Saturday, August 1, 2015

Post Trade Frenzy Thoughts from a Prospect Perspective

   In the past year, the Blue Jays have traded a huge number of prospects in various deals that have brought back Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki,  David Price, Mark Lowe, and Ben Revere.

 Let's just review for a moment:
For Donaldson:   Frankie Barreto, Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin.
For Tulo:  Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro, Jesus Tinoco.
For Price:  Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, Jairo Labourt.
For Lowe:  Nick Wells, Jake Brentz,  Rob Rasmussen
For Revere: Alberto TiradoJimmy Cordero

And for international bonus money to sign Vladimir Guerrero Jr, the Blue Jays traded Chase De Jong and Tim LoCastro.
   So let's make that 15 prospects - Rasmussen is the only one among that group who wouldn't be considered one.

   No one wants to trade away the next Noah Syndergaard, but the Blue Jays have strengthened themselves considerably in these deals, giving up only a single player from the major league roster.
  As someone who follows prospects extensively, watching them on, and talking with someone about them or even to some of them (or their parents) on Twitter (Matt Boyd will always be one of my favourites), it's easy to create a halo effect with these kids, and think that they have few, if any, faults. The truth is, when prospects are traded, it's generally for one or more of four reasons:

1.  The organization sees a window of opportunity, and feels that there is enough depth in the system
     to eventually replenish what was lost.
2.  The organization felt that said prospect had reached his ceiling, and perhaps did not fit into their
     long range plans.
3.  The prospect's future is so far off that the gamble of dealing them for help now is worth the risk.
4.  The trading partner insisted said prospect be included in the deal.

  We'll never know for certain, of course, but media reports suggest that the inclusion of Barreto and Hoffman were at the other club's insistence.  I can't say for certain where the other prospects fit, but I think it's safe to say that the Blue Jays may not have been as reluctant to part with them.
   What were some of the possible blemishes?
With Barreto, who is currently on the 7-Day DL, it continues to be his play at short.  After a very slow start, his bat has rallied, and he's hitting .298/.329/.492 for Oakland's Advanced A club, and he was named Baseball America's 23rd Top Prospect in their mid-season rankings, but his lack of quickness, footwork, and arm strength will likely mean a position switch soon.
  Graveman has pitched very well of late for Oakland after a rough start,  but his flyball rate and 4.76 FIP may not have played in the Rogers Centre as well as it has in cavernous O.Co Coliseum.
  Nolin's career has been marked by an inability to stay healthy, and while he's pitched well for Oakland's AAA affiliate, he's on the DL, and has thrown only 33 innings for them this season.
   Hoffman drew raves earlier this season, but has not missed bats at the rate the Blue Jays likely had hope for.  He is only 15 months removed from Tommy John surgery, and his command has been slow to return. He has generated a great deal of ground ball outs, which will be essential for a Coors Field starter.
   Castro went from Short Season ball to Blue Jays closer (albeit only briefly) in the space of 9 months, and while he's worked his way back to a relief role in AAA, his lack of secondary pitches may keep him there for the time being, and he still has a way to go in commanding both sides of the plate.  If he can keep the ball down in the zone better, he could be a dominant MLB reliever.
   Tinoco is young, and was right around the Midwestern League averages in strikeout rate.  Blue Jays minor league catcher Danny Jansen told me last year that Tinoco's two-seam fastball has incredible sink when it's on.  He has a live arm, but he's still a long distance from the major leagues.
   Norris started the season with the Blue Jays, but found himself back in Buffalo after a month.  Norris seems to cruise along for most of his starts, and then loses the strike zone completely for an inning.  Whispers about his delivery concerns and possible elbow issues have grown louder as the season has progressed.  He has brilliant last year, and his 2014 season was one of the best a Blue Jays minor league pitcher has ever had.  He immediately takes over Price's spot in the rotation - welcome back to the big leagues, kid.
   Boyd has been one of the best pitchers in all of minor league baseball this year.  His first big league start was a huge success, and then he was rocked by the Red Sox in his second start, leaving the game in the first without having recorded an out.  Like most successful athletes, Boyd quickly put that behind him, and has pitched effectively in Buffalo ever since.  There was no room for him in Toronto's rotation, however.
   Labourt is yet another electric arm, but has had command issues over the past two seasons.  Again, like Tinoco, it's very hard to project someone who is still so far away from the bigs.
  Wells, a southpaw 3rd round California HS pick last year, had a decent pro debut, but has struggled a bit in Bluefield this year.  Brentz did not pitch until his senior year of High School,  and in his third year of pro ball is still a bit of a project - we've been waiting for the results to match his potential.
   Tirado was called a "beast in the making" by Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus two seasons ago; he struggled in his first shot at full season ball with Lansing last year, and finished the season in Vancouver's bullpen.  Pitching again in relief for Dunedin this year, he has fared much better, and may be an arm that will rise to the majors quickly.  Cordero can light up the radar gun, but without a lot of movement, and sometimes not a great idea as to where his fastball is going.
  De Jong repeated Lansing this year, with much better results, and had just been promoted to Dunedin at the time of his trade.  He, along with Boyd, former Jays prospect Joe Musgrove, and current Jay farmhand Dalton Pompey all made Baseball America's Prospect Hot Sheet this week, making it a pretty good week for the Toronto scouting department. Lo Castro is a modern-day Ron Hunt, willing to do anything to get on base, including being hit by a pitch.  Lo Castro's makeup is off the charts.

