organization went about things and what you were asked to do by the Padres coaching staff?

Anderson Espinoza: The main difference is that Boston has the name and the history, but San Diego has been a little more relaxed. In Boston, they explained everything they wanted me to do each day, but here with San Diego, I feel more comfortable with what I can do.

One of the advantages of instructs is you get away from the competition of games and can work on specific things. Was there anything in particular you focused on during instructional league?

Anderson Espinoza: I love instructs because it gives me a chance to work on things from the season. Working with Mark Prior has been huge for me. He's really focusing in on my bullpens. On the mound, I actually moved over to the right side of the rubber to disguise my pitches a little bit more and makes it harder for the batter to pick up my pitches. In instructs, I'd come into the ballgame in the fourth inning in really low pressure situations so I could really work on things. I'm really grateful for the instruct leagues, and for the work with Prior.

What's your plan for the rest of the winter? Will you be at the program in the Dominican in January?

Anderson Espinoza: I go back home tomorrow. I'm not going to the Dominican. I have the training schedule they gave to me, and I'll stick to it. I'm really just going to work on having a better season. In my eyes, I really didn't have the season I wanted to, so for me, it's important to keep working and improve.

Is your arm tired at the end of your first full season?

Anderson Espinoza: No. I feel good and I'm looking forward to next year.

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