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Mets Acquire J.D. Davis at Steep Price

On Sunday, the Mets continued an active weekend of trades designed to add bench-quality pieces to their big league roster, sending several low-level minor leaguers to Houston for power-hitting corner bat J.D. Davis. Here’s the whole deal:

The Mets get:

J.D. Davis, 3B/1B/OF
Cody Bohanek, INF

The Astros get:

Luis Santana, 2B
Ross Adolph, CF
Scott Manea, C

Davis is talented — he has plus-plus raw power, a plus-plus arm, and can play several positions, though none especially well — but it’s hard to see how he fits in New York without taking playing time from players who have greater long-term potential and might also be just as good as Davis is right now. He doesn’t complement Todd Frazier or Peter Alonso — the two players projected to start for the Mets at Davis’ primary positions — in any way. Like Frazier and Alonso, Davis hits right-handed and isn’t a good infield defender.

He does have experience in the outfield corners, an area where the Mets need warm bodies, so perhaps we’ll see Davis used as a platoon or situational corner outfielder as a means of getting him at-bats against left-handed pitching. Davis hit .348/.419/.583 against southpaws last year and .344/.401/.800 in 2017, with most of that production coming at Triple-A Fresno. He could get some starts against lefties in situations where the Mets can hide him on defense. They could mix him with Juan Lagares or Keon Broxton depending on if the game state dictates a need for offense or defense, which might move Michael Conforto or Brandon Nimmo to center field once in a while.

This assumes Davis, who turns 26 in April, can hit big league pitching, something he hasn’t done in a fairly limited sample; he owns a .194/.260/.321 line in 181 career big league plate appearances. Houston, an organization at the forefront at understanding how to implement swing changes, doesn’t seem to have been able to alter Davis’ batted ball profile in a way that would enable him to start showing his raw power in games. A power-hitting platoon outcome seems reasonable to hope for, though Davis’ true talent level is probably closer to a defensively-limited bench bat, one that’s easier to roster in the American League and isn’t a great fit on this Mets roster as it’s currently composed.

Cody Bohanek, also acquired by the Mets, is an interesting, late-blooming athletic flier who is probably just an org guy. He played safety and corner at Marist High School in Chicago and had college football aspirations until the University of Illinois-Chicago gave him the opportunity to play baseball. Two-sport, cold weather prospects are apt to improve later than their warm weather peers who play more baseball, and that’s what happened with Bohanek, who had a statistical breakout as a senior and impressed scouts at NCAA Regionals. He was a 30th round senior sign in 2017.

Bohanek split 2018 between Low and Hi-A. He walked a lot and has a proficient, versatile infield glove. He may be a bench infielder at peak and the two-sport, small school, cold weather pedigree makes him slightly mysterious and interesting.

I like Houston’s end of this deal. Tyler White, who lifts the ball consistently and has a track record of hitting for power against big league pitching, made Davis offensively redundant in Houston, as the team didn’t seem interested in exploring a two-way role for Davis, who closed in college. They add three up-the-middle defenders who have performed statistically. The best of them is 19-year-old Dominican second baseman Luis Santana, who is coming off a domestic debut at advanced rookie-level Kingsport where he hit .348/.446/.471 with more walks than strikeouts.

A stocky, curvaceous 5-foot-8, Santana crowds the plate so much that he’s practically straddling it, and his idiosyncratic, low-ball swing enables him to impact pitches that cross the plate beneath his chest as he leans over it. It’s weird, but it works, and Santana looks like he’s going to be a plus hitter who also has a discerning eye for the strike zone, and whose plate crowding gets him hit by pitches so often that it actually matters. Santana has been hit in 4% of his 611 career plate appearances, which is nearly twice the career rate of active big league HBP leader Shin-Soo Choo (132 HBP, 1.9%) who became the active leader when Chase Utley (204 HBP, 2.5%) retired.

Athletically, Santana fits at second and third base. His body is pretty maxed out and he’s not likely to grow into sizable raw power, but he runs well, has infield-worthy hands and an average arm. The combination of his defensive profile and promising feel to hit make him a very intriguing prospect. He was slated to be the 10th ranked Mets prospect on our upcoming list as a 40+ FV player, and I think he’s the best individual talent involved in this deal.

The Astros also received Scott Manea and Ross Adolph. Adolph,22, is an interesting small-school sleeper who hit .322/.445/.654 as a junior at Toledo, then signed for $125,000 as a 2018 12th rounder. He continued to rake at short-season Brooklyn after signing, hitting .276/.348/.509 and swiping 14 bases (on 17 attempts) in 60 games.

He’s an above-average runner with good instincts in center field, and there’s a chance he can stay there. He could be a 50 bat with gap power who is playable in center, which would make him at least a viable big league fourth outfielder. He was going to be a prominent part of the Mets prospect lists’ honorable mention section. We whiffed on him pre-draft, but our sources who saw him in pro ball raved and I’m very interested to see how he hits in full-season ball next year because I think the industry’s error bars on small school bats are pretty large due to the quality of pitching they face.

Manea, 23, was drafted by Seattle out of high school but didn’t sign. He transferred to St. Petersburg College in Florida after his freshman year at NC State, but wasn’t drafted after his sophomore year despite being eligible. He had a good summer for the Wachusett Dirt Dawgs of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League and was eligible to sign as an undrafted free agent, which he did with the Mets in late July of 2016.

He’s a heavy-bodied catcher with power who hit .261/.368/.432 at Low-A Columbia last year. Manea’s a below-average receiver who lets his target sag as his pitcher starts to deliver the ball home, which means he has to come back to that spot with his glove, creating a lot of unnecessary movement that isn’t great for stealing strikes. He’s also a well-below average athlete and thrower, so he probably can’t catch.

The Astros have, in several instances, traded players on the periphery of their big league roster (Teoscar Hernandez, David Paulino, Ramon Laureano, etc.) for prospects, and this is another example. I understand the Mets desire to add high-probability contributors to their big league roster, even if they’re low-impact players, but moving a prospect like Santana for the kind of role player readily available on the open market feels short-sighted.


Mets Trade Three Prospects for Keon Broxton’s Defense

On Saturday, the Brewers and Mets continued to reshape their outfields, making a four-player swap headlined by dynamic outfield defender Keon Broxton. Here’s the deal:

Mets get:

Keon Broxton, CF

Brewers get:

Bobby Wahl, RHP
Adam Hill, RHP
Felix Valerio, 2B

Almost by default, Broxton tentatively slots in as the Mets’ starting center fielder, between Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo. There’s a stark lack of outfield depth on New York’s 40-man; Jay Bruce was traded, the org isn’t expecting much from Yoenis Cespedes next season as he recovers from surgery to remove bone spurs from both heels, and Juan Lagares provides very little on offense and is injury prone. Since 2014, he has endured a strained hamstring, an intercostal strain, several thumb injuries, an oblique strain, and a plantar plate tear. In 2018, he was shut down for the year in May due to toe surgery and has only played seven Dominican Winter League games this offseason.

As far as others on the 40-man are concerned, T.J. Rivera and Dom Smith have each played some left field, while Jeff McNeil, who turns 27 in April, has started just five pro games in the outfield. It’s debatable as to whether any of them are actually playable out there. It is not debatable that Broxton, who is an elite defender at all three outfield spots, is simply better than all of them.

Set to turn 29 in May, Broxton’s growth as a player has likely concluded. He struggled badly with strikeouts as a prospect and was traded straight up for cash before being part of a two-player package for half-year big league performer and fringe 40-man talent Jason Rogers. That deal landed him in Milwaukee, where Broxton improved enough in his late-twenties to be rostered as defensive ace and pinch runner.

The strikeout issues remain (his career strikeout rate is 36%), and Broxton’s propensity to whiff undercuts his offensive production enough to make him a bench-quality player, albeit a good one because of the defense. Ideally, he’s not your everyday center fielder, but it’s reasonable to project him as one right now because of the dearth of other outfielders on the Mets roster.

Broxton and Lagares seem, on the surface, like odd bedfellows for a platoon because they’re each right-handed. It’s possible a timeshare might help keep Lagares healthy, or that the two complement one another in harder-to-see ways. For instance, a quick examination of their heats maps on the site shows that Broxton does his damage on pitches middle-in, while Lagares thrives on pitches down-and-in. They could be platooned in accordance with where the opposing starter likes to work. That’s probably not a different enough offensive profile for this type of thinking to matter, but maybe their skill sets with mesh with each other in some other way we can’t see. Or perhaps the Mets will keep an open mind about further upgrading in center field.

From Milwaukee’s perspective, Lorenzo Cain’s defense made Broxton’s best skill redundant in a crowded outfield picture that now projects to see more action from Eric Thames, Ben Gamel, and Tyrone Taylor, who is a sleeper breakout candidate due to a recent swing change that might have altered his power output.

From the Mets, the Brewers receive another immediately relevant relief piece in Wahl, who will likely compete for an opening day bullpen spot in the spring. He was part of the two-player package Oakland sent to the Mets for Jeurys Familia last summer. Wahl, who turns 27 in March, has thrown just 12 career big league innings at this age mostly because he missed extended development time to multiple surgeries, including one in 2017 to remedy thoracic outlet syndrome.

His stuff was back last year. Wahl’s fastball sits in the mid-90s and will touch 99. He has a four-pitch mix but works primarily with the fastball and a power, mid-80s breaking ball that has bat-missing vertical action. A firm cutter and changeup are also folded in on occasion. Wahl has set-up man stuff but below average command and more significant injury risk than most pitching prospects.

The Brewers also acquired Adam Hill, the Mets’ 2018 fourth round pick out of the University of South Carolina. Hill was dominant during the first four starts of his junior year, but his control disappeared once the Gamecocks began conference play. He struggled to throw strikes for two months leading up to the draft and fell to the fourth round.

Hill does have good stuff. He’ll sit 90-94 and his big, 6-foot-6 frame and lower arm slot combine to create a unique look for hitters. His slider breaks late and has good length when located to Hill’s arm side, and his changeup has good action because of his lower arm slot. His limited command probably relegates Hill to the bullpen eventually, but he has No. 4 or 5 starter stuff if he can develop better control in his mid-20s, which sometimes happens to pitchers this size.

Finally, the Brewers also acquired 18-year-old Dominican second baseman Felix Valerio, who hit .319/.409/.433 in the DSL during his first pro season. Valerio is a skills-over-tools type of prospect who is more polished than most of his peers. He has promising feel for contact and is athletically viable at second base but at 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds, he’s less likely to grow into more impressive physical tools than someone with some length and room on their frame. Players like this either hit enough to play second base every day, or don’t and end up as org guys. Valerio walked more than he struck out last year, and those types of peripheral indicators can offer great evidence to support a case that a player will indeed hit enough to play every day, but not when we’re talking about DSL stats. Still, league sources indicated to me that this was not the first time Valerio’s name has come up in trade talks, so it seems that other teams besides Milwaukee have had interest in him.

All three players have been added to the Brewers prospect rankings on The Board. Wahl and Hill are in the 40 Future Value tier, while Valerio will be added to the Others of Note section of the team’s long form writeup.


Evaluating the Three-Team Profar Exchange

Friday morning’s three-team, nine-piece trade, which was headlined by Oakland’s acquisition of Jurickson Profar, has obvious implications for the AL West, as a playoff team just added a 25-year-old who posted 2.9 WAR this past season and can play all over the field. But this deal is also a case study in talent churning, and forces us to consider if there’s more eligible international talent out there than we realize. Here’s a rundown of the trade:

Oakland gets:

  • Jurickson Profar, INF (from Texas)

Texas gets:

Tampa Bay gets:

  • Emilio Pagan, RHP (from Oakland)
  • 2019 Draft Competitive Balance Round A selection, currently pick No. 38 overall (from Oakland)
  • Rollie Lacy, RHP (from Texas)

There are so many moving parts in this deal that it might be best to evaluate how the deal balances by looking at additions and subtractions team-by-team, starting with Oakland.

Oakland

In: Jurickson Profar
Out: Emilio Pagan, Eli White, an early draft pick, a pretty large chunk of international pool space

Profar was once an upper echelon prospect, a hyper-advanced wunderkind who looked already looked comfortable and performed against upper-level minor leaguers when he was 17. He was lauded not because he had elite physical skills and was destined for superstardom, but because he was so polished, mature, safe, and competent in every facet of baseball, and he seemed likely to race through the minors and be an above-average big leaguer for a decade or more. He debuted with Texas at age 19, then spent a half decade in prospect limbo due to a myriad of injuries (most significantly, shoulder injuries that caused him to miss almost all of 2013 and 2014), and because Texas’ infield was full of Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor.

When Profar finally got healthy, he languished in the upper minors and became a vocal malcontent, especially when Texas neglected to call him up in September of 2017, after he had wrapped up a strong 2017 season at Triple-A. It was a transparent manipulation of Profar’s service time.

I collected updated thoughts on Profar in February and the reports were down a bit compared to where they were when he was a proper prospect. Of course, teams were aware of the context of his situation and thought some of the depressed reports were the result of him being aloof and frustrated with his organization, leaving open the possibility that he might break out if given a change of scenery. Instead, 2018 injuries opened up a spot on Texas’ infield, meaning Profar finally got regular big league at-bats, and broke out. He hit .253/.334/.458 with 20 homers, 35 doubles and 10 steals while playing all over the field. He tallied 2.9 WAR.

This Jay Jaffe post provides an exhaustive look at how Profar performed last year, though I think it’s worth adding that there’s a pretty significant disparity between what Baseball Savant expected Profar to slug based on his 2018 batted ball profile (xSLG of .393) and what xStats expected (.430), even though they’re setting out to measure the same thing. Barring a swing change that takes advantage of his bat-to-ball skills, it seems reasonable to expect a little bit of regression from Profar’s power output next year, but he’s still clearly a productive hitter and a versatile, if unspectacular, defender with two years of team control remaining. He’ll replace Jed Lowrie in Oakland and hit the open market in 2021. (Profar projects to be half a win better than Lowrie next year and is not an age-based risk to decline like Lowrie is.) Profar will be 28 when he starts his next contract.

In exchange, Oakland moved four years of control in a middle relief piece (Pagan) and a near-ready bench/utility type (Eli White), and two non-player assets in the draft pick and International pool space. The Brewers traded a similar pick in their deal for reliever Alex Claudio, which will likely result in a prospect who we’d evaluate as a 45 or 40+ FV player. White’s FV is similar. He’s a plus runner who can play all over the field and he has some bat to ball skills, but he probably lacks the power to profile as a true everyday player.

Texas

In: Brock Burke, Eli White, Kyle Bird, Yoel Espinal, $750,000 of International Pool Space
Out: Profar, Rollie Lacy

The Rangers are undergoing a full-scale rebuild and seems unlikely to be competitive during either of Profar’s two remaining arbitration years. Plus, the way they handled him in 2017 may have strained their relationship, making it less likely that he would re-sign with them. They’re also arguably selling high on a player who most of the industry seemed a bit down on before the season, has had injury issues, and whose power output might regress next year. In return they get back a package of quantity more than quality, with Burke and White as the de facto headliners.

Burke had a breakout 2018 (which really may have started in 2017) that ended with a dynamite month and a half at Double-A Montgomery, during which he struck out 71 hitters in 55 innings. He has a plus fastball that sits 91-95 and touches 96 but plays up because Burke creates huge, down-mound extension and has an uncommonly vertical arm slot. Changeup development likely played a role in his breakout, as the pitch was much different last year (82-85mph, at times with cut) than in 2017 (78-80mph), and it’s fair to speculate that something like a grip change took place here. Burke has two breaking balls that are both about average, though he uses the curveball pretty sparingly. He profiles as a No. 4 or 5 starter.

After doing very little in pro ball, White also had a breakout 2018 (albeit at age 24), and hit .306/.388/.450 at Double-A Midland. He then went to the Arizona Fall League, where he was heavily scrutinized by the entire industry. White had only really played shortstop until this year when he began seeing time at second and third base. He fits best at second but is fine at all three spots, and his plus speed might enable him to one day run down balls in the outfield as well. He’s a near-ready, multi-positional utility man who should provide the kind of defensive flexibility teams are starting to prioritize.

Bird is a lefty spin rate monster with four pitches. Last year, his low-80s slider averaged about 2650 rpm, his curveball about 2800, with both marks way above big league average. He sits 90-92 and has below-average command. He’s 25 and projects in middle relief. Espinal throws hard (94-95), and has a weird sinker/power changeup offspeed pitch in the 89-91 range. He doesn’t always clear his front side properly, which causes some of his fastballs to sail on him, but he can also dump his mid-80s slider into the strike zone. He’s 26 and also projects in middle relief, though teams are more certain about Bird’s prospects than Espinal’s because they’re more confident in Bird’s strike-throwing. From a Future Value standpoint, both Burke and White will both be in the 45/40+ area when we write up Texas’ system this offseason (likely slotting them in the 10-15 range of players in that farm), while Bird and Espinal will be in the 40/35+ area, at the back of the list.

It’s hard to say what Texas will do with an extra $750,000 in pool space. There have now been two trades involving pool space in the last week, the other being the Ivan Nova deal. Most big name individual international prospects have signed, but $750,000 is a pretty big chunk of change, and inspired me and colleague Kiley McDaniel to ask around baseball if there’s a player who is either eligible to sign right now or who teams speculate will be eligible before this IFA signing period ends in June. The consensus is that there is not, and that it’s more likely that Texas will spread this bonus money out among several $100,000 – $300,000 talents over the next couple of months.

Tampa Bay

In: Oakland’s Competitive Balance pick, Emilio Pagan, Rollie Lacy
Out: Burke, Bird, Espinal

Tampa Bay is reckoning with the same issue that other teams with deep farm systems have had to deal with: they need to consolidate their overflow of decent upper-level prospects or risk losing them for nothing when they hit minor league free agency or are Rule 5 eligible. Both Bird and Espinal are in their mid-20s, so turning them over into similarly valued assets that they’re not at risk of losing for a while makes a ton of sense. Burke is pretty good but for us, slots behind Brent Honeywell, Brendan McKay, a healthy Jose DeLeon and Anthony Banda, to say nothing of the pitchers already on the Rays big league roster. Essentially flipping him for a pick that should result in a prospect whose FV mirror’s Burke’s (as I posit in the Claudio article linked above) makes sense.

Pagan, now on his third org in three years after he was sent to Oakland in the Ryon Healy trade, immediately steps into the Rays bullpen as a traditional four-seam/slider middle reliever, and Lacy (who Texas acquired from the Cubs in the Cole Hamels deal) is the kind of strike-throwing, changeup arm Tampa Bay likes to horde as they attempt to build another Ryan Yarbrough. He has an upper-80s fastball and scouts have him as a up and down arm, but guys with good changeups like Lacy often outperform scout expectations.

Asset value calculations are tough to do precisely in a situation like this because $/WAR values are not linear, and the 2.5 WAR Profar is projected to generate next year means way more to a competitive team like Oakland than it does to a rebuilding Texas. Craig Edwards has Profar’s surplus value calculated at a combined $37 million over the next two years (his arbitration salary is likely to be low due to a relative lack of playing time, with MLB Trade Rumors projecting him to make $3.4 million), while Oakland gave up about $12 million worth of assets (White at $4 million, a Draft pick at $5 million, Pagan at $2 million, and IFA space of $1.5 mil) to acquire him based on Craig’s methodology. That seems like highway robbery for Oakland, but again, Profar wasn’t generating that kind of revenue on a bad Texas team. This makes it a common sense deal for the Rangers based on where they are on the competitive spectrum, even if it’s painful to part with a good everyday player the organization has been attached to for nearly a decade.


Eric Longenhagen Chat- 12/20/18

2:17
Eric A Longenhagen: Hey, everyone. It’s been a while since we’ve chatted. I’ll spare you the list of links to things written since then and just remind everyone that fangraphs.com/prospects is where all of it ends up.

2:17
Mike: I know you hate when people compare prospect lists, but I’ve seen three top 10/30 lists for the Cubs and one Paul Richan was ranked #5 and the other two, he wasn’t ranked at all. Is there a wide range of opinions on him?

2:19
Eric A Longenhagen: I don’t think there is a wide range of opinions. I’d be surprised if anyone had an eval outside of the #4/5-6th starter range and I think the disparity in rankings comes from how various publications value that type guy, not the eval itself.

2:19
The West is Wild: The Diamondbacks will have a large bonus pool in 2019. Is there any kind of general trend of how teams with similarly large pools have strategized? This situation seems unique to me as their pool is big without having a top 5 pick…

2:22
Eric A Longenhagen: You’re kind of at the mercy of the talent structure of the draft class and where other teams with multiple picks select in relation to you. Like Philly had a ton of money in the Moniak draft but the tier of preps they wanted to spend the extra money on was scooped up by teams who had extra picks before their second one. Kansas City just kinda stuck to their board last year and got a bunch of good value college picks, they didn’t play games at all.

2:23
Eric A Longenhagen: There are countless scenarios and variables teams can’t control. What is best for ARI to do will be more obvious 4 months from now.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Alex Claudio Trade Tells Us a Lot

On the surface, Thursday’s trade that sent left-handed pitcher Alex Claudio from Texas to Milwaukee in exchange for a competitive balance pick seemed relatively innocuous. A rebuilding team sent a middle reliever to a competitive team that needed one in exchange for an asset — in this case, a draft pick — with a maturation timeline that better fits that of the rebuilding club. But this trade also might tell us a little more about how the Brewers think about pitching, and help us to calibrate the way we think about draft prospects, particularly advanced college relievers.

