Every season team's have to have a Plan B ready to go, because injuries can strike a club at anytime. I can't say many teams have a Plan Z, but that's close to what Texas resorted to last season. They set a record in early September for the most players used in a single season in baseball history with 60 different players spending at least a day on the Major League roster. Their starting pitching was hit hardest, and they've made their second move of the offseason to address their depth in that area.
They acquired left handed pitcher Ross Detwiler in a December trade for Chris Bostick and Abel De Los Santos, bringing in a capable back end starter with experience. Now they've added right handed starter Yovani Gallardo to solidify the heart of the rotation, along with $4M from Milwaukee to help pay his upcoming salary. To add him, they had to give up a trio of prospects, two of which are Major League ready and have already been under the bright lights and third decks. Lets take a deeper look into the two that are still technically prospects, then the MLB assets involved.
Photo courtesy of Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports
Less than a year after being drafted, right handed pitcher Corey Knebel made his Major League debut for the Detroit Tigers in late May. His first crack at big league hitters didn't go his way, but he whizzed through the minor leagues very quikly after being selected with the last pick in the supplemental first round back in 2013. Going 39th overall from the University of Texas, Knebel signed with Detroit and received a $1.43M bonus. He was the closer for the Longhorns and remained in that capacity once turning pro.
After signing, the Tigers sent Knebel to Low A West Michigan of the Midwest League. The 21 year old right hander completely overwhelmed hitters, allowing just three earned runs in his debut over 31 innings for a 0.87 ERA, a 1.66 FIP, and 0.77 WHIP. He struck out 41 hitters (35%) while issuing 10 walks (8.6%), just 14 hits, and one home run. A beneficial .212 BABIP helped him limit Midwest League hitters to a paltry .133/.209/.152 line with just two extra base hits and a 83.3% strand rate. Right handed hitters went to the plate 65 times and got four singles, a double, five walks, and struck out 23 times. That translates to a Bartolo Colon-esque .083/.154/.100 line. Left handed hitters looked like Ted Williams in comparison(oh, the hyperbole!), hitting .200/.280/.222 with five walks and 18 punch outs. He racked up a 1.36 GO:AO ratio and 51.5% ground ball rate in his debut season and also induced 10.6% infield flies, which are as good as a strike out in the grand batted ball scheme. Despite the limited experience, the Tigers send Knebel to the Arizona Fall League where he held his own through nine appearances, striking out 11 and walking three with seven hits, one homer, and four runs allowed in 8.2 innings of work.
Knebel was put into the hyper-express lane in 2014, getting jumped a level to AA to begin the year. He surrendered two runs and just eight hits while striking out 23 and walking eight in 15 innings with Erie before being promoted to AAA Toledo in May. Less than two weeks later he made his Major League debut on May 24 against the Rangers. He shuttled between Toledo and Detroit until late July when he was packaged with right handed pitcher Jake Thompson and sent to the Texas Rangers for reliever Joakim Soria. He finished the year with the Rangers AAA affiliate in Round Rock. In his time spent with Detroit, he threw 8.2 innings with 11 strike outs, three walks, and 11 hits with a 6.23 ERA, but a 1.63 FIP, a 2.57 SIERA, and 2.92 xFIP. A .440 BABIP and 50% strand rate account for the major discrepancies between the ERA and advanced metrics. His time spent in AAA with both Toledo and Round Rock, both PCL teams, resulted in 30.1 frames with a 2.67 ERA, a 3.39 FIP, and 0.96 WHIP to go with a .217 BABIP and 78.8% strand rate. He struck out 40 (33.6%) while walking 14 (11.8%) and limiting PCL hitters to a .147 average. For the entire year with all four teams, he limited hitters in general to a .182/.286/.267 line with 74 strike outs to 25 walks with a 2.83 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. Knebel held right handed hitters to a .190/.299/.260 triple slash over 118 plate appearances. Lefties didn't do any better with a .172/.270/.276 line through 101 PA's. He racked up worm burners in 45.7% of plate appearanes in the minors and 56% of the time in Detroit. This jives with his 1.30 GO:AO ratio in the minors this year.
Knebel has the prototypical relief profile with two plus pitches, shaky command, and a max effort delivery with some funk to it that won't allow him to last more than two innings. The fastball sits comfortably in the mid 90's with tailing action that can reach as high as 98 mph, but straightens out in the higher registers. He generates good plane on the fastball from his 6'3 frame and adds the illusion of sinking action that helps his excellent curve play up. Speaking of the big breaker, Knebel gets excellent 12-6 break on it in the 80-83 mph range. He'll mix a mid 80's change up in on occasion, but very rarely as its a below average pitch and the curve is very effective against lefties anyway. When you see the video below, you'll understand the term "max effort delivery" as he abruptly breaks his hands to start his arm swing before he literally rocks back and fires. The control is decent enough though could use improvement, and he has the bulldog mentality you want to see from a potential closer.
