It was only a matter of time before AJ Preller and Billy Beane locked up for a deal as the two GM's have undertaken massive overhauls of their rosters. While Beane has been shipping out veterans all winter, Preller is rebuilding a pitiful offense that was brutal to watch. The Padres continue to accomplish their goal of adding offense by acquiring C Derek Norris along with minor league right hander Seth Streich, and $144.1K worth of IFA bonus money from Oakland for right handed starter Jesse Hahn and right handed reliever RJ Alvarez. With the addition of Matt Kemp to the San Diego line up, they lost their starting catcher in Yasmani Grandal, leaving a hole filled by bringing in Norris. Both Norris and Hahn have exceeded rookie expectations so we will profile the two minor league righties involved, Seth Streich and RJ Alvarez.
Photo courtesy of Clifford Oto
The Oakland Athletics selected Seth Streich in the 6th round of the 2012 draft, signing for $183,500 out of the University of Ohio. He spent his junior year as a first baseman and starting pitcher for the Bobcats, and put his name on the dotted line as a pitcher. The 6'3, 210 pound right handed Pennsylvania native spent the majority of his debut season near home in the short season New York-Penn League, throwing a total of 37.1 innings with a 2.65 ERA and 3.11 FIP between Vermont and the rookie level Arizona League while being age appropriate for the league at 21 years old.
For the 2013 season he made his full season debut with Low A Beloit, making 21 starts that spanned 110.2 innings with a 3.82 ERA, a 3.47 FIP, and 1.40 WHIP. He struck out 82 batters (16.8%) while walking 41 (8.4%) with 114 hits allowed and a pair of bombs. A .317 BABIP and 67.2% strand rate, both below average, slightly skewed his ERA, and keeping the ball in the park helped his FIP. Streich let Midwest League hitters put up a .268/.344/.351 triple slash line with a pronounced reverse split. Left handed hitters scraped by with a .229/.311/.252 line while right handed hitters tagged him with a .308/.377/.450 line in 244 plate appearances against eash side. Right handed hitters accounted for both homers and 24 of 28 extra base hits. He racked up balls on the ground 46.5% of the time with league average line drive and infield fly rates, and a 1.32 GO:AO ratio. An elbow scare cut his season short at the end of July, but was ready to go in time for the following spring training.
This past year the front office had Streich break camp with A+ Stockton out in the California League which is basically a nightmare assignment for a pitcher. Offense heavy environments weren't able to slow him down though as he had a true breakout year with a 3.16 ERA, a 3.24 FIP, and 1.16 WHIP in 114 frames. He nearly slashed his walks in half, surrendering only 22 all year (4.7%) with 116 punch outs (25%), which jumped over eight points. Streich allowed 110 hits and seven homers with a .329 BABIP and 69.4% strand rate. Despite the high BABIP he was able to limit opposing hitters to a .253/.298/.361 line and sharp home/road splits. On the road he was lights out with a .478 OPS allowed while in the friendly confines of his home park the opposition had a .738 OPS. He got a better handle on right handed hitters than the year before, limiting them to a .257/.309/.390 line over 260 plate appearances. Lefties fared better in comparison to 2013, hitting .247/.284/.325 through 204 trips to the dish. He upped his ground ball rate to 47.2% while dropping his line drive rate and raising his infield fly rate each by two points. His GO:AO ratio came in at 1.21, also above league average. Streich was named a midseason and postseason California League All-Star with his excellent season in such a tough environment.
On the bump, Streich works with a 90-94 mph fastball that he does a great job of keeping low in the zone. The four seamer has a bit of glove-side movement to it while the two seam fastball has heavy, arm-side run on it. He'll also mix in a change up and curve to keep hitters off balance. His change up resides in the 78-82 mph range with a good amount of drop to it. It shows good deception and has late movement. With a 10-15 mph velocity difference from his fastball and with similar action on it, he gets weak swings where the batter starts early and loses his lower half, using all arms to try and make contact. It's an above average pitch with the potential for more as he gets more familiar with when and where to throw it. The hook shows 12-6 break with tight rotation in the high 70's and he can use it as an early strike or at the end of the count to attempt to put away hitters. It's grades out as an average pitch down the line as it's not a true hammer or strike out pitch, but he's made huge strides with it in the last two years. There are reports that he also has a low to mid 80's slider that's a distant fourth pitch and could get scrapped. Looking at his stats, it's pretty obvious he has some fantastic control, walking less than 5% of batters in the 2014 campaign. He could use some work on his command though as he did have a few issues with the ball catching too much of the plate. All in all, his ability to throw the ball in the zone with each of his pitches bodes well for his future.
