The MLB trade deadline Friday saw the Chicago Cubs hold a fire sale of many of the best players from their 2016 championship run. Kris Bryant and Javy Baez were traded, following Anthony Rizzo being dealt Thursday. The Cubs also traded closer Craig Kimbrel on Friday and made another trade that saw outfielder Jake Marisnick headed to San Diego.
That final deal, with Marisnick becoming the newest Padre, is the one that affects the TinCaps most directly. Going the other way in that trade, to the Cubs organization, was Fort Wayne right-hander Anderson Espinoza, who had previously been the highest-rated prospect on the TinCaps' roster. Espinoza, who was once the No. 2 pitching prospect in all of baseball, will be getting a fresh start after missing all of four consecutive seasons (2017 to 2020) because of back-to-back Tommy John surgeries and the coronavirus pandemic.
Espinoza, 23, was still the No. 9 prospect in the Padres' farm system, per Fangraphs, and he was having an up-and-down comeback season before the trade. In 12 starts with Fort Wayne in 2021, Espinoza went 0-1 with a 5.02 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings. His fastball topped out at 98 mph and usually sat 95-96, while he also flashed the same plus breaking ball and changeup he had before the surgeries. As always, the questions with Espinoza centered on his command. He didn't walk a ton of hitters this year (13 in those 28 2/3 frames), but he didn't exactly limit bases on balls, either. He also frequently missed with his fastball in the strike zone, giving up far more hard contact than someone with his stuff should in High-A. As a result, he wasn't a particularly efficient pitcher and he never worked more than three innings with Fort Wayne, though manager Anthony Contreras said the team had been hopeful in Espinoza's most recent starts that he could get through four frames if he kept his pitch count low, which he was unable to do.
There was also the incident at Parkview Field that saw Espinoza ejected because the umpires believed they found a foreign substance on his glove. He was suspended 10 games for that ejection and had just been working his way back when he was traded. The Cubs do not have a very good track record of developing young pitching under the current regime, but they clearly saw something in Espinoza they believe they can fix.
As for Fort Wayne, Espinoza's departure leaves another hole in the rotation. Right-hander Moises Lugo is now the only member of the TinCaps' Opening Day rotation that is currently on the active roster (right-hander Gabe Mosser is on the Injured List). There are a couple of possibilities for filling Espinoza's spot. The most obvious is to have Mosser return from the Injured List and take the spot, creating maximum continuity. The same effect could be achieved if Erik Sabrowski returns to the rotation. Sabrowski is 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 29 innings with Fort Wayne, but he has not pitched this week, is not scheduled to do so and has not been announced as being promoted, so it's possible he is hurt as well, though he has not been placed on the 7-Day IL. Connor Lehmann was promoted from Low-A Lake Elsinore this week and took Sabrowski's spot Friday, so Sabrowski could slot into Espinoza's turn if and when he comes back to active duty in Fort Wayne.
An interesting wrinkle with this trade is that the TinCaps could be seeing Espinoza again soon. Unless the Cubs decide to promote the right-hander to Double-A, it's likely Espinoza winds up with the High-A South Bend Cubs, a member of Fort Wayne's High-A Central circuit. As it happens, the TinCaps host the Cubs at Parkview Field in a series beginning Aug. 10.