This afternoon's starter for the Milwaukee Brewers has been announced as Paolo Espino, a minor league journeyman who will be making his major league debut 11 years after being drafted in the 10th round by the Cleveland Indians. He earned his first call-up to the big leagues after authoring a 2.54 ERA/0.71 DRA and 40:5 K/BB ratio in 39.0 innings for the AAA Sky Sox. So, what should we be looking for out of the 30 year old rookie?
Espino is a short, stocky pitcher who stands at 5’10” and weighs in at 215 lbs. He has a rather simple delivery and throws from a high three-quarters arm slot. Espino features an expansive arsenal of pitches, mixing a four-seam fastball, sinker, slider, changeup, and curveball. His fastball will typically sit in the 88-92 MPH range and he usually generates a fair amount of grounders, having induced them at a 49% clip this season. Espino’s signature pitch is his 12-6 overhand curveball, which he throws between 73-76 MPH. He’ll throw it to any batter in any count, spotting it for strikes as well as using it as his swing-and-miss pitch to generate punchouts.
Espino has displayed quite the mastery of the strike zone throughout his minor league career. He owns a meager 1.8 BB/9 across his 92 career AAA appearances and has walked only 5 batters in his 39.0 innings with Colorado Springs this season. He fills the zone with quality strikes and has gotten his share of strikeouts, with a career 22.1% K rate in the minor leagues. He’s been durable, too, having pitched over 100 innings in each season dating back to 2009.
As alluded to above, Espino doesn’t have the premium velocity that we see so often throughout the game today. His profile is built around pitchability, which gives him a much thinner margin for error than someone who throws 96. He doesn’t typically make many mistakes, but if nerves get the best of him and doesn’t have his best command today against the Cubs, things could very easily get pretty ugly. Home runs have also been a bit of a bugaboo for Espino this year, as he has served up five of them during his seven minor league starts, though pitching in the hitter-friendly confines of Security Service Field no doubt has had an affect on that.
Paolo Espino has the profile of a solid back-of-the-rotation starter who has been looking for an opportunity to prove himself in The Show. His short stature and lack of premium stuff means he hasn’t been afforded a chance at the big league level until now, but his statistical profile suggests that he’s been one of the best pitchers in the minor leagues for the last several seasons. He doesn’t throw overly hard, but his plus command of the baseball and the usage of his curve keep have kept minor league batters at bay nonetheless. Espino has been honing his craft in the minors for the last 11 seasons in search of this, his first MLB opportunity, and he’ll be hoping to open some eyes during today’s start and attempt to finally gain a foothold in the big leagues.
Junior Guerra’s impending return complicates things a bit, but if Espino pitches well this afternoon then the club may feel compelled to find a spot for him in the bullpen (or the rotation if Zach Davies struggles his next time out). Going forward, he could play an important role as rotation depth for the surprising 1st-place Milwaukee Brewers as they look to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus