Every Sunday, we are going to take a look at two top draft prospects in this upcoming June amateur draft. The Pittsburgh Pirates make their first selection with the 18th overall pick. They also have the 37th overall pick. Our players featured each week will be those who are ranked on prospect lists in the general area of the 18th pick, while also showing some players who could be available when the Pirates make their second pick. The first day of the draft is June 3rd. You can check out our draft preview here.
In our first Draft Prospect Watch, we took a look at pitchers Matthew Allan and Zack Thompson. That was followed by our first two position players, infielders Brett Baty and Will Holland. Today we look at pitchers again, going with two prep right-handed pitchers.
We start with Daniel Espino, an 18-year-old from Georgia, who stands 6’2″, 200 pounds and has a commitment to LSU. He’s currently rated ahead of the 18th pick by every source I checked, sitting in the 10-13 range. That’s close enough to the Pirates that he could be available without faltering, if just a few players below him have a strong spring. He may have actually improved his stock this weekend, but we still have 85 days until the draft begins.
Espino struck out 11 batters in four innings on Friday night. He needed just ten pitches to strike out the side in the first inning. According to multiple reports, his fastball topped out at either 98 or 99 MPH and his slider got huge praise from everyone who was there, with the term “devastating” being thrown around by a few. That pitch sits in the 82-85 MPH range. He also threw a curve and changeup during the outing and had success with all four pitches.
These results seem like they should improve someone’s stock, but Espino already reached 99 MPH last summer, and his slider already graded out as a plus pitch. His curve has also been called above average at times and he’s been a strike thrower in the past. So he really just lived up to the hype this weekend.
Some scouts believe that he lacks any projection, which is rare in a high school pitcher, but so is someone touching 98/99 MPH often with two above average breaking balls. Where he can improve is the command of his pitches. His outing on Friday showed a lot of young hitters chasing letter-high fastballs, but he also has the velocity to blow batters away right down the heart of the plate. That works fine in high school, but he will need to show better command in pro ball. He’s 18 years old, so that shouldn’t be a concern now.
Here are some videos, starting with Prospect Pipeline’s highlights from last year
Prospect Live has one from last month
2080 Baseball gives you a different look from last June
Our second right-handed prep pitcher is Jack Leiter, son of Al Leiter, nephew of Mark Leiter and cousin of current big leaguer Mark Leiter. He comes from a family with 32 years (and counting) in the big leagues as pitchers. He turns 19 years old next month, so he is a little older than your average high school pick. Leiter stands 6’1″, 195 pounds and has a commitment to Vanderbilt. That’s a tough commitment to break for draft picks, but if he’s being selected 18th overall, it’s with the knowledge that he’d be willing to sign.
Leiter isn’t a flamethrower like Espino. They are approximately the same size and there are concerns about projection and durability with both, but they have outstanding stuff on the mound for prep pitchers. Leiter will sit 92 MPH, getting his fastball up to 95 at times. According to MLB Pipeline, he commands his fastball well already, and the pitch has a lot of downward movement. Pipeline ranks his curveball as a 55 pitch (on the 20-80 scale), but he’s actually flashed better at times, with some calling it one of the best breaking pitches in the 2019 draft. Leiter also throws a slider and a changeup, with both being called solid offerings.
You have two right-handed high school pitchers here who are similar size, yet vastly different. Espino blows hitters away, while Leiter commands all four of his pitches well. They aren’t the biggest guys and don’t have a lot of projection, but what you’re going for here is either the power or the polished finesse, with both rating very high for prep pitchers.
Here are some videos, starting with one from Prospect Pipeline
Here’s one from Prospect Live, which was from November
Finally, one from 2080 Baseball
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.