But first, let’s talk about Claudio, who is entering his first year of arbitration and will be under team control for three more. Kiley and I posited in the Brewers prospect list’s System Overview (it’s at the bottom) that Milwaukee seems drawn to pitching curiosities. This is, of course, our subjective opinion, but the list of Brewers draftees and minor leaguers who have weird deliveries or unique release points has grown to the point where it seems to be an organizational focus or, at least, an organizational experiment. And Claudio, for those who have not been lucky enough to see him pitch for Texas over the last few years, looks like this:

It’s not easy to make big league hitters look goofy under normal circumstances, let alone when you only throw 86 mph. It’s clear the bizarre nature of Claudio’s delivery plays a role in his success. For context, here’s how Claudio’s release point looks on paper when given some context. Here I’ve compared Claudio’s release point to a lefty with a pretty generic delivery.

The proliferation of Trackman at the minor league and college levels enables teams to measure things like release point, and identify players who are bizarre or unique in this regard. Extension probably factors into this, as well, and I think adding that could enable us or teams to plot release points in three dimensions, and learn even more about what helps stuff play beyond just velocity and movement.

Claudio is also effective because he’s a rare reliever with plus-plus command. He’s walked just 4.5% of hitters during each of his three years in the big leagues and, when he misses, he misses down. His ability to dump sinkers and changeups into the bottom part of the strike zone or just beneath it and almost never, ever miss up in the zone is remarkable, and it’s a huge part of why Claudio has been able to induce ground balls at a 60% clip in the big leagues.

Teams have begun to think about pitching like wine and cheese. They’re more concerned about how pitches pair together rather than just evaluating each pitch’s quality in a vacuum. A general rule of thumb is that sinking fastballs pair well with changeups because they have similarly shaped movement, sinking and running toward the pitcher’s arm side. And again, Claudio is a great example of this, with his fastball and changeup movement overlapping exactly.

We know what Claudio is at this point. He’s going to be a good middle relief option whose WAR production will likely hover around 1.0, perhaps maxing out close to the 1.7 WAR he netted in 2017. Based on how we map WAR to the 20-80 scouting scale, Milwaukee got a 40-45 FV player for the next three years. Mapping Claudio’s WAR production to the scouting scale helps us make an apples to apples comparison in situations where we otherwise would not be able to, as in this instance, where Claudio was traded, straight up, for a draft pick.

The competitive balance pick Texas received from Milwaukee is going to be close to the 40th overall selection in the draft, give or take a few spots depending on how free agent compensation picks shake out ahead of that selection. As you can see from our last several years of MLB Draft evaluations (here’s 2018), that 40th overall range is typically right about where the 45 FV and 40 FV tiers blend together, which is akin to Claudio’s value when he’s placed on the 20-80 scale. In short, based on how we think about relievers and how we expected draft prospects in the late first and early second round to pan out, this seems like a fair, logical trade for both teams.

In every draft there are a few college pitchers who seem like they could pitch in a big league relief role right away. It’s almost never a plan teams actually enact for various reasons, but this trade also gives us an idea of where that type of prospect would go in a draft. It would take a confluence of variables for such a selection to be made (a team with a relief need, a very seller-friendly or completely barren reliever trade market that forces that team to turn to the draft, and a specific type of prospect) but this part of the draft is where the drop-off in potential ceiling could lead teams to focus on other traits, like proximity and risk. In other words, the Brewers seem to have told us who they’d take in June if given the choice between this theoretical college arm and, say, a high school hitter whose career is much harder to predict.


2018 Rule 5 Draft Scouting Reports

The major-league phase of Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft began with its annual roll call of clubs confirming the number of players currently on their 40-man rosters and ended with a total of 14 players being added to new big-league clubs. Dan Szymborski offered ZiPS projections here for the players taken earlier today. Below are brief scouting reports on the players selected, with some notes provided by Kiley McDaniel.

But, first: Our annual refresher on the Rule 5 Draft’s complex rules. Players who signed their first pro contract at age 18 or younger are eligible for selection after five years of minor-league service if their parent club has not yet added them to the team’s 40-man roster. For players who signed at age 19 or older, the timeline is four years. Teams with the worst win/loss record from the previous season pick first, and those that select a player must not only (a) pay said player’s former club $100,000, but also (b) keep the player on their 25-man active roster throughout the entirety of the following season (with a couple of exceptions, mostly involving the disabled list). If a selected player doesn’t make his new team’s active roster, he is offered back to his former team for half of the initial fee. After the player’s first year on the roster, he can be optioned back to the minor leagues.

These rules typically limit the talent pool to middle-relief prospects or position players with one-dimensional skillsets, though sometimes it involves more talented prospects who aren’t remotely ready for the majors. This creates an environment where selections are made based more on fit and team need than just talent, but teams find solid big-league role players in the Rule 5 every year and occasionally scoop up an eventual star. Let’s dive into the scouting reports on this year’s group.

First Round

1. Baltimore Orioles
Richie Martin, SS (from A’s) – Martin was a 2015 first rounder out of the University of Florida, drafted as an athletic shortstop with some pop who was still raw as a baseball player. Martin had really struggled to hit in pro ball until 2018, when he repeated Double-A and slashed .300/.368/.439.

He has average raw power but hits the ball on the ground too often to get to any of it in games. Houston has been adept at altering their players’ swings, so perhaps the new Orioles regime can coax more in-game pop from Martin, who is a perfectly fine defensive shortstop. He should compete with incumbent Orioles Breyvic Valera and Jonathan Villar, as well as fellow Rule 5 acquisition Drew Jackson, for middle infield playing time. But unless there’s a significant swing change here, Martin really only projects as a middle infield utility man.

