Manny Espinoza – Picture by Rebecca Snyder

After a stellar 2019 campaign in their Arizona Rookie League, I thought Manny Espinoza was going to be one of the best pitchers at Myrtle Beach when baseball resumed in 2021. In rookie league, he had a 2.49 ERA which was one of the best in the league that summer. Sadly, that type of performance did not carryover to Low-A ball.

Once 2021 began, a lot changed about how development was going to take place. Had there been a 2020 season, Espinoza probably would’ve been sent to Eugene to play short season class A baseball. Instead, the pandemic robbed him of that opportunity and he wound up facing much more advanced talent at Myrtle Beach, the Cubs new Low-A affiliate.

Espinoza seemed to hold his own the first couple of months. That included a June where he made Cubs Central’s monthly All-Star team as he posted a 3.09 ERA over five starts. Unfortunately, it would all be downhill from there the rest of the year as the 140 game grind took its toll.

It’s one thing to pitch in rookie league which has a truncated season of anywhere between 65 to 70 games and Class A. That’s a long season of road trips, six game sets, and just a day-after-day grind. It can wear on players their first year both physically and mentally. There are plenty of lessons to be learned about how to take care of yourself in the gym and through nutrition as well as developing some mental strategies to deal with the daily monotony of being a baseball player.

Over this past winter, Espinoza pitched winter ball and did quite well and was armed and ready to go when the season began. His first month in South Bend has been nothing short of outstanding. While he is not starting now, Espinoza has been piggybacking off of Daniel Palencia. And on Saturday, he had his best outing throwing five scoreless innings with six strikeouts and he only allowed one hit. His ERA so far this year is 1.50. 

But what is most intriguing is that we’ve seen a little uptick in velocity, not much but some.

When Espinoza pitches well, he doesn’t walk very many guys. He puts his pitches where he wants them and that’s always been his strength. He used to throw in the upper 80s to low 90s and even in the low 90s last year at Myrtle Beach. Now we’re starting to see numbers creep up towards 92 and 93. In addition, his curve seems to be much sharper this year.

The thing you really need to consider about Espinoza is that he’s still really young. He is a 21-year-old kid pitching at high A. That’s not very common these days without college experience. With the pandemic robbing everyone of one year development time, for Espinoza to make it this far has been pretty cool to see.

What’s going to be more intriguing is just what his role is going to be going forward. Are the Cubs going to keep him stretched out as a long reliever? Are they going to think about moving him into the rotation? Could he go become a short reliever and could we possibly see his stuff take up even a little bit more?

We are not gonna know the answers to all of these questions for a while. And just when we think they do, the Cubs may change the role of Espinoza.

Here’s the big thing you need to consider about Espinoza, if he does well, things will take care of themselves. They really will. If he continues to produce as a 21-year-old at high A, good things are going to happen for him. We may not know what those are for a while and that’s OK. He just needs to get his work in, hit his spots, and to take care of himself physically and mentally to be prepared for whatever situation the Cubs use him this summer