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Cubs Prospect Perspective: Manuel Espinoza

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He could be in South Bend in 2022... or he could be trade bait.

Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach Pelicans

The way things are now aren’t the way they’ve always been. As hard as it is for some people to believe, middle infielders didn’t used to hit homers with regularity. It isn’t necessarily that the game was better then. Or is better now. It’s just different than it used to be. As fans, we can prefer either. Front offices are best served learning best practices, and getting to them. For me, I try to realize what’s in play as quickly as possible, and share it when I learn it. Today’s topic is Manuel Espinoza.

Manuel Espinoza, right-handed pitcher.

Born November 17, 2000. Culican Rosales, Mexico.
International signing (Cubs)

This off-season, as many, fans are prone to make fake trade offers. Whichever “hot topic” piece is being dangled by a non-contender, trade offers pop up for those players. It’s mildly amusing seeing the same trade names pop up in trade offers, every single time, seemingly. “For John Means, the Cubs should trade David Bote, Rafael Morel, and Ethan Roberts.” Or somesuch.

Very few “faux day traders” ever do the most simplest bit of research. “What is the trading team looking for?” “Why that, specifically?” “How could the Cubs, or whoever, meet those needs in a mutually beneficial scenario?” The Orioles aren’t looking to add David Bote to their roster to try to compete in 2022. David Bote wouldn’t help them compete in 2022, anyway.

If you’re doing a “faux trade” regarding the Cubs for a real, known quantity with numerous teams seeking out the player, you might want to include one of the new, hot talents in the Cubs’ pipeline. One of the Top 15 in the pipeline. Someone that would hurt more like a healthy arm being ripped off than a mild bandaid. Perhaps James Triantos, Jordan Wicks, Caleb Kilian, or Owen Caissie. Those are the players teams trading recent All-Stars want when talking trade with the Cubs.

That said, some trades won’t require scandalously large amount of prospect capital to acquire. MLB and the players union agreed to move the “non-tender deadline” from December 2 (after the likely lockout) to November 30 (before the lockout). It seems the only thing the owners and union can agree on is a date to kick players out. It’s not looking positive for a late move to avoid the lockout, which means the Cubs (and the other 29 teams) will still be able to lobby with players to accept a minor league deal.

For instance, recently acquired Harold Ramirez could accept being non-tendered if the Cubs make him an offer he’s willing to accept. For instance, getting bounced from the 40 man roster to accept a minor-league contract for $100,000 (I’m pulling a number that might make sense from a “both sides” perspective) guarantees Ramirez a nice payday, and keeps him in the Cubs pipeline for a season. If someone wants to select him in the Rule 5 Draft (whenever that is), that could still happen, but Ramirez gets to play, and if he does well in Iowa, he beckons for a call-up.

As teams dangle players they might non-tender across the league, and all 30 have them, those players won’t require a top 30 prospect. Or a 35+ guy on Fangraphs. Manuel Espinoza is among the types of players I refer to as 30-plus types. When Fangraphs drops its list, Espinoza is unlikely to be on it (It, being a listing of all “35+ or higher” ranked players.), and isn’t likely to be among the “eight best unlisted” omitted from said list. He’s a valid arm that would upgrade all but he most elite pipelines.

Espinoza was the opening night guy in Myrtle Beach in 2021. It’s not quite as prestigious as the opening day guy in big league ball, but when Adbert Alzolay was the opening day guy in Myrtle Beach after I spent 10 days in Mesa not seeing him pitch, I realized I’d missed something. I was largely dismissive of Espinoza early on in 2021. He wasn’t, after all, DJ Herz or even close to him, as far as buzz. As the July additions crept in, Espinoza faded. Until I was reminded of something in about mid-August.

Until mid-November, Espinoza was 20 years old. Which seems a bit early for a fan of Cubs prospects to finalize a career’s epitaph. Espinoza could get better. The Pelicans likely played the toughest schedule in their Low-A league, as they had no series against either of the two hideous opponents in Fredericksburg (winning percentage .367) or Kannapolis (.336). Had the Cubs’ affiliate played the weaker teams, presumably, they’d have won more games and posted better hitting/pitching numbers.

While I’m completely good with Espinoza getting a rotation spot in South Bend in 2022, he’s likely a player (along with Luis Vazquez, possibly) that I’d be willing to toss off as a mild inducement to create a minor trade before the deadline on the 29th or 30th. If a trade requires more than that, I’ll likely be opposed, unless the return is more significant. But, Vazquez and Espinoza form a bit of a “blockade” in Parcheesi, for me. For a minor big league piece, I doubt I’d go much higher. Even if that means “no sale”.