While most of the United States was finishing off their Thanksgiving leftovers, Oakland GM Billy Beane pulled the trigger on his first trade of the off-season last Friday, and he made it a doozy. Beane teamed up with Toronto GM Alex Anthopolous to trade third baseman with three prospects also heading to Oakland. Josh Donaldson and Brett Lawrie are the headlining pieces in the deal with LHP Sean Nolin, RHP Kendall Graveman, and SS Franklin Barreto being the prospects involved in the deal. Lets take a look at the prospects involved in the deal before anything else.
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Nolin was Toronto's 6th round pick in the 2010 draft out of San Jacinto College in Houston, TX after going to high school in New York. The 6'4 230 pound lefty made his full season debut in 2011 as a 21 year old and has been on the fast track ever since. He split 2012 between High A Dunedin and a dominant three game stint at AA New Hampshire. The following year was similar, spending the majority of the year at AA with another excellent stint at AAA Buffalo with a combined 2.77 ERA and 3.06 FIP in 110.1 innings as a 23 year old. He was also rocked in his major league debut, allowing six runs on seven hits with a walk in 1.1 frames. He struck out 116 (25.5%) while walking 35 (7.7%) with 102 hits allowed and an opponents batting average of .245 with a .323 BABIP.
Jump ahead to 2014 and Nolin began the year back with AAA Buffalo looking to continue the success he found at the end of 2013 there. He made 10 starts before going down with a groin issue, making three rehab appearances in the GCL and High A Florida State League. Before the injury he worked 48.2 innings with a 3.70 ERA and 42 strike outs to 24 walks with 43 hits allowed. He returned in better form, pitching to a 3.26 ERA and 32 strike outs with 11 walks and 31 hits in 38.2 innings. For the year, including rehab starts and a relief appearance in September for Toronto, Nolin threw 98 innings of 3.43 ERA and 3.49 FIP ball with 88 K's (21.3%), 39 walks (9.4%), and 79 hits allowed with a .217/.296/.325 opponents triple slash. He also fared much better at home (.181/.271/.281 in 238 PA's) than on the road (.264/.330/.384 in 176 PA's) with an ERA 1.05 points better and a 1.09 WHIP compared to 1.40 away from home. Nolin was also much better against lefties, limiting them to a .182/.265/.193 line for a .458 OPS and one extra base hit in 98 plate appearances. Right handed hitters batted .228/.306/.367 against him in 316 PA's with all seven homers allowed on the year. Looking at the batted ball profile, he only induced ground balls 38.6% of the time making him a fly ball pitcher, but he did so with 11.4% of balls in play being infield fly balls while 25.7% were outfield flies, which was a good 3% below the AAA average. If a pitcher is going to give up fly balls, it's much better for them to be infield flies which are almost sure outs while outfield flies can do more damage. This is also an indicator he's good at getting weak contact and getting players to swing under the ball.
Nolin sits anywhere from 89-92 mph on the mound, reaching back for 95 mph on occasion to try and put away hitters while getting good sink with his two-seamer in the lower registers. He compliments that with a plus change up and pair of breaking balls in a slider and curve, both about average. An absolute hoss built to eat innings like Joey Chestnut eats hot dogs, he's got a high probability of being a #4 starter with an outside shot at #3 upside if his sequencing and command take a step forward. He should be ready to contribute almost immediately with a strong AFL performance and good numbers at AAA this past season.
2014 Stats (GCL, A+, AAA, MLB) -
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With what's looking to be an absolute steal, the Toronto Blue Jays drafted Graveman in the 8th round of the 2013 draft as a senior sign out of Mississippi State University. The then 22 year old Alabama native made 10 starts for Low A Lansing after signing for only $5,000 after the draft, throwing 39.2 innings with a non-descript 4.31 ERA, 4.12 FIP, and 1.36 WHIP. He had struck out 25 (14.6%) while walking 13 (7.6%) with 41 hits allowed, a .266/.324/.351 opponents triple slash, and a .295 BABIP. Graveman generated 2.37 ground outs to air outs, an excellent mark, with 59.8% of batted balls being grounders. The sample size is really too small to glean any real information, especially when it comes to splits over the course of just under 40 innings.
The 6'2 195 pound right hander traversed five levels in 2014, beginning the year in the Midwest League with the Lansing Lugnuts and finishing it in the majors with five appearances in the Blue Jays bullpen. All told, he made 27 starts in the minors spanning 167.1 innings of 1.83 ERA and 2.81 FIP ball while striking out 115 (17.5%) with 31 walks (4.7%), 142 hits allowed, and just two home runs allowed with the opposition hitting .231/.270/.278 against him with a .280 BABIP. Add in 4.2 innings at the major league level with four hits, four strike outs and two runs allowed with no walks. He induced 1.95 ground outs to air outs for the year and generated 57.9% ground balls at the minor league level. Graveman showed a sharp platoon split, manhandling right handed hitters to the tune of a .197/.241/.235 line over 372 PA's while lefties hit him at a .272/.305/.331 clip. He was better at home than on the road as well, but not by much (.502 OPS at home, .578 OPS on the road).
These fantastic results he's achieved so far have come by manipulating the fastball three different ways and throwing a good change up. He throws a sinking two seamer, traditional four seamer ranging from 89-93 mph, while his cutter is a few mph's slower at 85-87. His change up is an average low to mid 80's offering and he also throws a mid 80's slider. Graveman has shown to be durable with his ground ball heavy approach and good control, keeping hitters off balance and generating weak contact. I don't see why he wouldn't get a shot at a spot in the rotation for those reasons, though that opportunity may not come until 2016 as he has limited upper level experience. Injuries can always change timelines though and he may be on the short list to make a spot start for the parent club here or there.
2014 Stats (A, A+, AA, AAA, MLB) -
Photo courtesy of Bryan Green
As others have already written, Barreto is going to be the key piece to this deal when it's all said and done. A potential top of the order catalyst, the right handed short stop is listed at 5'9 174 pounds with quick twitch athleticism in a small package. The Venezuelan native signed for $1,450,000 in 2012 and made his debut the following year. He split time between the complex rookie level Gulf Coast League and advanced rookie Bluefield Blue Jays of the Appalachian League. Over 252 plate appearances, Barreto hit .276/.343/.482 with 32 extra base hits including 21 doubles, 10 stolen bases, 15 walks and 56 strike outs. He was good for a 140 wRC+ and .387 wOBA with an .825 OPS as a 17 year old who was anywhere from 2.5 to 3.5 years younger than league average. Barreto was also better against same sided pitchers, tagging righties to a .283/.352/.491 line over 177 PA's with a .261/.320/.464 triple slash against lefties.
The Blue Jays challenged the 18 year old with a promotion to the short season A Vancouver Canadians of the Northwest League. He played 73 games, tallying 328 plate appearances with a .311/.384/.481 line, hitting 23 doubles, six homers and four triples. The diminutive short stop also stole 29 bases with 65 runs scored, 26 walks, 64 strike outs, a 141 wRC+ and .399 wOBA. His wRC+ was the best of any 18 year old who spent all of 2014 above the rookie level. Looking at his splits, once again Barreto did more damage to right handed pitchers, hitting .315/.386/.489 over 249 trips to the plate while running up a .300/.380/.457 line in 79 PA's against lefties. He was also better away from Vancouver, hitting .329/.394/.537 while going 17 for 18 in stolen bases while also hitting 20 of his 33 extra base knocks. Any examination of his batting statistics will include his abnormally high BABIP's his first two years - .351 in 2013 and .378 in 2014. Regression should be expected, but I'm not so sure. In 2014 he hit a line drive 21.9% of the time, 5.2% more often than the average Northwest League hitter. Players with high line drive rates and good speed tend to have higher BABIP's, and that is a combination Barreto has in his toolbox.
Fielding numbers in the minor leagues are already sketchy, even more so in the lower rungs. The numbers of an 18 year old in short season ball should be taken with a grain of salt, as Barreto committed 26 errors in 298 chances for a .913 fielding percentage with a 4.0 range factor that was near the bottom of the league's short stops. This was an improvement upon 2013 though, where he made 28 errors in 11 less games and 48 less chances.
The first thing to pop out at you once you see Barreto on the field is his size. He's a good bit smaller than most of his teammates, but is built solidly. The tools that jump out are his arm, speed, and ability to barrel the ball with great bat speed. The wheels are an easy plus with many scouts putting the same grade on his hit tool. His arm works at short stop with good carry on his throws but erratic footwork leads to some sloppy throws and occasionally leaves him in a bad position to field the ball. If he's going to stick at short stop at the major league level he has a lot of work to do, but moving him to another spot up the middle could be in the cards. The power isn't there yet, and barring some sort of growth spurt, it should be a slightly below average tool. He's got the athleticism and strength to power balls to the gap and use his speed for extra bases, which reminds me a bit of another breakout prospect of small stature, Mookie Betts. Projecting to have at least three above average tools puts a high floor on Barreto, and if he can clean up his actions in the field, he could be a great piece for the Oakland future. The A's have never been timid about aggressively pushing their prospects so he could wind up getting more time in the Cal League than the Midwest, despite being a teenager still. For those familiar with the Oakland player development system, think of the same path Addison Russell was on before being shipped to Chicago.
2014 Stats (A-) -
This is the kind of deal that you can't really determine a winner until at least five years down the line. With the key prospect being so far away from making an impact at the major league level, it's hard to say who won this deal. My gut reaction says Toronto because of the four years of control they still have on Donaldson, a star player who is in the upper echelon of third baseman and just finished in the top five in MVP voting. While Lawrie could turn into the stud he's been projected to be for years, the potential for injuries is very real while Nolin and Graveman are more than likely back-end rotation options, and Barreto carries a ton of risk. If there is one thing I know about Billy Beane though, risk is something he doesn't shy away from.