Kansas City Nabs Four Young Players for Greinke

According to reports, the Kansas City Royals organization has traded Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt to the Milwaukee Brewers for four young players: outfielder Lorenzo Cain, and shortstop Alcides Escobar, as well as pitchers Jake Odorizzi, and potentially Jeremy Jeffress – although his inclusion in the deal is still up in the air. My first reaction to the package coming to Kansas City was: Really, that’s it? Clearly the asking price dropped a lot in the past 48 hours.

Cain, 24, has certainly shown flashes of promise but he’s also posted massive strikeout rates (21.3 K% in double-A, which is one of his lower rates) throughout his career despite below average power numbers (.111 ISO). He does show good patience, so there is hope for him at the top of the batting order if he can curb his Ks. Cain showed improved base running skills in 2010 but has a history of getting thrown out a lot. I see him more as a strong fourth or platoon outfielder; I just don’t think he’s going to be a consistent everyday player. He’s survived with very high BABIPs throughout his career and I find it hard to believe he’s going to remain that far above average for an extended period of time at the MLB level.

Escobar was one of the club’s top prospects entering 2010 and a candidate for Rookie of the Year in the National League but he was completely over-matched by National League pitching. That doesn’t bode well for his career in the American League. Escobar, like Cain, should be a top-of-the-order guy but he doesn’t walk much so he’s more of a No. 2 hitter because he makes pretty good contact. Unfortunately, he also failed to take advantage of one of his greatest assets in 2010 – his speed. After stealing 80 bases between 2008-09, Escobar nabbed just 10 bags as a rookie. For Kansas City’s sake, here’s hoping that he was nursing an injury. The shortstop does have a slick glove and will represent a major upgrade over Yuniesky Betancourt.

Both Odorizzi and Jeffress were recently profiled on Milwaukee’s Top 10 prospect list. Odorizzi was definitely the best “prospect” acquired in the trade and has the ceiling of a No. 2 starter but is still a ways away from the Majors. Jeffress has good stuff but comes with pretty big make-up concerns. He has the potential to be a high-leverage reliever if he can mature.

Here are the profiles:

Jake Odorizzi, RHP
Acquired: 2008 supplemental 1st round (Illinois HS)
Pro Experience: 3 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A
Opening Day Age: 21
Estimated Peak WAR: 5.0

Notes: Odorizzi was my favorite prep arm in the 2008 draft and I was more than a little surprised to see the Brewers get him with the 32nd overall selection. He suddenly became the club’s top prospect after second baseman Brett Lawrie was dealt to the Jays. Odorizzi broke out in 2010 after being handled cautiously for the first two years of his pro career. The right-hander spent the entire ’10 season in low-A ball and produced a 2.93 FIP in 120.2 innings. Odorizzi saw his strikeout rate jump to 10.07 K/9, while his control was respectable with him posting a rate of 2.98 BB/9. He also had an average ground-ball rate of 46%. Odorizzi has a four-pitch mix with an 88-93 mph fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup. He may be better off scrapping the slider and focusing on three pitches. The right-hander has room to fill out and could add a few more ticks to his fastball. Odorizzi will likely continue to move slowly and he should spend most of the year in high-A ball. He has the ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter.

Jeremy Jeffress, RHP
Acquired: 2006 1st round (Virginia HS)
Pro Experience: 5 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A/A+/AA/MLB
Opening Day Age: 23
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0

Notes: Jeffress is one of the most talented arms in the system – including the Majors – but the right-hander’s personal demons make him a tough player to rank. He has a fastball that can hit the upper 90s, as well as a good curveball and an OK changeup. Unfortunately, he occasionally telegraphs his breaking ball by throwing it at a slightly different arm slot. The right-hander moved to the bullpen in 2010 and had a lot of success. He could develop into a big league closer as long as his control holds up and he can avoid getting suspended from baseball. After already serving a 100-game suspension for an abuse of drugs, Jeffress’ make-up is a major concern. The right-hander appears to have cleaned up his act, though, and he made his MLB debut in 2010 with 10 innings out of the bullpen. He should spend 2011 in the Majors, unless he has a poor spring.

* * *

This is certainly quantity over quality. There are no can’t miss prospects and no blue-chip, young stars. You have a raw, potential No. 2 or 3 starter, an eighth- or ninth-inning reliever, a slick-fielding, light-hitting infielder, and a speedy centerfielder with contact issues. I would rather have infielder Brett Lawrie, whom Milwaukee recently sent to Toronto for pitcher Shaun Marcum, than any of the four players in the Greinke deal.

In comparison, the Blue Jays organization was faced with a similar trade demand last winter with veteran ace Roy Halladay. Philadelphia ended up giving away a potential No. 1 or 2 pitcher in Kyle Drabek, promising catcher Travis d’Arnaud, and outfielder Michael Taylor, who was flipped to Oakland for first baseman Brett Wallace, who was later flipped to Houston for outfielder Anthony Gose (who ironically was acquired from Philly). Neither deal was a great haul for the team receiving prospects back and the Milwaukee package edges Toronto’s because there is one more prospect headed to the Brewers and both Escobar and Cain have MLB experience… although Toronto received the prospect (Drabek) with the highest ceiling out of all the young players that changed hands.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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13 years ago

I like this trade from Kansas’ perspective. They just (potentially) filled all the holes they had in their organization depth chart. Getting a starting shortstop and center fielder is no small task. Granted the results are pending on Escobar’s and Cain’s progress as players. This is the same Kansas franchise that has the deepest farm system in baseball, is not enamored with AAA numbers (Kila), and apparently has stopped trying to sign washed up vets. I am willing to give both teams a W if this pans out as expected.

13 years ago
Reply to  CesarV

The Royals are from Missouri, not Kansas.

13 years ago
Reply to  Jason

excellent counterpoint, it totally defeats his arguments here

Al Swedgin
13 years ago
Reply to  Jason

Actually, nimrod, I’d be willing to wager that the *vast* majority of the Royals are from neither Kansas *nor* Missouri.

Luke in MN
13 years ago
Reply to  CesarV

Yeah, even if you want to say there were bigger packages out there (which is something that’s always rumored, but rarely demonstrated), KC did the smart thing simply by trading him. Unsure if everything will pan out, but right now this is a model of rebuilding with a first-class farm system and young talent all coming together at the same time. Now trade Soria and start counting the days until Opening Day 2013.

13 years ago
Reply to  CesarV

“This is the same Kansas franchise that has the deepest farm system in baseball”

Which is why, imo, it makes even less sense to settle for quantity over quality, depth over impact.