It’d Been Too Long: M’s/Dodgers Swap Prospects

March 2, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · Comment 

It had been over a month since Jerry Dipoto last made a trade – an entire calendar month (albeit the shortest one) without at least an A ball prospect heading to a different corner of the Cactus League. The counter got re-set last night, however, as the M’s and Dodgers traded mid-tier prospects for the second time in a year. The M’s get polished RH starting pitcher Chase de Jong, and give up SS Drew Jackson and RP Aneurys Zabala.

de Jong’s a command guy with fastball in the low-90s/high-80s, but he spots it well and has a change-up along with a hard slider/cutter and slurve. After a solid but unspectacular 2015 campaign in the Midwest League and California League, de Jong broke out with a great year for AA Tulsa, winning the Texas League Pitcher of the Year award. With his lanky frame (he’s 6’4″), plus pitchability and no big signature pitch, he kind of reminds me of Ryan Yarbrough, the ex-M’s prospect who won a *different* AA league’s Pitcher of the Year award last year, and went to Tampa in the Drew Smyly deal. Yarbrough was a bit better overall, and may have a touch more stuff at this point, but de Jong’s considerably younger.

In return, the headliner heading to LA is SS Drew Jackson, whom the M’s drafted out of Stanford a few years back. He was always a glove-first player and had an arm scouts graded plus to plus-plus, but surprised everyone with his bat early on. He was named the NWL’s MVP in 2015 and won a batting title, while showing blazing speed on the basepaths. He struggled a bit in 2016, though, showing almost no power (even in the California League) and showing a big decline in his stolen base rate. There’s still some potential there, but a guy without power AND without elite contact skills (he struck out over 100 times) is not an elite prospect. He ranked 10th in BP’s Mariners list, but the M’s themselves ranked 26th in MLB for the quality of their farm system. The Dodgers ranked 7th, so it’s not a big knock on de Jong that he didn’t crack the top 10. MLB Pipeline had de Jong as the Dodger’s 16th-best prospect, and have him 15th in Seattle’s system.

Aneurys Zabala is a Dominican reliever with a live arm but serious control issues who made some big strides last year in the Arizona League. While that’s encouraging and all, and he cracked the back end of the M’s top 30 list, this does not seem like a huge loss.

de Jong’s probably going to start 2017 in Tacoma’s rotation, and he joins the heated battle to earn a call-up during the year. Overall, this is a solid move, as the M’s hope they don’t need as much SS depth after acquiring Jean Segura. They’re probably hoping, though, that things go better than the last time these two clubs made a move like this. The M’s moved Chris Taylor for close-to-the-majors starter Zach Lee, and watched as Taylor got a look in the majors while Lee imploded in the PCL. Obviously, prior results are no guarantee of future performance, and frankly, I’m glad the M’s replaced some of the high-minors pitching depth they lost in the Smyly and Pazos trades.

Cactus League Game 5: Smyly Tyme

March 1, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · Comment 

M’s at Indians, 12:05pm
Drew Smyly vs. Trevor Bauer

The M’s newest starting pitcher, and the pitching acquisition with by far the most upside, takes the mound today. The former Tampa Bay Ray throws a four-seam fastball in the low 90s with a hard “curve” that’s been his best pitch. His third pitch is a cutter that he’ll throw to lefties and righties alike, but it’s never worked all that well. Batters have had more success on the cutter than any other pitch over the course of his career, and as his HR rate has soared in recent years, the cutter’s been a key source of the problem. Last year, batters slugged .636 on the offering, and in his abbreviated 2015, they slugged .714. It was actually a good pitch for him going back to his days with the Tigers, so something’s going on with it. Its movement was distinctly un-cutter-like last year, and it sort of blended in to his fastball. That said, its degree of actual cut and sink has ebbed and flowed throughout the years, so there’s nothing convincing in the pure movement data. Still, if I’m the M’s coaching staff, improving that pitch (or replacing it with a different one) would be my first priority. Perhaps as an alternative, Smyly’s made more use of his change-up in recent years, but that’s been no better: batters have slugged .836 off of it in his career (though he’s only thrown 340 of them).

I put curve in quotes up above, because Smyly’s curve really is an odd duck. It doesn’t… it doesn’t curve, see. For a guy throwing from a very over-the-top arm slot, we wouldn’t expect a ton of horizontal movement. But ALL of Smyly’s horizontal movement is arm side. You know, the OPPOSITE way a breaking ball is supposed to break. This means that Smyly throws the pitch like a curve, with curveball velocity, but that it works like a change-up or splitter. A slow-splitter. Eno Sarris worked with Driveline Baseball to essentially “invent” what he called a reverse curveball, or a slow breaking ball with armside break. Well, Drew Smyly already throws it.

I think I’ve written way too much about Trevor Bauer as it is and have no desire to add to it here.

The line up:
1: Martin, CF
2: Valencia, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Zunino, C
6: Vogelbach, DH
7: Gamel, RF
8: Smith, SS
9: Powell, LF
SP: Drew Smyly

Also pitching today for the M’s are Edwin Diaz, newly acquired pitching prospect Max Povse, and fireballing relief prospect Thyago Vieira.

Hey, a Boog Powell sighting! The ex-Ray seemed like a big part of the Brad Miller/Nate Karns swap, but a 2nd PED violation means we haven’t seen a whole lot of him.

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