Toronto Blue Jays 2017 top prospects: #24, RHP Jose Espada

Oct 4, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays hat and glove lay in the dugout against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 4, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays hat and glove lay in the dugout against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Jose Espada is entering his third season with the Blue Jays, who hope this is the season he makes the jump as a prospect

Outside of an organization’s top-20 prospects, there is typically a mix of safe-but-limited college draftees and all-upside lottery tickets. Right-handed pitcher Jose Espada represents the latter, but does offer advanced feel for the game at his age.

The Puerto Rican will turn 20 in late February and is entering his second full season in the organization after being selected in the 2015 draft.

Espada’s 2015 debut quickly established him as an arm to watch while playing in the Gulf Coast League. He pitched 34.1 innings coming out of the draft, holding a 3.41 ERA and an impressive 0.961 WHIP. In 2016, he made the jump up to Bluefield which was a tale of two seasons.

Name: Jose Espada
Position: SP        Age: 19
Height: 6’0”    Age: 170 lbs.
Throws: Right            Bats: Right
Acquired: 2015 MLB Draft (Round 5)

Espada threw 53.0 innings for the Bluefield Jays last year, covering 10 starts and a pair of relief appearances. His 4.92 ERA jumps off the sheet a bit, but at this stage in his development and over such small sample sizes, that shouldn’t be a cause for worry.

Had Espada performed at a ~5.00 ERA level consistently through the season, that might be more underwhelming from a prospect standpoint, but he saved his stock heading into the winter by pitching much better over his final six outings.

First 6:  0-4, 7.50 ERA, opponent OPS of .902
Last 6:  3-0, 2.79 ERA, opponent OPS of .544

The oddity between these two halves, however, is that his strikeout rate dropped significantly over the final six despite much stronger results (only 12 K in 29 IP).

By cutting an already small sample size in half we are further welcoming the variables of batted ball luck and team defence (which plays a huge role in rookie ball). The numbers trended in the right direction, however, and regardless of what can be extracted from the change, Espada did salvage his season.

On the mound, the six-foot, 170-pound Espada has a smooth and natural throwing motion:

This loose delivery may allow Espada to squeeze some extra velocity out of his fastball as he develops over the next few seasons. He currently tops out in the low-90s, but by age 22 when Espada could be pushing for the middle levels of the minors, it’s conceivable that he is able to reach up and touch ~94 MPH. The room is there, at the very least.

In a perfect world, the Blue Jays could give Espada three inches and 30 pounds. In reality, the frame of a prototypical pitcher is often broken, so Espada’s size alone shouldn’t be viewed as a negative. Working within the frame he does have, there should be room for him to add muscle as he finishes his physical maturation. Doing so will allow him to sustain his velocity as his workload is expanded.

Expect the Blue Jays to push him along as a starter in the immediate future, but further down the line, Espada could be a candidate for a move to the bullpen if he plateaus in the rotation. His fastball has room to add life and his curveball has some potential (albeit very raw).

With a big spring, Espada could sneak on to the Lansing Lugnuts (single-A) roster this season. Otherwise, that will be the goal by season’s end.

Missing bats will be the key to Espada’s trip up the ladder in 2017. He did that well in his 2015 debut but struck out just 5.4 batters per nine innings in his inconsistent 2016. There hasn’t been an issue with his control yet, which gives him a strong base, but the summer ahead will determine the prospect path that Espada is put on long term: legitimate fast-riser or an upside-reliant project.

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