Were you up in arms when Anderson Espinoza was traded for Drew Pomeranz in 2016? I sure was. Oddly enough, the move didn't end up
Espinoza was a wunderkind. Potential ace with a big fastball, devastating breaking ball, and a changeup that was at the time on track to develop into a plus pitch thanks to his advanced command profile. His heater was lauded as a potential elite offering and the command made it that he couldn't possibly project as anything other than a high end starter. Injury risk seemed minimal despite his smallish build thanks to clean, low effort mechanics.
Yet after the trade, Espinoza pitched pretty poorly in the Padres system before shut down and undergoing UCL reconstruction in the summer of 2017 when rehab efforts proved fruitless. He worked his way back to make the 40 man in 2018 and then in 2019 his new UCL popped and he went under the knife for the second time in three years. He spent all of 2019 rehabbing, and likely would have started his build up in 2020 had it not been for the pandemic.
All in all, Espinoza went nearly five full calendar years without throwing a pitch in a professional baseball game. In 2016, I had his MLB ETA at late 2019, early 2021. Missing that much development time, even for a pitcher with plus-plus stuff and good command, is a worst case scenario. The Padres flipped him tot he Cubs for Jake Marisnick at the deadline. After being on top ten lists all over the country, Espinoza was ranked the 21st most valuable prospect traded at the deadline.
That all said, Espinoza has looked alright in his return to the mound. The fastball is living around 93-95 with the same life it used to have and the curveball and changeup still look good. His command and feel for his pitches is still well above average. His buildup is taking a long time, as you would expect. Two years off with surgeries is a disaster, five is a goddamn nightmare. He's been limited to 3 innings in his starts but has looked pretty good in that limited work.
The concern with multiple TJs is typically not the stuff coming back, for me anyway, it's whether or not his command and feel have been destroyed by all the time off. There's no real effective way to simulate pitching without actually pitching. The strength and explosiveness can all come back with proper work and rehab, but the feel tends to be trickier. Especially in a case like Espinoza's, where his ulnar nerve will now twice have been fiddled with.
The good news is that Espinoza was barely an adult when his injury woes started, and now at 23 years old, he's starting from the place most college pitchers would coming out of the draft. No, it's not ideal, but Espinoza still has a good chance at being an impact arm at the major league level. If his feel comes back close to where it was and his innings can be built up to a starters workload, I think the Cubs may have a wide awake sleeper in their midst. I'll be rooting for him, either way.