Santiago Espinal will always have a place in baseball history whether he reaches the bigs or not.
Traded last summer from the Red Sox to the Toronto Blue Jays, along with $1.5 million, for Steve Pearce, Espinal’s talent and potential allowed Boston to acquire a key piece it needed to make the push toward the franchise’s ninth World Series title. Pearce, of course, went on to win the Most Valuable Player award for the series, making the Red Sox clear winners in the deal.
Not all trades have to have a loser, though, and Toronto is more than happy with the return it got.
“Middle-of-the-diamond players, you can’t have enough of them,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins told MLB.com the day after the swap was made official. “The athleticism, that’s where it all begins. If you can play in the middle, you can often play anywhere else, so that’s first and foremost. [Espinal] is an above-average runner and performing well at a decent level.”
So far, Atkins’ theory is proving to be correct. After playing exclusively in the infield between three teams and two levels in 2018, Espinal has started to get reps in the Fisher Cats’ outfield. He’s started eight games in center field through Friday and has yet to be charged with an error.
“I told them that if they need me at second, short, third or in the outfield, I’ll play,” Espinal told the Union Leader. “I feel comfortable playing wherever. I don’t care if one day I’m playing second, the next day I’m playing center, and the next day I’m playing short. It doesn’t matter to me. I feel comfortable playing wherever (in the field).”
Espinal’s positional versatility could end up being the difference maker in him reaching higher levels. With Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio locked in as the short stop and second baseman of Toronto’s future, and with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at third, Espinal’s potential path to the majors is currently blocked in the infield, but the franchise’s future in the outfield is much less certain.
“I’ve been trying to get him out of here now for a month trying to get him to Triple-A,” Fisher Cats manager Mike Mordecai said. “But there has to be a spot for him to go, and with all the stuff going on between Toronto and Buffalo, that’s hard. I think he’s probably proved his worth here. I think he belongs at the higher level to give him an opportunity to show what he can do.”
Espinal has been fantastic at the plate over the last year-and-a-half. In 65 games with Advanced-A Salem (a Boston affiliate), Toronto’s No. 28 prospect hit .313 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs. He didn’t skip a beat when he was moved to the Blue Jays, hitting .262 with two homers and 8 RBIs in 17 games with Advanced-A Dunedin (a Toronto affiliate) before being promoted.
When he finally reached Double-A New Hampshire, he logged a .286 average over 42 games with one big fly and 20 RBIs. Between all three teams, he hit a sterling .297 with 10 bombs and 60 RBIs. His consistency was remarkable given how much he bounced around in one season.
“I was just feeling very comfortable,” Espinal said of his approach at the plate last year. “I feel like my timing was good and I was getting very good pitches to hit. I was very aggressive early in the count, so that’s one of the things that helped me get to that average and have a good year.”
This year, Espinal is hitting .273 through Friday’s 5-2 win over Trenton. That clip is tops on the team and he also leads the club in RBIs (39) and hits (74), while his 30 runs scored rank second.
It was announced Monday that he has earned a spot on the Eastern League All-Star team.
Joining Espinal in Richmond, VA are Nash Knight, Zach Logue and Forrest Wall.
Aside from Espinal, Wall has been the best hitter on the Fisher Cats this season. He’s hitting .272 with four home runs and 24 RBIs and earned Eastern League Player of the Week honors for the week of May 27 – June 2 when he hit .571 with two homers, six doubles and six RBIs.
Knight has also been solid at the plate for New Hampshire. He’s tied with Espinal and Wall with four home runs on the year and owns a .256 batting average. Knight’s glove has been impressive, too, as he’s only committed four errors through 55 games.
Logue was the only Fishers pitcher selected to the game. His 3.75 ERA ranks 16th in the Eastern League and he’s just shy of having a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The game is scheduled for July 10.
Blue Jays’ No. 2 prospect Nate Pearson will be busy during the All-Star break as well.
Baseball’s No. 41 prospect was chosen to play in the Future’s Game in Cleveland on July 7. The exhibition is a game reserved for elite prospects and Pearson will follow in the footsteps of Toronto’s No. 1 prospect Bo Bichette, who appeared in the game himself in 2018.
“Honored to represent the Blue Jays at this years All-Stars Futures Game!,” Pearson said tweeted Friday. “Excited to be playing with some absolute STUDS! Let’s Go!!”
Pearson has been spectacular since being called up to New Hampshire on May 7 despite the strict innings limit he’s currently operating under. The big righty alternates between two-inning and five-inning outings but has pitched to a 2.70 ERA while striking out 31 over 26 1/3 innings.
Scouts have fallen in love with his fastball, which was graded a 75 on a 20-80 scale. He’s touched triple digits on the radar gun on multiple occasions this season and features solid off-speed pitches that help him keep hitters off balance at the plate.
Pearson was recently placed on the 7-day injured list retroactive to June 20. It’s unclear whether or not the organization will want him to pitch in the game after sustaining the undisclosed injury.
Nashua’s Josh Goulet recently signed a contract with the Utica Unicorns of the United Shore Professional Baseball League. More details will be provided in next Sunday’s column.
NH Baseball appears in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Contact Tim MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org.