Daniel Espino & Brennan Malone: Distinguishing Strengths and Weaknesses

Recently, Daniel Espino and his team Georgia Premier Academy traveled to St. Petersburg to face Kishwaukee College. Don’t let the “college” part fool you. GPA looked like a bunch of grown men playing against kids. The game was never in doubt as Espino and co. won 16-0. Brennan Malone and IMG Academy faced off against Braden River at home later that evening. What a treat to be able to catch the top two high school righties on the same day.

Let’s start with Espino. He is a strong, physical specimen with room to add good strength. His delivery is athletic. He gets excellent momentum to home, driving off his back leg. Espino throws with intent but the effort in his delivery doesn’t appear to be max. In this look, Espino threw mostly fastballs and sat 94-96 early before dropping a to 92-93. He did touch 97 once on what appeared to be an overthrow.

The key for Espino as with any pitcher will come down to fastball command. While Espino doesn’t walk a lot of guys (now), he also doesn’t posses at least average command, consistently missing spots, running deeper counts, and laboring to quickly put away far inferior hitters. I know I am nitpicking here but this is something Espino will need to improve in order to get advanced hitters out. Espino showed more comfort and confidence with glove side fastball command vs arm side, meaning that to right handed hitters, when he needed a strike with fastball, he showed little trouble working the outside half of the plate. Rarely was he able to locate anything inside to righties.

Espino’s secondaries, namely his curveball and slider are really nasty. The slider is hard with two-plane tilt while his curve flashes plus spin and 10-6 break. He struggled to command both in the zone but shows more confidence with the slider. Against inferior competition, the slider played as a pitch that induced weak groundball contact rather than swing-and-miss. However, this could have just been a bad look. In past amateur tournaments and showcases, Espino’s slider was a wipe-out pitch. Off-speed command will be key at the next level to keep hitters off his fastball in fastball counts. Espino also showed a changeup with fade that sat 83-85 mph.

As of right now, I see a pitcher with future plus stuff that is learning to harness it. He’s still a bit raw but the tools and athleticism make for an intriguing arm that will probably go mid-to-late first round.

Brennan Malone of #1 ranked IMG Academy may be the best high school RHP in the class. He oozes athleticism and projection. At 6’5” and 210 pounds, this is a kid with a lot of room to grow and add velocity. Like Espino, he looks like a man playing against boys. His delivery is effortless with good extension. What he already has though is pretty damn good. His fastball sat 92-93 mph this weekend. However, in my first and third look he was 94-95 mph, touching 96. Unlike Espino, Malone shows the ability to locate his fastball on both sides of the plate and elevate with two-strikes. Malone uses plus command of his heater to fill up the strike zone early in the count and induce weak contact.

Malone, like Espino, throws four pitches. His slider is a plus pitch at present with hard two-plane tilt. The pitch projects as strikeout pitch and Malone uses it currently as a put-away pitch. The slider registers at 81-82 mph. His curveball is an 11-5 hammer at 73-75 mph. The pitch is plus at present with good arm side command to neutralize righties and lefties. His changeup is fringe and under utilized in my three looks. Malone should be the first right-handed high school pitcher off the board and could go in picks 8-15.

Both guys are intriguing because of their athleticism, ability to add more velocity, and present power/stuff. Both throw four pitches with their fastballs and sliders grading as future plus pitches. Both curveballs are hammers with Malone’s flashing plus with improved command. Their changeups still appear to be works in-progress. Overall, Malone gets the edge because of command and the ease at which he can reach the mid-90s on his fastball.