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Movers and Shakers - Part One

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A brief rundown of all the trades involving minor league players from mid-December to the end of 2014.

Padres LF Justin Upton.
Padres LF Justin Upton.
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

I think it would suffice to say that this offseason has been one of the craziest in recent memory. With a fertile trade market and lack of impact players available in free agency, some GM's must be incredibly thankful cell phone providers moved to the unlimited talk and text plans.

In the Prospect Trade Analysis series, I've fallen a bit behind the eight ball in keeping up with the flurry of moves taking place. I'd like to take a bit of time to do a quick recap on the trades that have taken place since the last deal in the series where San Diego acquired their new catcher in Derek Norris.

This mini-series will be used to catch up with the rest of baseball. This edition, part one, will cover all the trades up until the New Year with part two covering the rest of the deals. John will be continuing his work on his Top 20 Prospect lists and The 2015 Baseball Prospect Book (which can be pre-ordered here if you haven't already). Next on the docket for him are the Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres. Don't forget to check out the initial post from the newest member of the Minor League Ball staff, Wilson Karaman. Resident amatuer guru Matt Garrioch also just released his Early 2015 MLB Draft Rankings which is a must-read to acquaint yourself with the newest talent on the way.

Enough gobbledygook and mumbo jumbo, let's talk baseball.

Yankees ship Prado to South Beach for Eovaldi

martin prado

Marlins infielder Martin Prado.

Photo courtesy of Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports

The deal -

The New York Yankees acquire RHSP Nate Eovaldi, 1B Garrett Jones, and minor league RHP Domingo German from the Miami Marlins in exchange for jack-of-all-trades Martin Prado, RHP David Phelps, $3M in 2015, and $3M in 2016.

The skinny -

Growing up in Braves country, I was fortunate enough to see Prado play firsthand many times since he began receiving regular playing time back in 2008 until 2012 when he was sent to Arizona in the Justin Upton deal. He's a fantastic clubhouse presence that exudes professionalism and can change a locker room. As far as the quantifiable data, he's a career .291 hitter that is capable of playing second base, third base, first base, left field, or right field. Prado completed the 2014 season with a .282/.321/.412 line split between the Diamondbacks and Yankees with a 103 wRC+ and +8 DRS. The Marlins are looking to him to handle the hot corner and hit in the middle of their lineup.

Phelps is your prototypical 5th starter/swing man in the bullpen. Each of the last three years he's made at least 11 starts, but also at least 10 relief appearances. He's got a career 4.21 ERA and 4.20 FIP over 299.1 MLB innings. He'll be entering his age 28 season in 2015 and figures to fill a similar role with Miami as he did with the Yankees.

Nate Eovaldi can bring the stinkiest of cheeses with a 95.7 mph average fastball, but he's still learning how to be a pitcher as opposed to a thrower. He's entering his age 25 season with three years under his belt already and folks in the Bronx have good reason to believe he has the potential to be a monster in a few years as he reaches his physical prime. He should be an integral part in the Yankees rotation for years to come.

The Bombers also brought 1B Garrett Jones into the fold as a left handed bat off the bench with some thump and an insurance policy on Mark Teixeira at first or A-Rod in the DH slot. Jones is a career .253 hitter entering his age 34 season and has hit at least 15 bombs in each of his last six seasons and wrapped up last year with a .246/.309/.411 line and 99 wRC+.

The only prospect involved in the deal is 22 year old Dominican right hander, Domingo German. After spending four years in the short season leagues, German made his full season debut with the Marlins Low A affiliate in Greensboro, NC. He made 25 starts covering 123.1 innings with a 2.48 ERA, a 3.26 FIP, and 1.14 WHIP while striking out 113 (22.4%) and issuing only 25 free passes (5%). His biggest claim to fame at this point in his career was a masterful Futures Game performance this past Summer where he struck out the two most prolific power hitting prospects in baseball, Kris Bryant and Joey Gallo. Look for German to be on a similarly aggressive developmental track as Luis Severino took this past season. If he continues to mow down hitters like he did this past season, I could see him kicking off the year in A+ Tampa and making it to AA Trenton by the second half. A late season call up to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to get his feet wet isn't completely out of the question either.

