Prospects in the Gio Gonzalez Trade
On the eve of the eve of Christmas Eve, the Oakland Athletics and Washington Nationals pulled off a huge trade. Oakland sent southpaw starter Gio Gonzalez to the nation's capital, in exchange for four prospects. I wrote my Washington Nationals Top 20 Prospects for 2012 report just two days ago, and all four minor leaguers involved made the list, making this a huge boost for the Athletics farm system.
Let's take a look:
A.J. Cole, RHP: A 19-year-old right-hander, Cole was drafted in the fourth round in 2010 from high school in Oviedo, Florida. His draft position was deceptive: he was rated a first-round talent by most analysts, but bonus demands knocked his stock down. It took $2,000,000 to sign him. Cole posted a 4.04 ERA in 89 innings his year for Hagerstown in the Low-A South Atlantic League, but with 108 strikeouts to his credit (overall K/BB 108/24). Tall and lean at 6-4, 180, Cole has a mid-90s fastball and made progress refining his mechanics and command this year. His curve and change are works in progress, but improving, and he has the upside of a number one or two starter. I rated him a Grade B+ and ranked him third on my Nationals prospect list.
Tom Milone, LHP: Milone is a 24-year-old lefty drafted in the 10th round in 2008 from the University of Southern California. He was one of the best pitchers in the minors on a statistical basis in 2011, going 12-6, 3.22 ERA with a spectacular 155/16 K/BB in 148 innings for Triple-A Syracuse. He held his own in five major league starts, posting a 3.81 ERA with a 15/4 K/BB in 26 innings. Milone fights the skepticism of radar-wielding scouts, but he locates his below-average fastball and adequate curve with precision. His changeup and deceptive action give hitters fits, and so far no one has been able to figure out how to defeat him consistently. Milone has a small margin for error, but has clearly earned a major league trial and could end up being a very solid fourth starter. I have him with a Grade B- grade and ranked him 9th on the Nationals list.
Derek Norris, C: Norris was drafted in the fourth round in 2007 from high school in Goddard, Kansas. A 22-year-old catcher, he hit just .210 this year for Double-A Harrisburg, but with 20 homers and 77 walks. He's developed into a solid defensive catcher, throwing out 40% of runners in '11 while steadily improving his blocking and receiving skills. Norris isn't going to hit for average, but his power, plate discipline, and glovework should make him a productive regular. I rated him a Grade B and ranked him sixth on the Nationals list.
Brad Peacock, RHP: Peacock had a breakthrough season in 2011, going 15-3, 2.39 ERA with a 177/47 K/BB in 147 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, allowing just 98 hits. He gave up just one run in a 12-inning major league trial. A 41st-round pick from a Florida high school in 2006, Peacock has always had a good arm, hitting 92-94 MPH, topping at 96-97, but was mediocre in the past due to command issues with his secondary pitches. He polished up his mechanics this year and developed better location with his plus curveball and improving changeup. I gave him a strong Grade B, almost a B+, and ranked him fourth on the Nationals list.
It's a win-now, cash-in-chips transaction for the Nationals. From their point of view, Gonzalez is more likely to help them in '12 than Peacock or Milone. If this trade works out for Oakland, they've obtained two pitchers who could be front-line ace starters with Cole and Peacock, a major-league-ready, strike-throwing inning-chewer who consistently defies skeptics in Milone, and a future starting catcher in Norris. As with all trades involving prospects, it is unlikely they will all reach their full potential, but I think the Athletics got fair value.