   After having written glowingly about that group for some time, I may have seemed overly negative about them in the above paragraphs, but sometimes you have to take a step back and look at prospects from a more critical standpoint.  And while you have to give something in order to get something, I've always felt that for many prospects, there must have been something in their physical or mental makeup that made them expendable from the club's perspective.  It's easy to overvalue your prospects, and sometimes you need to look at their weaknesses as well as their strengths.  The Blue Jays gave up a ton of potential to improve their major league roster, but this was a calculated risk.  This was not a toss at a dart board - despite some criticism on social media about their analytics department, the Blue Jays, who make such deals by a consensus of front office staff, have crunched the numbers, and could likely recite each prospect's scouting reports in their sleep.  And at the end of the day, prospects are just that - players who have a chance.  Outside of Norris, Graveman, and perhaps Boyd, they gave up no one who could stick on a major league roster tomorrow.

  And having said all that, let's remember one thing.  The Blue Jays acquired David Cone, then one of the top pitchers in baseball and a free agent-to-be at the trade deadline in 1992 for prospects Ryan Thompson and Jeff Kent.  Thompson turned into not much more than a marginal MLB player, while Kent amassed over 2400 hits, hit more Home Runs than any MLB 2nd baseman, drove in 90 runs every year from 1997 to 2005, and is a borderline Hall of Famer.  Cone led the Blue Jays to their first ever World Series that year, and even though he left the team after the 92 season, is there anyone who has ever said, "gee, I wish we had kept Kent?"   In 1993, the Blue Jays made another deadline deal, picking up Rickey Henderson for prospects Steve Karsay (a 1990 1st rounder) and Jose Herrera.  Karsay had a couple of decent seasons in a 9-team, 11 year career as a reliever, and Herrera played in parts of two big league seasons.  Both trades go to show that with prospects, in most cases, you never know how they will turn out, and even if they do go on to have successful MLB careers, a ring for the player obtained for them is more than enough to counter-balance that.  Farm systems serve several functions for MLB teams; the main one, of course, is to supply a steady stream of new talent to the parent club.  It also serves as a holding tank for injury replacement players.  And even going back to the time of Branch Rickey, who pioneered the modern-day farm system, it serves as means of strengthening the major league club.
It's not all doom and gloom for the Blue Jays minor league system, either.  Yes, they gave up some depth, but through this trading frenzy, they still managed to hang onto some top prospects.  Anthony Alford and Rowdy Tellez remain Blue Jays, and we all should be happy about that, because while both are still a couple of seasons away, both project as impact players one day.  They also kept RHP Sean Reid-Foley, who surely was a coveted target, and even though he's had some control issues this year, is pitching at High A at the age of 19 in only his second pro season.  And I haven't even written about Vladimir Guerrero, Jr yet. Flags do indeed fly forever, but laying waste to a farm system is truly a short-sighted move, and the Blue Jays certainly factored in the remaining depth of talent when they made these deals.
  Who are some other names who move up several slots in the Top Prospect pecking order?  Here are notes about a few:
Conner Greene - RHP, 7th rounder in 2013, just keeps getting better and better; started with Lansing, promoted to Dunedin, hasn't given up a run in his last two starts.
Jon Harris - this year's 1st rounder has not had the success with Vancouver that we thought he might have, but still profiles as a mid-rotation starter, and should fare better next year.
Angel Perdomo - the Jays have taking things slowly with the 6'6" Dominican lefty, but he's missed a lot of bats through his brief minor league career.
Juliandry Higuera - in his first stateside season, the 20 yr old Venezuelan has been Bluefield's best pitcher.
Lupe Chavez  - 17 yr old Mexican RHP was a top-ranked IFA last year; pitching in the Dominican Summer League, has gotten better with every start.
Matt Smoral - the 6'8" LHP was a comp pick in 2012, and has teased us with brief glimpses of dominance in a career slowed by injuries.  I had fully expected him to start with Lansing, but back issues have limited him to 8 innings between Dunedin and Bluefield.  If he ever puts it all together...
Jose Espada - the 5th rounder from this year's draft has impressed in the GCL.
Reggie Pruitt  - I was pretty sure the 24th round Georgia HS would go the college route; he signed for $500K and has had a solid debut in the GCL
Rodrigo Orozco - some of my fellow prospect bloggers were stumped by his name; the 20 year old Panamanian played the last two season in the DSL, and according to Brian Woodfield, who covers the Appy League for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph:
Orozco has been their best player in my opinion. Good leadoff batter, gets on base. High average and speed. Good range

 There are other names, to be sure, and I have my work cut out for me when I compile my Top 10 and Next 10 lists after the fall.  Even putting together my daily list of Blue Jays starters was a bit of a tough task today:

  What the acquisition of the five players who cost that bundle does for the above remaining prospects is that it has bought them some time.  It's also removed some names above them that could help accelerate their development.  I've only been doing this prospect thing for a few years, but I can't recall a deadline day quite like this past one.  My Twitter timeline was blowing up, and I had to silence my phone in order to satisfy my wife, who is otherwise quite patient with my obsession.  To summarize - the Blue Jays did give up quite a bit of depth in their minor league system in order to significantly upgrade their roster.  This represents a huge risk, but the system is still in reasonably good shape in terms of prospects (if not in terms of MLB-ready ones).  And at the end of the day, as Lansing broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler said:
  I leave the final word to New Hampshire southpaw Johnny Anderson:

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