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Espino draws national attention
Pitcher Daniel Espino works on his mechanics through the towel drill at Georgia Premier Baseball Academy. The drill helps pitchers develop proper form and generate more power.

At first glance, Daniel Espino looks like a typical 17-year old. He bounces around with a big smile, he talks about hanging out with his friends and he is looking forward to what awaits in the future as he begins his senior year of high school.

But put him on a pitcher’s mound and he suddenly strikes a much more imposing figure.

That’s when you’ll notice that the friendly kid is actually a 6-foot-3, 200 pound athlete. And if that doesn’t get your attention the right-handers 100 mile-per-hour fastball will.

A member of the Georgia Premier Academy - now beginning its second year in Statesboro - Espino has quickly developed into an elite pitcher. Over the spring and summer, Espino saw his stock rise from a well-known prospect to a bona fide star in the making.

After leading the GPA squad to great showings during the tournaments that made up their regular season, Espino took off on a summerlong barnstorming tour as hardly a week went by without a showcase that placed him in front of Major League scouts.

“This has been amazing and a real blessing for me,” Espino said. “I’m so glad that everything has lined up for me to get with the academy and I’ve been excited about how much I’ve been growing as a player and as a man.”

It definitely hasn’t been the summer break experience of most 17 year olds.

Espino participated in the Under Armour All-American game at Wrigley Field in July, pitching a perfect inning of relief with one strikeout. When Perfect Game released its player rankings for the Class of 2019, Espino was named the top pitching prospect in the country and the No. 3 overall player.

Those kind of accolades have made everyone from the top college teams to the professional ranks take notice. Plenty of schools were hot on his heels to offer a scholarship while Espino has spent much of his time over the last few weeks meeting with MLB clubs.

While that’s a lot to take in, it doesn’t seem to phase him in the least.

“I just take everything one day at a time,” Espino said. “When I’m pitching, it’s one pitch at a time. I’m not worried about scouts or how hard I’m throwing. It’s just me, the catcher and the guys behind me.”

Growing up in Panama, Espino said he first started playing when he was three years old. By the age of six, he was convinced that he wanted to make playing the game his life’s goal. At 10, he moved to Miami and said that his abilities started to take off with the competitive youth leagues in the United States.

All of that led him to Georgia Premier three years ago. The Academy provides a unique and intensive program for its players. Fundamentals and proper development are stressed above all else. For Espino and many other academy members, baseball is literally a way of life as they are housed on the academy’s campus.

Classes are taken online during the morning before transitioning to baseball activities in the afternoon. The program prides itself in success on the field, but makes it clear that its primary goal is to use baseball as a building block, along with faith and education, to prepare players to lead fulfilling lives.

Espino is a testament to that system. Through his development on the field and success in the classroom, he has committed to play college ball at LSU - a perennial national title contender. That commitment won’t stop a professional team from drafting him in next year’s draft, which would come with the promise of contracts and signing bonuses, but Espino is sticking to the plan.

“It’s about priorities,” Espino said. “It’s important to me and to my family to get a good education. It hasn’t been easy and there have been times where I thought about going home.

“But I’m doing what I love. (Georgia Premier) is like a second family and I’m always thinking about the opportunity that I have.”