Padres Minors: Anderson Espinoza nearly perfect in emotional return

(Photo by Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images) /

Four years ago, Anderson Espinoza was the top overall prospect in the San Diego Padres organization.

Fast forward to present day, and the right-hander is back for the first time since he was the return piece in a shady trade deal and at the mercy of multiple Tommy John surgeries and rehab stints.

As the fate of the power that be would have it, Espinoza would spend the remainder of his teen years working his way back and, now at 22 years old, made his season debut for the High-A Fort Wayne Tin Caps on Thursday night.

Padres: A welcomed return to the mound

In proper form to his once former self, Espinoza blazed a fastball past his first hitter in more than four years for a swinging strikeout. A moment no doubt exciting for Espinoza as it was a defining moment of sorts.

Espinoza came to the Padres from the Boston Red Sox in a straight swap for reliever Drew Pomeranz. At the time, President of Baseball Operations and GM A.J. Preller was only a few years into his Padres career, well before his current position. Preller had not disclosed accurate medical information regarding Pomeranz’s injury, which led to a suspension.

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As luck would have it, Espinoza would suffer an injury the following year, in 2017, leading to Tommy John surgery. After ranking as a former top pitching prospect, the fight to return to a major league mound became the goal.

Imagine doing a job you love, and all of a sudden, it’s taken away. Espinoza suffered through two surgeries and a lot of rehab to reach his goal once again. Thankfully for the Padres and Espinoza, the surgeries precluded his 21st birthday, giving the now 22-year-old enough time to recover.

In his outing, Espinoza faced seven batters allowing a lone hit and striking out three. His fastball was outstanding, reaching 97 MPH — a sure sign the arm is back. Per team reports, the plan for Espinoza moving forward will be to keep him at a max of three innings in each start every five or six days. It will allow enough rest and recovery without burning the arm.

Health will be Espinoza’s primary goal this year. Without his health, there is no baseball. He currently ranks as the Padres number 19 overall prospect per Baseball America.

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Espinoza has been incredibly dominant at various points and plain awful at others, although much of that probably resulted from arm discomfort and post-surgery recovery. Fort Wayne has some fun talent, and Espinoza will hopefully continue to add to it with a healthy 2021 and a continued resurgence and climb. Padres fans should be keeping their eyes on Espinoza.