The verdict -

I really like the addition of Prado for the Marlins, but the Yankees picked up two starting pitchers under 25 years old with serious potential. If Eovaldi or German hit, the scales tip heavily in New York's favor.

Boston bolsters pen by adding Varvaro

aaron kurcz

Braves right handed relief pitcher Aaron Kurcz.

Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Conner

The trade -

The Boston Red Sox acquire RHP Anthony Varvaro from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for RHP Aaron Kurcz and cash money.

The skinny -

Despite a low price tag and solid production the last two years, the Braves parted ways with Varvaro for a fellow right handed reliever who just finished AA and some cash. He had spent the last two years posting a 2.74 ERA and 3.36 FIP over 128 innings of work. In 2014 specifically, he made 61 appearances spanning 54.2 frames with a 2.63 ERA, a 3.21 FIP, and a 1.08 WHIP with 50 strike outs (22.9%) to 13 walks (6%). He was helped by a .273 BABIP and 78.9% strand rate while sporting a 49.7% ground ball rate and 1.52 GB/FB ratio. Estimators like SIERA and xFIP were solid as well, coming in at 2.86 and 3.15, respectively. Varvaro has established himself as a dependable reliever and was worth 0.3 fWAR and 0.5 rWAR last year. He will be 30 years old for the upcoming year and is entering his last pre-arbitration year where he makes the league minimum.

Atlanta's return in the deal, Aaron Kurcz, is heading into his age 24 season having just completed his first full year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2013. He made 34 appearances covering 42 frames this past season for AA Portland, posting a 2.14 ERA, a 2.50 FIP, and 1.29 WHIP with 54 strike outs (29.7%) and 22 walks (12.1%). An 80.4% strand rate was nice to work with despite the .308 BABIP, and a 0.80 GO:AO ratio. After the season he was sent to the AFL and made 10 more appearances spanning 14 innings with 15 strike outs to nine walks with 12 hits allowed and a 3.86 ERA. Listed at an even six feet and 170 pounds, he packs an impressive punch with a fastball that can reach the mid 90's with some cutting action and a quick arm. He throws a high 70's slider with tight rotation, sharp break, and the potential to be a plus pitch with a below average, firm change up in the high 80's. Kurcz puts a lot of effort into his delivery with a high 3/4 arm slot and is a bullpen guy all the way. One common trait I've found in all the reports I've seen on him is that he shows great makeup, so take that for whatever you think it's worth. He figures to head to AAA Gwinnett where he'll probably spend the entire year barring a plague hitting the Atlanta bullpen since he's still not on the 40 man roster. Kurcz also has the distinction as being one of the few players traded for a front office member (Theo Epstein).

The verdict -

Boston takes this one by picking up a proven, dependable middle innings arm on the cheap for a minor league reliever whose cieling is what Varvaro has done already. It certainly follows the rebuilding-on-the-fly trend Atlanta has shown this Winter, and it opened up a 40 man slot for future dealings.

San Diego sends four players to Atlanta for Upton

max fried

Braves left handed starting pitcher Max Fried.

Photo courtesy of MiLB

The deal -

The San Diego Padres acquire LF Justin Upton and RHSP Aaron Northcraft from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for LHSP Max Fried, 2B/3B Jace Peterson, 3B Dustin Peterson, and CF Mallex Smith.

The skinny -

How do you improve an offense that finished dead last in the MLB the year before? Hire a new GM with a quick trigger finger and a willingness to empty the farm. At least, that's what it looks like AJ Preller is doing in San Diego. You would think Matt Kemp and Wil Myers would be enough, but you would be wrong like everyone else. Preller brought in his third high profile outfielder by sending four Top 20 prospects to Atlanta, including a first round pick (Fried), a supplemental first rounder (J. Peterson), and a second round pick (D. Peterson). Oh, and also the guy who just won the minor league stolen base crown with 88 successful steals in Smith.

