Baseball America has released its top-20 prospect list for the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, and Anderson Espinoza has taken top honors.
Generally speaking these leagues--the DSL, GCL, and what-have-you--are not the best place to find talent in the minor leagues. The players there are often extremely young, leading to a higher rate of failure than levels where players are coming in via the draft or by rising to the top against lower competition.
That being said, Ben Badler cites this year's crop as "the most stacked collection of prospects the league has seen in a long time," and even in weaker years leading the pack is nothing to sneeze at. Last year's top dog was Boston's own Rafael Devers, with Byron Buxton taking the top spot in 2012. Once upon a time, Miguel Sano lost out to Gary Sanchez to place second.
That Espinoza ranks first comes as no surprise. While the level of competition was, obviously, low, at just 17 years old Espinoza was about as dominant as a pitcher possibly can be. In 40 innings of work in the GCL, Espinoza allowed all of three earned runs, striking out a batter per inning while walking just nine. A brief promotion to the Greenville Drive led to one unfortunate start, but that's because he was a 17-year-old pitching in the South Atlantic League. Those are players who are more than a year removed from being drafted, many of them from college.
As a young arm with big heat and solid secondary offerings, Espinoza has the makings of a top arm with remarkably few red flags for someone so far from the majors. The only thing holding him back from topping more important rankings is that one can only impress so much against other teenagers. While 2015 was his breakout year in Boston's system, given the opportunity to meet a greater challenge, 2016 should be the year he makes himself known nationally.