The Padres are in agreement with right-hander Anderson Espinoza on a minor league contract, reports Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune. The Friars have also agreed to non-roster pacts with outfielder Preston Tucker and reliever Drew Carlton, Sanders reports (Twitter link).
Espinoza returns to an organization where he spent a half-decade. Acquired from the Red Sox in the 2016 deadline deal that sent Drew Pomeranz to Boston, Espionza was regarded as a possible top-of-the-rotation starter at the time. Baseball America named him the #1 prospect in the San Diego system the following winter. Unfortunately, a series of injuries prevented the 6’0″ hurler from getting a chance to make good on that immense promise. Espinoza felt some elbow soreness at the start of the 2017 season, and he underwent Tommy John surgery. After two years of rehab, he suffered another elbow injury that required a second TJ procedure.
The successive surgeries cost him a staggering four years of game action, as he didn’t throw a single professional pitch from 2017-20. Midway through the ’21 campaign, San Diego dealt him to the Cubs for Jake Marisnick. Espinoza closed out the 2021 season in Double-A, but he briefly got to the majors for the first time this year.
Through seven relief appearances, he worked his first 18 1/3 MLB innings. He allowed 11 runs on 14 hits and a staggering 16 walks, and his work in the minors wasn’t much better. Between Chicago’s top two affiliates, Espinoza pitched to a 7.55 ERA in 70 1/3 frames. He fanned a decent 24.6% of opponents but walked a massive 13.9% of minor league batters faced. At year’s end, the Cubs placed him on waivers. He went unclaimed and qualified for minor league free agency.
Espinoza is certainly no longer regarded as an elite young talent, but there’s no harm for the Padres in rolling the dice to see if he can better hone his strike-throwing as he moves another year removed from the devastating series of injuries. He’s yet to turn 25 despite having been a well-known prospect for nearly a decade. The Venezuela native averaged just under 94 MPH on his fastball during his MLB work with the Cubs, relying on a low-80s breaking ball as his top secondary pitch.
Tucker, the older brother of Astros star Kyle Tucker, is a former Astros outfielder himself. He hit .222/.281/.403 in 221 MLB games with Houston, Atlanta and Cincinnati from 2015-18. After three seasons in South Korea, Tucker returned to the U.S. on a minor league deal with the Braves in May. The 32-year-old had a decent showing with their top affiliate in Gwinnett, hitting .267/.347/.426 in 75 games.
Carlton, 27, has made nine relief appearances with the Tigers over the past two seasons. The right-hander has allowed six runs in 12 1/3 career innings, striking out eight with four walks. The Florida State product doesn’t throw especially hard, sitting in the low 90s with his fastball. He’s shown excellent control throughout his minor league tenure, though, and he punched out an above-average 27.3% of opponents through 58 1/3 innings with Detroit’s top affiliate in Toledo this year. Owner of a 3.90 ERA in 110 2/3 innings at the top minor league level, he’ll presumably battle for a bullpen spot in Spring Training.