When healthy, Knebel has shown to be a legitimate force at the back end of a game. The key word in there is healthy, which he is not. The Rangers put the kiebosh on his season in late August as he suffered a sprained right UCL ligament. They went the rest and rehab route (not very effective) and he hasn't pitched competitively for the last four months. If the rest took care of the issue, the Brew Crew can jot him down as a middle relief piece that will eventually take over the 9th inning at some point in 2015 or 2016. The flip side to Knebel is he may end up having to go under the knife anyway, eventually losing an entire year in the process. That would push his timetable back by a year, and even though Tommy John surgery has a great success rate, it's not 100%.
Video courtesy of MLB.com Video Archives
Photo courtesy of Scott R. Lewis
One of the biggest international free agent signings of the 2013 signing period, putting his name on the dotted line for a $1.3M signing bonus. The industry consensus back then was that Diplan was the top arm available with Baseball America slotting him as the only pitcher in their Top 10 rankings of IFA's. He also garnered the third highest bonus given out by the Rangers, only trailing outfielder Jose Almonte ($1.8M) and SS Yeyson Yrizarri ($1.35M).
Diplan made his eagerly awaited professional debut this past year with the Rangers' Dominican Summer League affiliate. He made 13 starts that spanned 64.1 innings while striking out 57 (22.4%), allowing 36 free passes (14.1%), 32 base hits and a pair of home runs. The generously listed 6'0 160 pound right hander posted a 1.54 ERA, a 4.05 FIP, and 1.06 WHIP with a .197 BABIP and 79.2% strand rate which tells part of the tale of the ERA-FIP discrepancy. Opposing hitters in the DSL hit .155/.302/.213 against him with seven extra base hits and neither side posted an OPS above .536. His batted ball profile, which should be taken with a grain of salt like all DSL stats, showed a propensity for infield flies and inducing ground balls.
The 18 year old Dominican native works with a low 90's fastball that has peaked at 96 mph already, along with a developing curve and change up. The hook is the better of the two offspeed pitches, showing the potential of being an above average offering while the change looks to top out as just an average pitch. He doesn't have the ideal delivery, showing more effort that you'd want, but he shows a decent idea of where the pitches are going. Reports have said the elevated walk rate was due to nibbling and being too passive on the mound rather than an inability to find the zone. A more aggressive plan of attack could do wonders for him as he has the pure stuff to overwhelm teenage hitters. Prior to signing, scouts praised his feel for pitching at his age with an electric arm. As his body fills out and he puts on some (preferably good) weight, he may have a few more mph's left in the tank, putting it in the plus range. If he develops even average command of his pitches, he could be a valuable mid-rotation starter that sits in the mid 90's with an above average hook and average cambio.
Milwaukee could follow the more traditional route of bringing Diplan stateside to the complex leagues to acclimate him to American life and culture. His talent would say push him to the Pioneer League and see what happens. A lot of that depends on Diplan as a person and whether he could handle a transition like that, things people outside the organization are not privy to. I think he starts the year in the Arizona League and continues to develop consistency in his secondary pitches.
Video courtesy of FanGraphs via YouTube
Photo courtesy of Jesse Johnson/USA Today Sports
Back in 2009, the Rangers went a little crazy in the international free agent market, snatching up middle infielders like they were going out of style. They handed Venezuelan short stop Luis Sardinas $1.2M to sign and had him debut the following year in the Arizona League. He made his full season debut in 2012 at the tender age of 19 years old and held is own offensively hitting .291/.346/.356 while providing excellent defense and some speed (32 SB).
He cracked the A+ Myrtle Beach roster for Opening Day and stayed there through the trade deadline, amassing a .298/.358/.360 triple slash over 432 plate appearances. Sardinas stole 27 bags while smacking 15 doubles, three triples, and a homer with 32 walks (7.4%) to 54 strike outs (12.5%). This came out to a 104 wRC+, a .337 wOBA, and he benefited from a .339 BABIP. He spent the last 29 games with AA Frisco where he stepped to the plate another 141 times. The going wasn't as easy as the 20 year old struggled with a .259/.286/.311 line to finish out the year with four doubles, a home run, five stolen bases, and he worked four walks to 21 punch outs. For the year as a whole, he hit .288/.340/.347 for a 95 wRC+ and .321 wOBA. The switch hitting short stop was more comfortable in the right handed batters box, posting a .298/.338/.403 line with both homers, six free passes and 20 K's in 134 PA's. As a left handed hitter, he made 439 trips to the box, resulting in a .284/.341/.330 line with 30 walks and 55 punch outs. It's also worth noting he did not take a single plate appearance against a pitcher younger than he was, which was almost three years younger than the Carolina League average and four years for the Texas League. The batted ball data shows a distinct lean toward the ground game, putting it on the turf 56.8% of the time in 2013, which was 12 points higher than either league average. He also only managed a 12.9% line drive rate, but only popped out to an infielder 3.8% of the time. Sardinas made 31 errors at short, giving him a .941 fielding percentage and a 4.07 range factor.