2. Kansas City Royals
Sam McWilliams, RHP (from Rays) – McWilliams was an overslot eighth rounder in 2014 and was traded from Philadelphia to Arizona for Jeremy Hellickson in the fall of 2015. He was then sent from Arizona to Tampa Bay as one of the players to be named later in the three-team trade that sent Steven Souza to Arizona. McWilliams is pretty raw for a 23-year-old. He spent two years in the Midwest League and posted a 5.02 ERA at Double-A when the Rays pushed him there after the trade.

He has a big fastball, sitting mostly 93-94 but topping out at 97. He’ll flash an occasional plus slider but it’s a rather inconsistent pitch. The industry thought McWilliams had a chance to grow into a backend rotation arm because his stuff is quite good, but he has a much better chance of sticking as a reliever right now.

3. Chicago White Sox (Traded to Rangers)
Jordan Romano, RHP (from Blue Jays) – Romano is a 25-year-old righty who spent 2018 at Double-A. He’s a strike-throwing righty with a fastball in the 91-93 range and he has an average slider and changeup, both of which reside in the 80-84 range. His command is advanced enough that both of his secondaries play up a little bit. He likely profiles as a fifth starter or rotation depth, but the Rangers current pitching situation is quite precarious and Romano may just end up sticking around to eat innings with the hope that he sticks as a backend starter or swingman when they’re competitive once again.

4. Miami Marlins
Riley Ferrell, RHP (from Astros)- Ferrell was a dominant college closer at TCU and was consistently 93-97 with a plus slider there. He continued to pitch well in pro ball until a shoulder aneurysm derailed his 2016 season. Ferrell needed surgery that transplanted a vein from his groin into his shoulder in order to repair it, and the industry worried at the time that the injury threatened his career. His stuff is back and Ferrell is at least a big league ready middle reliever with a chance to be a set-up man.

5. Detroit Tigers
Reed Garrett, RHP (from Rangers)
Garrett’s velo spiked when he moved to the bullpen in 2017 and he now sits in the mid-90s, touches 99 and has two good breaking balls, including a curveball that has a plus-plus spin rate. He also has an average changeup. He’s a fair bet to carve out a bullpen role on a rebuilding Tigers team.

6. San Diego Padres
No Pick (full 40-man)

7. Cincinnati Reds
Connor Joe, 3B (from Dodgers) – The Reds will be Joe’s fourth team in two years as he has been shuttled around from Pittsburgh (which drafted him) to Atlanta (for Sean Rodriguez) to the Dodgers (for cash) during that time. Now 26, Joe spent 2018 split between Double and Triple-A. He’s a swing changer who began lifting the ball more once he joined Los Angeles. Joe is limited on defense to first and third base, and he’s not very good at third. He has seen a little bit of time in the outfield corners and realistically projects as a four-corners bench bat who provides patience and newfound in-game pop.

8. Texas Rangers (Traded to Royals)
Chris Ellis, RHP (from Cardinals)- Ellis, 26, spent 2018 split between Double and Triple-A. One could argue he has simply been lost amid St. Louis’ surfeit of upper-level pitching but his stuff — a low-90s sinker up to 94 and an average slider — did not compel us to include him in our Cardinals farm system write up. The Royals took Brad Keller, who has a similar kind of repertoire but better pure stuff, and got more out of him than I anticipated, so perhaps that will happen with Ellis.

9. San Francisco Giants
Travis Bergen, LHP (from Blue Jays)- Bergen looked like a lefty specialist in college but the Blue Jays have normalized the way he strides toward home, and his delivery has become more platoon-neutral in pro ball. He has a fringy, low-90s fastball but has two good secondaries in his upper-70s curveball and tumbling mid-80s change. So long as he pitches heavily off of those two offerings, he could lock down a bullpen role.

10. Toronto Blue Jays
Elvis Luciano, RHP (from Royals)- Luciano turns 19 in February and was the youngest player selected in the Rule 5 by a pretty wide margin. He was acquired by Kansas City in the trade that sent Jon Jay to Arizona. Though he’ll touch 96, Luciano’s fastball sits in the 90-94 range and he has scattershot command of it, especially late in starts. His frame is less projectable than the typical teenager so there may not be much more velo coming as he ages, but he has arm strength and an above-average breaking ball, so there’s a chance he makes the Jays roster in a relief role. He has no. 4 starter upside if his below-average changeup and command progress. If he makes the opening day roster, he’ll be the first player born in the 2000s to play in the big leagues.

11. New York Mets
Kyle Dowdy, RHP (from Indians)
Dowdy’s nomadic college career took him from Hawaii to Orange Coast College and finally to Houston, where he redshirted for a year due to injury. He was drafted by Detroit and then included as a throw-in in the Leonys Martin trade to Cleveland. He’s a reliever with a four-pitch mix headlined by an above-average curveball that pairs pretty well with a fastball that lives in the top part of the strike zone but doesn’t really spin. He also has a mid-80s slider and changeup that are fringy and exist to give hitters a little different look. He could stick in the Mets bullpen.

12. Minnesota Twins
No Pick (full 40-man)

13. Philadelphia Phillies (Traded to Orioles)
Drew Jackson, SS (from Dodgers)- Jackson is a plus runner with a plus-plus arm and average defensive hands and actions at shortstop. He’s not a great hitter but the Dodgers were at least able to cleanse Jackson of the Stanford swing and incorporate more lift into his cut. He had a 55% ground ball rate with Seattle in 2016 but that mark was 40% with Los Angeles last year. He also started seeing reps in center field last season. He projects as a multi-positional utility man.

