Just over five years ago, the Padres pulled off a significant trade, shipping All-Star starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz to Boston in exchange for RHP Anderson Espinoza. At the time, was considered one of the top prospects in all of minor league baseball.
Fast forward five years and a lot has changed. Pomeranz is back to being an integral part of the Padres bullpen and Espinoza is on the move again, this time to the Chicago Cubs.
On Friday, the Padres shipped the oft-injured Espinoza to Chicago, in exchange for outfielder Jake Marisnick. The promising right-hander never anchored the front of the Padres rotation like many writers and fans expected. His is a cautionary reminder that one organization can never have too much pitching.
The 23-year-old righty came into the 2021 season ranked as our number 14 prospect in a thinned out system. We wrote, “It stands to reason to soften expectations which were once placed upon the overall number 21 prospect in baseball, who drew comparisons to a young Pedro Martinez. Odds are Espinoza moves to the bullpen, but if his stuff is anything close to what it once was, he will be a factor there.”
Espinoza made his mark on the organization in the first Padres Futures Game (later renamed the Don Welke Classic) when he struck out a pair of Rangers prospects in a scoreless inning. That outing may have been the pinnacle of Espinoza’s time with the organization.
The right-hander was slated to make the opening day start with High-A Lake Elsinore in 2017. However, he was placed on the seven-day injured list with forearm tightness. After trying to rehab and progressing through a throwing program for several months, the injury ulitmately required Tommy John surgery. Espinoza didn’t throw a competitive pitch in 2017 or 2018 due to the injury.
Espinoza looked poised to make up for the lost time in 2019 when spring training opened. We were onsite during his spring debut in an intrasquad game. His velocity was down just a tick and his stuff looked playable but he struggled to find the zone. Still, despite the early rust, it was encouraging to see the righty take the mound in any setting. The good vibes didn’t last long.
In his second outing in spring training, Espinoza threw just seven pitches. A few weeks later came the news that everyone dreaded: Espinoza would need to have a second Tommy John surgery. He’d miss all of the 2019 season – the third straight season in which he did not throw a pitch in an official game.
Before the 2020 minor league season was wiped out due to COVID-19, Espinoza was just beginning to work through his throwing program, and was unlikely to throw a pitch until late in the year.
On May 7, 2021, Espinoza threw his first competitive pitch in five years and completed two scoreless innings, flashing the mid-90s fastball and the curve that had impressed prior to all the injuries.
“The most difficult part of the rehab process is the mentality of trying to stay positive,” Espinoza said after that game. “But because of what I went through, I am a better person and a better pitcher.” Later, Espinoza also detailed how his approach to pitching, particularly his arm care had changed since he was younger.
The results this season were a mixed bag for Espinoza – not exactly surprising for someone who had such a long layoff. He has been limited to mostly two innings each time out, although he has seen his workload steadily increase as the season has advanced. Espinoza’s final outing as a Padres prospect came on July 28 when he completed three innings, allowing one unearned run. In all, he threw 61 innings after the Padres acquired him.
Espinoza will head to the Cubs’ affiliate in South Bend, where he will have the chance to match up against his former organization.
In Marisnick, the Padres are getting a capable backup outfielder who can handle center field. In 30 games this year for the Cubs, the 30-year-old outfielder is hitting .227/.294/.438 with five homers. Marisnick has been lauded for his defense in the outfield but the advanced metrics have not been fond of his work in recent years. His offensive production has been roughly league average so he does possess some value. Marisnick’s arrival is a homecoming of sorts – he is from Riverside and attended Riverside Poly High School.
Marisnick is under contract for 2021 and has a $4 million option that comes with a $500,000 buyout.
Espinoza’s departure from the organization is obviously a hard pill to swallow. He was once considered an integral part of the future rotation and a pillar of the Padres’ system. He has already been on the 40-man roster for two seasons and didn’t seem like he was ready to help the team this year or perhaps next. At 23, he is still young enough to develop into a big leaguer but his injury history makes it far from a slam dunk.
Marisnick has a chance to help the team now and is a serviceable outfielder. However, trading a guy like Espinoza for two months of Marisnick has had some in the fan base questioning the decision. Espinoza worked very hard to come back and if he can stay healthy, he can help a big league club.