It's hard not to get excited about what the future holds for Anderson Espinoza, especially when he pitches as well as he did on Thursday.
Making his sixth start of the season for Class A Greenville, Espinoza, the Red Sox's No. 4 prospect and No. 35 overall on the Top 100, struck out a career-high 11 hitters over five innings in a 7-4 win against Augusta. He allowed one run on five hits and walked one in the outing while matching his season high with 78 pitches (50 strikes).
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Espinoza's outing on Thursday was arguably the best of the 18-year-old right-hander's young career, as it was also his first game with double-digit strikeouts. Adding to the significance was the fact that the performance came one start after the worst of his career on April 30, when he allowed six earned runs in 3 2/3 innings.
After striking out 40 hitters in 40 innings across three levels in his 2015 pro debut, Espinoza has already piled up 35 punchouts -- against nine walks -- over his first 27 frames for Greenville. He's allowed one or fewer runs in four of his six starts this season, though his 4.00 ERA remains inflated as a result of his penultimate outing.
The Red Sox have no need to rush Espinoza up the ladder based solely on performance, which is why hasn't been allowed to work more than five innings or surpass the 78-pitch mark so far this season. He needs to continue to refine his arsenal and build arm strength in order to work deeper into games, though once those boxes are checked, there won't be much holding him back from a promotion to Class A Advanced Salem.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.