Daniel Espino recalls picking up a baseball bat at 3 years old and playing with his two older brothers in his native country of Panama. Since he was young, baseball has been a passion for Espino, who grew up idolizing fellow Panamanian Mariano Rivera.
As a 15-year-old in 2016, Espino convinced his parents to let him relocate to the United States in hopes of improving his craft and becoming an elite baseball player.
The prep right-handed pitcher has accomplished that task, as he’s regarded as one of the top prospects in the 2019 MLB draft class. MLB.com ranks him as the 13th-best prospect in June’s draft.
“It was time for me to move to the United States, and I told my family that I would be the No. 1 pitcher in the United States,” Espino said. “To me, I am. I never thought I’d be in this position.”
When Espino arrived in the United States, he measured at 5-foot-11 and 155 pounds and threw his fastball at 83 mph. Over the last two years at Georgia Premier Academy in Statesboro, Georgia, he’s matured and developed, as he is 6-2, 208 pounds and consistently reaching the upper 90s with his fastball.
Espino throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider, curveball and changeup from a long three-quarter arm slot. He overpowers hitters with his fastball, which occasionally reaches triple digits. It is the best fastball in the draft class.
The prep hurler does an impressive job mixing his pitches to make hitters feel uncomfortable. His sharp breaking slider is his outpitch while his 12-6 curveball is a developing offering.
“I am pretty confident, and I am aggressive on the mound,” he said. “I try to be on top of the hitter every single time. I just play the game and have fun. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”
Refining his changeup has been a priority this offseason. It’s his weakest offering, as he rarely throws it against high school competition, he said. He’s made it a priority to throw it in bullpen sessions this offseason to gain more confidence in the offering.
“I don’t throw my changeup that much because it’s a normal speed for a high school kid,” Espino said. “I want to get more consistent with it and a better feel for it.”
Although Espino made sacrifices by moving to the United States to pursue his dream, it could all pay off this year. He’s a LSU commit but could bypass that opportunities, as he’s a potential top-10 pick in the draft.
His original goal was to earn a scholarship when he relocated from Panama, but now as the draft approaches, he said he’s trusting God to steer him in the right direction.
“It’s hard being away from home and you start to miss your family and all of that,” Espino said. “But I know why I am in the United States, and I know that God has given me this opportunity.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for four years. He’s interviewed 133 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, Bleacher Report and MLB Trade Rumors, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stationsas a “MLB draft expert.”