Still in the game

Former Dragon David Espinosa now scouts for the Independent League

By Marc Katz

 

David Espinosa was back at Fifth Third Field recently.

Yes, that David Espinosa, who arrived in Dayton as a 19-year-old first-round draft pick, already with a major league contract and said to have the playing skills to get himself there.

I don’t want to rewrite history, but he did have the skills, even though he didn’t quite make it to the majors.

Now, 35 years old and in near playing shape, Espinosa stays connected to the game as a scout, working for the Miami Marlins.

“I just want to be in baseball,” says Espinosa, who played eight years in organized baseball’s minor leagues, then seven more with teams in independent leagues.

During his second season of independent ball, he was signed by the Mariners, but released after the season.

Not everybody with promise makes it to the major leagues, and some who do make it in other capacities.

Following Espinosa’s 2014 playing season, he was home in Miami and was asked if he’d like to scout.

“I’ve been doing this two years for Miami,” Espinosa says. “I scout mainly the Independent League and the Midwest League and wherever the Marlins have a team.”

He also coaches in spring training.

Every player who makes it and every one who doesn’t has a story. Espinosa’s is as unique as any.

In 2000, he was a highly considered prep shortstop from Miami whose family had migrated from Venezuela. There was talk he would be drafted well before the Reds’ pick, No. 23, came up, but Espinosa’s agent was Scott Boras, a particularly tough negotiator. Several teams were said to have backed away, and there was Espinosa, still on the board.

Two problems quickly arose. Boras wanted a lot of money for his client, and the Reds had no money to offer. Remember, these were the Marge Schott ownership days, when she was said to sell leftover doughnuts in her staff lunchroom to employees who apparently weren’t getting paid enough to buy a fresh lunch.

While the Reds had not been having good results with their first-round draft picks in those years, the 2000 and 2001 drafts left an obvious hole. Espinosa’s contract talks expanded past the playing dates of the 2000 season, leaving him without the opportunity to play rookie ball in Billings or Sarasota.

Without money for a bonus, the Reds negotiated an eight-year $2.75 million major league deal, starting Espinosa with the low, Class A Dragons in 2001 at the major league minimum $250,000 (at the time). He was to get a bonus payment if he reached the majors. Most of his teammates were playing for $1,200 a month.

(Catcher Dane Sardinha, a second-round draft choice and also a Boras client, signed a similar deal, for six years and $1.75 million. He eventually did make the majors, only mostly not with the Reds.)

With that big contract, the Reds were not about to send Espinosa back to rookie ball for half a year or so, as they did later with Joey Votto. The Reds kept trying to improve Espinosa through competition he was not quite ready to match.

In 2001, the Reds gave up altogether, drafting pitcher Jeremy Sowers in the first round even though the Sowers family convinced everyone else Sowers was going to school first—Vanderbilt—before playing pro ball.

Sowers did go to Vanderbilt—saving the Reds about $2 million—but leaving them without a first-round draft choice.

Those picks might or might not have affected how the major league team played, but starting in 2001, the Reds ran off a string of nine straight losing seasons and have had only three winning seasons since then.

Espinosa not only played eight years in the minors for major league minimum, he eventually knew he no longer was a top prospect, and no major league team was going to pay a bonus to get him to the majors.

By then, of course, Espinosa had been shifted to second base, traded to Detroit, and moved to the outfield.

During his time with the Dragons, Espinosa was told he had to change the way he played in the field—and this is where sometimes the way a youngster plays and the way a coach knows he has to play in the majors, come into conflict.

Espinosa said he never made errors in high school. Suddenly, he couldn’t make a straight throw to first base, and the errors piled up, especially with first base anchored in Dayton and later Stockton by Randy Ruiz, who needed a perfect throw to complete a play.

“I got mental about it,” Espinosa says.

On offense, he showed promise as a rookie, hitting .262 with seven homers and 37 RBIs, good for a 19 year old in the Midwest League.

But there were numbers on his resume that didn’t look good. He walked just 55 times while striking out 120.

Athough he improved, Espinosa also says, “I figured out what worked for me too late.”

His agent hired a sports psychologist.

He says he learned how to deal with failure and, again too late, how to deport himself when dealing with failure.

He has already signed several players for the Marlins, and no, he won’t make the majors as a player. He may be the reason somebody else makes it, though.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

 
The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

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Marc Katz
Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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