The Texas Rangers traded relief pitcher Joakim Soria to the Detroit Tigers Wednesday night, receiving two right-handed pitching prospects in return: Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel. Here's my take on the newest members of the Rangers organization.
Corey Knebel, RHP: Knebel is a Texan, born in Denton and and a product of the University of Texas baseball program. He saved 37 games over three seasons for the Longhorns, posting a 2.06 ERA in 170 innings with a 180/50 K/BB ratio. Drafted in the supplemental first round in 2013, he moved through the minors very quickly, posting a 1.62 ERA this year in 33 innings between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo, with a 43/17 K/BB. He's already pitched 8.2 big league innings with the Tigers, with 11 hits and seven runs allowed but an 11/3 K/BB.
Knebel is a 6-3, 195 pound right-hander born November 26, 1991. He has classic bullpen stuff with a 93-98 MPH fastball, averaging 95, and a power breaking ball. He has a changeup as well and scouts report that his arsenal is diverse enough for him to start, but funky high-effort mechanics make him a better fit for bullpen work. His command is generally good and he has the mindset needed to be a successful closer.
Jake Thompson, RHP: Thompson is also from Texas, born in Rockwall where he attended high school. Drafted in the second round in 2012, he's been quite successful as a pro and has been effective in 2014, posting a 3.14 ERA in 16 starts for High-A Lakeland with a 79/25 K/BB in 83 innings. Recently promoted to Double-A Erie, he's made two starts in the Eastern League and held his own, with three runs in 11 innings and a 7/4 K/BB.
Thompson is a 6-4, 235 pound right-hander, born January 31st, 1994. A four-pitch starter, he features a low-90s fastball, a slider, a curveball, and a circle changeup. Although none of his pitches are outstanding, none of them are bad, either, and everything plays up due to solid command. The Tigers managed his workload cautiously but he has the build to be a durable inning-eating starting pitcher.
ANALYSIS: I like this for the Rangers but it makes sense for both teams. The Tigers (as usual) are in win-now mode and Soria provides a helpful stretch-run boost for the bullpen. The Tigers use their farm system aggressively for such trades each year, which is what it is there for. From the Rangers point of view, Knebel and Thompson are more likely to be part of the next good Rangers team than Soria is. Knebel should be ready to contribute in the major league pen very soon and Thompson is a very solid prospect who deserves more attention than he's received. The fact that they are both from Texas adds some home state propaganda value. If it all works out, Thompson could be a number three starter and Knebel a closer.