The headliner of the deal is obviously Justin Upton, one of the top power hitters in the game today. The first overall pick in the 2005 draft, Upton spent five and a half years with the team that drafted him, the Diamondbacks, before being the headliner of another deal that involved six other players. In 641 plate appearances for the Braves in 2014, Upton hit .270/.342/.491 with a 132 OPS+, a 133 wRC+, a .363 wOBA, and was worth 3.9 fWAR and 3.3 rWAR. He ranked in the top five in the National League in home runs (29, 4th in the NL) and runs batted in (102, 3rd in the NL), with 34 doubles, eight stolen bases, he drew 60 walks (9.4%), and 171 punch outs (26.7%) while benefiting from a .332 BABIP. He also took home Silver Slugger honors for the second time in his career during awards season. Defensively, he was in the Gold Glove conversation for some reason following last year, despite a -1.1 UZR/150 and 0 DRS with eight errors and five assists in left field. Upton is a career .274/.354/.442 hitter and is entering his age 27 season with a price tag of $14.5M for the 2015 season.

Max Fried went seventh overall in 2012 out of Harvard-Westlake High in California, but only threw 10.2 innings this past year due to an elbow injury. The organization went the rest and rehab route, but on August 20th he went under the knife and finally succumbed to Tommy John Surgery. He will more than likely miss the entire 2015 season, but will still be just 22 years old when he toes the rubber in 2016. When healthy, he profiles as at least a mid-rotation starter with potential for more, and is easily the best prospect acquired by Atlanta.

Jace Peterson was popped with the 58th overall pick in the 2011 draft from McNeese State University down in Louisiana. Last year the left handed hitting infielder split the year between AA San Antonio, AAA El Paso, and also made his MLB debut with the Padres. In his two minor league stops, he hit a combined .307/.402/.447 over 382 plate appearances with 24 doubles, 16 stolen bases, just three home runs, and an excellent 51 walks (13.4%) to just 59 strike outs (15.4%). He posted a 130 wRC+ and .383 wOBA on the heels of a .366 BABIP. He made 58 trips to the dish for the parent club, racking up a .113/.161/.113 line with three walks to 18 strike outs to go with a -27 wRC+, a .123 wOBA, and -0.6 fWAR.Defensively the metrics favored him at second base (+1 DRS) as opposed to third base (-1 DRS) in his brief time spent with the Friars. In his two minor league stops he saw the majority of his time at short stop where he made seven errors for a .963 fielding percentage in 45 games while making two errors at second in 26 games, and one at third in 16 games. I think his role is going to be determined by who performs the best in Spring Training between himself, Phil Gosselin, and Jose Peraza. The free agent signing of Alberto Callaspo puts his role as either the starting second baseman or back-up infielder at second and third. If he fills the reserve role, that would mean either Peraza or Peterson won the second base gig with the other heading to AAA Gwinnett. If Callaspo is the starter, it would be between Peterson and Gosselin to handle reserve duty. He grades out as average in every tool except power which will be below average.

Selected in the second round of the 2013 draft, Dustin Peterson signed out of Gilbert High School in Arizona and is the younger brother of Mariners Top 100 prospect DJ Peterson.  The younger Peterson made his full season debut this past year as a 19 year old with Fort Wayne in the Midwest League, an aggressive assignment in my eyes. The 6'2, 180 pound right hander responded with a .233/.274/.361 line over 564 plate appearances with an 80 wRC+, a .290 wOBA, and .294 BABIP. He only drew 25 walks all year (4.4%) while striking out 137 times (24.3%) with 31 doubles, 10 bombs, and he was one for four in the stolen base department. At the hot corner he made 38 errors as he learned to adjust to the speed of the game in his second year at the position. He projects to be a power hitting third baseman who needs to watch his K's while providing a tick below average hitting and average defense and speed. With the struggles he had to deal with in his first crack at Low A, I think Atlanta gives him a mulligan and sends him to Low A Rome in the South Atlantic League.

