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.
Heading into 2007 there were high expectations on Espinoza, and he fulfilled many of them. Despite not taking home the same extensive hardware as during the previous seasons, he still put together a fine campaign. Most impressively, Alexis led the Venezuelan Summer League in home runs with 12, and finished the season with an inspired .268/.313/.587 line.
Espinoza's stateside debut was nothing to write home about, but the scouting reports were far more positive than the statistical results. After a very rough start to the GCL season, Alexis went .315/.321/.407 in August and was the Runner-Up for the TigsTown GCL Player of the Month. For the season, Espinoza appeared in 39 games and finished with a .266/.273/.387 line.
Espinoza is an immensely talented young player that didn't see that raw ability translate to the field in his first trip stateside. Scouts I spoke with indicated Espinoza's tools were evident, he just didn't see the hits fall and didn't catch any breaks. It didn't help that he swung at everything in his zip code in Lakeland, leaving him very vulnerable to off-speed pitches outside the zone. His plate discipline has always been a work in progress, but it really regressed against more advanced pitchers in the GCL.
One thing that was evident in both BP and in games was Alexis' power. He has well above-average raw power in all fields and it was on display for scouts on a few occasions. Reports indicated he was routinely hitting the ball hard, hits just weren't falling his way. With quick hands and a short path to the ball, Espinoza can whip the bat through the zone and generate plenty of pop on any pitch, anywhere in the zone.
Defensively, Alexis is a solid defender but his routes and jumps still need improvement for him to be considered a positive in the field. He has slightly above-average speed, though he is likely to lose a step as he fills out. His arm is strong enough to play anywhere, but with the rest of his defensive package, he is likely destined for left field in the long run.
There is a ton of potential trapped inside this young player, but there is also a ton of development left to attain. If he begins to put things together, Espinoza could be a fine prospect and an outfielder worth really keeping an eye on.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% R
There have been some minor injury issues with Espinoza, but nothing with enough substance to draw red flags going forward. Alexis is generally in excellent shape and has a strong work ethic that should allow him to avoid long term injury issues.
It appears to have been a precipitous fall from his high rankings of the past, but don't let that fool you into thinking he doesn't merit attention. Espinoza is still one of the more purely talented outfielders in the system; he just has a lot further to go than scouts guessed before he hit the states.
With full development, the Tigers could have an outfielder capable of mashing the ball to all fields. Without full development, they could be looking at a Marcus Thames type player that can slug, strike out, and play mediocre defense. Either way, even modest gains in translating tools to the field should result in a player that sees the big leagues at some point.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.