Espinosa, Dogs nab AFL East crown
Washington infield prospect plates four runs in clincher
With one eye on the upcoming Arizona Fall League playoffs, Phoenix wasted no time in clinching the AFL East on Monday afternoon.
Led by a four-RBI performance by Nationals prospect Danny Espinosa, the Desert Dogs scored 11 unanswered runs in an 11-1 rout over the Mesa Solar Sox.
The victory gives the Desert Dogs (18-11) the top winning percentage in the AFL and also handed Phoenix the regular season crown with three games still to play. The Dogs will look to win their sixth straight Fall League championship this month.
"We wanted to get this win in so we could clinch right away," Espinosa said. "Hopefully this [victory] will take us rolling into the playoffs. Everyone's hitting and really swinging the bat well."
Especially their shortstop. Espinosa went 3-for-4 with an RBI triple to raise his AFL average to .329 in 22 games.
"I was really looking forward to this," Espinosa said of his first AFL experience. "To seeing how I did against such advanced pitching."
So far, so good for the Cal State-Long Beach alum. In his last 10 games, Espinosa is hitting .359 with eight RBIs and five extra-base hits, leaving little wonder why his walk total -- 14 -- is among the highest in the league.
The 22-year-old credits daily work with Phoenix hitting coach Brian McArn for strengthening his approach at the plate and helping him get his foot down early. The results have been an impressive AFL campaign on the heels of an equally productive first full season in the Minors.
Washington's third-round pick in last year's Draft, Espinosa hit .264 with 18 homers and 72 RBIs for Class A Advanced Potomac and is quickly becoming one of the organization's most promising prospects.
Espinosa is part of a talent-rich Desert Dogs squad, which also boasts highly touted Nationals teammate pitcher Stephen Strasburg. The top overall pick in this year's Draft, Strasburg is part of a rotation that entered Monday's game with a league's best ERA (4.37), a record further bettered by Monday's starter Mitch Talbot (3-0). The Rays right-hander allowed three hits over four innings and didn't yield an earned run in the clinching performance.
Offensively, Espinosa was aided by Josh Bell (Orioles) who blasted a three-run, fourth-inning homer to extend the Desert Dogs' league leading 35 homers. Bell also doubled, walked and scored as Phoenix continued to pile on the offensive accolades. The squad entered Monday with a league-leading 197 runs scored, and added 11 more in their mashing of Mesa. Darin Mastroianni scored three of those runs, as the Blue Jays prospect went 3-for-4 to raise his AFL average to .229.
Bierd (3-2) took the loss for Mesa, surrendering four runs on seven hits over 3 2/3 innings. Luis Exposito (Red Sox) went 2-for-3, while Twins prospect Chris Parmelee drove in the Solar Sox's lone run.
Brittany Ghiroli is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.