Espinoza returns, Kopech stretches in spring action

March 19th, 2021

The last time Anderson Espinoza pitched against another team, the Kansas City Royals were reigning World Series champs and Kris Bryant was the reigning National League Rookie of the Year. He finished that season ranked between Ozzie Albies and Lewis Brinson as the No. 13 prospect.

Espinoza struck out 100 over 108 Class A innings at age 18 in 2016, missed the first three months of 2017 with a forearm strain and underwent Tommy John surgery that August. The Padres right-hander was progressing toward a return to the mound in the spring of 2019, but a ruptured graft sent him back under the knife for a second Tommy John surgery.

On Thursday, he climbed the hill in the seventh inning of San Diego's 4-2 loss to the Athletics, faced four batters and went to the dugout with a scoreless frame under his belt. Of course, after such a long layoff, any ERA would be noteworthy, but it's only fitting that Espinoza's was perfect at the end of his Cactus League debut.

Healthy, the 23-year-old righty has a 65-grade fastball, a hard-breaking curve and a quality changeup. Signed by Boston for $1.8 million during the 2014-15 signing period, Espinoza was traded to San Diego for Drew Pomeranz on July 14, 2016.

His return saw him get Oakland's Frank Schwindel to fly out to center, shrug off an Austin Allen double, then induce infield grounders off the bats of Vimael Machin and Pete Kozma in succession.

Meanwhile, back at Camelback Ranch, another former Red Sox righty, Michael Kopech, continued his own slow climb back from a layover involving Tommy John surgery. The 24-year-old made his third appearance of camp, going two innings for the first time this spring, as the White Sox beat the Royals, 9-7.

Kopech, the No. 39 prospect, opened his tenure by walking Andrew Benintendi but set down the next three, one via strikeout, to post a zero in the fourth. He fanned Jorge Soler to open the next inning, but the Royals got to him for a run -- the first time anybody has this spring -- when Hunter Dozier walked, moved to third on a double by Michael A. Taylor and scored a sacrifice fly by Jarrod Dyson. Kopech got Bobby Witt Jr. to fly out to center, stranding Taylor on third.

With an electric fastball and wipeout slider, Kopech was Boston's first-round pick in the 2014 Draft and was acquired by Chicago in the Dec. 6, 2016 Chris Sale deal. He was on the mend from surgery last spring, hitting triple-digits with his fastball multiple times, but opted to sit out the season because of the coronavirus pandemic. He's struck out five over four innings this year, having surrendered two hits and two walks and hit one batter.

More top prospect news from Thursday's Spring Training action:

Bobby Witt Jr., SS, KC (MLB No. 7)
Witt lined a single off Chicago's Dallas Keuchel and scored from second base on a Salvador Perez single. The toolsy 20-year-old has hit safely in 10 of the 14 Cactus League games in which he's appeared, producing a .289/.325/.526 slash line with three homers. Drafted second overall in 2019, Witt posted a .317 OBP over 37 games in the Rookie-level Arizona League that summer. Gameday »

CJ Abrams, SS, SD (MLB No. 8)
Abrams took over at shortstop for Fernando Tatis Jr. in the sixth, and in the eighth doubled to left field in his only plate appearance. It was the first two-bagger of the spring for the 20-year-old Georgia native, although he's homered twice and tripled. Abrams was the Arizona League MVP in 2019 after being drafted sixth overall that June. Gameday »

Andrew Vaughn, 1B, CWS, (MLB No. 14)
With a 65-grade hit tool and 60-grade power, Vaughn is never an opposing pitcher's idea of a good time. In his lone plate appearance Thursday, he torched a 1-1 pitch from the Royals' Ervin Santana way over the fence in left field in the eighth inning for his second jack of the spring. The 2019 third-overall pick is slashing .294/.415/.500 over 15 Cactus League games. Gameday »

Nolan Gorman, 3B, STL (MLB No. 38)
Entering as a defensive replacement in the sixth, Gorman finished 2-for-2 with three RBIs against the Marlins. The 2018 first-rounder lined a single up the middle in the seventh. The next inning, he laced a three-run double to give St. Louis the lead. It was Gorman's first multi-hit performance of the spring. Gameday »

Garrett Crochet, LHP, CWS (MLB No. 56)
The 21-year-old southpaw pitched a perfect seventh inning against the Royals and wound up with a win -- his first Cactus League decision. Crochet, a first-round pick in last year's Draft, has allowed one run -- earned -- on three hits and a pair of walks over five innings, striking out four. He threw six scoreless innings over five appearances for the White Sox last year. Gameday »

Garrett Mitchell, OF, MIL (MLB No. 65)
The speedy Mitchell stayed red-hot, adding an infield hit in his only opportunity to give him a .529/.579/.765 slash line over 13 games this spring. He also scored his sixth run of the Cactus League campaign, and the 2020 first-rounder has also homered, doubled, walked twice and stolen two bases. Gameday »

Tyler Freeman, SS, CLE (MLB No. 98)
Freeman's defensive prowess was on display, as the 21-year-old shortstop ranged deep into the hole, made a diving stop and threw a laser beam to Bobby Bradley at first base to retire the Cubs' Cameron Maybin in the fourth inning. Hitless on the day, Freeman still has a .400 average over 13 spring games. He batted .306 with 40 extra-base hits across two levels of A ball in 2019. Gameday »

Nick Allen, SS/2B, OAK
Allen welcomed the Padres' Mark Melancon to the game in the fourth inning by yanking an RBI double down the left-field line. The 22-year-old middle infielder also walked, and he played the entire game at shortstop. Allen's two-bagger was just his fourth hit in 21 spring at-bats. He posted a .363 on-base percentage in the Class A Advanced California League in 2019. Gameday »

Jonathan India, 3B, CIN
India crushed a 2-2 pitch from the Rangers' Mike Foltynewicz an estimated 400 feet to left field for a solo homer and his second long ball of the Cactus League. The 24-year-old third baseman, who later added an RBI double and finished 2-for-4, was a standout at the Reds' alternate training site last year after struggling with a wrist issue in 2019. Gameday »