Mallex Smith was a relative unknown heading into the 2014 campaign, having been drafted by the Padres in the 5th round of the 2012 draft out of Santa Fe Community College in Florida. The 5'9, 170 pound left handed hitter and right handed thrower split the year between Fort Wayne in Low A and Lake Elsinore in the California League. Between the two levels he made 564 trips to the plate resulting in a .310/.403/.432 triple slash with a Minor League leading 88 stolen bases. He also hit 29 doubles, seven triples, and five home runs while drawing 69 walks (12.2%) to 103 punch outs (18.3%). The season line was good for a 134 wRC+, a .382 wOBA, and .385 BABIP. Smith committed 11 errors in the outfield with the majority of the time spent in center field with one assist, giving him a .960 fielding percentage. His calling card is his blazing speed, a true 80 burner that wouldn't finish far behind Billy Hamilton in a race. Smith uses that speed in his game by concentrating on hitting the ball on the ground or in the gaps and legging out extra bases. He won't have any power in his game with low single digit home run totals, but enough discipline at the plate to work his walks. He can even lay down a bunt if needed, tallying 10 sacrifices in 2014. The range in center is great, but he needs to refine his route running and make sure he hits the cut off man with his below average arm. He profiles to me as a starting center fielder and top of the order catalyst. While he may not post obscene AVG and OBP numbers, he can wreak havoc on the bases and provide solid defense with enough range to cover the most expansive outfields. Look for him to debut for the Braves with AA Mississippi next year, essentially taking Kyle Wren's place on the depth chart.

The only prospect headed to the Padres, Aaron Northcraft was a 10th round selection of the Braves in the 2009 draft out of Mater Dei High School in California. A starter his entire career, Northcraft split the 2014 season between AA Mississippi and AAA Gwinnett, pitching to a composite 4.70 ERA, a 3.85 FIP, and 1.52 WHIP over 130.1 innings of work. He surrendered 55 free passes (9.3%) while striking out 113 (19.1%) with a .334 BABIP and 69.8% strand rate. A ground ball specialist, he generated a 1.17 GO:AO ratio and was named a mid-season All-Star for the Southern League. With his low 90's sinker and fringy off speed stuff coming from a very low 3/4 arm slot, he has the makings of a bullpen arm who can give you a few innings or induce a key grounder.

The verdict -

Atlanta picked up one fifth of their Top 20 prospects in this deal alone. Losing Upton's bat will hurt, but the Braves clearly have eyes on the future and this trade set them up very well. It's a solid haul for one year of a premier bat and I think it's about on par with what they got from St. Louis for Jason Heyward.

Giants replace Panda with McGehee

kendry flores

Marlins right handed starting pitcher Kendry Flores.

Photo courtesy of Conner Penfold

The trade -

The San Francisco Giants acquire 3B Casey McGehee from the Miami Marlins in exchange for RHSP Kendry Flores and RHP Luis Castillo.

The skinny -

With the acquisition of Martin Prado the day before, the Marlins shipped 3B Casey McGehee to the Giants for a pair of minor league pitchers, Kendry Flores and Luis Castillo. McGehee resurrected his career in Japan two years ago, turning into a completely different hitter compared to when he broke into the big leagues with Milwaukee in 2009. A much more contact oriented approach led to a .287/.355/.357 triple slash with 29 doubles, just four home runs, 76 runs batted in, and worked 67 walks (9.7%) to 102 strike outs (14.8%) in 691 plate appearances. Advanced metrics saw him as a league average offensive performer with a 99 OPS+, a 102 wRC+, and .319 wOBA while being worth 2.0 fWAR and 1.1 rWAR. He was slightly below average defensively at the hot corner, posting a -2 DRS and -2.3 UZR/150 with seven errors and a .979 fielding percentage. McGehee is entering his age 32 season and the Giants will only be on the hook for an estimated $3.5M as he makes his last run through arbitration and is a free agent at season's end. He's a good veteran presence to have on the roster and should provide some decent production at the hot corner for San Fran.

