Russell Martin Fetches Two Fringe Prospects

In a trade that sent Russell Martin back to Los Angeles, the Blue Jays acquired two interesting, but drastically different, prospects in teenage second baseman Ronny Brito and Double-A righty Andrew Sopko.

Sopko is the more likely of the two to wear a major league uniform, as his skills are constantly desired among teams seeking to build starting pitching depth at Double and Triple-A in the event of big league injuries. He’s an efficient strike-thrower with spot starter’s stuff; a fastball that resides in the 88-92 range, an average changeup that flashes above, and a slurvy breaking ball with enough depth that it will be an issue for hitters who struggle to square up break.

Pitchers with this kind of stuff are typically found at the very back of the rotation or waiting to pick up a start due to injury. The frequency with which pitchers get hurt makes teams’ 6th-8th starters very important, as they may have to make meaningful starts at some point during the year. Sopko projects to be a very competent version of this.

Brito is more boom or bust. After dealing with injury and struggling badly throughout his first full pro season, Brito had a monster year in the offense-friendly Pioneer League, slashing .288/.352/.489 with 11 homers in 53 games at age 19.

While the dizzying elevations of the Pioneer League drastically inflate offensive performance, Brito does have legitimate, above-average raw power, and he’s capable of hitting balls out to all fields, even as a teenager, something not typical of middle infield prospects.

What eyeball scouts are skeptical of, though, is Brito’s bat. He’s free-swinging and prone to the strike out. His swing has gone through several iterations — a leg kick was implemented and then uninstalled for a while last fall, for one — and all of this mechanical variability makes it harder to evaluate Brito as a hitter. But a lack of plate discipline makes Brito’s contact profile high risk, even if there’s natural feel for contact here once his swing gets dialed in.

He has a chance to stay at second base, but he hasn’t really improved there since signing, and some scouts think his defense has actively gone backwards as his frame has thickened. His body is also pretty much maxed out, so he’s not likely to grow into much more power as he ages, though he already has enough to profile at any infield spot provided he becomes a competent defender and takes better at-bats. If that stuff comes, Brito will be an everyday player, but scout-to-scout optimism for improvement is highly variable.

We hoped you liked reading Russell Martin Fetches Two Fringe Prospects by Eric Longenhagen!

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Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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Keyser Soze
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Keyser Soze

Thanks for the breakdowns, Eric. Will miss Martin but with the depth at catcher for the Jays this makes sense just like the earlier Diaz deal with the Astros. Sopko is pretty much what the Jays needed, another depth option at starter. They may lack high end starters, especially if Stroman and Sanchez struggle again, but they are building better depth for this season than they had last year. If those two starters stay healthy and find their groove the Jays will be in pretty decent shape and maybe they even add another starter before or during the season.

Brito is a lottery ticket but the Jays’ management seem to be working hard on improving the player development side in recent years, including a focus on making the transition to North American life more comfortable for Latin American prospects. Maybe this will be a benefit for Brito and help him develop more positive consistency in his game.