The headliner in the James Paxton deal is LHP Justus Sheffield. He’s been a top prospect for so long that it’s easy to find updated reports on him and understand where he falls in the prospects landscape. The short version is that he has an above-average-to-plus four-pitch mix, but his command ranges from average to below average, so he could still fit in a number of roles in the big leagues, ranging from multi-inning relief power arm to mid-rotation starter.
The more intriguing pieces of this deal are the other two names, RHP Erik Swanson and CF Dom Thompson-Williams. Neither were on the year-end version of THE BOARD, but both were on our radar; we intentionally didn’t comb through every 40 FV candidate in the in-season update since that’s what we focus on in the winter.
If we were doing the Mariners list today, both would be 40 FVs; they’re good examples of guys who sneak up on you during the season and in whom you have greater confidence moving up once the season ends. Swanson works 92-94 with a rising four-seamer, hitting 98 mph at times with some deception and life, and backs it up with a solid average slider and advanced feel for how to use both pitches in tandem. He could be something like a back-end starter who mostly uses two pitches, but he’s more likely to be the 5th-7th best starting option for a contender, and fits most comfortably as a David Phelps-type multi-inning fireman who can also do the job of long relief and spot-starting. There’s upside as a 50 FV here (4th starter or setup guy) but he’s more likely to be a 45 FV in the big leagues as a useful utility-type arm, so a 40+ or 40 FV would be appropriate.
Thompson-Williams is a sneaky athlete who’s a solid average runner with an average arm that some think can play a solid center field, but that most think is a fourth outfielder-type who can play all three spots. He has plus raw power and some feel to hit, so there’s low-end everyday upside if things continue to come together at the plate as they did in 2018. But he was 23 years old in High-A, so he’ll need to move quickly to be likely to reach that upside. More likely, Thompson-Williams is a useful bench option as a platoon at multiple spots or as a player who can provide some thump off the bench. Given his shorter track record and age, that’s a 40 FV for now with a chance to turn into a 45 FV with more performance, certainty, and proximity to the majors.
I’ve been asked a few times where these prospects fall on the dollar scale of our new prospect valuation metrics. Sheffield likely won’t rank exactly 54th on our next Top 100 in January, but the $29 million figure is about right. Swanson and Thompson-Williams combine for about $5 million more. Paxton is due in the $20-$25 million range for his next two years via arbitration while projected–using the same $9 million per WAR figure that generated the prospect values–to be worth somewhere around $60-$69 million in that span. So the Mariners receive around $35 million in prospect value, and send $35-$50 million of value back, depending on where Paxton ends up in his range. That’s within the margin for error, but is a bit lighter than expected for a Paxton package given the wide interest. That said, this trade appears to bring the Mariners out of the cellar of our first farm system rankings.
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.
Thanks, Kiley. This helps put things into perspective, though it’s a bit maddening for Mariner fans.