Out of the two prospects involved here, Kendry Flores is the better of the two, a right handed starter who just completed a successful year in the California League. The Dominican native checks in "supposedly" at 6'2, 175 pounds (multiple reports say he's put on about 30-40 pounds) and made 20 starts for A+ San Jose, totaling 105.2 innings of work. He posted a 4.09 ERA. a 4.40 FIP, and 1.26 WHIP with 112 strike outs (25.1%) and just 32 walks (7.2%) with 14 home runs allowed. Flores has been a bit of a fly ball pitcher in the past which is dangerous in that particular league, and he put up a 0.94 GO:AO ratio in 2014. He worked around a .307 BABIP and 68.4% strand rate with a 3.5 K/BB ratio. His arsenal consists of a low 90's heater that can touch 95 mph, an above average change up, a cutter and a curve ball as well. The cutter and curve are both rated as average presently, but he has shown excellent control and command throughout his career. His ability to put the ball where he wants it makes all of his other pitches play up, and he also does a great job of sequencing. A quality four pitch mix, excellent command and control, positive weight gain, and improved velocity gives him a ceiling of a #3 starter. The expansive outfield in Miami and excellent defenders make him a nice fit for the organization. He will be entering his age 23 season and is on track to break camp with AA Jacksonville in the Southern League, with an outside shot at some MLB time since he's already on the 40 man roster.

No, this isn't the Luis Castillo that played second base when the Marlins won the World Series back in 1997. This is Luis Castillo, the 22 year old right handed reliever who made his full season debut last year for Low A Augusta. Listed at 6'2, 170 pounds, Castillo spent the previous two seasons in the Dominican Summer League, posting insane numbers as the closer, albeit as a much older player. This past season he made 48 appearances spanning 58.2 innings with a 3.07 ERA, a 4.00 FIP, and 1.38 WHIP with 66 punch outs (25.8%) and 25 walks (9.8%). He garnered 10 saves and allowed six home runs with a .317 BABIP and an 80.2% strand rate. I haven't been able to come across any scouting reports on his stuff, which means to me he's been seen as a pretty nondescript reliever. I would expect the Marlins to continue with his development by sending him to A+ Jupiter for the 2015 season.

The verdict -

Marlins win this one pretty easily. McGehee had a nice comeback last year, but I do not think it's going to last, and he's basically a one year rental with easily replaceable production. I like Flores a good bit as you can tell, and a few years down the line this could look like a steal for Miami.

Padres and Yankees swap relief pitchers

johnny barbato

Yankeer right handed reliever Johnny Barbato.

Photo courtesy of River Ave Blues

The deal -

The San Diego Padres acquire RHP Shawn Kelley from the New York Yankees in exchange for RHP Johnny Barbato.

The skinny -

AJ Preller continues his massive overhaul of the Padres by picking up a bullpen piece from the Yankees in exchange for a minor league right hander. Shawn Kelley made 59 relief appearances for New York last year, tossing 51.2 innings with a 4.53 ERA, a 3.02 FIP, and 1.26 WHIP with 67 strike outs (30.5%) and 20 walks (9.1%). He saved four games with three blown saves, five home runs allowed, worked around a .315 BABIP and 67.8% strand rate while being worth 0.9 fWAR and -0.2 rWAR. Kelley is an extreme fly ball pitcher, posting a 33.6% ground ball rate, a 43.8% fly ball rate, and 0.77 GB/FB ratio. He's entering his last year of arbitration and MLBTR is predicting a $2.5M salary for the upcoming season in which he will be 31 year of age. I think he's shown to be a solid power arm in the bullpen and the fly ball tendencies match well with the ball park, just maybe not the outfielders.

