Oakland Adds Diekman for Fringe Prospects

Teams have been smiling at each another and making their fair share of prolonged eye contact, but the trade deadline tension had yielded little in the way of actual consummation until Saturday’s A’s and Royals trade that sent veteran lefty reliever Jake Diekman to Oakland for two prospects. Here’s the deal:

Oakland gets:

LHP Jake Diekman

Kansas City gets:

RHP Ismael Aquino
CF Dairon Blanco

Diekman, who has struck out 33.5% of opposing hitters and has a 3.37 FIP across 41.2 innings this year, immediately becomes the best lefty in Oakland’s bullpen, surpassing cutter/curveball/command lefty Ryan Buchter (who was also acquired from Kansas City via trade last year), and strike-throwing Taiwanese depth piece, Wei-Chung Wang. That’s less a knock on either of those two, and more to do with Diekman, who has been good with uncommon consistency for a reliever throughout his seven-year big league career.

In fact, Diekman is throwing harder now than he has since 2015, the year he was included in the Cole Hamels trade from Philly to Texas. His fastball is averaging 95.7 mph, which puts it among the hardest left-handed fastballs in big league bullpens, ranking fifth among lefty relievers with at least 20 innings pitched this year (only Felipe Vazquez, Aroldis Chapman, Jose Alvarado, and A.J. Minter throw harder). And Diekman’s stuff is especially tough on lefties because his cross-bodied, low-slot delivery creates such a unique angle on his pitches. So bizarre is Diekman’s release point that it barely fits on our scatterplot grid. He’s built to get lefties out.

And that’s great for Oakland because their bullpen — their whole pitching staff really — has been overwhelmingly right-handed with A.J. Puk, Sean Manaea, and Jesus Luzardo in various states of rehab and disrepair. With the addition of Diekman, Manaea’s imminent return (he threw 76 pitches in a rehab start at Triple-A las week), Puk approaching in a bullpen capacity, and changeup-centric righty Marco Estrada’s rehab underway, Oakland’s ability to neutralize opposing lefties will improve significantly very quickly.

Diekman has a mutual option for 2020, which probably augmented what the Royals got in return since he’s potentially something more than just a two-month relief rental. Kansas City didn’t get much back, though, and opposing teams I’ve spoken to about this deal think the Royals could have done better by waiting for needy contenders to sweat it out for a few days and offer more.

Of course, that presupposes opposing teams’ (and my) evaluation of the prospect return is correct. Dairon Blanco is the closer of the two to the big leagues — the 26-year-old was hitting .276/.342/.486 at Double-A Midland before the trade — but is, in my opinion, the lesser prospect. He’s an 80 runner with average power, but limited bat control. I think he’s maybe a bench outfielder.

Kansas City loves speed (they acquired fellow speedster Kevin Merrell from Oakland last week and have a large contingent of 70 and 80 runners in their system) and may end up finding a role for Blanco that leans on his ability to run because they just value that skill more than most teams. Perhaps the way to look at this is that, just from sheer volume, Kansas City is likely to develop a speed-first role player, or table-setting leadoff man. But individually none of these players seem likely to be that guy, and that includes Blanco.

20-year-old righty Ismael Aquino is likely a slow-developing relief prospect. His velocity is up this year — I had him up to 96 in 2018 and he made the honorable mention section of the A’s offseason list — peaking at 97 in my looks. He’s young, throws hard, is well-built, and will occasionally flash a 55 or 60-grade changeup. That’s a lot of good stuff, certainly enough for Aquino to be considered a prospect and placed on THE BOARD, where he ranks as the org’s 38th prospect.

But Aquino lacks the ability to locate his fastball with a modicum of consistency, and that issue bleeds into his changeup execution and breaking ball quality. He yanks some pitches into the dirt, while others sail on him, and this has been an issue for him over the course of a little over a year of seeing him. Oakland tried a few different breaking ball iterations (including a cutter this spring) but none of them have taken yet. The gap between what Aquino can do right now and what he’d need to do to be a starting pitching prospect is pretty vast, so I have him projected as a fastball/changeup reliever, and even for that, he will need to refine his command since changeup effectiveness is typically predicated on location.

I like this deal for Oakland, who I imagine will continue to try to operate in this tier of the trade market, as they lack depth in the farm system to make a more significant move unless opposing teams are more comfortable with the health of their rehabbing top 100 types, and Oakland is more willing to part with them, than I’ve been led to believe.

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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4 years ago

“Perhaps the way to look at this is that, just from sheer volume, Kansas City is likely to develop a speed-first role player, or table-setting leadoff man. But individually none of these players seem likely to be that guy, and that includes Blanco.” Excellent analysis as always, Eric.