Espinoza joined the Tigers an amateur free agent in June of 2006, and promptly made his debut for the Tigers joint Venezuelan Summer League team with the Florida Marlins. Even at 17-years old, Alexis wasted no time bursting on the scene and driving the ball around VSL parks. Through his first 27 games, Alexis posted an impressive .294/.348/.447 line that had many thinking he was worth keeping an eye on.
Espinoza laid any doubts about his potential and whether he was worth watching to rest with an electric second month (.386/.427/.600) that saw him take home the TigsTown VSL Player of the Month Award; the first award ever given to a player at that level by TigsTown. In the end, Espinoza's .855 OPS and 80% success rate on stolen bases were enough to garner TigsTown's VSL Player of the Year Award as well.
Espinoza has a complete skill-set that includes above-average speed which he uses extremely well, particularly for a player of such youth. He runs well on the bases, and takes very good angles in the outfield, rarely needing to move at top speed to catch up to gappers. His arm is also above-average, and he generates plenty of carry on balls thrown all over the field. His defensive package is currently capable of handling centerfield, but he will likely move to a corner down the line, where the rest of his game should continue to play well.
His hitting stroke is very good, and he repeats his swing plane well. He generates good line drive power, and should add loft and homerun power as he adds muscle in the coming years. He must improve his understanding of the strike zone and demonstrate an ability to lay off mediocre offerings, waiting for a pitch he can drive with authority. He has an aggressive approach at the plate, and is never likely to be a player that walks a significant amount, but just understanding the zone better, would help him take advantage of his raw strength and natural hitting ability.
About the only drawback in Espinoza's game at this time, is his work ethic and attitude. He doesn't tend to see the need for rigorous work, as his natural abilities are able to carry him at this time. As he faces stiffer competition, I expect his views towards working hard to change. Much of his attitude and work ethic issues are easily attributed to age at this point, and he should outgrow them without much trouble.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% R
During his extremely brief career, Espinoza has remained healthy. He is in excellent physical condition and is a naturally gifted athlete.
The Tigers are treading on new ground right now, having never had a group of players graduate from a VSL squad. In the past, the Tigers had pushed Venezuelan prospects such as Gorkys Hernandez to the DSL to make their debut. It will be interesting to see what track the organization takes with Espinoza. The VSL is obviously no challenge for him, and the DSL likely isn't going to pose much of one either. If the Tigers opt to be aggressive with Espinoza, assigning him to the GCL in June, he will likely be one of the youngest players in the league.
Espinoza has all the tools scouts love in young players; now he just has to translate them to success on the diamond. The Tigers are likely to be very careful with him to start, not wanting to overwhelm him with any assignment. If they get a chance to see him early on in 2007, and he performs well in front of the brass, he could come stateside this season and really start to get on radar screens as a legit prospect.
Mark Anderson covers the Tigers' minor league system and all of minor league baseball for TigsTown.com. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.