Streich's season was cut short at the end of July when he was pulled from a start with shoulder soreness. After the season he went under the knife to take care of the issue, but there has been no word yet on his recovery. He showed two above average pitches with his fastball and change up while the curve clocked in as average with great control. That sounds like a solid #4 starter to me, with the potential for more if his change up and curve continue to develop. This is all dependent on his right shoulder though, as we've seen far too many times where a throwing shoulder injury has completely derailed careers.
2014 A+ stats
Photo courtesy of MiLB
If you go back in time with me to the off-season preceding the 2012 season, you'll remember that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim went on a bit of a spending spree, inking Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson to long term deals, surrendering their first and second round draft picks in the process. That left the Angels waiting until the 114th overall pick to snag RJ Alvarez, a right handed flamethrower out of Florida Atlantic University, and the signed him with a $416,300 bonus. He debuted with Low A Cedar Rapids after signing and spent the remainder of the year there with solid numbers out of the pen.
The 6'1, 200 pound right hander spent the 2013 season in the pitcher's hell known as the California League. He spent his age 22 season posting mind boggling dominance numbers at A+ Inland Empire with 79 strike outs (38%) and just 34 hits allowed in 48.2 innings of work. Though he did walk 27 (13%) men, he only surrendered a pair of long balls and posted a 2.96 ERA with a 2.85 FIP and 1.25 WHIP. He stranded 78.1% of men on base and worked around a .327 BABIP to limit the opposition to a .191/.303/.303 triple slash. Calling him death on right handed hitters doesn't even do the phrase justice as he manhandled them to a .140/.262/.178 line and .439 OPS. They only had four extra base hits the whole year, all doubles, and he struck out 55 batters (43.7%) while issuing 16 free passes (12.7%) in 126 plate appearances. Lefties fared quite better, actually hitting him pretty hard to the tune of a .268/.366/.493 line with both homers, 10 of 14 extra base knocks, and 11 walks to 24 strike outs. He showed fly ball tendencies with 35% of balls heading to the outfield in the air while also generating 12% infield flies and posting a 0.83 GO:AO ratio. After the year he was sent to the prestigious Arizona Fall League where his control took a legitimate step forward. Over 10 innings of relief he walked just two with 12 strike outs, but was victimized by a high .375 BABIP and insanely only-in-a-short-sample-size-like-this low strand rate of 33%.
The front office had Alvarez break camp in 2014 with AA Arkansas in the Texas League. Once again he was laughably dominant, allowing just 13 hits (4.3 H/9) in 27 innings with 38 strike outs (38%) and 10 walks (10%). He surrendered a single earned run in that span with a microscopic 0.33 ERA, a 1.75 FIP, and 0.85 WHIP. Texas League hitters limped back to the dugout with a .149/.260/.161 triple slash, one extra base hit, a .265 BABIP, and 92.3% strand rate. On July 19th he was packaged with Jose Rondon, Taylor Lindsey, and Elliot Morris and shipped to San Diego for Huston Street and Trevor Gott. His new team also has an affiliate in the Texas League, so they sent him to San Antonio to finish out the regular season. With his new team, he made 17 more appearances spanning 16.1 frames with 23 strike outs (33.3%) to only three walks (4.4%), a 2.76 ERA, a 1.04 FIP, and 1.16 WHIP. He locked up six saves and worked around a .381 BABIP and 75% strand rate. The opposition fared much better as well, hitting .250/.294/.313 when he was with San Antonio. The Friars called him up for September as a reward for such a fine season and he responded by allowing just three hits in eight innings of work and 10 appearances. He struck out nine and walked five for a 1.13 ERA, a 3.13 FIP, and 1.00 WHIP with a .167 BABIP, 88.9% strand rate, and a 0.36 GO:AO ratio. For the entire 2014 season, Alvarez held the opposition to a .181/.274/.209 triple slash, including a ridiculously pitiful .117/.207/.117 line from right handed hitters. That was over 116 plate appearances with ZERO extra base hits, seven walks, and 46 punch outs. Left handed hitters put up a .270/.365/.338 line over 86 PA's with 11 walks and 24 strike outs. Looking to his batted ball profile, he still generated a hefty amount of infield flies at 11% (about 3.5% more than Texas League average) while getting 39.6% of balls on the ground and a 0.88 GO:AO ratio.
