Up next in our 2023 season preview series is infielder Santiago Espinal.
Before we get into this, here's a quick refresher on the projection models we'll be looking at.
Espinal, who's entering his age 28 season, is coming off his first full season in the Majors. He's got an elite glove and in 2022 he was named an All-Star replacement at second base but struggled offensively in the second half of the season.
STEAMER: 117 H, 8 HR, 50 RBI, .268 / .328 / .387, 106 wRC+
ZiPS: 111 H, 7 HR, 47 RBI, .269 / .324 / .378, 96 OPS+
2022 stats: 120 H, 7 HR, 51 RBI, .267/.322/.370, 99 OPS+
While some of the basic numbers look very similar, the STEAMER projections have Espinal being 6 percent better than a league-average hitter, while ZiPS has him being 4 percent worse. They both have him putting up similar slash lines to his .267 / .322 / .370 in 2022 when he finished with a 99 wRC+ and OPS+.
Both these projections paint the picture of a relatively average hitter with little power, which reflects Espinal's game pretty well. In 246 plate appearances in 2021, he showed flashes, posting a 115 wRC+, but the numbers he put up in 2022 feel more like what we'll be seeing from him in 2023. While these numbers definitely aren't eyepopping, Jays fans should be more than happy with these numbers in 2023, considering where most of Espinal's value comes from; his defense.
In 2022, Espinal finished in the 96th percentile for outs above average per Baseball Savant and ranked 24th in the Majors as a whole. STEAMER however, projects regression in this department, as it has his FanGraphs defensive value (a stat they use to measure a player's defensive value added relative to the average fielder) dropping from 8.2 to 0.9. This may seem like a bit of a red flag, but personally, I believe that defense is best measured through the eye test, and when you watch Espinal he absolutely passes it. It might not be realistic for him to finish with the elite defensive metrics he had in 2022, but I would expect another strong fielding season from him.
In 2022, Espinal had some really rough offensive Statcast metrics in areas like hard hit%, xSLUG, and barrel%, but strong xBA, K%, and Whiff% helped keep him afloat. These are the types of stats that have helped keep guys like Jean Segura stay consistent in past seasons, so if he continues to play like this I see no reason why he won't continue at the pace he's currently on.
Despite making the All-Star game in 2022, I don't think expectations are particularly high for Santiago Espinal in 2023. This could be to his benefit though, since in 2022, Espinal had a 137 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers, while posting an 86 wRC+ against righties, which could make him perfect to platoon with Cavan Biggio, who hits righties much better. His defense will absolutely be an asset this upcoming season, and I wouldn't be surprised if he saw time at shortstop if Bo Bichette continues to struggle in the field. If the Blue Jays ask a lot of him this season it's possible that he could struggle, but if he's put in more of a utility role, expect a solid season for Espinal.