After months of scouring the market for another starting pitcher and weeks of industry chatter suggesting it would likely, eventually, be Sonny Gray, the Yankees have acquired the righty shortly before the trade deadline. It came at a fairly steep price. Below is analysis of the prospects sent to Oakland in the deal.
- RHP Sonny Gray
- International bonus slot
All three of the new Athletics were top 100 prospects entering the season. Kaprielian, before it was announced he would need Tommy John, was No. 43. Fowler was No. 87, and Mateo was No. 91. All three of them are potential impact big league regulars.
Let’s begin with Fowler, who owned a .293/.329/.542 line at Triple-A Scranton this year before he was called up and suffered a gruesome, season-ending knee injury in his first big league game. Fowler was an 18th-round pick in 2013 out of West Laurens High School in Georgia. He struggled to do much but create good power on contact in his first two pro stints before he finally broke out in 2015 at Low-A Charleston, which he was repeating. He was promoted to High-A Tampa for the second half of 2015 and performed well there, too, and then finished 2015 in the Arizona Fall League. He held his own in the desert, while surrounded by some of the most talented and polished prospects in baseball.
In two seasons since then, Fowler has hit well in the upper levels of the minor leagues and made his major league debut. He’s a plus runner who is a viable defensive center fielder and has a chance to be an above average defender there at peak. He has plus bat speed that allows him to turn on good velocity and generate more pull-side power than is typical for a plus-running center field prospect. Fowler has a chance to hit .280 or so with 15-18 annual homers and do lots of extra-base damage with his legs. While his aggressive approach at the plate will likely limit his on-base ability to something just beneath league average, he’s very likely to be an average everyday player and potentially a tick more than that, assuming his pre-injury speed returns.
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Kaprielian was representative of what has become a core competency for the Yankees player-development machine. He threw 89-94 mph at UCLA but, like many recent Yankees farmhands, somehow started throwing much harder than that as a pro and was 94-97 early in his first full pro season. Then the injuries began. Kaprielian was shut down for nearly all of 2016 due to a flexor tendon strain. When he returned, during the 2016 Arizona Fall League, he looked incredible. He again sat 94-97, touching 98 or 99 early in the AFL, while also flashing feel for locating a hard slider, plus-flashing change-up and viable curveball. Kaprielian’s mix of pitches and feel for locating and sequencing were promising, and some scouts thought he had a chance to be a top-of-the-rotation arm.
As 2017 began, many were hopeful that Kaprielian could ascend quickly through the remainder of the minor leagues. He made one big league spring training appearance before he was shut down with injury which, after MRI, was determined to require Tommy John surgery. And so, Kaprielian’s #2 starter upside remains in injured stasis for a second straight summer.
Jorge Mateo was signed for $250,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2012 and within two years he had added 20 lbs. to his slight frame, while retaining 80-grade speed. He dominated the low minors simply by putting the ball in play and hauling you-know-what to first base. Then 2016 came and Mateo began to struggle. He reached base at just a .306 clip in a full season at High-A and was suspended for two weeks for breaking a team rule. His stock was down as a result of poor performance both on and off the field, but his physical abilities were intact.
This year, Mateo began in a hideous slump at High-A Tampa, posting a .288 OBP there before Gleyber Torres was injured at Triple-A and the organizational shortstop dominoes fell in a way that dictated Mateo be promoted to Trenton. Since then, Mateo has been great, slashing .300/.381/.525 at Double-A. Reports from spring training indicated Mateo had retained his mostly stride-less approach to hitting from last season. Since arriving in Trenton he has added a leg kick and is driving the ball with more power. Mateo has strong wrists and can shoot the ball in the gap to all fields and sprint for extra bases. While his success at Double-A has some small-sample stink on it, the fact that it’s been paired with a substantive mechanical change might mean it’s more representative of his future output.
Defensively, Mateo has the physical traits to remain at shortstop, though the Yankees had been playing him at second base and in center field as well. Scouts get frustrated with Mateo’s fundamentals at short, but think he has the chance to be average there at his peak. Many are intrigued by what he might be able to do, full-time, with his superlative speed in center field. Mateo’s baseball instincts are poor and his speed plays down on the bases and in the field.
Most prospects who are split decisions between shortstop and center field (like Billy Hamilton and Roman Quinn) end up in the outfield. For now, I have Mateo projected at shortstop, as an average defender. Wherever he ends up, it’s likely to be at a premium defensive spot somewhere in the middle of the field, and he has a chance to be an explosive — if somewhat frustrating — everyday player.
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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.