Its a pretty straightforward scouting report for RJ Alvarez. High octane jet fuel he calls a fastball paired with a vicious slider with vicious, crocodile-like bite. His heater sits in the high 90's, regularly touching triple digits with the slider lighting up radar guns in the high 80's. Occasionally he'll toss a change up into the mix that's below average and used exclusively against lefties. He's got a cross-fire delivery which brings some deception to the table, leading to his extreme dominance against right handed hitters since they can't pick up the ball until it's too late. Alvarez made a mechanical adjustment in the 2013 AFL and his control improved by leaps and bounds, dropping his walk rate by 5.3 points without sacrificing strike outs. I believe the adjustment is a big step forward to him fulfilling his potential as a shut down late inning reliever.
Alvarez did miss time in 2014 due to a sore right elbow in mid May, missing a month of action. Any time elbows are involved in a DL stint, it worries me; especially with a guy who throws as hard as he does. Add the injury to his lack of a weapon against southpaws and I can't see him being a closer, but he could be a valuable set up man in the 7th or 8th inning with a string of righties coming up. He should break camp in the Oakland bullpen next year, but there's an outside shot Billy Beane and Co. would like him to get some AAA experience first.
2014 AA (LAA and SD) stats
2014 MLB stats
With the prospects hashed out, lets turn our attention to the Major Leaguers involved, Derek Norris and Jesse Hahn. Norris will be heading to San Diego to replace Yasmani Grandal as the starting catcher in the new-look Padres line up. The soon to be 26 year old enjoyed a career year in 2014 while hitting .270/.361/.403 with a 118 OPS+, 122 wRC+, and .341 wOBA to go with a 2.5 WAR mark from FanGraphs and 3.0 WAR from Baseball Reference. He took home his first All-Star selection, but defensive metrics were not favorable to him. He ranked in the middle of the pack in pitch framing and only threw out 17% of runners with six errors, eight passed balls, and cost his team three runs according to DRS. He's entering his last season of making the league minimum with 2016 being his first year of arbitration.
Right handed starter Jesse Hahn was the other player with significant MLB time on his resume, relatively speaking. John wrote him up when he made his MLB debut in June, and this was my analysis of him when he was dealt to San Diego before the season. Hahn cracked the 100 inning plateau for the first year in 2014 after being treated very cautiously after going down with Tommy John surgery back in 2011. In his age 24 season, he split it between AA San Antonio and San Diego, totaling 115.2 innings of work. Opposing hitters put up a .217/.302/.300 line against him, but he was lethal against right handers, surrendering just eight extra base hits all year (all doubles) with a .188/.298/.228 triple slash over 238 PA's. During his 73.1 innings spent in San Diego, he posted a 3.07 ERA, a 3.40 FIP, and 1.21 WHIP with a .270 BABIP, 76.7% strand rate, and 70 punch outs (22.9%) to 32 walks (10.5%). He also generated a 1.83 GO:AO ratio, 50.3% ground ball rate, and was worth 0.8 fWAR.
The last part of the deal involves an international bonus slot valued at $144,100 which is headed to San Diego. While it's not a huge amount, it can still be the difference between paying taxes for going over their bonus allotment or not, depending on where the Friars stand on their international spending for this time period.
Looking at the big picture, I like what both teams did with this deal. Oakland knew Norris was about to get expensive and carried a good amount of value with his All-Star selection and four more years of team control. They maximized his return by bringing in a cost controlled pitcher that can be a mid-rotation starter. Though Streich has the potential to be a back end starter, the shoulder surgery scares the crap out of me. Padres GM AJ Preller is really taking a gamble on him while surrendering a young power reliever with designs on the late innings. The international bonus money looks like a situation where Beane told Preller "Throw in some money into my international bonus pool and we got a deal." I'm calling this a win-win deal for both clubs as each addressed a need they saw in their organization.