The big news in baseball yesterday was the trade between the Angels and the Braves, Atlanta sending shortstop Andrelton Simmons and minor league catcher Jose Briceno to Anaheim in exchange for pitching prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. Coincidentally, I had posted the Atlanta Braves Top 20 Prospects list for 2016 Wednesday evening and discussed it yesterday, though the trade rendered the list quickly obsolete.
Scott Mowers broke down the prospects in the trade for us this morning but I want to contribute my own thoughts.
Right now I see Newcomb as a Grade A-/B+ prospect, which would put him at Number One in a revised version of the Braves prospect list. Newcomb threw 136 innings in 2015 posting a 2.38 ERA and a 168/76 K/BB between High-A and Double-A. His upside is quite impressive and is reflected in his excellent strikeout rate, however the obvious issue here is command and control. This was particularly evident in the Texas League, where he posted a pleasant 2.75 ERA in 36 innings, fanning 39 but walking 24. A Texas League source saw him throw seven hitless innings in a late August start and described a lefty with three plus pitches who looked like a number two starter, but other trusted sources who saw him in less-successful games point to problems with fastball command, erratic secondary pitches, and mechanical inconsistency.
The A-/B+ grade I have on him right now reflects the upside but Newcomb does have a substantial risk premium due to the inconsistency issues. He is not a sure thing and for this trade to work out for the Braves, he has to reach his maximal value.
Ellis doesn't have as much upside as Newcomb and comes with some risks of his own. The right-hander has good size at 6-5 205 along with a three-pitch mix, fastball in the low-90s with a curveball and change. On the right day he looks like a sound number three starter, however like Newcomb Ellis has command issues, walking 43 in 78 innings after being promoted to Double-A last summer. If he can lower the walks he can be a big league starter, but some project him as more of a reliever. He's on the B-/C+ cusp for me.
Atlanta's thinking on this is that the difference in current value between Andrelton Simmons and Erick Aybar will be covered by Newcomb and Ellis filling starting rotation slots by 2017, with Aybar handling shortstop for a couple of years until Ozhaino Albies is ready. By 2018 or 2019 the Newcomb/Ellis/Albies trio will be worth more than Simmons would be at that time, or so the Braves hope. It could work out that way, but the plan relies on Newcomb or Ellis (probably both) reaching their maximum potential and Albies being the player they think he is.
For the Angels, they are cashing in two of their few prospects (their system is quite thin) in exchange for an excellent defensive shortstop who is still fairly young and has a reasonable contract and is younger and better than the shortstop they are trading. This is also a risk, but as stated, while they are quite promising neither Newcomb nor Ellis are sure things while Simmons has proven current value. Intuitively this return feels light for Atlanta.
In my opinion, the Angels win this trade in the short run. In the long run the outcome depends on what happens with the two young pitchers.