29 November 2011

2012 Top 25 Prospects: #8 Jason Esposito

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Player: Jason Esposito
Position: third base
Ht/Wt: 6-2/205
B/T: R/R
Age at 11/2011: 21y4m
2011 level(s): N/A
2011 statistics: N/A

Grades - Now (Future):
Hit: 35 (40/45)
Power: 40 (45/50)
Arm: 60 (60)
Defense: 55 (65)
Speed: 45 (40)
Feel: 50 (50/55)
Overall Future Potential: 46-52
Prospect Grade: B-

*Click here for primer on Grades

2nd Round selection in the 2011 draft, out of Vanderbilt University. Signed for overslot bonus of $600,000. Previously drafted and unsigned in 2008 by Kansas City.

Physical Description:
Solid, athletic build. Wide hips with strong trunk and core. Pro body with little projection left, but should be able to tighten physique as he finishes maturing.

Espo takes with him to the plate a solid approach, including a good feel for the strikezone. His swing is compact and he covers the quadrants fairly well. There is enough strength in his wrists to allow him to transfer power from his core to the bat, and he shows that pop by producing hard contact from pole-to-pole. Esposito's bat speed is the primary chink in his armor, and he has struggled mightily when armed with lumber against more advanced competition on the Cape and with Team USA. An issue tangential to his bat speed is pitch-ID. Because he needs to start his swing early to catch-up with better velocity, good off-speed offerings can give him trouble. Additionally, he utilizes a medium-high leg kick in his stride, which cuts into his ability to adjust his timing on the fly.

Esposito shows easy footwork and soft hands straight on, though his lower-half can drag some on the move. This makes third base the best fit for him, and the former Vandy infielder has enough arm to man the hot corner at the Major League level. There is enough athleticism in Espo's game to allow him to hold down second base if so required, and he could even play a passable shortstop in an emergency (though extended exposure there would like prove his range and footwork to be lacking at the outer reaches of his zone). He is a below-average runner but moves well enough to cover an outfielder corner, completing his profile as a potential utility talent.

Esposito was a highly touted high schooler and a high follow entering his junior year at Vanderbilt in spite of back-to-back uninspiring summers on the Cape and a half-summer with USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team. His stock took a hit when his spotty offensive performance with the new BBCOR bats (which have a smaller sweetspot and less trampoline than the previous composite bats) forced evaluators to consider more strongly his average bat speed, and whether his impressive sophomore year with the 'Dores would eventually resurface in pro ball.

Despite the questions surrounding his offensive game, Esposito boasts a reasonably high floor off the strength of his glove. He can get a little clunky when forced to operate on the move and at the edge of his range, but could be a true standout defender if allowed to focus his efforts at third base. His pivots and footwork around the bag are solid, and his hands and approach will allow him to provide value at second base, as well as shortstop in a limited capacity, should Baltimore need him to log innings across the infield.

Esposito's well documented struggles to perform with wood, as well as the not-insignificant decrease in OBP (.453 to .403), SLG (.599 to .530), and BB/SO rate (0.97 to 0.38) from his sophomore to junior year, all raise questions about whether or not he will hit enough at the upper-levels to justify an everyday spot on a first division team. The glove could be double-plus quality at third, but he will need to find a way to barrel more off-speed pitches. He has enough raw power that he could be a 15-20 homerun bat if he squares-up enough balls.

Ceiling: Average third baseman on first division team
Floor: Four-A placeholder or injury insurance
Projected: Utility infielder/outfielder

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