Alex Jackson to Atlanta for Two Pitchers

marc w · November 28, 2016 at 11:12 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

A day ago – literally a day ago – I said this of the Jerry Dipoto M’s:

Jerry Dipoto and the M’s came to view a player who’d played his way to a lower ceiling as having more value in trade – even without a mint-conditioned prospect sheen – than they do on the M’s roster.

That was true of Tai Walker, who, despite adding a few wins above replacement level at the MLB level was clearly not picking up something that Dipoto/Servais was laying down. It’s *also* true of the latest Mariner to be traded: OF prospect Alex Jackson, the #6 overall pick in the 2014 draft, and one of the M’s top prospects (based on pre-draft ability/pedigree) ever since.

If M’s fans have thought of Jackson since draft day, it’s probably to lament his lack of progress. Most of this is Jackson’s fault (he’s still only been as high as Class A Clinton), and a great deal of *that* is due the lingering stain of Jackson’s disastrous early 2015 stint with Clinton, where he was clearly unready for the pro arms that he faced. In every other assignment, he’s hit a bit better than league average. It’s not that Jackson’s been out and out awful, it’s that he’s been flawed (his K rate is worryingly high) and his progress slower than we’d expect from the consensus best prep bat in his draft class.

Of course, that pedigree and the fact that he’s been kind of okay (if you see past the expectations that come with his draft position) that enable Jerry Dipoto to acquire prospects for him. It would surprise no M’s fan if Jackson stalls out in AA. You look at his peripheral stats, and you see a guy who looks like Mike Zunino, but in a corner OF spot, and that’s just not going to work. And yet, the idea of a ‘prospect pedigree’ is more than marketing/hype and old-school mumbo-jumbo. Not many big leaguers suffered through the slumps Jackson has, but the uber-talents have a better track record (or, depending on your perspective, are granted a much longer leash and/or second, third, & fourth chances).

Atlanta might ‘win’ this trade handily. Jackson is, by some margin, the most talented ballplayer in the exchange. He’s demonstrated some power, but really needs some help with making contact. In return, the M’s get low-to-mid ceiling pitchers Robert Whalen and Max Povse. Whalen’s best comparison player may be Stephen Fife, the one-time Dodger who was part of the 3-team trade that netted the M’s Trayvon Robinson. He throws 90 and got hit hard in 5 starts for the Braves in 2016. Povse, a 6’8″ righty, is more of a traditional prospect, but doesn’t have the pure stuff to be among Atlanta’s org top 10 (or possibly 20).

Whalen’s fastball is something of an oddity in that it has absolutely zero horizontal movement, but also no vertical rise. Purely on movement, his four seam looks like Garrett Richards’, though of course Richards adds about 7-8 MPH to the mix. That brings us to Stephen Fife, a long-time MiLB vet who possesses a similar FB and change-up. Fife’s ‘odd’ FB couldn’t consistently confuse big league hitters, but he was okay in between injuries and minor league options. Despite Whalen’s struggles, there’s room for optimism. Whalen’s average exit velocity was well below league average last year, and he was exceptionally good at limiting GB batted-ball authority. If part of that is skill and not just unfamiliarity/luck, then he might have some value, particularly if he makes more use of his sinker. This is a longshot #5 prospect whose real utility may be at the AAA level, but if he can ride his weird low-spin movement to poor contact (he gave up very few ‘barrels’, or exceptionally well-struck balls in his 20-odd IP), he may end up more useful than Jackson. And it’s not just tiny-sample batted-ball data: Whalen’s posted consistently low BABIPs throughout the minors and in his MLB stint, too. Of course, he’s also coming off a shoulder injury that ended his 2016 campaign, and thus may be even riskier than the underpowered-funky-fastball-and-guile profile suggests.

Povse has much more of a traditional prospect profile thanks to his 6’8″ frame and a sinking FB that’s touched 97. He’s also hit AA in 2016 and posted freakishly low walk rates.* Despite all that, Povse hasn’t wowed scouts because he’s struggled to miss bats. In isolated games, he looks like an ace, but more often, he’s been tall-Aaron-Cook, giving up a ton of (mostly grounded) contact. Still, if the M’s look back on this trade fondly, it’ll likely be due to Povse, who could morph into a Justin Masterson or Jeff Samardzija type, if everything breaks right.

The return is…fine, I suppose, and at least Povse holds out the possibility of some upside, but it feels amazing after following the team that couldn’t quite quit Dustin Ackley/Justin Smoak. The last time the M’s moved a pre-Major Leagues first-rounder was when they packaged Philippe Aumont as part of the Cliff Lee deal (that worked out). They traded Adam Jones earlier – you may have heard how that turned out – but he’d already hit AAA for the M’s. The M’s haven’t made a move quite like this in a while, though the motivation for it may be similar to the Tai Walker trade we discussed yesterday.

The M’s were unhappy with Walker’s effort/fight during the year and moved him to AAA for a week or so in 2016. Following Jackson’s lost 2015, the M’s held him back in instructs until he met, as Ryan Divish reported, performance and attitude standards. He got out of instructs, but the M’s haven’t been shy about ID’ing the prospects that frustrate them. They’ve moved them despite performance struggles and despite their own public misgivings about the players, and yet it’s hard to say it’s really hurt them. Would Jackson have fetched more after 2014, if he could’ve been moved in a Dansby Swanson-type deal? Sure, but the fact is he wasn’t, and given the M’s made the move now, when every other club knew about the K’s and the ‘attitude’ concerns, Dipoto and company did all right.

That’s not to say it’s a clear upgrade the way the Walker/Segura move was. This has a much, much bigger chance of blowing up in the M’s faces. But at this point, Jackson’s odds for contributing to the Mariners was quite low, and yet Dipoto was able to move him for something of value (not much value, but value nonetheless). Dipoto clearly had a contingency plan with Jackson, and in Atlanta – a rebuilding team with a deep, deep farm system – he had an ideal trading partner.

* Like a few low-walk pitchers before him, Povse’s walk totals hide some elevated HBP numbers. It doesn’t change his value or control grade, but it’s worth remembering that his Bb% or BB/9 understates the number of batters he put on base.


3 Responses to “Alex Jackson to Atlanta for Two Pitchers”

  1. marc w on November 29th, 2016 12:40 am

    Damn it. The M’s traded another first rounder after Aumont – their very next first pick: Josh Fields. He was such a low-value guy at the time that we (er, *I*) forget him. He was packaged with Erik Bedard to Boston in the very same deal that sent Stephen Fife to LA.

  2. ck on November 29th, 2016 8:36 am

    Fister, Vargas, Moyer: even Nuno had good outings for M’s without overpowering heat. Do we have a Minor League pitching Svengali that get help the new guys be all they can be?

  3. ck on November 29th, 2016 10:14 am

    Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll was fired by Patriots and decided if he ever coached again it would only be,”…his way” which he developed at USC and brought to Seattle.
    M’s GM Dipoto resigned LAA because he could not do things his way. Last off season, we learned his way was C the Z. It is now apparent that players in the M’s Organization must, See the Zee, or they will be Shown Da Door.

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