The Blue Jays have made their first trade of the pre-deadline period and send oft-injured, defensively-challenged-yet-solid-offensively, extraneous first-baseman/outfielder Steve Pearce (plus cash considerations) to the Boston Red Sox for minor league shortstop Santiago Espinal.
The trading of Pearce opens up some roster flexibility for the Blue Jays, allowing them to bring up someone like Lourdes Gurriel, who can play multiple positions of greater defensive value than Pearce’s 1B/LF combination. The move is also similar to the trades the Blue Jays made last year, selling off some of their cheaper parts in exchange for minor leaguers. Last year, the Jays traded Jason Grilli for minor league outfielder Eduard Pinto and traded reliever Joe Smith for lefty Thomas Pannone and infielder Samad Taylor.
Coming out of Miami Dade Community College, Santiago Espinal was selected in the 10th round by the Boston Red Sox and he signed for $50,000 when the slot value was $157,200. He has “above-average range to both sides” (according to Sox Prospects) and has a “contact-oriented swing.” This year, however, he’s garnered a little bit more attention, hitting .313/.363/.477 in Advanced-A (after hitting .280/.334/.358 in Class-A last year) with 15 doubles, three triples and seven home runs and made Fangraphs’ “Fringe Five” prospects for the week of May 11, 2018.
Espinal stands 5’10” and weighs in at 175 pound, giving him little hope for generating a lot of power, yet, this year, he’s improved his ISO (Isolated slugging) to .164 which is much better than his two previous marks of .023 in 2016 and .077 in 2017. The reports were that he was coming off a hand injury in his draft year and it often takes a year or two for a player’s power to come back after injuries to the hand or wrist so this power may have been there in his college days or it may have been the result of a swing adjustment. Looking at Espinal’s batted ball data this year, he has a slightly high BABIP at .336 and is hitting 32.6% line drives, which is likely a bit of a high number. He’s also hitting just 31.2% of balls on the ground while putting up a career-high 36.2% fly ball rate. If he’s got a new swing path, it’s likely that his power numbers (which are solid for a mid-minor leaguer) are sustainable.
Espinal also has some speed, stealing nine bases in 10 tries this year and 20 bases in 26 attempts last year and he also doesn’t strike out a lot – going down on strikes in just 6.4% of plate apeparances and walking in 12.5%. That kind of plate discipline is excellent and his improvement in power with a a drop in strikeout rate is rare. It must be said that Espinal is 23 and is certainly not young for his level, giving his projectability a bit of a knock.
Overall, the acquisition of Espinal is one that is not going to be greeted with a ton of enthusiasm but if he is able to maintain his level of production, particularly if he moves up a level this year or next, he could be on the path to being a valuable organizational player who has a shot at a big league job as a utility player.
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