The Yanks picked up right hander Johnny Barbato from the Friars, a 6'2 185 pound 22 year old. In 2014 he spent the year in the AA San Antonio bullpen as their closer, picking up 16 saves in 27 appearances, throwing a total of 31.1 innings. He posted a 2.87 ERA, a 3.31 FIP, and 1.15 WHIP with 33 punch outs (25.6%) to 10 walks (7.8%), a .281 BABIP, and 76.2% strand rate. Everything was going swimmingly until mid June when he was shelved with an arm injury. He stayed there the rest of the year as he tried the rest and rehab route to avoid Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. If that method worked, great! That's rarely the case though, and the Yankees feel the same way. When healthy, Barbato has a mid 90's fastball that he pairs with a nasty high 70's curve that can be a vicious 1-2 combo with a late inning mentality. He's primed to break camp in AAA and if his elbow holds up, he's an option to be called up later in the year with a future as a bridge to Miller and Betances.

The verdict -

Yankees GM Brian Cashman has publicly stated his eagerness to make the team younger, and this move certainly accomplishes that goal. He gives up one year of Kelley for six of Barbato, and both players fit the same role as a 6th or 7th innings guy in the bullpen. Even with the risk of a looming Tommy John surgery, I like the Yanks in this one.

Philly gets a Lively return for Byrd

ben lively

Phillies right handed starting pitcher Ben Lively.

Photo courtesy of Ben Twingley

The trade -

The Cincinnati Reds acquire OF Marlon Byrd and $4M from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for RHSP Ben Lively.

The skinny -

Another team in rebuilding mode jettisons a veteran as the Reds fill their void in left field by bringing Marlon Byrd into the fold in exchange for their 2014 Minor League Player of the Year, Ben Lively. Byrd has resurrected his career in the past few seasons, ditching a contact approach to sell out for power. He's hit 49 home runs in the past two seasons, including a 25 homer campaign in 2014 for the Phillies with a .264/.312/.445 line, a 110 OPS+, a 109 wRC+, and .330 wOBA. He ranked second in the league in strike outs, setting a career high with 185 while working just 35 walks. He was worth 1.9 fWAR and 2.6 rWAR, and posted good defensive numbers in right field with a +6 DRS and 3.5 UZR/150. He's going to be 37 years old in 2015 and will only cost $4M since the Phillies are kicking in the other half of his salary. His contract does have an $8M vesting option for 2016 which triggers with at least 550 plate appearances in the upcoming 2015 season. It all adds up to a two year, $12M deal with Byrd if he stays healthy which is a good value if he continues to be a 2 WAR player.

The Phillies continue their own mini-rebuild, picking up a soon to be 23 year old right handed starter in Ben Lively. The 6'4, 190 pound Florida native made 26 starts between A+ Bakersfield and AA Pensacola, posting a 3.04 ERA, a 3.46 FIP, and 1.12 WHIP over 151 innings of work. He struck out 171 (28.1%) while issuing 52 free passes (8.6%), had a 78.3% strand rate and a .283 BABIP. Lively allowed just 117 hits and 13 home runs with opponents hitting just .215/.288/.337 against him. He works with a low 90's fastball and an above average slider is his go-to breaking ball. Also in the quiver is a low 80's curve and change up, both rating as average pitches. The slider sits in the mid 80's with good depth to it, and the hook morphed into more of a power curve after using a slower, low 70's version earlier in the year. He showed pinpoint control and excellent command early in the year but struggled down the stretch as he faced the most advanced competition of his career at the end of the longest season he's ever thrown. His dominance of the California League in the first half (2.28 ERA, 2.97 FIP, 95 K, 16 BB, 57 H in 79 IP) makes me think his second half slide had more to do with fatigue than anything. The Phillies should have him start the year in AA Reading and could wind up getting a second half promotion to AAA Lehigh Valley. In the long run, he looks like a potential mid-rotation guy with four pitches he can put where he wants and good durability.

The verdict -

Going with the Phillies here and I don't think I really need to explain this one. Marlon Byrd's age 37 and 38 seasons or Ben Lively's future career? I'll take Lively in a heartbeat.

That brings us up to January 1st of 2015. Look for Part Two to be released in the upcoming days.