Ideally, I don't think the Rangers wanted to bring Sardinas up to make his Major League debut, but as mentioned before, injuries just would not allow them that courtesy. The 6'1, 150 pound switch hitter only made 90 plate appearances with AA Frisco before getting the call to join the big club. The Rangers only used him for three games before sending him back down to Frisco for another week. He hit just .253/.278/.333 in his time in AA with six extra base hits, three walks, and 12 strike outs. Texas kept him on the roster for a month and a half before sending him back to the minors, this time with AAA Round Rock. He got 273 plate appearances with them, hitting .290/.310/.374 in the PCL with 15 doubles, two triples and a bomb. Sardinas also stole nine bags, walked only eight times (2.9%), and struck out 39 times (14.3%) for a 76 wRC+ and .305 wOBA despite a .336 BABIP. With the Rangers, he made 125 trips the plate and hit .261/.303/.313 with six triples, five stolen bases, and five walks to 21 strike outs. Sardinas put the ball on the ground 56.5% of the time during his minor league stint with a 19.9% line drive rate and absurdly low 0.3% infield fly ball rate. He hit ground balls in 61.7% of his MLB plate appearances as well. Between Frisco and Round Rock, Sardinas made 12 errors for a .964 fielding percentage with a 4.03 range factor. In Texas though, he cost the Rangers two runs at second base in 19 games, where he had 16 career games played in the minor leagues, and one run at third base in seven games which he was playing for the first time ever. He did save one run in 13 games at short stop, his natural home.
Any scouting report on Luis Sardinas starts with his leatherwork. An excellent defender with a plus arm, excellent footwork, and hands like cashmere, he is a true short stop in every sense of the word. Even at his young age, he could provide above average defense if he were to get a starting gig. His issues show up on the other side of the ball where he has zero power whatsoever, but he's shown solid contact ability and plus speed. The high contact approach he uses results in very low walk totals which will limit his ability to get on base. In the future, his batting average will be heavily tied to his average on balls in play and will be pretty empty with his lack of thump. Sardinas' off the field attributes like work ethic and makeup are off the charts and he would certainly fit the bill as a "baseball rat". If the bat doesn't play, he will always be able to find a roster spot with his defensive skills, but if he maxes out, he could be a starting short stop with excellent defense and could hold down the eight spot in the lineup.
Heading into the 2015 campaign, the lithe Venezuelan will look to break camp with Milwaukee as a back up infielders. Because Sardinas technically exhausted his rookie status in the 2014 season, the Brewers will have him under team control for another five years and have two more options. With Jean Segura and Scooter Gennett already established as starters, Sardinas will have to put up a monster Spring while one of the two completely bombs or is injured for him to take a starting spot on the roster. They could always send him down to AAA Nashville to work on his approach and get a little more seasoning, but I don't think he has any projection left in him and more time in the minors would be a waste.
Video courtesy of Nathaniel Stolz via YouTube
The name Yovani Gallardo used to carry a lot more weight when he was almost a lock for 200+ K's, an ERA between 3.50 and 4.00, about 190 innings pitched, and an ERA+ around 110. This was between 2009-12 and his age 23-26 seasons, before his strike out rate tanked over 5% in 2013. Last year, he threw 192.1 innings and maintained the lower strike out rate of 17.9% by punching out 146 with 54 free passes (6.6.%), 195 hits, and 21 long balls with a 3.51 ERA and 3.94 FIP. He induced ground balls at a 46.3% clip with a 1.75 GB/FB ratio, a .294 BABIP, and 74.7% strand rate. His arsenal consists of a low 90's fastball that averaged 91.4 mph while being used 55.7% of the time. This encompasses both the four and two seam fastball with Gallardo going to the two seam more than ever at 30.5%, which probably accounts for the jump in groundball outs. He uses a pair of breaking balls - a high 80's slider and a high 70's curve. The slide piece averages 87.4 mph and he goes to it 24.5% of the time while the curve averages 79.1 mph and is thrown 19.1% of the time.
Lamborghini Gallardo is still a very capable mid-rotation arm that has shown great durability, taking the bump at least 30 times every year since 2009. Because he's been around for so long, its easy to forget that he's only going to be 29 next year. The Rangers will have him under contract for one more season before he hits free agency, and is taking home a $14M salary with the Brewers covering $4M of it.
All in all, the Rangers ended up surrendering a back up, slick fielding middle infielder, a Major League ready bullpen arm that has the potential to close with an unresolved elbow injury, and an 18 year old bonus baby who could develop into what Gallardo is now, for just one year of a #3 starter. I think it's a high price to pay though, especially with the upside of Knebel and Diplan. I'll side with the Brew Crew on this one.