14. Los Angeles Angels
No Pick (team passed)

15. Arizona Diamondbacks
Nick Green, RHP (from Yankees)- Green has the highest present ranking on The Board as a 45 FV, and we think he’s a near-ready backend starter. Arizona lacks pitching depth, so Green has a pretty solid chance to make the club out of spring training. He induces a lot of ground balls (65% GB% in 2018) with a low-90s sinker and also has a plus curveball.

16. Washington Nationals
No Pick (team passed)

17. Pittsburgh Pirates
No Pick (team passed)

18. St. Louis Cardinals
No Pick (full 40-man)

19. Seattle Mariners
Brandon Brennan, RHP (from Rockies)- Brennan is a 27-year-old reliever with a mid-90s sinker that will touch 97. He has an average slider that relies heavily on it’s velocity more than movement to be effective. The real bat-misser here is the changeup, which has more than 10 mph of separation from Brennan’s fastball and dying fade.

20. Atlanta Braves
No Pick (team passed)

21. Tampa Bay Rays
No Pick (full 40-man)

22. Colorado Rockies
No Pick (team passed)

23. Cleveland Indians
No Pick (team passed)

24. Los Angeles Dodgers
No Pick (full 40-man)

25. Chicago Cubs
No Pick (team passed)

26. Milwaukee Brewers
No Pick (team passed)

27. Oakland Athletics
No Pick (team passed)

28. New York Yankees
No Pick (full 40-man)

29. Houston Astros
No Pick (team passed)

30. Boston Red Sox
No Pick (team passed)

Second Round

San Francisco Giants
Drew Ferguson, OF- Ferguson is a hitterish tweener outfielder with a good combination of bat-to-ball skills and plate discipline. He has a very short, compact stroke that enables him to punch lines drives to his pull side and he’s tough to beat with velocity. Ferguson doesn’t really run well enough to play center field and lacks the power for a corner, so his likely ceiling is that of a bench outfielder.


Reds Bolster Rotation by Adding Roark

The Cincinnati Reds have a strong collection of position players, but have remained near the bottom of the NL Central standings as they’ve struggled to develop pitching from within. It seemed likely that they’d add pitching either via trade or free agency this winter in an effort to compete before their core group of hitters begins to decline. After already adding a few minor pieces (Matt Bowman, Robby Scott), the Reds made their biggest splash of the winter so far by acquiring Tanner Roark from the Washington Nationals in exchange for 25-year-old relief prospect Tanner Rainey.

Roark has been a durable part of Washington’s rotation for six years and has thrown 180 or more innings in four of the last five seasons, only failing to do so in 2015 because he was relegated to the bullpen after Max Scherzer’s acquisition and because he was briefly on paternity leave. That quantity of innings drove mid-rotation WAR production during his tenure in D.C., though he has been declining in that regard (3.3 WAR in ’16, 2.5 in ’17, 1.9 in ’18) despite showing very little decline in stuff. Steamer and Depth Charts both project a continued gradual decline (1.5 WAR) in 2019, Roark’s final arbitration year before hitting free agency. Those projection systems assume Roark’s workload will scale back in his age-32 season, and they have him projected to make just 26 starts. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections expect similar production.

2019 ZiPS Projection – Tanner Roark
W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO WAR BABIP ERA+ FIP
10 10 4.60 27 26 154.7 155 79 24 52 131 1.3 .290 92 4.63

For now, Roark probably slots into the no. 2 spot in the Reds rotation behind Luis Castillo. The Nationals should be able to back fill for Roark with some combination of Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, or perhaps a quick-moving Wil Crowe, to say nothing of what Washington may add via free agency.

For one year of Roark, the Reds sent relief prospect Tanner Rainey to Washington. Rainey has good stuff, with his fastball sitting in the 95-99 range and touching 100, and his upper-80s slider spinning in at an average of 2600 rpm, which is rare for a pitch of that velocity.

Each of those impact pitches theoretically give Rainey a shot to be a late-inning, high-leverage reliever, but his command, which is not great, might force him into a middle-relief role instead. The chance that one of Rainey or Jimmy Cordero — who is similarly talented and similarly flawed — figure things out and become a real late-inning option are pretty fair, and the Nationals have several years to polish Rainey’s talent. That Rainey is leaving a place that has struggled to develop pitching probably helps his chances of getting there.

Rainey was a 40 FV player on our recent Reds prospect list, ranking 18th. He was one of several hard-throwing Reds relief prospects in their mid-20s who are approaching the Majors. They’ve traded from a position of depth to acquire a player of great need, and the short window of team control over Roark would seem to indicate that they’re going to add more pitching in attempt to field a competitive team.


A Fresh Look at the Prospects in the Mets-Mariners Trade

As of Saturday evening, the Mariners-Mets deal that will send Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to Queens and a bevy of players to Seattle appears to be done, pending physicals. The trade is expected to be officially announced Monday, but the pieces are known. Below are scouting reports on the trio of prospects acquired by the Mariners, as well as thoughts on the new state of the Mariners system and their desired competitive timeline.

Jarred Kelenic, CF

Kelenic was ranked eighth on our 2018 pre-draft rankings, and 86th when we last updated our overall rankings. He (or Cardinals first rounder Nolan Gorman) was generally viewed as the top high school hitter available in the draft, and he was the first one taken at sixth overall.

Advanced bats don’t typically come out of Wisconsin, but Kelenic hit consistently throughout high school against the best pitchers in his peer group. Teams leaned heavily on their summer showcase looks at Kelenic because during the spring, he didn’t play high school baseball. Instead, he played for a travel ball team called Hitters, which played weekend double headers in Kenosha and Cedar Rapids against uneven competition.

