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Scouting Hankins, Espino, Rocchio, Vargas and Naylor

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

I have watched some starts of Ethan Hankins, Daniel Espino and Carlos Vargas. Also caught some of Rocchio and Naylor in these games (not much of Valera due to his injury).

Daniel Espino

I first saw him pitch at a showcase (1 IP) at Wrigley in August 2018 and he threw 95-98 mph (T 99) with two swing-and-miss breaking balls. However, his velocity was inconsistent this spring and he slipped in the draft to the Indians. I saw his 1st start in the NYPL and thought he looked closer to the August 2018 version than the spring 2019 version. Espino sat 94-96 mph (T 97) in the first two innings and was mostly 93-94 in his third and final inning. His FB is mostly a straight 4-seam. While this is lower velocity than 95-98, he was commanding his FB very well for a pitcher his age. Espino reminds me a lot of Octavio Dotel – similar body, delivery, arm action and pure stuff – but Espino has a taller ¾ arm slot compared to Dotel’s low slot and this is a positive for Espino as it may help his chances of being a SP. Both his 82-85 mph SL and 74-75 mph CB are above avg offspeed pitches and for reference are better than what Ethan Hankins has now.

Espino is 6’1"-6’2" and lacks physical projection, however, and MLB teams often want better size and/or projection from 1st round HS pitchers. Given Espino’s three plus pitches and what I perceive to be polish (only 1 pro start I’ve seen), I expect him to move through the minor leagues quickly if healthy. I like to see better leverage (long levers in the arms and legs), but Espino’s pure stuff is just fine. I do not care for Espino’s long arm action, however. Batters get a good look at the ball through his delivery and it negates from Espino’s plus pitches. For an Indians reference, AJ Cole has a similarly long arm action. It is inverse deception. Octavio Dotel also had a long arm action was a fine MLB pitcher, but I think this is something Espino needs to improve upon (if he can). I bet the Indians will work with him on this but sometimes it is no easy fix, and it may be fundamental in how Espino generates his plus stuff. It is an issue.

Espino isn’t a traditional SP because he lacks the size and leverage you normally see in MLB SP’s, but he is too talented to be thrown into a traditional, 1 inning relief role. He should be developed as a SP but it is easy to envision him as a successful multi-inning reliever years from now. Overall, I like the Indians pick of him and his recent start with MV reinforces this. Espino doesn’t fit the traditional expectations of a 1st round HS pitcher but thinking beyond stereotypes may have provided good value.

Ethan Hankins

I was a bit down on Hankins last year because he gained bad weight and had a modest injury in the spring/summer of 2018 after he looked spectacular in the summer of 2017. I think he looks better in 2019. Hankins’ best attribute is his FB. He mostly sits 92-95 mph (T 97), he demonstrates above average command with the FB for his age and batters have hard time squaring it up (deception and presumably high spin rate). By comparison, Espino gets a touch higher in velocity but Hankins’ FB is more effective even with less velo. Even in FB counts, Hankins can throw his FB by hitters so something is working there. Hankins throws a CH, SL and CB. I do not think any of them are above average right now and from start-to-start there is inconsistency on which pitch I think is the best. He has the aptitude to make them good MLB pitches because I have seen him execute all three of them well at times, but not consistently enough. I think his lack of a consistent, plus offspeed pitch is why the K’s aren’t higher right now and his K/BB ratio in Low-A is weak.

In my opinion, while he doesn’t look bad I think he could be in better physical condition and this may help him get a velo bump eventually. Hankins profiles as a MLB SP that works off his FB. He has time to improve his offspeed and I expect those pitches to improve. If Hankins improves physically and gets to the velocity he was projected to throw when he was an amateur prospect in the summer of 2017, I can see him resembling Gerrit Cole due to their similar deliveries, arm actions, body frames and plus FB’s but Cole sits 96-98 mph with his FB compared to Hankins’ present 92-95 mph so a lot of work to do. He has had a good 2019.

Brayan Rocchio

People may be down on him because he’s .253/.318/.365 compared to .343/.389/.448 last summer in Arizona, but the difference is mostly BABIP and I think Rocchio looks fine at the plate. He has an advanced/polished swing from both sides that should serve him well as he advances. Rocchio is small and always will be but he has room to gain strength and I think he will hit for more power. A lot of guys his age get more power because they have longer swings but they ultimately have to adjust when they face better pitching. Rocchio has the fundamental swing down already and he has good bat speed. When he gets stronger there will be more power and the K’s won’t escalate that much in my opinion. I have yet to see much arm strength from him to suggest he’s a true MLB SS.

If I had to bet $ now, I say he’s a future 2b. He’s small and does not have loud tools but has a great feel for the game and I believe is a better hitter than his #’s indicate this year.

Carlos Vargas

Vargas is blessed with excellent pitching talents. He has a great pitcher’s body, excellent arm speed, is highly projectable and can spin an excellent breaking ball. He typically throws 95-97 mph in his first inning and settles down to 92-96 mph afterward. Vargas is highly projectable and has room to throw harder with physical maturity. Vargas’ best pitch is an excellent 85-88 mph SL that is a clear swing-and-miss pitch that would get good MLB hitters to miss when he executes. It can dominate righties and he also effectively uses it vs. lefties. When I’ve seen him, his ability to command his SL is often the key variable for determining each start’s success. Vargas also throws an 89-90 mph CH that is a work in progress. Vargas does have effort in his delivery, exhibits a modest head jerk and falls off the mound (not SP traits today).

A few times in each start, Vargas loses his release point and misses his target badly. Vargas frequently demonstrates emotion on the mound and lets things out of his control bother him. His mound composure is weak. Vargas is a raw but very talented pitching prospect. If developed well, he could be a guy throwing 95-99 mph with one of the best SL’s in MLB (think of a 6'3" version of K-Rod) but there is a long way to go to get there. The Indians tend to not draft pitchers like this and I believe the organization tends to emphasize command and pitch execution over raw upside. I’m not sure if Vargas is a long-term fit for the Indians and I suspect he would be someone they’d be willing to trade if a match was found but this is pure speculation as an outsider.

Bo Naylor

I’m not good at evaluating catchers, but I saw him catch Hankins twice and I thought he demonstrated plus athleticism behind the plate and he was a fair receiver for his age. I had POP times of 1.85 to 1.87 seconds on two occasions which is really good. He has stuff to work on but he looked like a competent defensive catcher to me. I have not seen him hit much but he has turned it on at the plate after a poor first two months of the season. I was encouraged. Solid prospect.

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