Blue Jays converting minor league outfielder into pitcher

Which Jays prospect is making the big transformation from a position player into a pitcher?
Mar 12, 2024; Dunedin, Florida, USA;  a general view of the stadium
Mar 12, 2024; Dunedin, Florida, USA; a general view of the stadium / Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

For a baseball prospect trying to carve out a future career in the big leagues, making the right adjustments to their game during their growth and development is what enables them to become successful in the long run. Sometimes, those adjustments need to be quite substantial, as in the case for Sebastian Espino, a prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays system. The former positional player has taken on the challenge to re-invent himself as a pitcher for the 2024 season, with hopes that it will give him a better opportunity to reach the major leagues in the near future. 

Espino joined the Jays’ organization after he was selected in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft back in 2020. Originally a positional player, Espino put together a solid 2021 minor league season in which he compiled a .295 batting average, .859 OPS, along with 39 runs scored, 16 doubles, 5 triples, 8 home runs and 48 RBI while playing primarily as a third baseman and outfielder for the Jays’ High-A affiliate Vancouver Canadians. However, he posted an alarming strikeout rate of over 30% to go with his solid numbers.

That free-swinging habit of Espino would end up catching up to him, limiting his effectiveness in his following two seasons with Double-A New Hampshire. Playing mainly as an outfielder, he struggled immensely at the plate by hitting below .200 while posting an OPS below .600 and a strikeout rate of over 43% during each of his 2022 and 2023 seasons.

As a result, with his hitting regressing to mediocre levels, he was converted into a pitcher starting in 2024 to give himself a chance to succeed. Espino always possessed a strong rifle of an arm, as witnessed with his 17 outfield assists in 130 games as an outfielder during the past two seasons. So manifesting his strength into a potent delivery as a pitcher made a lot of sense.

To date, Espino has made three pitching appearances for the Jays’ Single-A affiliate Dunedin and has given up three runs on four hits with four walks and six strikeouts in just 3.2 innings of work. If we remove his abysmal second outing where he struggled with his command and gave up two runs on four walks, he actually has done quite well so far in his new role. In fact, by looking at some sample velocities he was hitting with his pitches, he seems perfectly built to be a future power pitcher-to-be.

The last time the Jays had a former player of prominence that converted from a positional player into a pitcher was the once-promising prospect Anthony Gose. Despite possessing tremendous speed, Gose was never able to reach his full potential both in the field and at the plate in his five major league seasons as an outfielder with the Jays and the Detroit Tigers. Eventually, he made his transition into a pitcher during the 2017 season while with the Tigers’ minor league system. He finally made it back to the big leagues serving in a relief role by 2021 with Cleveland. After a solid start to his MLB pitching career, his comeback hit a roadblock when he underwent Tommy John surgery in Sept. of 2022. Gose has been trying to work his way back once again ever since.

However, the most significant positional player to pitcher conversion in franchise history has to be the transformation of the legendary Dave Stieb. Originally an outfielder in his college years with Southern Illinois University, Stieb was forced into action as a relief pitcher when they ran out of arms at one time. Jays’ scout Bobby Mattick happened to be in the stands and was so impressed with what he saw that the Jays ended up drafting Stieb in the 1978 MLB Draft. In doing so, the Jays completed his conversion into a full-time pitcher and the rest was history. If it did not happen, we don’t see his name etched into the Jays’ Level of Excellence, along with the only no-hitter tossed in franchise history..

So in the case of Espino, if he even pans out to be at least half as good as how Stieb turned out, it would be deemed a big win for both his revitalized career and the Jays’ organization as a whole. Here, we wish him the best of luck in his potential transformation to significance.