Kelenic is a stocky, physically mature 19-year-old. He currently runs well enough and has sufficient instincts for center field, but it’s possible that he’s a better fit in a corner at some point, perhaps even in his early twenties. Even if he moves to a corner, he has enough hit/power to play every day, but Kelenic would probably have to develop a plus-plus bat to be a star away from center. Because his track record of hitting is so strong and he’s so technically proficient, he was considered one of the higher-probability bats from the 2018 class, though he also likely also comes with a narrower, relatively modest band of potential outcomes. He’s advanced enough in skill and age to begin 2019 in the South Atlantic League.

Justin Dunn, RHP

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Yan Gomes Heads to D.C. for Tooled-up Outfield Prospect

The Cleveland Indians acquired a player with one of the nuttier tool profiles in the minors yesterday in the following trade:

Cleveland gets:
Daniel Johnson, OF
Jefry Rodriguez, RHP
Player to be Named Later

Washington gets:
Yan Gomes, C

Gomes will have an immediate big league impact as part of a Nationals catching tandem with the newly acquired Kurt Suzuki. The 31-year-old Brazilian backstop hit .266/.313/.449 in 2018, showing a dramatic uptick in power compared to career norms. Our projection systems at FanGraphs anticipate a SLG% regression back to a mark just shy of league-average, but Gomes’ Hard Hit% was way up based on our data, and sites like xStats, which calculate expected offensive output based on ball-in-play metrics like exit velocity and launch angle, indicate Gomes’ 2018 power display may be sustainable.

Gomes can also control the running game. He has a plus-plus arm and routinely posts pop times close to 1.90 seconds. He’s also an above-average receiver. Once constantly injured (knee sprain, concussion, separated shoulder from ’14-’16), Gomes has caught 100 games each of the last two years.

Both Gomes and Suzuki are of advanced age and are likely to share time. Washington’s catching looks to be in good shape for the next two years (the life of Suzuki’s deal), especially given the state of the position, league-wide. Gomes has one year remaining on his contract and then a $9 million team option in 2020 and an $11 million team option in 2021.

The Nationals now have a bit of a catching clog on their 40-man, which also houses 25-year-olds Pedro Severino, Raudy Read and 27-year-old Spencer Kieboom. Read has the most offensive talent of that group and hit for power at Double-A last year, but he’s also coming off a PED suspension and is a below-average defender– he’s a below-average receiving, and his plus raw arm strength also comes with accuracy issues. He’s currently playing in the Dominican Winter League for Toros del Este. This depth means a minor trade or other roster move could be on the horizon.

For Cleveland, 23-year-old outfielder Daniel Johnson has one of the louder tool profiles in the minor leagues. He has elite arm strength, plus-plus speed and plus raw power. He’s so gifted, physically, that he’s very likely to have some kind of big league career, though how impactful that career is will be dictated by the development of bat-to-ball skills that are currently behind what is typical for a 23-year-old prospect at Double-A.

Johnson has been so raw for the duration of his scoutable career that he went undrafted as a junior college freshman in 2014. He transferred to New Mexico State and was still so unpolished as a junior hitter that some area scouts wanted to see him on the mound. He had a breakout junior season .382/.434/.630 in a hitter-friendly conference and was drafted in the 5th round.

Johnson spent all of 2018, his second full pro season, at Double-A Harrisburg where he hit .267/.321/.410 with 21 steals in 25 attempts. His ball/strike recognition and ability to make contact are both below average, but neither is so bad that it might inhibit him from playing a big league role in the next year or two. He sees right-handed pitching well-enough that he can do damage against it, and he has a chance to occupy the larger part of an outfield platoon if he keeps mashing righties the way he has in the minors. His speed would indicate center field is an option, but again Johnson’s lack of feel and instincts cause his physical abilities to play down and he may be better off in a corner, especially with superior defenders like Brad Zimmer and Leonys Martin currently on the Cleveland roster.

Tapping into Johnson’s raw power in games will probably require a swing change that cleans up Johnson’s odd, hooking bat path. If that happens, then a 45 FV projection, which is what we had on Johnson entering the offseason, will be too light. Cleveland has had mixed success changing swings in the past (some recent examples: Yandy Diaz and Erik Gonzalez showed no improvement despite their obvious planar issues, but Frankie Lindor adjusted with ease and exploded) so this could go either way.

Cleveland has already done a lot to fill in their roster after the departure of some of their outfielders and it appears as though they’re going to take a platoon-heavy approach there next year. The recent acquisitions of right-handed hitters Oscar Mercado and Jordan Luplow seem to fit well with some of the left-handed hitting options already on the big league roster, which Johnson is now in place to sustain after the 2019 season when Leonys Martin’s deal is up and Jason Kipnis has a looming $16.5 million team option.

Rodriguez is a 25-year-old who threw 52 big league innings in 2018. He throws hard and will touch 99, sitting comfortably in the 93-96 range even as a starter. He’ll show you an above-average curveball and his changeup has sinking action at times, but Rodriguez’s stiff delivery is hard to repeat and he has scattered fastball control and throws lots of non-competitive changeups. He profiles as a two-pitch reliever.


Eric Longenhagen Chat-11/29/18

2:02
Eric A Longenhagen: Good afternoon from cloudy Tempe.

2:03
Eric A Longenhagen: Let’s begin this week’s chat, which I’m totally 100% focused on and not at all distracted from by current trade rumors.

2:03
Eric A Longenhagen: Oh, hey! Brewers list came out today.

2:04
Eric A Longenhagen: Pirates were Monday, if you missed it

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